Arsenal looked right at home back in the friendly confines of the Emirates Stadium.
After losing twice on the road this month, including a surprise 1-0 defeat last Thursday to BATE Borisov, Arsenal took care of business at home. The Gunners defeated BATE, 3-0 on the night (3-1 on aggregate), with goals from centerbacks Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous, while BATE’s Zakhar Volkov scored an own goal early to tie the scoreline between the two legs.
South of the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea built on their 2-1 aggregate lead over Malmo FF with a resounding 3-0 win. Malmo finished with ten men and the game was highlighted by goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi and a Ross Barkley free kick.
With the wins, both Premier League sides advance to the Europa League Round of 16. The draw for the Round of 16 will be held on Friday, with matches taking place March 7 and 14.
Arsenal took an unexpected lead in the fourth minute of the match. A seemingly harmless cross from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was somehow turned into his own net by BATE centerback Zakhar Volkov. After some shaky moments early, Arsenal settled in and controlled the match, leading to the go-ahead goal. Granit Xhaka played the first of his two assists as Mustafi got on the end of a corner kick to head the ball in for a goal.
In the 60th minute, Sokratis’ header off a corner kick put the game away and allowed Arsenal fans to relax for the final half-hour of play.
It’s been three weeks, and the result is still unbelievable. Bayern Munich did lose in Minsk last round. The same team that’s tearing through the Bundesliga lost to BATE Borisov, one of the bigger upsets in Champions League history.
The result keeps the group a three-team race, even after Lille’s early fade. It also means the day’s most important match isn’t Bayern’s visit to LOSC’s new Grand Stade. It’s the one in Belarus.
BATE Borisov (Belarus) vs. Valencia (Spain)
Dinamo Stadium, Minsk, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
After wins at Lille and versus Bayern, Belarusian champions top the group with six points. While their results have been upsets, they haven’t been squeaked out, smash-and-grab jobs. Far from it. BATE have a +4 goal difference, have scored three of their six goals in their matches’ first 23 minutes, and have yet to concede before the hour mark. They haven’t trailed in the tournament, only spending 29 minutes on even footing with their opponents.
So BATE’s likely to be around longer than we expected. It’s only right that we take some time to better know some of their key contributors:
28-year-old striker Vitali Rodionov will lead the attack. Over the course of his career with BATE, he’s been good for one goal every two league games. In this year’s tournament, he’s scored in each game.
Alyaksandr Volodko’s Champions League success earned the defensive midfielder a callup for to the Belarus national team, for whom he debuted last week. The 26-year-old has a goal and two assists while playing on the left of a three-man unit in front of the defense.
Edhar Alyakhnovich has a goal and an assist playing on the right in BATE’s midfield. Like Volodko, Alyakhnovish started his career at Dinamo Brest before moving to Borisov (he moved in 2010, Volodko’s been with BATE since 2008). Against Lille, Alyakhnovich completed 52 passes (second on the team) at an 87 percent clip.
As with most upsets, the goalkeeping has been huge. Andrey Harbunow, in his first season with BATE, has had to make 12 saves during over the first two games, during which time the Belarusians were outshot 46-18.
In previous matches, BATE was aided by the element of surprise. They came into the competition as minnows. When they beat Lille, they opened eyes, but it wasn’t until their upset of Bayern that people really started to take note. Now, they’re this year’s APOEL Nicosia – the Cypriot club that made a Cinderella run to last year’s knockout round.
Valencia is unlikely to become the third team to overlook FC BATE. Coming off a convincing victory over Lille, Los Che can go top with a win in Minsk. It’s an opportunity few thought they’d have when the tournament started, but with back-to-back games against BATE, Mauricio Pellegrino’s team have a chance to take control of the group.
Coming off a dramatic league victory over Athletic Bilbao, Valencia can use this match to regain some of the swagger the showed during strong performances at the Santiago Bernabeu (1-1), Nou Camp (0-1), and Allianz Arena (1-2).
From BATE head coach Viktor Goncharenko:
” It is hard to say if we would be happy with a draw. We could definitely say so afterwards, though it depends if we were ahead or conceded first.”
From Valencia head coach Mauricio Pellegrino:
“[O]ur defence has to be more reliable. We cannot afford too many defensive mistakes against BATE, and I think it is time to win away at last.”
Rebuild versus reload. It’s a dichotomy that has cliché when talking about U.S. college sports. Some programs are so good at getting new talent, they don’t rebuild after their best players graduate (read: forgo their last three seasons of eligibility). Those programs just reload – bringing in a new class of top-flight talent, never missing a beat.
The explosion in sports media that’s occurred over the last 20 years has pushed that cliché beyond college sports. Rebuild versus reload is asked whenever a team starts descending in their success cycle. When old cornerstones are phased out for new figureheads, is a team reloading? Or completely rebuilding?
Lille and Bayern are perfect illustrations of this dichotomy – examples of why some clubs’ successes go in phases while others are perpetual powers.
Bayern’s European royalty. Even attempts to spend the club into insignificance (in the 1980s) couldn’t knock FCB off their pedestal in Germany. Thanks to wealth and reputation that give Bayern the pick of Bundesliga talent, Bayern doesn’t rebuild. They reload. Currently two years without a title, FCB has raced out to a perfect 8-0-0 start in Germany.
Lille, on the other hand, has been forced into a rebuild. Two years ago, LOSC claimed their first league title in 47 years with the help of players like Eden Hazard, Gervinho, Moussa Sow, Yoann Cabaye and Adil Rami. With all of those stars gone, Rudi Garcia’s squad’s been forced to rebuild, seemingly unable to hold on near the top of their league while their new stadium’s virtues to take hold.
It’s not too late, though. Lille currently sit 11th in France, but the season’s still young. Although they’ve won only two of their nine league matches, they’ve also only lost two games, one of which was to Paris Saint-Germain. If Garcia can get more production out of Nolan Roux, Salomon Kalou, Ryan Mendes and (or) Tulio de Melo (a quartet that’s combined for four goals this season), Lille can convert draws into victories.
While it would be nice if that process started on Tuesday, Lille’s problem is the bigger picture. Bottom of their group with no points through two matches, LOSC may have too much ground to make up in Champions Legaue. Against a Bayern team smarting from a shock loss in Belarus, progress will be as important as points.
From Lille head coach Rudi Garcia:
” We are playing one of the biggest sides in Europe so we will have to give it 120% and Bayern will have to have an off day if we want to get a positive result. It is David against Goliath. “
From Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes:
” LOSC are one of the best teams in France, regardless of the league table. They are well organised and have a good structure.”
We’ve given our thoughts on the results, but now let’s look beyond the final scores to take inventory of the day’s big winners and losers – what stood out from Champions League Tuesday:
1. Road teams rock – Visiting sides crushed it on Tuesday: Five wins, one draw in eight games. Having Barcelona, Chelsea, and Manchester United on the road helped that total, but as we saw in Minsk, big names aren’t guaranteed results. We may have to call UEFA to figure out how often this happens, because no single day in last season’s tournament produced more than four road wins.
2. Minnows with bite – It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of BATE’s upset over Bayern Munich, winning 3-2 in Minsk. Bayern had been the hottest team in the world, but not anymore. Come minute 91, they were just the latest part of BATE’s perfect Champions League start. In a group with Bayern, Valencia, and Lille, it’s the Belarusians who have an improbable lead.
In Russia, a minnow got a rare road win, though it’s unusual to think of Celtic as minnows. Still, given how they’ve recently performed in Europe, a win at Spartak Moscow looked highly unlikely. But thanks to an early goal, a sending off, and a Spartak overgoal, Celtic was able to take a 3-2 win out of the Luzhniki Stadium. Through two rounds, Celtic sits on four points, more than many would have picked them to claim all competition.
4. Cesc Fábregas – One week ago, Fábregas was worried about his place in the Barcelona team, with Tito Vilanova showing him less playing team than he’d seen under Pep Guariola. There were (thin, comical) rumors of him moving back to Arsenal. Since, Fábregas has three goals in two games, including one on Tuesday against Benfica. Cesc looks just as much a part of Barcelona as he did last season.
1. Carles Puyol – Puyol has been a miss for a Barcelona team that’s often had to go with two midfielders (Alexander Song and Javier Mascherano) in central defense. He returned today only to be stretchered off the field, suffering a dislocated elbow. The timetable for his return wasn’t immediately available.
2. Matchday one momentum – Cluj pulled an upset, Juventus got a surprise draw in London, while Spartak Moscow and Galatasaray had close calls at giants on matchday one. Did any of that matter on matchday two? Mostly no, though Cluj played with the confidence of a team that’s thinking second round (even if they still lost to Manchester United).
For the other three teams looking to build on day one results, there were no silver linings. Juventus were played to a draw in Turin while Spartak and Gala were upset at home.
3. Istanbul’s reputation – That upset of Galatasaray deserves an extra bullet point. Coming into the tournament we heard the likes of Ryan Giggs talking about the nightmare that was playing in Istanbul. But how much of a nightmare can it be if Sporting Braga got a 2-0 result at the Turk Telecom Arena?
When you ask a question like that, it’s always easy to overlook the winner’s performance. Still, it’s hard to consider Istanbul such a difficult trip when a team like Braga can go from being embarrassed at home by CFR Cluj to winning at Galatasaray, Turkey’s champions. The Super Lïg’s best can no longer hold their own.
4. Bayern mystique – In the past, the name “Bayern München” would have won these matches before they started. Obviously, BATE does not live in the past. Bayern allowed more goals on Tuesday (three) than they’ve given up all season in Germany. No matter your opinion of BATE (who now sit on six points), Tuesday’s result was an bust for FC Hollywood.