GENEVA: A long-time criticism of the Champions League group stage? Too many lopsided mismatches as the wealth gap between clubs fuels competitive imbalance on the field.
Tell that to favored Liverpool and Eintracht Frankfurt after their heavy losses Wednesday.
Or to coaches Thomas Tuchel and Domenico Tedesco who lost their jobs on the morning after shocking losses for their teams, Chelsea and Leipzig, respectively.
Liverpool slumped to a stunning 4-1 defeat at Napoli where the hosts were four goals up in just 47 minutes at the stadium named for club icon Diego Maradona.
Though Jurgen Klopp’s team has been beaten in just four games in 2022, three were in the Champions League including Real Madrid’s 1-0 win in the final in May.
Eintracht won the Europa League title in May but the German club and the team it beat in the final, Rangers, both found it tough Wednesday on returning to the top-tier competition after long absences.
Eintracht were surprisingly beaten 3-0 at home by Sporting Lisbon just four days after its four-goal rout of Leipzig in the Bundesliga sped up Tedesco’s exit.
Rangers were swept aside in the first half at Ajax before falling to a 4-0 loss.
Robert Lewandowski already tops the scoring chart after his Champions League debut for Barcelona, who beat Viktoria Plzen 5-1.
One night after Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland each scored twice in wins for their clubs Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, Lewandowski went one better with a hat trick.
Tottenham beat Marseille 2-0 with Brazil forward Richarlison twice scoring with headers late in the game on his Champions League debut.
A remarkable 11-minute period of stoppage time at Atletico Madrid saw the home team open the scoring and be pegged back by a penalty for 10-man Porto before Antoine Griezmann sealed a 2-1 win with a header from a tight angle.
Bayern Munich eased to a 2-0 win at Inter Milan, where Leroy Sane opened the scoring in the first half, and Club Brugge beat struggling Bayer Leverkusen 1-0.
Two coach firings began the Champions League drama early Wednesday.
Tuchel was ousted at Chelsea just 15 months after he guided the club to its second Champions League title. The German manager’s dissatisfaction with the club was clear in interviews late Tuesday after a 1-0 loss at Dinamo Zagreb.
Tedesco lasted just nine months at Leipzig, a Champions League semifinalist two years ago, and did not survive a humbling 4-1 home loss to Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
The careers of Klopp and Tuchel have been linked since Tuchel succeeded Klopp after seven-year spells at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund.
Both have been on the winning and losing sides of Champions League finals in just the last four years, and both endured one of their worst days in the competition Wednesday.
Liverpool’s rough start at Napoli saw the 2019 champion trail after a penalty within five minutes and go in at halftime 3-0 down despite goalkeeper Allison Becker saving a second spot kick.
Luis Diaz cut the lead to 4-1 after 49 minutes but Liverpool was far off its typical hard-pressing intensity.
“It looks a little bit like we have to reinvent ourselves,” acknowledged Klopp, who is coming up to seven full years at Liverpool and hosts Ajax next Tuesday.
It was a stellar night for the Simeones in two different countries.
Son Giovanni scored the third goal for Napoli on his competition debut and dad Diego in Madrid saw his Atletico team show the resilience that is his coaching trademark to outlast Porto in stoppage time.
Victory ended an eight-game winless streak for Simeone’s team at home in the Champions League. Atlético is at Leverkusen next week.
Marseille, winner of the first Champions League title in 1993, have now lost its last eight away games in the competition dating back a decade and 14 of 15 games overall in that time.
The game turned on a red card shown in the 47th minute to Marseille defender Chancel Mbemba for bringing down Son Heung-min.
Tottenham is still unbeaten this season and goes to Lisbon to face Sporting next Tuesday, when Marseille hosts Eintracht.
STEP UP, FALL BACK
Eintracht and Rangers were evenly matched in the Europa League final less than four months ago. Eintracht won the title on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
They had similar fortunes Wednesday though not in a way either enjoyed on returning from long absences in Europe’s biggest competition.
Eintracht ended a 62-year wait — since losing the iconic 1960 European Cup final 7-3 to Real Madrid — by collapsing in the second half at home to surging Sporting. Three goals in 17 minutes began with a goal from English forward Marcus Edwards.
It was 12 years and one financial collapse ago that Rangers last played in the Champions League. After their beating at Ajax, Rangers host Napoli in Glasgow next Tuesday.