After three rounds in Champions League’s groups E through H, only one perfect team remains. Arsenal, Barcelona, and Schalke all came into the day’s games without a blemish, but each dropped points, Arsenal and Schalke doing so at home.
Atlético Madrid, however, is the competition’s first team to reach nine points, and given they’ve played two of their three games on the road, they’re in a particularly strong position on top of Group G. After their 3-0 win today in Vienna against Austria Wein, Diego Simeone’s team has a five-point lead over second place Zenit St. Petersburg, with their home match against Austria in two weeks giving the Colchoneros a chance to punch their ticket in the knockout round.
It was also a big day for former champions Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund, both of whom climbed back to the top of their groups. With their 3-0 win over Schalke, Chelsea are in back in control of Group E, while Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win in North London not only pulled them even with Arsenal, it reminded everybody that a small downturn in form isn’t enough to leave BVB vulnerable to most of Europe. Even in fourth gear, Dortmund were able to beat England’s leaders.
Here’s what else happened Tuesday in UEFA Champions League.
[MORE: Full-time snapshots – the numbers from today’s UCL action.]
Group E: Schalke (Germany) 0-3 Chelsea (England) [REACTION]
What happened: Fernando Torres’s fifth minute goal proved the game winner, even if Schalke spent a half looking set to pull it back. After intermission, however, Chelsea got a second from Torres and a match-sealing goal from Eden Hazard, giving the visitors a relatively easy three points.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In hindsight, we had no reason to believe this would go any other way, given the form the two teams carried into this match. Chelsea was thriving, having gone 5-0-1 in their last six, while Schalke had entered another minor swoon. Perhaps Chelsea’s loss to Basel left lingering questions, but after today’s performance, there’s no doubt the team has moved forward. They’re clearly this group’s best side.
Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1-1 Basel (Switzerland)
What happened: If it wasn’t for an Iasmin Latovlevici error, Steaua may have claimed their first win of the tournament, the left back’s errant pass setting up Marco Streller for Basel’s only score. A late goal from substitute Leandro Tatu, however, gave the hosts a well-deserved point, dealing Basel their second straight setback.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In the big picture, this is a good result for Basel, who got a point on the road at the champions of Romania. Within Group E’s dynamics, however, this is a setback, dropping points to a team that may end up swept by Chelsea and Schalke. That’s the tough life Steaua were drawn into, but it’s also the unfortunate reality of Basel’s knockout stage hopes.
Group F: Arsenal (England) 1-2 Borussia Dortmund (Germany) [REACTION]
What happened: From minutes 30 to 80, Arsenal were the better side, equalizing through Olivier Giroud and nearly going up through Santi Cazorla. At each end of the game, however, Dortmund found goals, taking advantage of Arsenal errors with scores from Henrikh Mkhitaryan (16′) and Robert Lewandowski (82′). Dortmund claims three huge points on the road.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: If Arsenal were a younger team, you’d chalk this up as a learning experience, but not only have these players accumulated a wealth of Champions League knowledge, they played Dortmund two years ago. Instead, this was a measuring stick for England’s leaders and perhaps another reminder to us. Being one of the Premier League’s best hasn’t told us much about Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal’s abilities to threaten in Europe.
Group F: Marseille (France) 1-2 Napoli (Italy)
What happened: A convincing if controlled performance from the visitors saw José Callejon break through before half, Duván Zapata finishing the job early in the second. André Ayew found consolation late, but without a point through three rounds, l’OM have little hope of being anything more than spoilers in this group.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Coming off their first league loss of the season, Napoli gave an encouraging, confident performance. Though it took them 42 minutes to go up, they looked the better team throughout. For Marseille, the loss was their fourth straight, the team winless since defeating Lorient on Sept. 28. Still fifth in France, the team would be wise to shift full attention to their league campaign.
Group G: Porto (Portugal) 0-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
What happened: Porto midfielder Hector Herrera was carded in the fifth and sixth minutes, leaving the hosts down a man for the game’s final 84 minutes. For 79 of those, they not only survived but threatened, recording 22 shots. Five minutes from survival, however, a cross from former Porto star Hulk found substitute Alexander Kerzhakov for the game’s only goal, handing the Dragons their second home loss of the campaign.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Any match played 11-on-10 for 84 minutes is an aberration, but the consequences remain the same. Zenit, who failed to take advantage of a 10-man Austria Wein in round two, get three points that revitalize their knockout stage hopes. Porto, on the other hand, sit third in their group having yet to visit Madrid or St. Petersburg.
Group G: Austria Wein (Austria) 0-3 Atlético Madrid (Spain)
What happened: The day’s most lopsided match saw the Colchoneros go up early through Raul Garcia. Diego Costa, making his first appearance in this year’s tournament, added the other two goals, leaving Atlético perfect through three rounds.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Atleti are replicating last year’s performance from Málaga, where a Spanish team nobody cared about raced to an easy win in their group. After today’s results, Diego Simeone’s team is five points clear and could possibly clinch first in Group G in the next round.
Group H: Milan (Italy) 1-1 Barcelona (Spain)
What happened: A strong start from the hosts came good when Robinho beat Gerard Piqué, found Kaká before getting the ball back for the day’s first score, taking advantage of an error by Javier Mascherano. Transition off a Christian Zapata giveaway in the 24th minute led to Lionel Messi’s equalizer, the final goal of the match. Milan, who held only 28 percent of the ball, held out for the draw.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: A typical Barcelona game produced a not-so-surprising result, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives for Milan. The point helps consolidate their position as Group H’s team most likely to join Barcelona in the knockout round, while the performance was one of their most resilient of the season.
Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 2-1 Ajax (Netherlands)
What happened: A tough day for Ajax defender Stefano Denswil, who conceded the first half penalty that pushed Celtic in front before deflecting the Beram Kayal shot that beat Fraser Forster early in the second half. Nir Biton’s sending off and Lasse Schöne’s late consolation brought life to the match’s final moments, but Celtic still claimed the points they needed to move third.
Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Ajax look strong enough to reverse this one in Holland (where they’ll likely be healthier than they were today), but that result will only help Milan’s hold on second place. If there’s going to be a challenger to this group’s assumed top two, Celtic need to get a result next week – something that will make their final meeting with Milan that much more important.