UEFA Champions League 2018-19: 5 talking points from Matchday 1 (Groups E-H)

Valencia v Juventus - UEFA Champions League Group H
Valencia v Juventus - Ronaldo was sent off controversially in a Juventus win

The UEFA champions League 2018-19 group stage matches commenced from 18th September. The Matchday 1 fixtures included matches in the group of death, which saw Juventus taking on Valencia at the Mestalla, and Real Madrid, the three-time champions in a row, facing last year's semi-finalists AS Roma at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Here we look at the 5 main talking points from Matchday 1 for the Groups E, F, G and H:

1. 10 men Juventus defeat Valencia as Cristiano Ronaldo is sent off controversially

The first Matchday of the UEFA Champions League 2018-19 saw Italian champions Juventus travel to the Mestalla to face Valencia. Juventus' marquee summer signing Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to a familiar stadium and everyone expected him to torment Valencia like he had done in the years past while playing at Real Madrid.

Juventus lined up in a 4-3-3 with Ronaldo, Mandzukic and Bernardeschi combining to form the front three, and Ronaldo playing on the left. Pjanic was controlling the strings in midfield with Khedira and Matuidi. Valencia started with a 4-4-2 formation with Rodrigo and Batshuayi as the two strikers.

Juventus had multiple scoring opportunities in the opening minutes of play. Khedira had to replaced by Emre Can in the 23rd minute, but what followed minutes later was a complete disaster for Juve.

Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in the 29th minute controversially for a foul on Murillo as even though the referee had not seen the incident, the fourth official deemed it as a red card offence. At the stroke of half-time, a Parejo foul on Cancelo offered Pjanic to score from the spot, which he did.

Juventus had a fragile 1-0 lead at half-time, but shortly into the second half, Murillo the victim of the Ronaldo red card incident, gave away a penalty in the 51st minute. Pjanic, converted this one as well, identical in fashion to the first.

Juventus defended bravely as Chiellini and Bonucci gave their all and Szczesny made some fine saves. Valencia tried to change things up by bringing on Gameiro, Santi Mina and Cheryshev, but to no avail. A 96th minute penalty awarded to Valencia and taken by Dani Parejo was saved by Szczesny and the match ended 2-0. Ronaldo's red card incident will surely be talked about in the days to come.

2. Real Madrid ease past Roma with a 3-0 victory at the Bernabeu

Real Madrid  v AS Roma - UEFA Champions League Group G
Real Madrid v AS Roma - Isco struck a brilliant free kick

AS Roma, last season's semi-finalists, travelled to the Santiago Bernabeu stadium to face three-time defending champions Real Madrid. Lopetegui decided to go with a 4-3-3 formation with Bale, Benzema and Isco at the front and a familiar midfield trio of Modric, Kroos and Casemiro.

Real Madrid had several chances in the first half to take the lead. Gareth Bale and Isco had their clear cut chances saved by the Roma keeper Robin Olsen. The midfield trio kept on probing the Roma defence, but it was pretty even up until the 43rd minute when Isco was fouled on the edge of the penalty area by veteran Daniel De Rossi.

Isco took complete advantage of this dead ball situation and his curling effort broke the deadlock and handed Real Madrid a slender 1-0 lead at the half-way mark.

In the second half, Roma did have a few chances, but a great throughball from Modric saw Bale score his first goal in this year's Champions League in the 58th minute.

By then, Roma were already looking as if they lacked in spirit to come up against a team of Madrid's calibre. Both teams made changes with Asensio and Mariano coming on for Madrid while Perotti and Schick came on for Roma.

A 91st minute superb strike from Mariano, the former Lyon man, saw Madrid score the third goal and end the match convincingly. Di Francesco has a lot to think about as Roma are off to a pretty rough start in Serie A as well and have to balance two major competitions starting from now, while for Lopetegui things are looking fine. But Madrid would like to keep things tight in the La Liga this season and challenge Barcelona for the domestic league as well.

3. Premier League champions Manchester City lose at home to Lyon

Manchester City v Olympique Lyonnais - UEFA Champions League Group F
Manchester City v Olympique Lyonnais - Nabil Fekir produced a sublime performance

The favourites to win the competition this season, Manchester City started their campaign against Lyon at the Etihad. The French side Lyon had come third in the Ligue 1 to force their way back in the Champions League this season. City were expected to see off their opponents and register a comfortable win against an already struggling Lyon side this season. But Bruno Genesio and his men had other things in mind.

Lyon started the match with a more defensive-minded approach with Dembele and Traore both on the bench while Depay and Fekir were the main attacking options. Pep Guardiola was watching from the stands, due to his involvement in a substitution against Liverpool last season when he was not supposed to communicate.

Lyon started positively in the midfield with Fekir being the main architect of the two goals they scored subsequently. First, in the 26th minute Maxwell Cornet scored off a Fekir assist while in the 43rd minute, Depay acted as provider for Fekir himself.

The first half ended 2-0 in Lyon's favor unexpectedly but the question was whether they could hold off City's wide array of attacking players. In the second half, assistant coach, Mikel Arteta introduced Leroy Sane, Aguero and Mahrez. Bernardo Silva did make the most of this combining with Sane to score in the 67th minute to pull one back for City.

Lyon, having won only one of their eight Champions League matches against English teams, won only for the second time as Sane and Mahrez could not do enough to level the scoreline. Guardiola, Arteta and the City squad will have to re-evaluate themselves as they have to navigate not only through a tough Premier League this season, but also make it to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

4. Pogba's inspiring performance leads Manchester United to victory against Young Boys

BSC Young Boys v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Group H
BSC Young Boys v Manchester United - Pogba was terrific in the match

Jose Mourinho's Manchester United team started their campaign in the Champions League this season with a trip to face Swiss champions Young Boys. Mourinho made several changes from the starting XI which started against Watford.

Martial and Rashford both started with Lukaku up front in a 4-3-3 anchored by Pogba, Matic and Fred in the midfield. Mourinho's men have already had a mixed start in the Premier League as they lost to both Brighton and Tottenham, but since then they have started turning things around. A win against Young Boys would be vital for Mourinho's men in terms of points in a tough group containing Valencia and Juventus and would also be a morale booster.

Pogba and Matic were controlling the pace of the play throughout the first half and the result was a goal from Pogba in the 35th minute, created and scored by Pogba with an assist from Fred. It was a sublime piece of play which Pogba produced and he doubled up on that by scoring a 44th minute penalty which United received.

Though the scoreline was 2-0 at half-time, it was evident that United could have done far better in breaking down the defence of Young Boys. The first half two-goal advantage was increased in the 66th minute when Martial scored from a Paul Pogba assist. Mourinho brought on Fellaini, Mata and Periera to give them playing time but after the Martial goal it was all but over for Young Boys.

United will look to keep up this performance and continue their momentum in the Premier League as well as when they face Valencia and Juventus in the Champions League.

5. Bayern Munich start their campaign with a 2-0 win over Benfica

SL Benfica v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Group E
SL Benfica v FC Bayern Muenchen - Lewandowski scored the opener

Bayern Munich travelled to Portugal to face a strong Benfica side on the first Matchday of the UEFA Champions League 2018-19 clash. Bayern Munich, under new coach Nico Kovac, have already started their Bundesliga on a strong note, defeating the likes of Bayer Leverkusen and Eintract Frankfurt, but in the process, they have lost out key players to long-term injuries.

Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso and Rafinha were all missing in action and it will be some time before these players will be back in option. Without these options in hand, Kovac started with the old guns Ribery and Robben in the wing and Lewandowski up front in a 4-3-3. Renato Sanches, a former Benfica man himself, was given a chance to prove himself in a high-profile match alongside the experienced Javi Martinez and James Rodriguez.

Benfica, started with a 4-3-3 as well, with Seferovic, Salvio and Cervi leading the attack. Early on into the game, a David Alaba cross saw Robert Lewandowksi score from close range to give Bayern Munich the lead. The highlight of the goal, however, was Sanches who delivered the ball to Alaba in the first place.

Bayern had two clear opportunities later on in the first half through Arjen Robben but could not take advantage. The first half ended in favour of Bayern with a 1-0 lead. Benfica's lack of scoring in Champions League games continued in this match as well as they could not get the equalizer.

Renato Sanches created a brilliant move and scored from a James Rodriguez assist in the 54th minute to double Bayern's lead. Though Bayern Munich have a seemingly thin squad right now, they overcame a formidable opponent in Benfica as the match ended 2-0 in Bayern's favor.

Kovac, in spite of this win, has to think about how to rotate his players and keep them fit for both the Bundesliga and the Champions League matches, while Benfica will look to get back to winning ways in the Champions League when they face Ajax and AEK Athens in the upcoming rounds.

Edited by Sudeshna Banerjee


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