LONDON: As the Champions League opened with a series of one-sided games, Jose Mourinho was blunt. For the Manchester United manager, it wasn’t the Champions League at all.
“For the Real Madrids, Barcelonas and Bayerns, the Champions League starts in February. Now is just the warming up,” Mourinho said after a routine win for his Manchester United team over Swiss club Basel. “Let’s qualify, let’s make the points to qualify for the knockout phase. When we do that, let’s enjoy playing against the big guys.”
United, Chelsea, Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich all cruised to easy wins on Tuesday, scoring 17 goals between them and conceding none.
Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Juventus was something of an exception, if only because the Italian champions — last season’s defeated finalists — had been expected to put up more of a fight.
The game saw Lionel Messi start another European campaign in imperious fashion with two goals against an injury-depleted Juve side.
After a troubled summer, a home meeting with last season’s runners-up may not have been what Barca wanted, but Messi was at his brilliant best to give the Catalans the three points.
New signing Ousmane Dembele was handed a first Barcelona start at the Camp Nou but it was Messi who got the opening goal on the stroke of half-time after a brilliant exchange of passes with Luis Suarez.
It was fine play from the Argentine that led to Ivan Rakitic doubling Barca’s lead on 56 minutes and Messi saved the best for last with a sublime goal to complete the victory midway through the second half.
“I have suffered many times playing against Messi and now I have the luck to have him on my side,” said Barca coach Ernesto Valverde. “Whenever Messi gets the ball you get the feeling that he’s going to do something for us. The goal just before the break was crucial.”
Juve were missing defender Giorgio Chiellini, forward Mario Mandzukic and midfielder Sami Khedira through injury, while Juan Cuadrado was suspended.
The result gave Barca revenge for their defeat to Juve in last season’s quarter-finals and leaves them on top of Group ‘D’ alongside Sporting Lisbon, who won 3-2 away to Olympiakos in Greece.
Sporting, who had been three goals up at half-time, took the lead after just 69 seconds through forward Seydou Doumbia, on loan from AS Roma.
In Glasgow, Messi’s former team-mate Neymar and fellow new signing Kylian Mbappe made their marks for PSG with first-half goals in a superb 5-0 victory over Celtic. Edinson Cavani also helped himself to two including a first-half penalty.
“There is a good understanding between us in attack, but it’s easier to play with great players, it’s always fun. It makes everyone’s work easier,” Neymar told beIN Sports.
Neymar silenced the Parkhead crowd in the 19th minute for his fifth goal in five appearances for PSG, and he then set up Mbappe to make it 2-0.
Cavani — the third member of PSG’s ‘MCN’ front three — won and converted a penalty to put the visitors out of sight before the interval.
A Mikael Lustig own goal on 83 minutes and another for Cavani put the seal on PSG’s victory and left Celtic to contemplate their heaviest ever home defeat in Europe.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was unhappy with his side’s performance, saying his team played like “under-12s” for a spell in the first half.
But Rodgers said he did not want to be “too tough” on his players as they were up against “the potential champions”.
“With all due respect, where these guys are at it’s not just one or two levels, it’s three or four levels beyond us,” he said.
PSG’s next opponents in Group ‘B’ will be five-time European champions Bayern, who began their campaign by brushing aside Anderlecht 3-0 at the Allianz Arena.
The game was conditioned by the early sending-off of Anderlecht’s Sven Kums for giving away a penalty that Robert Lewandowski converted.
Alexandru Chipciu did hit the post for the 10 men when it was still 1-0 but Bayern added two more goals in the second half, with Joshua Kimmich setting up Thiago Alcantara to score before wrapping up the win himself.
Substitute Marouane Fellaini was an unlikely source of inspiration as United comfortably defeated Basel in Group ‘A’ on their return to the Champions League.
Fellaini came on for the injured Paul Pogba and gave United a 35th-minute lead at a drizzly Old Trafford. He later teed up Marcus Rashford for the hosts’ third goal after Romelu Lukaku had struck early in the second period.
It was United’s first Champions League game since December 2015, with Mourinho’s side having engineered a return to the competition by winning the Europa League last season.
In the same group, CSKA Moscow came from behind to beat Portuguese champions Benfica 2-1 in Lisbon with Timur Zhamaletdinov getting their winner four minutes into his Champions League debut.
Mourinho’s old club Chelsea were the biggest winners on the night, thrashing Azerbaijan newcomers Qarabag 6-0 at Stamford Bridge in Group ‘C’.
A superb Pedro Rodriguez strike set Chelsea on their way before recent signing Davide Zappacosta’s intended cross flew in to make it 2-0 before the interval.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Tiemoue Bakayoko scored after the break and Michy Batshuayi added the fifth before forcing Maksim Medvedev into the own goal that completed the rout.
Chelsea next go to Atletico Madrid, who drew 0-0 at AS Roma on Tuesday.
Atletico see themselves as contenders to win the Champions League, but poor finishing made them look well short of that standard.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2017