Champions League debutants CFR 1907 Cluj came from behind to beat Roma and record a stunning 2-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Beyond the absence of Totti, Roma had a strong squad out on the field and will be disappointed with their performance. There has been a bit of turmoil off the field recently with the death of club president Franco Sensi and the decision of American billionaire George Soros to back away from buying the club, apparently after seeing the depths of Roma’s debts (reported to exceed 500m US).
That is not to take anything away from Cluj who made the most of their debut and produced one of the biggest upsets in recent Champions League history. Argentinian midfielder Juan Culio was the hero for Cluj scoring both goals, the second a lovely volley. On the basis of that performance, Romania plans to give Culio citizenship so that he can play for their national side. There is truly a feel good story about Culio, who worked as a bricklayer in Argentina to support his family for six years from the age of 13. He started out playing at senior club level for Independiente Buenos Aires in 2005-2006. The 24-year old player came to Cluj after a brief stay with Deportes La Serena of Chile in 2007.
Meanwhile, Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari took the Cluj upset as a warning shot and despite his team winning 4-0 over Bordeaux, Scolari was critical of the performance. In his post-game press conference he told reporters:
“We made many mistakes in the second half. We did not control the game enough, we let them have too much of the ball. We did not play very well. We could be punished by other teams who get in front of goal faster and with quality. That is dangerous for us. When you are winning 2-0 at half-time you need to work the ball and control the game. You don’t need to win 5-0.” He then added: “You see that Cluj beat Roma. That is a warning for us for the next game.”
Chelsea got goals from Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka but Scolari hinted that his players did not perform as he wanted and were not following his tactical plan. It’s probably a warning to the players ahead of their massive English Premier League match against Manchester United this weekend.
In Group B, Jose Mourinho enjoyed a successful CL debut with Inter Milan as goals from Mancini and Adriano (both courtesy of brilliant setup work by Zlatan Ibrahimovic) gave them a 2-0 win over Panathinaikos. The Greek side did have a number of chances to score and I thought that they might have snuck a draw if their luck had run a bit better. In the group’s other game, Champions League debutants Anorthosis Famagusta secured a surprise point away at German side Werder Bremen in a 0-0 draw. Bremen failed to convert time and time again as Claudio Pizarro, Hugo Almeida and others missed many clear chances to score. Bremen put an amazing 14 shots wide of goal, while on 5 shots were on target. That will need to improve if they are to get their season up and running.
In Group C, Barcelona finally recorded a win this season defeating Sporting Lisbon 3-1 at the Nou Camp. Goals from Rafael Marquez, Samuel Eto’o and Xavi secured the win for the 2006 Champions League winners. Shakhtar Donetsk joined Barca at the top of the group on three points with a 2-1 victory in Switzerland against Basel.
Atletico are the early leaders in Group D after an impressive 3-0 victory away against Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven. Sergio Aguero was the star of the match with two goals while a player I think is not rated highly enough by many, Maniche, scored the third after he and Luis Garcia combined to carve apart the PSV defence. They had done so early in the first half to set up Aguero’s first goal and paired again in the 54th minute to put the game beyond doubt.
Though the stats will show that PSV had the bulk of possession, Atletico controlled the game and were rarely troubled. The Atletico midfield passed the ball at will and the scoreline could have been much higher. All was not rosy as Aguero’s striker partner and former Golden Boot winner, Diego Forlan, limped off through injury.
I’d named Atletico as one of the teams to watch in the CL this season and their performance on Tuesday certainly made me look good. I don’t know if they will match the performance of my “dark horse” pick from last season but I do think they’ve got the depth and talent to make it to the knockout stages. I’m looking forward to seeing them matched up with Liverpool on Matchday 3.
Speaking of Liverpool, they continued their strong start to the season with a 2-1 win over Marseille. Steven Gerrard scored both goals for Liverpool, who were coming off a massive 2-1 win English Premier League victory over last season’s champions Manchester United. Liverpool are finding ways to win games early in the year, which is something they struggled with in past seasons. If they can keep this going and retain their late season form of the last couple of years, they should be fighting for honors on several fronts.