Holders Manchester City recovered from falling a goal behind to outclass Red Star Belgrade 3-1 in their Group G opener with Julian Alvarez scoring twice at the Etihad on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side dominated the opening period but were guilty of wayward finishing and trailed to a sucker-punch just before half time as Osman Bukari broke clear to finish in style.
City began the game on a 26-match unbeaten run in Champions League home games and normal service was resumed almost immediately after the restart as Alvarez levelled after combining with Erling Haaland.
A misjudgement by Red Star keeper Omri Glazer allowed an Alvarez cross to go into the net on the hour and Rodri made it 3-1 with a clinical finish after 73 minutes as City made it 19 home wins in succession in all competitions.
Just over three months since City finally claimed Europe’s biggest club prize with a victory over Inter Milan in Istanbul they began their defence in ultimately comfortable fashion.
But for 45 minutes it looked as though it might be one of those nights as chance after chance went begging.
Once Argentina’s Alvarez levelled in the 47th minute, however, only one outcome looked likely.
“The last two games I didn’t know how many chances we missed,” Guardiola said.
“We played really, really good but we were not able to score goals. We were consistent and in the end we won the game.”
Norwegian goal-machine Haaland has now gone four Champions League games without hitting the net and he was guilty of some poor misses in a first half in which City’s 22 goal attempts were the most in the competition since data began to be compiled.
He headed one effort wide, another even easier chance against the crossbar and then lashed a shot over.
Red Star keeper Glazer was superb in the first half, denying Phil Foden from close range and also keeping out efforts by Nathan Ake and Rodri. But City switched off in the 45th minute and a ball forward sent Bukari through with only Ederson to beat.
The Ghanaian kept remarkably calm to place his shot beyond the City keeper but his joy was initially curtailed by an offside flag before referee Joao Pinheiro allowed it to stand after an intervention by VAR.
The 3,000 travelling Belgrade fans celebrated and City could hardly believe it as they headed off at halftime.
“I said ‘guys, we cannot say we are playing bad. Forget the result, we are able to come back so go for it and be more calm’,” the City boss said of his half time team talk.
City did not take long to make amends after the break as Alvarez played the ball into Haaland and then showed great desire to sprint into the area and take a return pass before skipping around Glazer and slotting home in the blink of an eye.
Felix nets brace
Barcelona’s new forward Joao Felix struck twice in a 5-0 demolition of visiting Royal Antwerp in their Champions League Group H opener at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys on Tuesday.
After successive group-stage eliminations, Barca gave debutants Antwerp a football masterclass, dominating possession with quick passing as Felix, Lewandowski and Gavi all scored.
“Between this win and the 5-0 against Betis on Saturday I think this is probably the best quality of play we’ve produced since I took over,” coach Xavi Hernandez said. “This is the road we want to be on. The team’s making me proud.”
Last-minute signing Felix opened the scoring with the home side’s first attempt in the 11th minute, netting with a low strike inside the near post.
The Portuguese then set up Robert Lewandowski inside the box to double their lead eight minutes later as the Poland striker became the third player to score 100 goals in European competition after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Raphinha helped to make it 3-0 to the five-time European champions after 22 minutes when his strike from a tight angle deflected off defender Jelle Bataille for an own goal.
In the other Group H clash, Porto beat Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 in Hamburg.
Kylian Mbappe was on form again as Paris Saint-Germain kicked off their campaign with a 2-0 home victory over Borussia Dortmund, showing glimpses of what might be under new coach Luis Enrique.
Mbappe opened the scoring with a second-half penalty and Achraf Hakimi doubled the tally with a fine goal as PSG’s patience paid off at the Parc des Princes.
It was only the third win in six competitive games this season for the Ligue 1 champions and it gave them some much-needed relief after their first defeat at the weekend as they dutifully applied Enrique’s possession game.
PSG top Group F with three points, two ahead of AC Milan and Newcastle, who drew 0-0 earlier on Tuesday.
LASK test for Liverpool
Liverpool would have preferred playing in the Champions League, but the Reds’ continental journey begins with a Europa League trip to tackle Austrian outfit LASK Linz on Thursday.
Juergen Klopp’s storied English side were consigned to the second tier of European football on account of their fifth-placed Premier League finish last season. The six-time European champions have missed out on the Champions League for the first time since Klopp’s first full season in charge at Anfield in 2016-17.
For Klopp, the big challenge would be to juggle his Premier League ambitions with the Europa competition, and ensure he doesn’t have to be a part of the second tier next season.
Liverpool have found themselves behind three times in their last four games, yet have managed to win all four of them. “First and foremost, I think we all have to make sure that we all respect the competition in the right manner, that we respect the opponents in the right manner,” Klopp was quoted as saying by TNT Sports.
It remains to be seen if Ben Doak, the exciting teenage winger from Scotland, gets a look-in on Thursday.
LASK have started the Austrian Bundesliga well, sitting third with 14 points from seven games.
Inputs from Reuters