Champions League – Wednesday Review

by Ger McCarthy

Arsenal put their recent domestic woes behind them to edge past Olympiacos while fellow Londoners Chelsea had to settle for a draw away to Valencia. AC Milan and Barcelona continued their impressive starts while Bayer Leverkusen and Marseille produced eye-catching victories on a busy Wednesday night’s action on Matchday 2 of the Champions League.

Wednesday 28th September

Group E
Chelsea went a point clear at the top of Champions League Group E courtesy of a 1-1 draw at the Mestalla Stadium with Valencia. Frank Lampard made plenty of headlines at the weekend having been left on the bench for their Premier League fixture by manager Andre Villas-Boas.

The Chelsea stalwart opened the scoring with a sweeping first time effort in the 56th minute and the Londoners could have been further ahead were it not for the brilliance of Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves.

The Spanish side’s shot-stopper pulled off no less than eight top class saves – his best effort a point blank reflex stop from a deflection of a defender standing three yards out – to keep Valencia in the game. Both sides went close in a frantic second period and Villas-Boas looked to be heading for a second consecutive Group E victory until Salomon Kalou inexplicably handled the ball in his own area with three minutes left to present Valenica with a gift of a penalty. Top scorer Roberto Soldado stepped up and made no mistake to earn his side a merited draw.

Goals in either half from Lars Bender and Michael Ballack earned Bayer Leverkusen their first Champions League Group E win of 2011 over Belgian side Genk at the Bay Arena. A cracking left foot effort from Bender broke the deadlock on the half hour after a lightening Leverkusen breakaway but a dogged Genk performance meant the home side had to wait until deep into injury time before sealing their victory.

Ballack came off the bench with 10 minutes to go and his deflected volley gave Lazlo Koteles no chance in the Genk net to secure a 2-0 victory.

Next Up
Group E Matchday 3: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Valencia at the Bay Arena and Chelsea vs. Genk at Stamford Bridge.

Group F
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain grabbed the headlines in Arsenal’s hard fought 2-1 victory over Olympiacos at the Emirates Stadium. The 18 year old opened the scoring having collected an Alex Song pass before drilling an exquisite left foot shot into the bottom corner of the net. New signing Andre Santos doubled the Gunners lead after 20 minutes having cut in from the by-line and slotting his effort in at the near post past a stranded Franco Costanzo.

Arsenal should have kicked on at that point and put the game to bed but the sluggishness evident their play from recent Premier League encounters allowed Olympiacos back into the tie. Mikel Arteta hacked off his own line and Wojciech Szczęsny was called upon to produce a succession of top class saves as the visiting Greek side’s confidence soared.

Olympiacos got the goal their positive approach merited when Ariel Ibagaza crossed into a crowded penalty area and David Fuster rose unmarked to plant a header into the bottom corner. Only the crossbar denied the Greeks an equaliser in a stop-start second period but Arsenal held on for a 2-1 win to remain in contention for qualification to the knockout phase.

One of the most disappointing sides in this year’s Champions League has been Borussia Dortmund. The reigning Bundesliga Champions went down 3-0 at the Stade Velodrome to a rampant Marseille to make it two games without a win for Jurgen Klopp’s side.

André Ayew opened the scoring after 20 minutes for Marseille but Dortmund hit back with Mario Goteze bringing the best out of French goalkeeper Steve Mandanda on numerous occasions. The Germans dominated possession for long spells but Marseille used the counter-attack to good effect and Loïc Rémy doubled the hosts lead just past the hour mark.

That goal visibly shook Dortmund and the match was over as a contest once Ayew bagged his second of the evening from the penalty spot to send Marseille to the top of Group F coming up to the half way point of the opening group phase.

Next Up
Group F Matchday 3: Marseille vs. Arsenal at the Stade Velodrome and Olympiacos vs. Borussia Dortmund at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium.

Group G
One of the most open and competitive groups in this season’s Champions League produced two more surprising results on Wednesday evening. Zenit St. Petersburg moved into second place in Group G thanks to a terrific 3-1 win at home to Porto in the early kick-off. James Rodríguez opened the scoring for the visitors after only 10 minutes following a quick counter-attack to silence the crowd in the Petrovski Stadium.

Zenit rebounded well to equalise within nine minutes of falling behind when Roman Shirokov flicked home a cross. The sending off of Fucile in first half injury time did little to help Porto’s cause and the St. Petersburg club duly took control of the second period. A second Roman Shirokov plus a late effort from Danny secured a 3-1 win.

APOEL continued their fairy tale start to the 2011-12 Champions League with a deserved 1-1 draw away to Shakhtar Donetsk at the Donbass Arena. The Ukrainian side dominated possession (62%) and created over 23 scoring chances before APOEL took the lead completely against the run of play after 61 minutes when Ivan Tričkovski found the net.

Donetsk levelled within three minutes however thanks to a well worked move which ended with Jadson firing home from just inside the box. APOEL held on for a terrific point to sit proudly atop Group G at the end of Matchday 2.

Next Up
Group G Matchday 3: Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Zenit St. Petersburg at the Donbass Arena and Porto vs. APOEL at Estadio do Drago.

Group H
No surprises in Group H on Matchday 2 as both Barcelona and AC Milan recorded expected victories. The reigning Champions League title holders travelled to the Dinamo Stadium in Minsk and came away with a comfortable 5-0 victory over a battling BATE Borisov.

It took 20 minutes for a Barcelona side decked out in their change strip of all black to break the deadlock. David Villa’s arrowing cross was turned into his own net by Volodko to set the Catalans on their way to victory. Not even torrential downpours could prevent BATE from falling further behind as Pedro and then Lionel Messi increased Barcelona’s lead to 3-0.

Messi made history with his second of the night early in the second half and that strike promoted the diminutive Argentinean to the joint-second highest Barcelona goalscorer of all time. David Villa completed the rout in the final minute to cap another impressive display from Pep Guardiola’s side.

AC Milan proved too strong for Viktoria Plezn at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza running out 2-0 winners following a commanding display. The sides remained locked at 0-0 until the 53rd minute when Zlatan Ibrahimović marked his return from injury with a converted penalty to push the Rossoneri 1-0 ahead.

Ibrahimović turned provider minutes later to setup the ageless Antonio Cassano to flick the ball into the net and secure a 2-0 victory that elevated AC Milan into joint-top spot alongside Barcelona heading into Matchday 3.

Next Up
Group H Matchday 3: AC Milan vs. BATE Borisov at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza and Barcelona vs. Viktoria Plezn at the Camp Nou.

Follow Ger on Twitter: @offcentrecircle

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