Champions League wrap: Arsenal & Man United move towards redemption
Champions League wrap: Oisín Gregorian reflects on a mixed opening round of fixtures for the British clubs
Redemption; if there was to be an appropriate word to accompany British clubs as the latest edition of Uefa’s elite club competition gets underway, this would be it.
Not since 1996 had a British team failed to join the quarter-final soiree following Arsenal’s elimination at the hands of eventual champions Bayern Munich.
Following on from such a disappointing campaign, 2013/14 offers an opportunity, a chance to re-stake a claim amongst the echelons of Europe’s elite.
Manchester United sought redemption, and to forget that Tuesday last March.
Heading into his first foray into the group stage of the competition, David Moyes’ stated aim pre-competition was to win the Champions League outright, an obvious statement to tell the media, but did he believe it himself?
Moyes needed a strong opening performance considering his lack of general experience in the competition, and a 4-2 victory in front of the Theatre faithful couldn’t have been the better start.
Despite refusing to confirm or deny he handed in a transfer request post-match, Wayne Rooney’s performance and link-up with Robin van Persie saw off a potential banana skin, and could now gift Moyes some momentum to continue what has been a solid, if not spectacular start to their season.
Away in Bohemia, neighbours Manchester City too had scores to settle following two disastrous European campaigns which proved in part for Roberto Mancini’s sacking late last season.
New coach Manuel Pellegrini’s European record is solid, and in a significantly softer group than in previous seasons, the hierarchy in Eastlands will only be hoping for consistency following a routine 3-0 away win over Viktoria Plzeň.
With City’s undoubted bar in Group D set at Bayern Munich, anything but an away win in the Czech Republic could have derailed the club’s chances of progressing before they even begun. With three quick points attained, the countdown begins for October’s meeting with the defending champions.
At Arsenal, a trip away to Marseille was perhaps the second best opening fixture they could have gotten after being thrown into arguably the tournament’s group of death.
Marseille’s initial resilience was a sign of things to come in such a tough group, and two well-taken goals, including a sixth of the season already for Aaron Ramsey, proved to be just enough for a crucial opening day victory for the Gunners.
Tougher away days arguably follow in Naples and Dortmund, but with three points and a 10th straight away victory given the injury list and doubts over squad depth – quite a few at the Emirates will sleep easy until the weekend.
In west London, a club and its manager were also out on a mission, too. For Chelsea, to redeem themselves of last season’s capitulation at the group stage was the undoubted first step; for Jose Mourinho, stability in order to go that one step further following three consecutive semi-final defeats.
Mourinho talked up Basel pre-match, and unfortunately for him the Swiss champions lived up to their billing as snatched a 2-1 victory, leaving the Chelsea manager and Roman Abramovich to wonder what exactly their game plan is this season.
As much as the fans will hate to admit it, this set of players played better under Rafael Benítez, and that is saying something given the grief the latter received at times last season.
North in Scotland, the pressure to emulate last season’s run to the knockout stage couldn’t have been greater for Celtic upon being drawn alongside Barcelona, Milan and Ajax.
With Milan stuttering in the Serie A’s opening fixtures, there perhaps couldn’t have been a better time to play the seven-time champions. Celtic huffed, Celtic puffed, but evidently the fitness levels between the two clubs showed.
It was harsh on the visitors, who themselves could have led before Milan struck late to seal a 2-0 win, but unfortunately for their travelling fans, that’s European football.