Saturday, 28 November 2015

Champions League Matchday Five Review

As the festive period grows ever close, the Champions League reached the penultimate round of matches in the group with the future of the majority of the 32 teams becoming fairly clear be it advancing or exiting European competition altogether.  The group halves switched nights so Tuesday saw the sides in E-H begin matchday five.

BATE Borisov and Bayer Leverkusen faced off knowing that regardless of the result, they would go into the final game with qualification still a possibility with them both in reach of second spot. The sides had only managed a win each so far so it was no surprise that they played out a 1-1 draw. BATE made a perfect start with the opening goal coming inside two minutes from Gordeychuk but their joy was soured on 68 minutes as Mehmedi levelled to secure a point for the Germans.

Despite being already guaranteed top spot in the group, Barcelona fielded a strong lineup as they hosted AS Roma who hoped to open up a gap on the chasing two ahead of the final round of games. However, Barcelona put the dampeners on such hopes inside the first 18 minutes as Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi created a 2-0 lead. Suarez added his second and the Catalans third just before the interval to leave the visitors needing a miracle to avoid defeat but that task was quickly hardened as Gerard Pique struck on 56 minutes followed by Messi's second and Barca's fifth just before the hour mark. Adriano added a sixth for the hosts on 77 minutes to complete a stunning rout but Roma did have some small consolation as Edin Dzeko made it 6-1 in the final minute.

Arsenal looked to keep up their hopes of advancing to the next stage as they hosted Dinamo Zagreb and the Gunners knew a win would ensure at the least they would drop into the Europa League. Their pursuit of a vital win saw a tight first 25 minutes before two goal in four minutes either side of the half hour mark as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez struck for 2-0. Sanchez claimed his second and the hosts' third on 69 minutes to wrap up a comfortable 3-0 win.

Bayern Munich hoped to secure qualification as they hosted second placed Olympiakos but the Greeks knew that a shock win would seal their place and leave Arsenal needing a miracle. However the Germans had other ideas and raced into a 3-0 lead inside just 20 minutes as Douglas Costa, Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller all fired in for the hosts. The visitors only joy in the first hour came on 52 minutes as Bayern were reduced to ten men after the dismissal of Badstuber but the numerical disadvantage seemed to spur the hosts on as Coman added a fourth on 69 minutes. Olympiakos were unable to open up the ten men as they slipped to a 4-0 defeat but go into the final game with a three point lead over third placed Arsenal.

Unlike most groups, this one saw three sides in contention to end the night on top or as low as third but as leaders FC Porto faced third placed Dynamo Kyiv, the group swung even closer. The Ukrainians struck an opener on 35 minutes as Yarmolenko slotted in from the penalty spot and they were two to the good just after the hour mark as Gonzalez made it 2-0 on 64 minutes. The hosts were unable to pull one back and in turn missed on on securing qualification.

Chelsea hosted Maccabi Tel Aviv in the hopes that a win would take them level with Porto at the top and in turn leave the Israelis facing elimination as they were yet to earn a single point so far. The Blues started their pursuit of a win with an opener on 23 minutes from Gary Cahill before seeing former Blues defender Tal Ben Haim sent off five minutes before the interval. The extra man took a while to make a difference but in the space of four minutes, the EPL side were in control as Willian and Oscar struck on 73 and 77 minutes for 3-0. The gloss on a fine away win for the Blues came in the final minute as Kurt Zouma completed the rout at 4-0.

After sealing qualification with a fourth win in a row, Zenit St Petersburg hosted Valencia knowing a victory would put them just one away from a perfect record while the Spanish side needed a win to keep up hopes of advancing themselves. The Russians have been in great scoring form so far in this group and continued ther streak with an early opener from Shatov inside 15 minutes. The majority of their success had come through Dzyuba and the Russian forward extended his scoring streak on 74 minutes before Vezo was sent off on 80 minutes for the visitors whose 2-0 defeat puts the hosts at least five points clear of the rest.

Olympique Lyonnais hosted KAA Gent knowing anything but a win would see them eliminated from the competition and adrift at the bottom of the group while Gent had the chance to move up into second ahead of the final game. Lyon had yet to win in their four games and had only scored twice so it was likely a shock when they stormed into an early 1-0 lead through Ferri's seventh minute strike. However, the Belgians drew level on 32 minutes through Milicevic for 1-1 before sealing the three points with a 2-1 success after Coulibaly struck late on. 

Wednesday night saw the remaining four groups from A-D take the focus with all but one side still in contention to reach the next stage but some surprise results saw the lineup of the next stage become clearer.

Due to a vastly superior goal difference to those below them, Paris St Germain travelled to face Malmo FF with qualification all but wrapped up while the hosts hoped to edge closer to the Europa League spot. However, the hosts were dealt two rapid blows as PSG raced into a 2-0 lead inside 14 minutes with Rabiot's third minute opener followed by a strike from Angel Di Maria. The visitors extended their lead through former Malmo forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic on 49 minutes before a second from Di Maria and the French side's fifth goal on 68 minutes wrapped up the points. The night go even worse fr the hosts though as Lucas Moura completed a 5-0 rout with eight minute remaining.

Shakthar Donetsk hosted group leaders Real Madrid hoping to stage a shock win that would all but secure a spot in the Europa League and end Madrid's unbeaten streak. Real started well and opened the scoring inside 18 minutes through star striker Cristiano Ronaldo but from there the game was pretty tight up to the interval. However, the visitors kicked into gear with two strikes within seven minutes of the restart as Dani Carvajal and Luka Modric made it 3-0. The points looked to be wrapped up on 70 minutes as Ronaldo struck his second for a 4-0 lead but Shakthar staged a stunning comeback to ensure a tense finale. Teixeira began the charge with a 77th minute penalty before making it 4-2 just six minutes later but when Ferreira made it 4-3 on 88 minutes, the visitors' hold on the game was on a knife-edge but they managed to just about hold on to secure the win and move clear at the top.

Ahead of their hosting of VFB Wolfsburg, CSKA Moskva knew a win would keep them in the hunt to qualify for the next stage in a group where all four teams were in contention. The sides looked to be locked in a tight game as the score remained at 0-0 well past the hour mark but the Russian's were unfortunate to fall behind on 67 minutes as a shot deflected in off goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev for 1-0. However, the CSKA keeper was pulling the ball out of the net again just before the end as André Schurrle sealed a 2-0 win in the 88th minute to send the Germans second at the very least.

As the group was so tight, Manchester United knew that qualification for the next stage would go down to the final game regardless of the result of them hosting PSV Eindhoven. The Red Devils have been short of form in front of goal recently and this game was no different as they and the Dutch side were unable to break the deadlock as the points were shared in a 0-0 draw that ensured Wolfsburg sit one and two points clear of the two sides in the standings.

After being eliminated in the previous matchday, FC Astana hosted Benfica knowing a Europa League spot was their best hope while the already qualified Portuguese side hopes to go clear at the top in an early kick-off. Astana had yet to win in the group so it was a surprise when they opened up a 2-0 lead inside 30 minutes with an opener from Twumsi on 17 minutes followed by Anicic's strike. However, Benfica battled back and pulled one back just before the interval through Jimenez Rodriguez before he added a second to level the score at 2-2 in the 72nd minute. The hosts waste of a strong lead saw them denied a first win as Benfica moved three points clear ahead of the later game.

Atletico Madrid hosted Galatasaray with both sides still in the hunt to qualify but with the hosts knowing a success for them would guarantee a spot in the next stage and leave the Turks with just the Europa League spot to fight for. The hosts started the better of the two sides as they took an early lead through Antoine Griezmann's 15th minute effort and the French forward sealed the win and qualification with a second goal for 2-0 in the 65th minute.

After Juventus and Manchester City had secured qualification in the previous matchday, Borussia Monchengladbach hosted Sevilla knowing a Europa League spot was the best prize to hope for and for the visitors a win would give them the unique chance of chasing a Europa League treble in as many years. The Germans struck first as Lars Stindl made it 1-0 inside 30 minutes in what was an otherwise close first half. Gladbach had yet to win in the group so far but furthered their push with two goals in ten minutes from Johnson and Araujo on 68 and 78 minutes to open up a 3-0 lead. Perez pulled one back for the visitors on 82 minutes but saw his effort instantly cancelled out by Stindl's second a minute later for 4-1. Sevilla had the last mark on what became a six goal game as Banega slotted in a 90th minute penalty for 4-2.

Juventus hosted Manchester City with both sides safely in the next stage but with the illusive top spot in the group to battle for and with the Blues a point ahead going into the game, the pressure was on the Bianconeros. They dealt well with such pressure by taking an early lead as Mario Mandzukic made it 1-0 in the 18th minute. City pushed and pushed to draw level as they looked to bounce back from the 4-1 humiliation to Liverpool at the weekend but to no avail as Juve held on to their slim lead to secure all three points and go two points clear at summit of the group.