Champions League: European football returns with wild night of action

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Jordan Henderson and Liverpool celebrate (left), Sebastian Haller (centre) and Joao Cancelo and Manchester City celebrate (right)
It was an explosive night in the Champions League on Wednesday that included wins for English clubs Liverpool and Man City

Breathless, beautiful and brilliant.

The Champions League is back and, on a riotous night across Europe, the competition delivered a reminder of why it can produce memorable, must-watch football.

While Tuesday’s action failed to get pulses significantly racing, Wednesday produced 28 goals as well as myriad stories and sub-plots.

Liverpool played out a thriller with Milan,Manchester City hit six, an ex-West ham striker set the evening alight and Lionel Messi underwhelmed – and that was just the start of it.

It was a matchday that had managers, players and pundits confused and delighted.

Liverpool v AC Milan – the fixture that keeps on giving

Jordan Henderson (centre) celebrates
Jordan Henderson (centre) scored just his second Champions League goal (39th appearance), 2,485 days since his first, against Ludogorets Razgrad in November 2014

Can Liverpool and AC Milan do normal games of football when they meet?

Having between them produced arguably the greatest European Cup final of all time in 2005, when the Reds came back from 3-0 down to win the trophy on penalties, they then gave us Milan’s revenge in another gripping tournament-deciding showdown two years later.

On Wednesday, they produced another see-saw classic that saw the Reds take the lead, miss a penalty, somehow give away two goals late in the first half and then rally in the second to claim the win through Jordan Henderson’s magnificent half-volley.

Not a bad welcome back for supporters to Anfield, enjoying their first Champions League game at the ground since March 2020.

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“We got carried away by our own football,” Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told BT Sport, afterwards.

“It was clear that we had to immediately get back to how we started and then we scored wonderful goals, to be honest. It is deserved but we had 10 minutes where Milan nearly changed the whole tie.”

Defender Andy Robertson added: “First half an hour we blew them away. Then we got sloppy and stopped doing the things we were doing really well.

“We let them back into the game and walk in at half-time thinking ‘how have we let this happen?’

“We need to be smarter. Really tough but we managed to come out second half, play our football and enjoy it again.”

Six-y City send out defiant message

Pep Guardiola is not going to forget his 300th match in charge of Manchester City in a hurry.

One hundred and nine days after their painful night in Porto, when they lost the final to Chelsea, they came roaring out of the blocks to get their Group A campaign off to a flying start against RB Leipzig.

Six goals, six different scorers.

New £100m man Jack Grealish scored an absolute classic as he became the first Englishman to both score and assist on their Champions League debut since Wayne Rooney in September 2004.

“The players are always talking about last season’s final. They’re determined to go one better this year,” said Grealish, whose goal put City 4-2 ahead. “It’s a good start for us. Hopefully we can go all the way this time.”

In an incident-packed game, Leipzig finished with 10-men after former Manchester City player Angelino was sent off for two bookable offences.

Manchester City's players celebrate scoring against RB Leipzig in the Champions League
This was Manchester City’s highest scoring Champions League game, surpassing the eight goals in their 5-3 victory over Monaco in February 2017

“What a great performance, particularly going forward, what a fabulous attacking performance,” former England midfielder Owen Hargreaves told BT Sport.

With Nathan Ake opening the scoring, 10 different players have scored in a City shirt in the past four games.

In addition, they have now rattled in 16 goals in the past three home matches.

Boss Pep Guardiola even turned salesman after the game, trying to push a few more tickets for Saturday’s visit of Southampton in the Premier League.

“I’d like more people to come on Saturday,” he said. “We will be tired. Southampton are so dangerous. I invite all our people to come at 3pm to watch our game.”

Messi and PSG held by Bruges

Neymar (left), Kylian Mbappe (centre) and Lionel Messi (right)
Neymar (left), Mbappe (centre) and Messi (right) started a game together for the first time

For all the hype it turned out to be a disappointing first start in a Paris St-Germain shirt for Lionel Messi.

The Argentine, on his 150th Champions League appearance and first in the competition for any side other than Barcelona, struck the crossbar but was frustrated along with his team-mates by a well-drilled Club Bruges, whose spending and resources pales in comparison to their star-studded opponents.

Ander Herrera opened the scoring for PSG but the Belgian side more than deserved Hans Vanaken’s equaliser as they went on to draw 1-1.

Kylian Mbappe set up the opener before heading off injured after 51 minutes, while Messi was booked and both he and Neymar were well dealt with by the hosts.

“Nobody in the team can be happy with their performance and nobody can be happy with this result,” said PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino.

“We came here to take points. All the points. Hats off to Club Bruges. They wanted it more than us tonight and they deserve the point.”

BT Sport pundit Hargreaves added: “PSG were probably one of the favourites going into this competition with the summer they had. Pochettino will be trying to get the balance right with so many top players.”

The ex-West Ham man with one of the great debuts

Sebastien Haller (centre)
Sebastien Haller (centre) is only the second player to score four on his Champions League debut

Sebastien Haller was left out of Ajax’s Europa League squad last year because of a club administrative error, but he showed the Dutch outfit just what they were missing with one of the most spectacular Champions League debuts.

The former West Ham striker became only the second player in the history of the competition to score four goals on his debut in Ajax’s 5-1 rout of Sporting Lisbon.

He is the first player to achieve that feat since Marco van Basten for AC Milan against IFK Goteborg in November 1992, though the Dutch player had previously featured in the European Cup.

“I just tried to be not too emotional because being so young and playing these kind of games it’s a dream,” said the 27-year-old.

“I was just focused on doing my job, focusing on the other team, tactically, physically and today I thank to my team-mates for all this.”

Elsewhere…

Oh. And that was not all.

Sheriff Tiraspol became Moldova’s first ever Champions League representatives and beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0. That makes them the first team since Leicester in 2016 to win on their Champions League debut.

Jude Bellingham (18 years 78 days) became the youngest player ever to score in consecutive Champions League games, surpassing Mbappe.

He scored and assisted one as Borussia Dortmund beat Bestikas 2-1.

Erling Braut Haaland, who scored the second, has netted 21 goals in 17 Champions League games – 10 matches quicker than anybody else has managed.

Two youngsters teamed up in the 89th minute as Real Madrid won at the San Siro against Serie A champions Inter Milan. Eduardo Camavinga set up Rodrygo for the only goal.

And Atletico Madrid drew 0-0 with Porto. We don’t have anything to get excited about with that one.

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