Elite XI: Stars shine bright in Champions League group openers

The Champions League group stage openers are in the books, and after Tuesday’s slate of lopsided contests was short on surprises, Wednesday’s eight tilts offered more for fervent supporters and neutral onlookers alike.

One consistent element between the two days were goals, and after 28 tallies were amassed Tuesday, 26 were bagged as Groups E through G locked horns on hump day.

With prowess in attack as a theme, here’s a look at 11 standout performances from a goal-heavy midweek. Keep in mind that this collection fancies offensive-minded football, and as a result, may resemble Qarabag at Stamford Bridge when tracking back:

Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain): Maligned for being a goal-poacher who requires a high frequency of opportunities to be useful, Edinson Cavani was stellar against Celtic, scoring twice on three shots whilst combining with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on four of PSG‘s five goals. That’s now nine goals in the Uruguayan’s last six outings in all comps.

Harry Kane (Tottenham): The anti-Cavani, Tottenham star Harry Kane, is a shoe-in after an utterly dazzling performance Wednesday against Borussia Dortmund. Two goals and an assist highlight Kane’s efforts in snapping the Wembley curse, giving the 24-year-old braces in his last Champions League match, Premier League outing, and international fixture with England.

Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain): For his career, Neymar has been involved in a Champions League goal every 92.1 minutes. As astounding as that number is, the world’s most expensive player looks set to lower it after a goal and assist against Celtic led the way for the capital club. The lad even donated his kit to King Kenny and Marina Dalglish’s beast cancer charity. Class.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona): The aforementioned Neymar may be gone, but Lionel Messi didn’t appear to skip a beat, registering a maiden goal against Gianluigi Buffon in a 3-0 drubbing of Juventus. The Barcelona star was unplayable, making Alex Sandro look human on his way to notching a match-changing double to give him seven goals in his last 180 minutes of football.

Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City): A member of Manchester City‘s attack had to make this team after the 4-0 beatdown of Feyenoord, and Kevin De Bruyne gets the nod. The Belgian completed 91 percent of 105 passes, 100 percent of his take-ons, and even won two tackles while assisting on John Stones‘ second on the evening.

Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich): Is there a more underrated player on the continent than Thiago Alcantara? When fit, the Spaniard is a tireless worker who controls matches in a central role, and the 26-year-old did exactly that in Bayern Munich‘s 3-0 win over Anderlecht. No player on the pitch saw more of the ball than Alcantara, who scored the Bavarians’ second goal on the way to 137 touches.

Willian (Chelsea): While a Tuesday night home fixture against Azerbaijani minnow Qarabag may not be the barometre for a player’s virtues, Chelsea’s Willian was unplayable as part of a front-three alongside Michy Batshuayi and Pedro. The Brazilian played the pivotal ball for Pedro’s fifth-minute opener and bossed the fixture with seven successful dribbles, joint-highest with Neymar in Champions League play.

Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea): Like Willian, versatile defender Cesar Azpilicueta is a Chelsea star who lets his game do the talking. In this instance, the Spaniard narrowly edges Blues debutant Davide Zappacosta for a spot in this collection of elites, completing 86 percent of his passes while winning two aerial duels and three tackles. He does it all.

John Stones (Manchester City): Bit unfair that Manchester City can have one of Europe’s most stacked attacks and still get a two-goal performance from one of its centre-halves. Such are Pep Guardiola’s luxuries as John Stones set the tone with a second-minute opener before doubling that total 18 minutes after the interval. He also completed 131 of 134 passes. Even if the majority of those are ineffectual, that’s an obscene number.

Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich):Philipp Lahm‘s successor, Joshua Kimmich, is wasting little time filling the boots of his Die Mannschaft brethren, and against Anderlecht, the 22-year-old was stellar at right-back, assisting on Alcantara’s goal before scoring one of his own on the 90-minute mark. Kimmich also completed 92 percent of his passes whilst combining on the right with Arjen Robben.

Alisson (Roma): Roma managed to hold Atletico Madrid to a scoreless draw at the Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday, and considering Los Colchoneros’ defensive-minded ethos, Diego Simeone’s lot sure was in an attacking mood. That’s where Alisson comes in, and with nine saves, the Brazilian was the midweek’s most influential shot-stopper.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

EPL | theScore

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