Freed from the pomp of round one, four teams that could make a huge impact in UEFA Champions League’s knockout round posted convincing results on Tuesday, the first day of group stage’s second round:
°In North London, Arsenal gave one of the most convincing performances of the young tournament, their passing game and pressure smothering their Neopolitan guests.
°In Bucharest, Chelsea resoundingly recovered from opening round failure, setting themselves up to re-claim their group’s lead next round
°In Dortmund, a Jurgen Klopp-less BVB saw no trouble from visiting Marseille, …
while Atlético continued their demonstrative start with another inspired road win, this time in Portugal.
Those were the big ones, but not every game was so definitive. In Glasglow, Barcelona got the result they couldn’t take last year, though they needed a Celtic player’s dismissal to get it. And in Switzerland, a subdued game saw a Schalke moment of magic keep the club top in Group E.
Then comes the big picture. While Group F — the tournament’s Group of Death — continues to be about holding serve at home and taking points from Marseille, the rest of Tuesday’s quartets have established clear leaders. As they are in Spain, Barcelona and Atlético remain perfect, while Schalke are defying league inconsistencies to take six points through two rounds.
Here’s what else happened as Tuesday’s action kicked off the second round of UEFA Champions League action.
Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0-4 Chelsea (England)
Chelsea’s quest to make amends for their opening round loss got off to a resounding start, their thrashing of Romanian champions Steaua leaving their hosts with a 0-2-0 record and -7 goal difference after two rounds. Dominant play from Andre Schurrle, Ashley Cole, and Oscar attacking Steaua’s right side led to two goals from Ramires and a clean-up tally from Frank Lampard. Claiming their first points of group stage, Chelsea also furthered the idea that full points against the Romanians could prove important in an increasingly convoluted group.
Group E: Basel (Switzerland) 0-1 Schalke (Germany)
This may have been the way Jens Keller would have orchestrated it before Schalke left for Switzerland: keep things tight; limit Basel’s chances; look for a set piece goal. And in the 54th minute, Schalke’s opportunity came off the most dangerous player in soccer – the second ball in off a corner kick. This time, that second ball was a shot from Julian Draxler, settling after a Basel clearance to blast the game’s only goal past Yann Sommer. Holding the Swiss champions to one shot on goal, Schalke stayed top of their group, now on six points through two rounds.
Group F: Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 3-0 Marseille (France)
When Marseille hosted BVB two years ago, they hung a 3-0 on their young visitors. This time, the Klopp-less hosts returned the favor, getting two goals from Robert Lewandowski and a free kick score from Marco Reus en rout to a lopsided win.
Though Dortmund were without four starters, Marseille’s style played into their hands, allowed last year’s finalists to play off the counter and try to pick off their possession-needy guests. The first instance came in the 19th minute, a counterattack that left Lewandowski with an easy tap-in. In the second half, Reus was helped by Steve Mandanda on his free kick goal, while Lewandowski’s second goal came from the spot after a foul by Nicolas N’Koulou.
Group F: Arsenal (England) 2-0 Napoli (Italy)
In a game that played more lopsided than the score, Arsenal gave their most impressive performance of the season, riding early goals from Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud to an easy victory. A quick transition down Napoli’s left led to Özil’s eighth minute opener, the German international surgically finishing a ball from Aaron Ramsey, while a turnover in their over third from Napoli led to Olivier Giroud’s 15th minute score.
It was a disappointing performance from Napoli, but as long as that form can be left in London, the implications of the day’s result could be limited. The Emirates are not a place where the Partenopei would have expected to get a win before group play started, and while it would have wonders toward getting Napoli through a tough group, Rafa Benítez’s team is still in control of their knockout round fate.
Group G: FC Porto (Portugal) 1-2 Atlético Madrid (Spain)
In today’s preview we talked about the difficulty of Porto’s task, mentioning the Dragons couldn’t count on an early goal that would allow them to tighten up their formation. But Porto did get an early goal, Jackson Martínez putting his team up in the 16th minute. Instead of recoiling, though, Porto persisted with newly-justified confidence, something that served them throughout Tuesday’s first half. In the second half, however, Atlético quickly pulled even through Diego Godín, with the Colchonero comeback completed in the 86th minute through Arda Turan.
Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 0-0 Austria Wien (Austria)
Zenit came into this match having scored 12 goals in their last three games, but although they controlled most of the ball in the first half, the favorites were unable to convert before going down a man. Just before halftime, midfielder Axel Whitsel was given a harsh, straight red card, reducing Zenits to 10 for the last 45 minutes. Austria Wien, content to play for a draw, got the point they would have wanted, leaving Zenit on a disappointing one point after the easiest match of their group stage schedule.
Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 0-1 Barcelona (Spain)
The first half for a Lionel Messi-less Barcelona was defined by close calls, 82 percent possession, and no goals. But just before the hour mark, Celtic captain Scott Brown saw straight red after a challenge on Neymar. Barcelona’s payoff came in the 76th minute, with substitute Alexis Sanchez creating the game’s only goal. When Cesc Fabregas headed the Chilean’s cross home, Barcelona had muted redemptions for last year’s loss in Glasgow.
Group H: Ajax (Netherlands) 1-1 AC Milan (Italy)
It was a game of two halves, each ending on even footing. Ajax dominated the first but were held to a scoreless going into half time. Though Milan were much better in the second, nil-nil looked like it would hold until a 90th minute corner was put home by Stefano Denswil, apparently giving the home team the win. But four minutes later, in what’s becoming typical Milan fashion, the Rossoneri salvaged a result, a late penalty conceded by Mike van der Hoorn setting up a 94th minute equalizer from Mario Balotelli