A Champions League night that promised so much in terms of excitement and drama failed to live up to expectations with Chelsea cruising into the last sixteen, Barcelona racking up another one-sided victory and AC Milan finishing the opening phase undefeated.
It was left to Ligue1 side Marseille to create the only drama from Tuesday’s Matchday Six fixtures with a stirring comeback in Germany to cruelly deny Olympiacos a second round berth. Leverkusen threw away first place in Group E while FC Porto bowed out following a frustrating draw to allow Zenit St. Petersburg progress. A word too for Viktoria Plezn who struck twice late on to earn a draw at home to AC Milan on an otherwise routine night in the Champions League.
Tuesday, 6th December
Andre Villas-Boas entered Tuesday night’s crunch encounter with Valencia at Stamford Bridge knowing defeat to the Primera Liga outfit would cost his side a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League and quite possibly the young manager’s job. The Portuguese native need not have worried as Chelsea produced a vibrant, professional display to see off the Spaniards with Didier Drogba starring in a comfortable 3-0 win.
The home side hit the front after only four minutes had elapsed when former Valencia playmaker Juan Mata collected a Sturridge cross and expertly laid the ball back into the path of Drogba. The Ivory Coast international shimmied past a defender before wrong-footing the goalkeeper with a low shot to hand the Premier League side an early lead.
David Albelda and Tino Costa led the Valencia comeback in free-flowing first half but Peter Cech denied the Spaniards an equaliser with some excellent goalkeeping before Chelsea netted their second of the night. Drogba was involved once again with the Pensioners’ striker galloping through the heart of the Valencia defence before finding Ramires with a slide-rule pass. The Brazilian midfielder held off Victor Ruiiz before shooting past Alves.
An expected Valencia comeback never materialised in a disappointing second half display from the Primera Liga side who never brought star striker Roberto Soldado into the game. Chelsea were happy to sit deep and counter-attack for much of the second 45 minutes and their third and match-clinching goal arrived in the 75th minute. Juan Mata’s marvellous through ball found Didier Drogba sprinting towards goal and the striker made no mistake with an impudent finish using the outside of his boot to seal a 3-0 victory and solidify Chelsea’s place in the last sixteen.
Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Group E whipping boys Genk on Matchday Six knowing an away win would secure top spot and a place in the last sixteen for the first time in nearly a decade. The Belgians hit the front on the half hour however with a Ndabashinze cross finding Jelle Vossen who executed a magnificent first time volley to stun the visiting Bundesliga side.
Bayer Leverkusen increased their efforts significantly in the second half and grabbed a deserved equaliser when Derdiyok capitalised on Sidney Sam’s good approach play to send a first time volley into the net. Genk goalkeeper Laszlo Koteles produced a superb save to deny Leverkusen a winner late on and the Germans had to be content with a 1-1 draw. The result allowed Chelsea leapfrog into top spot in Group E.
Group E Matchday 6 results: Chelsea 3 Valencia 0, Genk 1 Bayer Leverkusen 1
Group E Qualifiers: 1st Chelsea (seeded) 2nd Bayer Leverkusen
Champions League Group F provided the most excitement on Matchday Six with Olympiacos hosting a second string Arsenal at the Karaiskakis Stadium knowing a home win was critical if the Greeks were going to make the next phase of the competition. Arsene Wenger used the occasion to rest the majority of his regular starters and paid the price with a shambolic first half defensive dislpay.
The Greeks opened the scoring just after the quarter hour mark following a series of missed Arsenal opportunities. A defensive mix-up between Djourou and Squillaci allowed Algerian international Rafik Djebbour to skip past Fabianski and slot the ball into an empty net. Worse was to follow for the Gunners after 36 minutes when replacement goalkeeper Vito Mannone made a hash of a headed clearance and then attempted to volley (rather than catch) David Fuster’s first time shot. The ball floated past the Arsenal goalkeeper and into the net for a farcical goal.
The Gunners hit back shortly after the interval with Yossi Benayoun scoring with a venomous first time effort from the edge of the box. The Premier League side pushed hard for an leveller until Olympiacos secured a 3-1 win with Modesto tapping home from close range a minute from time after Mellberg’s initial header rebounded off the upright.
Marseille travelled to Germany to take on Borussia Dortmund in the other Group F fixture on Matchday Six knowing they had to match Olympiacos’ result against Arsenal to secure the runners-up spot in the group. It was the Bundesliga club who broke the deadlock after 23 minutes when Jakub Błaszczykowski found the net with a controlled volley in a crowded penalty area. Things got even worse for the French side just after the half hour when Dortmund centre-back Mats Hummels converted a penalty kick following Stephane Mbia’s wild kick to Sebastian Kehl’s head.
Loic Remy handed Marseille a lifeline with a diving header to make it 2-1 in first half stoppage time but Borussia Dortmund still looked favourites to hold out for victory until a dramatic final five minutes turned the game on its head. With news filtering through of Olympiacos’ 3-1 lead over Arsenal Didier Deschamps urged his side forward and the Ligue1 club drew level five minutes from the end when Andre Ayew thumped a header beyond Roman Weidenfeller to seemingly earn his side a point.
There was still time for one final twist however when Mathieu Valbuena danced around a Dortmund defender and curled a majestic shot into the top corner from the edge of the box to seal a 3-2 win. The Marseille bench and supporters erupted into wild celebrations as the French side’s last gasp winner secured the runners-up spot in the group.
Group F Matchday 6 results: Borussia Dortmund 2 Marseille 3, Olympiacos 3 Arsenal 1
Group F Qualifiers: 1st Arsenal (seeded) 2nd Marseille
APOEL Nicosia were already assured a place in the second phase of the Champions League ahead of Tuesday night’s home tie with Shakhtar Donetsk while second place in the group came down to a straight shootout between Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg.
The matchup in the Estadio do Drago in Porto saw the home side pummel the Zenit defence for much of the fixture but some heroic defending from the Russian back four and a magnificent individual display from goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev helped the St. Petersburg club secure passage to the knockout stage for the first time in the club’s history.
Cypriot side APOEL finished top of Group G despite a 2-0 defeat at home to Shakhtar Donetsk in Nicosia. Luiz Adriano opened the scoring for the visitors when the Brazilian striker turned home a Vyacheslav Shevchuk centre from close range after 62 minutes. Donetsk substitute Yevhen Seleznyov tapped home a rebound in the 78th minute to cement a 2-0 victory and first European win in eight attempts for Shakhtar.
Group G Matchday 6 results: APOEL Nicosia 0 Shakhtar Donetsk 2, FC Porto 0 Zenit St. Petersburg 0
Group G Qualifiers: 1st APOEL (seeded) 2nd Zenit St. Petersburg
Both Barcelona and AC Milan were assured first and second spot in Group H before Tuesday night’s fixtures but the Catalans took the opportunity to blood a number of young stars who produced a stunning display to sweep aside the challenge of BATE Borisov at the Camp Nou.
A new-look Barcelona dominated possession to the tune of 75% in their 4-0 thumping of BATE in which ten outfield players were of an average age of twenty-one. Sergi Roberto scored the opener from the edge of the area following a sweeping Barca move before two quick-fire strikes from Martin Montoya and Pedro made it 3-0. Pedro rolled in a penalty late on to finish off a terrific performance that will have altered the rest of Europe to Barcelona’s up and coming talent.
AC Milan travelled to Prague on Matchday Six to take on Viktoria Plezn and hit the front through an opportunistic strike from Brazilian Pato when the young striker rounded the goalkeeper after 47 minutes to open the scoring. Pato turned provider for fellow Brazilian Robinho a minute later with the Milan striker walloping an unstoppable effort into the top corner of the net.
Milan were guilty of taking their foot off the gas however and Plezn pulled one back in the 87th minute through a neat David Bystron finish. The Czech side sent their supporters into ecstasy in the 83rd minute when Duris beat Marco Amelia to earn the hosts a last gasp 2-2 draw.
Group H Matchday 6 results: Barcelona 4 BATE Borisov 0, Viktoria Plzen 2 AC Milan 2
Group H Qualifiers: 1st Barcelona (seeded) 2nd AC Milan
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