Rarely do you see two of top five ranked football clubs in world meeting in September, but that was the match we had to open up the Group Stages of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. Barcelona hosted AC Milan, and Milan were able to escape from Barcelona with a 2-2 draw. Barcelona continued to show they are best team in the world, as they kept the ball in an attacking position for most of the match. However AC Milan will be extremely happy to get a point, and build their confidence. Milan was without their star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and few other players who will likely be important parts to their campaign. The key for Milan is they learned more about how to play Barcelona, specifically how to defend against Leo Messi, than Barcelona learned about playing against Milan. Milan did not man mark Messi, and for the most part kept Barcelona from having too many close range shots, despite Barcelona’s possession advantage. The goal in the group stages is to advance to Round of 16, and the important time to beat Barcelona will be in the Final not on Match Day 1 of the Group Stage. Could a faster Milan team with the likes of Mathieu Flamini, Robinho, and Taye Taiwo, be even more effective against Barcelona, I believe so. Will other teams now have a formula for stopping Barcelona? It’s doubtful because few teams have the defensive personal especially in the center that Milan can employ.
Manchester City still needs some European experience. It was a slow start as the extremely talented blue side of Manchester could only manage a home draw 1-1 against Napoli. They need a win next time, or the pressure will be on Roberto Mancini, who has a habit of underachieving in Europe.
Inter are a complete mess – without Samuel Eto’o, Inter Milan are going to struggle scoring goals, plus they haven’t even figured out a formation under new coach Gian Piero Gasperini. They’re already looking like a shaky pick for the round of 16.
Bayern is the sleeper, the Champions League Final will be in Munich, so don’t count out their desire to be there.
Manchester United fans need not worry the Benfica tie was only a minor speed bump.
Arsenal fans on the other hand will have to deal with a strong Marseille side, and difficult trip to Olympiacos. The 1-1 comeback tie by Borussia Dortmund could come back to haunt Arsenal.
Extra Time: It’s was only the first round of matches, so everything is still on the table, but it was great to see no major officiating controversy to start the competition.