The UEFA Champions League is the toughest and most respected cup competition in Europe. Every year, the top 32 teams qualify for the competition and battle it out for nine odd months until the best team remains. Manchester City claimed the crown in the 2022-23 season but there could very well be a new victor this time around.
On Tuesday, the UEFA Champions League returned with another enticing campaign, gifting fans a series of high-profile group stage fixtures on Matchday 1. There were some enthralling clashes and jaw-dropping displays, which made us hopeful for yet another stellar season. Read on to meet the top five players who caught our eye on Matchday 1. Here are the five best performers from the first week of the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League season:
#5 Casemiro – Manchester United
Following a sluggish start to the 2023-24 campaign, Casemiro returned to true form in the clash against one of the tournament favorites Bayern Munich on Wednesday night (September 20). The Brazilian defensive midfielder did not do too well on the defensive front, losing six duels and getting dribbled past on five occasions, but bagged two excellent goals to give his team a fighting chance. His first goal came in the 88th minute, with him putting away Anthony Martial’s delivery from the floor. He added another in the fifth minute of injury time, guiding Bruno Fernandes’ free-kick into the back of the net.
Unfortunately for Casemiro and Co., it all counted for naught as Bayern Munich had a little extra in the tank and ultimately nicked a 4-3 victory at the Allianz Arena.
#4 Wenderson Galeno – FC Porto
Portuguese side FC Porto picked up an impressive 3-1 win over Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night (September 19), and Wenderson Galeno was at the heart of it all. The Brazilian left midfielder actively contributed to all three of Porto’s goals against Shakhtar, scoring twice and claiming an assist.
In the eighth minute, Andre Franco went for goal with a long-range strike. Shaktar goalkeeper Dmytro Riznyk blocked the shot but the rebound fell straight to Galeno, who made no mistake from close range. Seven minutes later, Galeno doubled his money, pouncing on a Shakhtar mistake and drilling the ball low past Riznyk. Galeno turned provider in the 29th minute, dribbling down the left channel and putting an inch-perfect cross into the box for Mehdi Taremi. The forward calmly side-footed the ball into the back of the net.
#3 Harry Kane – Bayern Munich
Representing Bayern Munich for the first time in Europe, Harry Kane put on quite a show. Against familiar foe Manchester United, Kane unleashed his creative side, carving the defense open time and time again. Over the 90, he scored once and provided an assist, emerging as Bayern’s most influential player.
In the 28th minute, Kane found Leroy Sane with a sharp backheel pass. The German went for goal with a relatively tame strike, but Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana shockingly spilled it into his own net. The former Tottenham Hotspur superstar found the back of the net in the 53rd minute, effortlessly putting away a penalty kick after a handball decision went against Manchester United.
Over the course of the clash, Kane created a match-high four chances, played five passes into the final third, and delivered four accurate long balls. Had it not been for his heroics, Bayern would not have been on the right side of the 4-3 scoreline.
#2 Julian Alvarez – Manchester City
Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez was on fire in the 3-1 comeback victory over Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday night, scoring twice and acting as the team’s creative fulcrum. The Argentina star scored Manchester City’s equalizer in the 47th minute, applying a deft finish to Erling Haaland’s unselfish pass. He got on the scoresheet again in the 60th minute, thanks to an absolute blunder from Red Star goalkeeper Omri Glazer. Glazer completely misjudged the flight of Alvarez’s free-kick, failing to punch it clear and allowing it to hit the back of the net.
Two goals aside, Alvarez also created the most chances in the game (7), completed 53 of 59 passes, played seven passes into the final third, and completed three dribbles. It was a complete performance from the 2022 FIFA World Cup winner.
#1 Joao Felix – Barcelona
Having failed to live up to his billing at Atletico Madrid, Joao Felix has hit the ground running at his new club Barcelona. The Portuguese was the most remarkable player of the lot as the Blaugrana picked up an emphatic 5-0 victory over Royal Antwerp in their 2023-24 UEFA Champions League opener on Tuesday (September 20). The 23-year-old scored twice and claimed an assist to give his side the perfect start to their European campaign.
Felix scored Barcelona’s opener with a pinpoint strike in the 11th minute, applying a deft finish to Ilkay Gundogan’s perfectly weighted pass. He added an assist to his name eight minutes later, setting up Robert Lewandowski for a straightforward volley. Felix’s second goal of the night came in the 66th minute, with him heading in Raphinha’s cross at the far post. Xavi could not have asked for a better UEFA Champions League debut from the newcomer.