The Soccer Desk

Champions League Recap: Zlatan Stars, Favorites Cruise

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More routs for the top sides, nervy results for the Manchester clubs and another remarkable performance by Zlatan Ibrahimovic–Matchday 3 of UEFA Champions League play had a little bit of everything. We begin our recap at the Emirates Stadium with a heavyweight tilt between Arsenal and Dortmund.

Dortmund Takes North London

A reality check, a match for the taking, or simply a fine display from the Germans–call it whatever you like, but there’s no denying the fact that Dortmund left the Emirates Stadium with three points after one of the competition’s most exciting fixtures thus far. The German side scored early and late to edge Arsenal 2-1 and cool off the red-hot Gunners, who had won their previous two European fixtures and currently top the Premier League table. An uncharacteristic Aaron Ramsey giveaway led to the visitors’ opener through Henrik Mkhitaryan, but Olivier Giroud drew the hosts level before halftime. With the second-half introduction of Santi Cazorla, the Gunners looked the likelier side to grab a winner and came close when the Spaniard sent an effort off the bar. But Robert Lewandoski had the final say, volleying home the winner in the 82nd in front of the Dortmund faithful.

Speaking of the traveling supporters, Dortmund’s showing was extremely impressive. With over half an hour until kick-off, their section was completely full with plenty of black and yellow scarves on display. Full marks to the supporters and full marks to their team for an excellent performance in North London.

Four-Star Zlatan

Zlatan does what Zlatan wants, and there may not be a better front man in the world at the moment. The bombastic striker was it again Wednesday evening, scoring four goals in Paris Saint-Germain’s 5-0 rout of Anderlecht at Constant Vanden Stock. Ibrahimovic had already completed his hat-trick by halftime, driving home a 30-yard volley for his third, and tacked on another at the hour mark for good measure. Edinson Cavani added one of his own in the second half, but the night truly belonged to the Swedish playmaker and his first-ever European hat-trick.

Six Points for Manchester

It was a bit closer than expected, but both Manchester clubs came up with three points in their Matchday 3 fixtures. United needed an own goal to edge Real Sociedad 1-0 at Old Trafford in a slightly uninspiring performance–one that Sir Alex Ferguson watched from the stands, in fact. Wayne Rooney’s slaloming run and shot off the post forced Inigo Martinez to turn into his own net in the 2nd, and the hosts had plenty of chances to put the game away. The visitors came close to punishing United’s missed opportunities when they hit the woodwork on two occasions, but the home side were able to see out the match in nervy fashion.

City had an equally-nervy showing in Moscow, defeating CSKA 2-1 behind two goals from Sergio Aguero and hanging on in the dying minutes. Zoran Tosic put the hosts ahead in the 34th, but City responded with two in ten minutes to take a halftime lead. From there, the Sky Blues–much like United–failed to put away their chances and needed a spectacular stoppage-time save from Joe Hart to preserve the win.

Giants Share the Spoils

With 11 Champions League titles combined, Tuesday’s meeting between AC Milan and Barcelona was a fixture for the European purists. Unfortunately, the football itself was less than compelling as the sides drew 1-1 at the San Siro. The Brazilian duo of Robinho and Kaka combined for the opener within ten minutes, capitalizing on a defensive mix-up to work their way past the back line and afford Robinho plenty of time to finish past Victor Valdes. The visitors fashioned a response soon after, though, as an unmarked Lionel Messi–something you rarely see these days–received the ball in space and capped Barcelona’s move with a familiar cut-back and conversion. Despite the visitors’ dominance and several counter-attacks for Milan, neither side managed to find a winner, but the point will still suit the first and second-place teams in Group H.

Kaka (left) of AC Milan works his way past several Barcelona players during his stellar performance in the sides' 1-1 draw at the San Siro. (UEFA)

Kaka (right) of AC Milan works his way past several Barcelona players during his stellar performance in the sides’ 1-1 draw at the San Siro. (UEFA)

Favorites Have No Trouble

While several top sides eked out narrow victories, four contenders had much more straightforward nights. On Tuesday, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid both rolled to 3-0 wins–the Blues topped Schalke at Veltins Arena while the Spanish side beat Austria Vienna at Franz Horr Stadium. Fernando Torres provided the highlights of Chelsea’s victory, netting a brace and playing a minor role in Eden Hazard’s additional strike. Meanwhile, Diego Costa produced two goals in Atletico’s rout while Raul Garcia added the gloss.

Things seemed even easier on Wednesday, as Bayern Munich and aforementioned PSG cruised to bigger hauls. The champions went one better than the French side’s four, though, registering a 5-0 victory over Viktoria Plzen at the Allianz Arena. Franck Ribery scored a brace and David Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Goetze added goals for the hosts, who dominated the Czech side from the opening whistle and ended the night with 35 total shots and over 75 percent of possession.

Ronaldo 2-1 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brace to help Real Madrid defeat Juventus 2-1 at the Bernabeu, a victory that essentially sent Los Blancos through to the knockout stage. Once again, Ronaldo was the source of the hosts’ offense and finished off Angel Di Maria’s pass just minutes into the game. After Fernando Llorente pulled one back for the Italian side, Madrid’s star man converted a spot kick to restore the advantage and send them on their way to a big three points. Even with Karim Benzema spurning numerous chances, the home side managed to hang on and were helped by Giorgio Chiellini’s dismissal early in the second half for apparently elbowing Ronaldo.

Big Win for the Bhoys

After narrow defeats to Milan and Barcelona, Celtic finally delivered a victory in their third group game against Ajax. Goals from James Forrest and Baram Kayal led the hosts to a 2-1 win at an ever-buoyant Celtic Park and kept their hopes of progression alive. Even with the absences of Scott Brown, Kris Kommons and Adam Matthews as well as a late red card shown to Nir Biton, Celtic limited the visitors’ chances and only conceded a consolation strike to Lasse Schone in the game’s final minute. The three points puts the Bhoys just two behind Milan in Group H, and Celtic will surely like their chances when they travel to Amsterdam in two week’s time.

In the remaining fixtures, Steaua Bucharest drew 1-1 with Basel, Napoli edged Marseille 2-1, Zenit defeated Porto 1-0, Bayer Leverkusen smashed Shakhtar Donetsk 4-0 and Benfica shared the spoils with Olympiakos in a 1-1 draw. 

Feature photo credit: Richard Martin/L’Equipe