The Champions League is back, and back with aplomb with some memorable performances from both European giants and minnows. Here I take a look at four players who excelled in the first round of fixtures, alongside a little bit of background information.
Porto’s attacking midfielder cum winger became the seventh player to score a hatrick on his Champions League debut on Wednesday, as he led Porto to a 6-0 win over Belarusian minnows Bate Borisov. His first came courtesy of an awful mistake by goalkeeper Sergei Chernik, as he rolled the ball to Brahimi when under no pressure whatsoever. The Algerian responded by firing the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle. His second came after a superb run down the left flank as he beat two defenders, before firing in his third directly from a free kick in the 57th minute.
Brahimi appeared in three games for Algeria at this summer’s World Cup, scoring once against South Korea. Tottenham, Everton and Roma were said to be interested in signing him after his good form in the tournament, but the Portuguese giants beat them to it by snapping him up for €6.5 million, which now looks a bargain.
Much to the aghast of Arsenal fans, the Ivorian is enjoying a renaissance in Rome. After struggling with the Gunners for two seasons his previous manager at Lille, Rudi Garcia, swooped to bring him to Rome. Since signing he’s been a revelation, providing an attacking outlet down the left that few defenders have coped with. He played a big part in Roma’s return to the Champions League after three seasons away, scoring nine teams last season as Roma finished second only to Juventus.
This was no more evident than in Tuesday’s 5-1 massacre of CSKA Moscow. La Giallorossi overran the Russians and were 4-0 up after half hour. Gervinho was key to this electric start, scoring twice. His first contribution though came in the sixth minute, when he slipped a ball through to new signing Juan Manuel Iturbe, who dispatched confidently past Igor Akinfeev. Iturbe, who was to go off injured at half time also impressed, as he repaid the favour to Gervinho when setting him up for his first. Then in the 31st minute, Roma legend Francesco Totti set the Ivorian free to cut inside his marker, before firing home. There was a slight let up after the frenetic opening 30, but Roma ran out 5-1 winners to a backdrop of crowd trouble in the Olimpico.
Manchester City keeper Joe Hart gave an outstanding performance in Germany as his club slipped to a late 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, courtesy of ex City defender Jerome Boateng’s lashed volley. Hart stood no chance with the shot, which took a slight deflection off of Mario Gotze. England’s number one had played brilliantly throughout, and without him Bayern would surely have been five or six to the good. He made three or four top class saves in the first half alone, though his handling at crosses did leave a little to be desired at times.
After being at fault for Stoke’s winning goal a couple of weeks ago Hart’s form has picked up. This can in part be attributed to Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to sign Willy Caballero as genuine competition for the role between the sticks. Caballero came from Malaga with a big reputation, and will provide sterner competition than Costel Pantillimon and Stuart Taylor ever did. However, if Hart continues to play as he did against Bayern, he will have little trouble holding on to the number one position.
Carlos Tevez and Juventus earnt a welcome 2-0 win at home to Swedish team Malmo on Tuesday. Tevez scored both goals – after going the previous five years (and over 1000 minutes) without finding the net in the Champions League. The Argentine’s troubles in Europe are reflective of his club, Juventus, who crashed out at the group stage last season after several miserable displays. Similar to Juventus Tevez has excelled in Serie A, scoring 19 times last season as the Old Lady marched to a third consecutive title. Yet only now is he transferring that form onto the European stage.
Under new manager Massimiliano Allegri the Bianconeri had made the familiar slow start to European games, only truly taking control of the game when impressive forward Marcus Rosenberg (who flopped at West Bromwich Albion) left the pitch in the 53rd minute. With the Swedish forward no longer haranguing the Juve defence they were able to push forward, and when Tevez played a one two with Kwadwo Asamoah he was through on goal, drilling past Robin Olsen. His second came courtesy of an exquisite free kick from just outside the box. Tevez was withdrawn late on amid a standing ovation from the fans. Next up for Juve is Atletico away, and they’re going to need Tevez firing on all cylinders again.