Tottenham went into their opening Champions League game of the season against Borussia Dortmund with plenty of questions to answer, given their travails in last year’s competition and their general poor run of form at Wembley.
Dortmund were always going to be challenging opposition but Spurs hit their stride straight away, with Son Heung-min scoring a wonderful solo goal in the fourth minute.
The Germans hit back quickly with an even better goal, Andriy Yarmolenko scoring a beautiful curler, but it was the Harry Kane show after that, with the Englishman bagging two goals and coming close to scoring plenty more.
Spurs rode their luck, with Dortmund creating plenty of chances and a few refereeing calls also going the home side’s way, but in the end Mauricio Pochettino’s men emerged as 3-1 winners.
Here’s a look at the talking points from the game.
Given that all of Tottenham’s home games are at Wembley this season, that first win at the national stadium was going to come sooner or later, but this was a sweet way to break the curse.
Spurs would have gone into this game carrying the memories of last year’s poor European performances at Wembley, and it wasn’t going to get any easier this year with Dortmund coming to town as the first Champions League opponents of the season.
But a win in which they emerged from a chaotic first-half to look largely in control after getting a goal to go 3-1 up should banish all notions of a curse. Especially considering the way luck was on their side on Wednesday night – Dortmund had two goals disallowed for offside; the first call was debatable but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was definitely onside on the second.
“I have said before I want to break into that world-class bracket. To do that you have to play well in the Champions League,” Harry Kane said in the build-up to this game.
Two high-class goals against one of Europe’s leading sides and traditional powerhouses – the England striker certainly knows how to back up his talk.
It wasn’t just the goals. His link-up play was as good as ever, and he didn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities – quite often it was the star striker who got his head on Dortmund set pieces to keep his side out of danger.
He put pressure on himself going into the game and then delivered against tough opposition on a grand stage. The “world-class bracket” isn’t far away.
While the gegenpress is now embedded into the philosophy of just about every German team, Dortmund is arguably where it first became famous, under Jurgen Klopp. His successor Thomas Tuchel also used the press extensively, if perhaps not as intensely as Klopp, but new manager Peter Bosz comes from a different school.
The manager who led Ajax to the Europa League final last season has brought some of the classic Dutch philosophy to Dortmund. Bosz’s side is still as thrilling going forward as previous Dortmund teams, but there are also hints of a more measured build-up at times, and definitely more slick passing.
Most glaringly, the gegenpress has seemingly been reigned in. Spurs’ defence had a lot more time on the ball than Klopp’s or Tuchel’s Dortmund sides would have allowed. Bosz also has his defence playing a much higher line, a tactic which has served the Germans well so far domestically but was exploited by Spurs multiple times on the night.
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system is still ironing out a few kinks, as anyone who’s watched Serie A this season will tell you, but Wednesday night was another advert for why it’s needed.
Dortmund had one perfectly good goal disallowed for offside, and the wrong call was a turning point. It should have been 2-2 after Aubameyang’s superb finish early in the second-half. Instead, the goal was wrongly chalked off and Spurs scored soon after to extend their lead to 3-1, and saw out the game after that.
Real Madrid are expected to top this group and Apoel Nicosia are the favourites to finish bottom, which means Wednesday night’s clash between Spurs and Dortmund was, along with the return leg, vital to determining who finishes second and qualifies for the knockout stage. How crucial will that offside call be?
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho said he did not know how seriously Paul Pogba had injured himself after the France midfielder limped off during Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Basel.
Making his debut as United captain, Pogba lasted just 18 minutes of the Champions League group game before being forced off by an apparent left hamstring injury, with Marouane Fellaini taking his place.
Pogba abruptly pulled up in midfield, clutching the back of his left leg, and after being helped off the pitch by a United physio he showed his disgust by tossing his armband aside as he hobbled down the touchline.
“I don’t know obviously, but by experience, just by looking and feeling, it’s a hamstring,” Mourinho told reporters at Old Trafford. “Big, small, I don’t know.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 12, 2017
“Squads are for this, squads are for injuries, squads are for suspensions. We don’t cry with injuries. So if no Paul for Sunday, we have Herrera, we have Carrick, we have Fellaini and we have Matic.”
Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku and substitute Marcus Rashford scored as United marked their return to the competition with a straightforward win.
Chelsea marked their Champions League return with a 6-0 Group C rout of Azerbaijan’s Qarabag, but sterner tests await.
Goals from Pedro, Davide Zappacosta, Cesar Azpilicueta, substitute Tiemoue Bakayoko and Michy Batshuayi ensured a comfortable return to Europe’s elite after last season’s first absence since 2003-04. The sixth was bundled in by a combination of Batshuayi and defender Maksim Medvedev.
Chelsea next play Atletico Madrid with the saga surrounding Diego Costa rumbling on, before home and away clashes with Roma. It is those games which will determine the Blues’ progress or otherwise.
Zappacosta’s 30th-minute strike was the highlight on Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge. The Italian, signed on deadline day from Torino and making his Champions League debut, struck from wide on the right. It appeared to be an attempted cross which, for him and Chelsea, was wonderfully miscued.
“Zappacosta – he scores when he wants” sang the Chelsea faithful as the right wing-back moved halfway towards Costa’s Champions League tally for Chelsea.
Costa has two goals in 15 appearances in the competition for the Blues and is now almost forgotten.
Fractious relations with Costa and the Premier League opening loss to Burnley led some to suggest a crisis at Chelsea. A month on and Antonio Conte’s side have four successive wins.
Qarabag beat the champions of Georgia, Moldova and Denmark to become the first Azerbaijan side to reach the Champions League group stages.
The English champions proved a different proposition, despite Conte rotating his options for the second of seven matches in September. Arsenal are the next opponents on Sunday.
Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard, David Luiz and Bakayoko were among the substitutes, while Batshuayi, Andreas Christensen and Zappacosta were given an opportunity.
N’Golo Kante was making his Champions League debut despite winning the Premier League in successive seasons with Leicester and then Chelsea. And the France midfielder thrived in a ruthless team performance.
Marauding left wing-back Marcos Alonso had a shot punched away unconvincingly by goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic and then a volley blocked by Rashad Sadygov before Chelsea took a fifth-minute lead.
A short corner was worked by Willian to Pedro, who, unmarked, curled the ball in from the edge of the area.
Gary Cahill started for the first time in a month. Back following a three-match domestic suspension after his sending-off against Burnley, Cahill was over-eager in catching Pedro Henrique from behind, earning a booking.
Sehic denied Willian and Batshuayi was unable to turn in the rebound from a tight angle before Chelsea’s second.
Thibaut Courtois rolled the ball to Zappacosta, deep in his own half. He ran down the right, by two would-be tacklers and looked centrally for a target in the area.
But, with goalkeeper Sehic off his line, what appeared to be a misdirected cross found the back of the net.
Zappacosta will no doubt say it was intentional and thereafter he was encouraged to shoot at every opportunity.
Henrique had a shot held by Courtois as Qarabag refused to sit back. Their defending was woeful and Azpilicueta stooped to head in a sublime Cesc Fabregas cross to make it 3-0 early in the second half.
Willian hit the bar before Bakayoko’s deflected effort went in after another short corner. Next Bakayoko and Bayshuayi combined, the latter drilling in low from the edge of the area. A Zappacosta cross was then turned goalwards by Batshuayi, with Medvedev hapless in his attempts to prevent the goal.
Like Zappacosta and Azpilicueta, the game marked Batshuayi’s first Champions League goals in a convincing victory.