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Arsenal and Chelsea delivered decisive Wednesday victories while Real Madrid, Milan and Bayern eased to home wins to open their UEFA Champions League campaigns.
The day's most impressive result was at the Emirates. While Arsene Wenger had hoped to take advantage of Sporting Braga's Champions League inexperience, it seems that as well as a number of factors contributed to the Gunners' 6-0 rout of Portugal's second place team. At least, is seems improbably that inexperience alone would have caused such a huge landslide. For Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas had two goals and two assists. Carlos Vela added two goals, with Marouane Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin (two assists) adding tallies.
Particularly impressive about Arsenal's performance: Braga has become known (over the last year) for their organization in defense, but that is also an aspect of their team that would be quick to crumble should inexperience be a factor. Domingos Paciencia's high regard for Arsenal (comparing them to Barcelona pre-match) may have also been code for Braga having faced few challengers of Arsenal's style or talent over the last year. Braga is a team that was knocked out of last year's Europa League at the qualifying stages. The only had domestic competitions to consider. Today was a huge step-up for them, even considering the Sevilla play-off.
Elsewhere in Group H, Shakhtar Donetsk held serve against Partizan, getting a late goal from Darijo Srna to beat the Serbians, 1-0. Srna's 26-yard free kick beat Vladimir Stojkovic to eep the Ukrainians on track to not only compete for the group's second knock-out round spot but also start to cope with the absence of Fernandinho. And in that way, today's result might prove more than holding serve. This could turn-out to be a very strong result.
In Group G all thoughts were on coach José Mourinho, debuting for Real Madrid in the competition he was brought-in to win. The 2-0 score doesn't tell the degree to which the hosts dominated Ajax, the Luis Suárez-less visitors under constant pressure throughout the match. Real Madrid could have been more ruthless in the final third, often settling for a shot from distance rather than exhibiting patience, but a brace from Gonzalo Higuain with a nice set-up (on the second) from Mesut Özil provided hints Mourinho's formula is starting to take hold.
The group's other titan, Milan, posted an identical result, though it was nowhere near as easy. While Milan controlled their match against Auxerre, they failed to dominate to the same degree as Real Madrid, spending most of the match teasing a 0-0 draw. Early in the second half, after Robinho came on for countryman Alexandre Pato, Zlatan Ibrahimovic woke-up, scoring his first two Milan goals, the second a right-footed finish from 17 yards. The result allowed the Rossoneri to sit even with Real Madrid after one match day, thought if they were not nearly as impressive.
Group F saw the day's only upset, with Spartak Moscow winning in France despite failing to register a shot on goal. A late own goal from right back Cesar Azpilicueta left Marseille on the losing end of a match in which they generated the only scoring opportunities. With Marseille failing to get home points against the team most likely to unseat them for second, Azpilicueta's goal could loom large as group play progresses. If Spartak can get six points from Zilina, they'll have nine points would likely need only one point in Moscow from l'OM to go through.
Speaking of Zilina, the Slovaks made their Champions League debut against Chelsea, going down three goals within half and hour. The teams traded goals early in the second half, but the England leaders would leave Slovakia with a 4-1 win. It was an impressively regimented result for a Blues team that was without Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard. Nicolas Anelka had a goal and two assists.
Bayern Munich is at the top of Group E after their 2-0 win over Roma, getting a well-deserved three points after late goals from Thomas Müller and Miroslav Klose. Roma is now scoreless through three competitive matches and are starting to hint the play that led to year's near-title in Serie A won't be repeated. Today, they were markedly worse than a Bayern team playing without its two most dynamic players.
Perhaps Roma just needs Mirko Vucinic back. He was their best attacking player for much of last season, but against a team missing some of their best attacking talents, Claudio Ranieri should have been able to create more trouble - Vucinic or no.
In the group's other match, CFR Cluj got two early, headed goals against visiting Basel, and although the Swiss champions pulled one back before halftime, the Romanians were able to hold on for a 2-1 win. They sit second in Group E after the first match day.
Carlos Vela scored two late goals in a substitute's role, finishing-off Arsenal's 6-0 route of Sporting Braga.
The Mexican international came on in the 63rd minute for Marouane Chamakh, scoring six minutes later with some help from Andrei Arshavin, the Russian's second assist of the night. Vela flipped Arshavin's pass over goalkeeper Felipe for Arsenal's fifth goal.
In the 84th minute, Vela added an assist to Cesc Fabregas's stellar day, the Spaniard passing up his chance for a hat-trick in setting-up his teammate, whose open-goal finish from seven yards out made it 6-0.
Marseille is on the verge of a huge loss after defender Cesar Azpilicueta's own goal has visiting Spartak Moscow up 1-0 late at the Stade Vélodrome.
A ball from Spartak's left flank was put into the Marseille net by right back Azpilicueta, making his Champions League debut. The shock goal turns a match that had been dominated by the hosts, with Spartak failing to register a shot on goal throughout the match.
Spartak is consider the greatest threat to Marseille finishing as Group G's second team, and if l'OM give-up three points to the Russians, the French champions may need to win in Moscow to have a chance of advancing to the knock-out rounds.
Dominant play from Bayern Munich finally paid off in the 78th minute when Thomas Muller broke a scoreless tie, giving the German champions a 1-0 lead on visiting Roma. Then, five minutes later, substitute Miroslav Klose slammed home an insurance goal, giving Bayern a 2-0 late at the Allianz arena.
Muller's goal came off a corner kick, with central defender Daniel van Buyten heading a ball down for the attacker, whose right-footed shot beat Julio Sergio for the opening goal.
Five minutes later Klose, who was brought on for Hamit Altintop in the 67th minute, converted a Holger Badstuber cross to given München breathing room, up 2-0 with seven minutes left.
Thomas Müller was removed from the match just before Klose's goal, being replaced by Danijel Pranjic.
Mesut Ozil did much of the work, but the goal will go down as Gonzalo Higuain's. The Real Madrid striker finished from inside Ajax's six yard box in the 73rd minute, right-footing home a Ozil ball to give Los Blancos a 2-0 lead.
Real Madrid has dominated the match, but beyond a corner kick rattled home off Higuain in the first half, their dominance has not led to results on the scoreboard. Now with a two goal lead, Madrid looks set to join Milan, up 2-0 on Auxerre, at the top of Group G.
Darijo Srna beat Serbian international Vladimir Stojkovic from long range to break a scoreless tie, putting Shaktar Donetsk up 1-0 on Partizan in Ukraine.
From 26 yards out, on a ball spotted just outside Stojkovic's right post, Srna beat the Partizan goalkeeper to the lower right hand corner, giving the Ukrainian champions a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute.
Skakhtar and Partizan share Group H with Arsenal and Sporting Braga.
Three minutes after scoring his first goal in red and black, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has his first Milan brace, beating Olilvier Sorin far post from 16 yards out, giving Milan a 2-0 lead.
Ibrahimovic took his shot from the left of Auxerre's goal, putting a low right-footer just inside Sorin's far post, doubling Milan's lead.
Milan is in the same group as Real Madrid, who lead Ajax at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Ten minutes after he came on for Pato, Robinho's headed pass to Zlatan Ibrahimovic allowed the Swede to put Milan up 1-0 in the 66th minute on visiting Auxerre.
While Milan had controlled the match, the Rossoneri had been able to generate few chances against the Auxerre defense. But with his right-footred finish from inside the six yard box, Ibrahimovic has scored his first Milan goal, giving the host team reason to exhale.
Marseille is running out of time to get a goal from visiting Spartak. Though they've had all of the match's scoring chances, the visiting Russians have been able to keep the match scoreless. As a result, Didier Deschamps has had to mark changes.
Andre-Pierre Gignac, playing his first Champions League match, has been brought on for Brandão, set to play between André Ayew and Mathieu Valbuena.
Marseille has out shot (shots on goal) Spartak 5-0 through 70 minutes.
Another Braga turnover, another Arsenal goal, this time Cesc Fabregas benefiting from an Andrei Arshavin pass, a low cross put home for Arsenal's fourth goal.
It was Fabregas's second tally of the match, having scored Arsenal's opener from the spot. This time, the captain took advantage of an Alberto Rodriguez giveaway, playing the ball wide to Arshavin before running onto the ball put across goal.
The other match in Group H, Shakhtar Donetsk and Partizan, is tied, 0-0.
Daniel Sturridge gave Chelsea a 4-0 lead early in the second half, but Tomas Orevac has quickly reduced the lead to three, leaving the match 4-1 after 55 minutes.
Sturridge's goal came off a well-weighted pass from Yossi Benayoun, setting-up his teammate for a left-footed finish from the middle of the area, giving Chelsea a four goal lead after 48 minutes.
Zilina responded by generating a number of near chances before Orevac slammed home a ball from three yards out in the 55th minute, bringing the hosts back to within halftime's margin.
Valentin Stocker has converted from the edge of the six to pull Basel within one at halftime at Cluj, 2-1.
A corner kick played to Alexandre Frei was crossed to the middle of Cluj's area, where Stocker headed past Nuno Claro, bringing the Swiss champions within striking distance at intermission.
Despite dominating first half possession, Stocker's chance was Basel's first shot on goal.
Though there is no new of goals from the San Siro, there is news, as Milan captain Massimo Ambrosini had to leave his with matches against Auxerre after fourteen minutes. Kevin Prince Boateng has been brought on put into midfield with Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo.
No news yet on the exact condition that's forced Ambrosini from the match.
Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh have added to Cesc Fabregas's early penalty kick, giving Arsenal a 3-0 lead over visiting Braga.
Arshavin's goal saw Fabregas take advantage of a Braga turn over. The Spanish midfielder dribbled into the edge of Sporting's arena before finding Arshavin to his left for a right-footed finish.
Chamakh goal can after play between Fabregas and Jack Wilshire led to the latter setting-up the Moroccan for a shot from the middle of the area. Chamakh beat goalkeeper Felipe low for the Gunners' third goal.
Real Madrid has dominated the first half against visiting Ajax, and in the 31st minute they've gotten their payoff.
A corner kick from the left of goal seemed to randomly bounce-off striker Gonzalo Higuain before finding net, but the end result sees the hosts up 1-0 over Ajax after half-an-hour.
Real Madrid and Ajax share a group with Milan and Auxerre, with those two teams scoreless in Italy.
Five minutes after scoring Chelsea's second goal, Nicolas Anelka has completed his brace, a right-footed finishing in the 28th minute that's given the Blues a 3-0 lead on Zilina.
Whereas Anelka's first goal came from well wide left of Martin Dubravka's goal, the striker's second came from just feet off the line, an easy finish to further Chelsea's rout in Zilina.
After contributing the last ball on Michael Essien's opener, Nicolas Anelka has doubled Chelsea's lead with a 24th minute goal at Zilina. Chelsea now leads the Slovakian champions 2-0.
Anelka's left-footed finsh into the lower right hand corner gives the Blues two goals on as many shots on goal. Zilina has matched that shot total yet are still chasing two early.
Midfielder Michael Essien converted a Chelsea break and a Nicolas Anelka set-up for his third goal in two matches, putting the Blues up 1-0 on hosting Zilina. The right-footed finish from the middle of the area comes four days after Essien recorded a brace at Upton Park in Chelsea's 3-1 win over West Ham United.
The Blues start this match without regulars Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.
Chelsea and Zilina share a Champions League group with Marseille and Spartak Msocow, currently scoreless at the Stade Vélodrome.
Romanian champions CFR Cluj have scored twice within 12 minutes to take a 2-0 lead on Swizz champions Basel. Ionut Rada and Lacina Traore have the goals, with Emmanuel Culio assisting on each.
The first came from after a ninth minute corner kick, Culio eventually serving the ball to the middle of the Basel area. Rada's header from new the spot beat Franco Costanzo to give the hosts an early lead.
Three minutes later, another Culio cross was converted, this time by Traore, camped at an almost identical spot from which Rada scored.
Cluj and Basel are in Group E with Bayern Munich and Roma.
Arsenal has gone up after nine minutes against Sporting Braga, with captain Cesc Fabregas converting from the spot to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
The Gunners were awarded the kick after Braga goalkeeper Felipe brought down Arsenal strike Marouane Chamakh. Fabregas put his try into the upper-right hand corner of goal, giving Arsenal the early lead.
Arsenal is in Group H with Braga, Shakhtar Donetsk and Partizan, the last two teams playing the Ukraine today.
Bayern Munich makes their 2010-11 UEFA Champions League debut on Wednesday, welcoming Roma to the Allianz in the day’s marqueé match. Also taking their bows, fellow mega clubs Chelsea, Real Madrid, Milan and Arsenal, with Groups E through H playing their first matches.
After Roma’s weekend collapse at Calgiari, Group E has the potential to be a walk for Bayern, giving today’s match in Munich a different dimension. Two weeks ago, most were looking at this match as one of the day’s most competitive, and it could certainly prove to be such. However, with Roma falling 5-0 this weekend and yet to score a goal in Serie A, the standards have lowered. Now, we're looking for Roma to merely give a good account. Should they fail to do so, Group E suddenly looks like very easy for last year’s finalists. For the sake of an exciting group, let’s hope Claudio Ranieri get Roma on track.
Of help to Roma: Bayern will be without Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Robben is far from returning from a torn thigh muscle suffered at the World Cup. He is not expected to play until after group stage. Ribery is still serving a suspension incurred in last tournament’s knock-out stage. While Roma's loss of Mirko Vucinic and John Arne Riise partially offsets those absences, today Roma faces a far weaker Bayern team than we saw in May.
Elsewhere in Group E, Swiss champions Basel go to Romania to face CFR Cluj. CFR is off to a surprisingly poor start in the Romanian Liga, having won only twice in seven matches. Basel has had a decent start to the Swiss season, winning four of eight, and are coming off a 2-2 draw at Young Boys on Sunday.
In Group F, Chelsea visits Slovakian champions Zilina, a relative unknown in this tournament. Most of the interest in this match concerns whether Chelsea can carry over their scorching English Premier League form. To do so, they will have to augment the losses of Didier Drogba (suspension), Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and José Bosingwa (all injured). Should the likes of Yossi Benayoun, Daniel Sturridge and Yuri Khirkov fail to adequately replace their injured teammates, we could see a surprise (if lackluster) result.
In the group’s other match, Spartak Moscow returns to Champions League after a brief hiatus, making their debut at the Stade Vélodrome against Marseille. Despite winning last year’s Ligue 1 title, l’OM have a number of new faces, particularly in attack, where Andre-Pierre Gignac and Loic Rémy join one of the few holdovers, Brandão. Remy is expected to miss this match with a groin strain.
Marseille’s changes explain why the team has only one win in five French league matches, though they’ll get no sympathy from Spartak, who sit a surprising sixth in the Russian Premier Liga, now two-thirds of the way through its season. Despite the team's struggles, Brazilian striker Welliton continues to be a dangerman, posting 15 goals in 16 league appearances as whispers of Russian nationalization persist.
Group G sees Real Madrid and Milan bundled for the second straight year. Real Madrid opens their group campaign at home against Ajax, for whom Luis Suárez already has six goals in three league appearances. That’s five more than the entire Real Madrid team’s scored in the Primera, though Los Blancos have only played twice. Thankfully for Real Madrid but unfortunately for us watching on television, Suárez is suspended for this match.
As will be the case all season, the start surrounding Real Madrid is their coach, José Mourinho. Mourinho is coming off his second Champions League title, won last year with Internazionale. He was bought from Inter to restore Real's place amongst Europe's footballing aristocracy, the club having fallen into the nasty habit of losing at the Round of 16. Two years ago, that's where Inter left the competition, but Mourinho engineered a turn-around last season that saw the Nerazzurri beat Chelsea and Barcelona on their way to winning the final over Bayern at the Santiago Bernabeu. Champions League is the main reason Mourinho was brought to Madrid, and while he tends to approach group play conservatively, Mourinho will be judged on how Real Madrid performs at the competition's outset.
In the other Group G match, Milan hosts Auxerre, a team that could give the unsettled Rossoneri trouble. Milan was shut-out this weekend by Cesena, and against an Auxerre team known for their defending, the Italian club may find scoring even more difficult. Milanistas are just waiting for something to click, though this weekend’s attacking trio of Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato embarrassingly failed to do so. Should Massimo Allegri's team give a similar account, we could see a replication of last year's visit from FC Zurich.
And Group H, Arsenal has been given another relatively easy group. They start their campaign at home to Champions League neophytes Sporting Braga. Arsenal has their typical, ridiculous list of injury absences: Abou Diaby (ankle), Thomas Vermaelen (achilles), Robin van Persie (ankle), Nicklas Bendtner (groin), and Aaron Ramsey (leg). Samir Nasri, however, is available, having recovered from knee surgery. His passing may be needed to pick through a tough Braga defense, though it's unclear if he'll play.
The group’s other match sees Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk hosting Partizan of Serbia. Shakhtar was dealt a huge blow last weekend with Fernandinho suffered a long-term leg injury in the club’s first lost of the season (at Obolon). Whether that keeps them from full points today is unlikely, but whereas they were expected to battle for Group H’s second knock-out round spot, Shakhtar may be looking at another Europa League appearance, should they be unable to account for the Brazilian’s absence.
|E||Bayern Munich||Roma||2-1, Bayern|
|F||Marseille||Spartak Moscow||3-1, Marseille|
|G||Real Madrid||Ajax||2-0, Real Madrid|
|H||Arsenal||Sporting Braga||3-0, Arsenal|
|H||Shakhtar Donetsk||Partizan||2-1, Shakhtar|
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