Where Tuesday had a flurry of goals, Wednesday had talking points. A game-changing red card in Napoli. And own-goal decider late in Milan. Another Messi hat trick in Barcelona. And, of course, Chelsea being upset at home. It was those headline events that took the place of Tuesday’s glut of goals, helping to round out an encouraging start to UEFA’s marque tournament.
But whereas yesterday’s action was also defined by the imposing power of some of Europe’s elites, today’s most notable performances came from a trio of big clubs few would put among the Real Madrids and Manchester Uniteds of the world: Napoli won the day’s big game, knocking off German leaders Borussia Dortmund; Schalke continued their resurgence with a three-goal win at home; while Atlético Madrid showed they may be Group G’s favorites.
Here’s what else happened as Wednesday’s action rounded out match day one of UEFA Champions League:
Group E: Chelsea (England) 1-2 Basel (Switzerland) [RECAP]
In time, when Chelsea’s going through to the knockout round at the top of this group, we may see this result as the cold shower the Blues needed to awaken their season. Right now, however, it’s a reminder that talent alone does not win games. There was no question who had the better players, with Chelsea able to hold 57 percent of the ball while outshooting their opposition. But come the 71st minute, there were doubts as to who would win this game. When Marco Stellar’s winner built on Mohamed Salah’s opener, Basel had the competition’s first shock result.
Group E: Schalke (Germany) 3-0 Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
The Romanian champions held out for 67 minutes before the reality of their situation became apparent. They are the underdogs in Group E, and against one of the two teams who will compete for second behind Chelsea (or, perhaps more after today’s result), Steaua saw how little margin for error they have. When their defense misjudged a cross with 23 minutes to play, Atsuto Uchida scored an unlikely opening goal. Eleven minutes later, the threat of the Julian Draxler-Kevin Prince Boateng combination was made clear, as the young German set up Prince’s score. Then, in the 85th minute, Draxler added one of his own, completing Steaua’s rude awakening.
Group F: Napoli (Italy) 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Germany) [RECAP]
Napoli were deserved winners, using goals from Gonzalo Higuaín and Lorenzo Insigne to outweigh Juan Camilo Zuñiga’s late own goal, but this is a match the viewers may wish had played out differently. Near the end of a quality first half that saw only Higuaín’s 29th minute header separate the sides, Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller was sent off for a hand ball outside the box. The call was the correct one (Pedro Proença had to make it), but it still ruined what could have been the best match of the young European season.
Group F: Marseille (France) 1-2 Arsenal (England)
A strong Arsenal start gave way to an even first half, with Marseille the slightly better side come halftime. The Gunners, however, found their stride in the second, Theo Walcott hammering home the opener after Jérémy Morel’s failed clearance before Aaron Ramsey notched his sixth goal of the season (seriously: six). The Welsh midfielder gave one back late, his penalty leading to Jordan Ayew’s 93rd minute conversation, but comfortably ahead by the time l’OM pulled one back, Arsenal posted an impressive opening round result.
Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 3-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Subtly, this was a very impressive performance from Atlético, particularly since Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti employed a bit of a gambit to slow them down, surprisingly going three-at-the-back. The setup, however, seemed to overlook the fact Atlético, because of the suspension to Diego Costa, were unlikely to go 4-4-2, Diego Simeone conceding before the match that Adrían’s inclusion would change their formation. With only David Villa up top, Atlético were able to undo Spalletti’s plans, getting goals from Miranda, Koke, and Leo Bapistao en route to an impressive victory.
Group G: Austria Wein (Austria) 0-1 FC Porto (Portugal)
Wein coach Nenad Bjelica spent the buildup to this match explaining a vast difference in the clubs’ resources means nothing once the match starts. And in the first half, he was right. Much like Chelsea-Basel, you could see which side had to more talented players, but Wein were generating all the opportunities despite only seeing 34 percent of the ball. Ten minutes into the second half, however, Lucho Gonzalez, a player the Austrians could not dream of affording, finished a Danil cross for the game’s only goal, one of only two shots the Portuguese champions managed on Heinz Lindner.
Group H: Barcelona (Spain) 4-0 Ajax (Netherlands) [RECAP]
Three more Champions League goals from Lionel Messi (and one for good measure from Gerard Piqué) gave Barcelona a result many would have predicted, especially after a penalty kick allowed the hosts to take an early lead. After that score, Ajax loosen up and gained a greater place in the match, forcing Victor Valdes into a number of good saves (including one from the spot). Ultimately, however, this was a pretty typical performance for Barcelona at home in Champions League.
From PST’s Steve Davis, on Barcelona and the team that inspired the Catalans’ style:
Indeed, they may be stylistic kindred spirits, having birthed their games through some of the same tactical DNA, but Barca and Ajax are hardly playing the same game these days. (Haven’t been for a while, in fact.) Ajax players, gifted as they are, just cannot match Barca’s technical aptitude nor the collective wit – especially not when playing as the visitors in Catalonia.
Group H: Milan (Italy) 2-0 Celtic (Scotland)
Max Allegri’s team were the better side throughout, but against a team with Celtic’s well-established counter attacking prowess, the 0-0 halftime scoreline was a dangerous one. Eight minutes from time, when it looked like Celtic (who finished the match without a shot on goal) were going to salvage a draw, Emilio Izaguirre inadvertently undid his team’s hopes, deflecting a Cristián Zapata shot home for the game’s opening goal. Sulley Muntari would add insurance four minutes from time to give a depleted Milan a deserved three points.