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AC Milan used to be the envy of Europe, but that they can be managed by Massimiliano Allegri is proof of a club gone south.
No Hulk, no problem for FC Porto as the Portguese side rolled over Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 in Croatia. An early goal from Lucho Gonzalez put Porto ahead and Steven Defour scored in second half stoppage time for good measure.
Porto were the better side all day, controlling the match both on paper and on the pitch. Lucho Gonzalez gave Porto the lead in the 41st minute with a fairly simple finish. Dinamo keeper Ivan Kelava deflected Alex Sandro's cross down right to Gonzalez and the midfielder cooley put the ball in the net.
Zagreb's best chance to get back in the match came in the 62nd minute after Porto keeper Da Silva Helton spilled a Sammir corner, but recovered quickly to make a great save on Antonio Tonel's overhead kick. Despite making several good saves to keep his team in the match, Kelava was finally beaten in the 92nd minute by Steven Defour. Kelava got hung out to dry as Defour finished a pass from Christian Atsu who'd made a nice break down the left side.
The away victory moves Porto in to second place, behind Paris Saint-Germain only on goal differential. They'll get their first shot at the French side in the next group stage round, hosting PSG at the Estadio do Dragao on October 3rd. Zagreb's task doesn't get any easier with a trip to the Ukraine to face Dynamo Kiev next up on their UCL schedule. Another loss could all but end their campaign in practical terms.
After their summer transfer window purchases, Zenit St. Petersburg looked like they could be a Champions League dark horse...eh, not so much, at least not yet. A brace from Isco and a goal from Javier Saviola were all Malaga needed as they steamrolled Zenit 3-0 at the Estadio La Rosaleda.
Malaga didn't waste much time in asserting their dominance on the match. The Spanish U-21 international Isco scored in the third minute with a wicked shot that hit off the inside of the post and in to the net. Ten minutes later Saviola cleverly slid a shot past Vyacheslav Malafeev to give the home side the 2-0 lead.
To Zenit's credit, they didn't pack things up, they simply couldn't put the ball in the net. Roman Shirokov and Alexander Kerzhakov had some good chances, creating havoc for the Malaga defense, but ultimately the finishing just wasn't there. Hulk had the best chance to pull Zenit back in to the match, smashing a shot off the underside of the cross bar and back out in to play.
Despite the two goal lead, the pressure from Zenit kept Malaga supporters of edge until Los Boquerones finally got the third goal in the 76th minute. Isco received a pass from Joaquin about 20 yards from goal and sent a right-footed shot into the top left corner of Malafeev's goal to ice the game.
It's a dream start for Manuel Pellegrini and his team who now sit atop Group C after Milan and Anderlecht finished with a scoreless draw. Malaga will next travel to Belgium to face Anderlecht on October 3rd. Zenit will try to get healthy and prepare to host AC Milan.
Mats Hummels is the most relieved man in Dortmund after Robert Lewandowski bailed the centre back out against Ajax. Facing the Eredivisie side at home, Borussia Dortmund were supposed to be clear winners in what looked like their easiest match of UEFA Champions League Group D, but the Dutch champions had other ideas, giving BVB more than a few scares. Ultimately, though, BVB were too much for their guests, a last-gasp strike by Lewandowski sealing a vital three points.
It was never clear which way the match was going to go. Although Dortmund were clearly the better side, Ajax had long periods where they were the ones applying the pressure, forcing Roman Weidenfeller into some nice saves (and a bizarre walkabout). At the other end of the pitch, the hosts were very, very wasteful, finding the target with just seven of their 23 attempts.
At times, the match seemed destined to end in a 0-0 draw. Hummels had a huge chance to put BVB in the lead in the 58th minute when Mario Goetze earned a (very soft penalty) after going over Ricardo van Rihjn's leg, but the defender's weak effort was well saved by Kenneth Vermeer. For much of the game, Lewandowski wasn't any better, missing with several key chances.
But then, in the 87th minute, the Polish striker was able to find space in the box and slot home, giving Dortmund three huge points. It's not exactly a perfect start, considering the performance, but Jurgen Klopp will certainly take it.
Cristiano Ronaldo failed to make the most of his opportunities for 90 minutes on Tuesday, but he came up huge in stoppage time, netting a winner for Real Madrid in their massive Champions League matchup with Manchester City.
The Citizens held the home side scoreless throughout the first half, then confused them with a change of formation that was partially necessitated by an injury, but likely a tactical decision by Roberto Mancini as well. City did well to take the lead on two occasions, but Madrid broke down the visitors' defense twice in the closing minutes and rallied back for a 3-2 victory.
Ronaldo regularly beat Maicon down Madrid's left throughout the first half, while opposite side winger Angel di Maria looked dangerous as well, but Madrid failed to find a breakthrough in the first half. Vincent Kompany made a couple of great late tackles, while Joe Hart looked very sharp in goal.
Samir Nasri picked up a hamstring injury in the first half, and Mancini brought on Aleksandar Kolarov, hardly a like-for-like switch. The move led to a formation change, with Gael Clichy coming inside and City switching to three at the back. They further switched up their formation in the 63rd minute, when Edin Dzeko entered for David Silva.
In the 69th minute, that substitution paid off. Yaya Toure provided an absolutely brilliant setup for Dzeko with a powerful run down the center after Madrid lost the ball in City's half. He played a perfect pass into the path of Dzeko on the counter, and the big center forward applied a composed finish to put City ahead.
The goal was a wake-up call for Madrid, who began to play with more urgency. They brought on Mesut Özil shortly before the goal, and made two more attacking changes after the goal by bringing in Karim Benzema and Luka Modric.
Los Merengues found their equalizer through Marcelo in the 76th minute. The goal had been coming for quite some time, and it was a well deserved one for Marcelo, who had an excellent game down Madrid's left. His strike from the edge of the box took a deflection that created an unstoppable shot for Hart, but it was an excellent shot nonetheless, and he might have scored even if his shot never took that deflection.
Madrid continued to press for a winner, and a City goal seemed a bit out of the question until they won a free kick in the 86th minute. Kolarov stepped up and delivered a sharp curling ball to the back post that was a bit of a half-shot, half-cross. No one got on the end of his ball, but it curled perfectly to allude Iker Casillas, then bounce into the back of the net to give the Citizens a shock lead.
Unfortunately for the visitors, there would be no famous upset. Just one minute after Kolarov's goal, Benzema netted an equalizer, turning in an assist by Di Maria. Both sides fought for the winner during an incredible back-and-forth period of three minutes, but City's aggression came back to bite them.
Following a counter, they left themselves exposed at the back. Ronaldo took advantage of space that wouldn't have been there if City were playing for the draw, cut inside, and delivered a finish to the back post from 12 yards in the first minute of stoppage time. Hart got his hand to it and could have made a save, but he was screened by Kompany and reacted to the shot late.
Madrid didn't look much better than they did in a loss over the weekend, but they found a way to net three goals and take a crucial three points from Manchester City. The Citizens couldn't have expected points at the Bernabeu, but they'll be extremely disappointed at how they lost what would have been a stranglehold on their group in a span of just four minutes.
For more on the Merengues, head over to Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid. For more on the Citizens, check out Manchester City blog Bitter and Blue. You can find our previous coverage of the game in our Real Madrid vs. Manchester City StoryStream. For more on the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.
Arsenal offered up 2 minutes of brilliance and 88 minutes of doing just enough to get out of France with an important three points. First half goals from Lukas Podolski and Gervinho answered an early Montpellier penalty as the Gunners got their Champions League group stages off to a winning start.
Montpellier strucks first on a penalty in the opening ten minutes thanks to an ill advised tackle from Thomas Vermaelen on Younes Belhanda just inside the box. Belhanda went to the spot and cheekily beat Vito Mannone with soft chip. Arsenal answered with two goals in two minutes, the first from Lukas Podolski after some nifty passing from Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud. Carl Jenkinson found Gervinho with a great cross right in front of goal and the midfielder beat Geoffrey Jourdren to give Arsenal a 2-1 lead they'd take to halftime.
Montpellier spent the first 15 minutes of the second half in berserker mode attacking the Arsenal goal, but it all came to naught as they managed to waste several good chances. Remy Cabella got closest, chipping a shot off the cross bar, but the rest of the attempts tended to sail anywhere but actually near Vito Mannone.
The pressure continued as the half went on, but again and again Montpellier simply couldn't make the final pass or hit the right place with a shot. Head coach Rene Girard was nearly driven to tears in the 80th minute after Belhanda found the ball on his foot, right in front of goal and sent his shot straight at the goalkeeper Mannone. It was some of the most unlucky and insanely frustrating football you'll ever see.
Montpellier will be rueing this result and the pile of missed opportunities they left on the table.
The first ten minute of the half were a dream for Montpellier, the remaining 35 minutes though, not so much.
Despite looking the better side early, things were not well in the opening ten minutes for Arsenal. Abou Diaby picked up a yellow card within 20 seconds of the kickoff for a clumsy, studs up tackle and nine minutes later, things got even worse. Thomas Vermaelen made an ill advised tackle on Younes Belhanda just inside the box and failed to get any of the ball. The referee didn't have a great view, but the fifth official behind the goal appeared to make the call and Montpellier were awarded a penalty. Belhanda went to the spot and cheekily beat Vito Mannone with soft chip.
Fear not Arsenal fans, the Gunners turned things around quickly. In the 16th minute, a great first pass from Santi Cazorla was one touched by Olivier Giroud to Lukas Podolski who buried his shot past Geoffrey Jourdren. Minutes later Carl Jenkinson found Gervinho with a great cross right in front of goal and the midfielder quickly made it 2-1 for Arsenal.
Needless to say the joy was sucked out of the Stade De La Mosson faster than Mega Maid sucking the air out of the planet Druidia.
To Montpellier's credit, they recovered from the two quick goals and looked dangerous as the half wore on. They'll no doubt be less than pleased being down at halftime, but they are still in this match and there no reason to believe they aren't capable of finding a result. The first step will be cleaning up their passing in the final third, which was extremely sloppy at times. So more shots against Mannone wouldn't be a bad idea either.
Arsenal, their two goals in two minute burst aside, looked fairly pedestrian. They have the lead however so that's really all that matters.
If you can bring yourself to watch a match other than the obvious choice, this one between Malaga and Zenit might just be worth your time. Malaga are off to a fantastic start in La Liga, sitting in second place just behind Barcelona. Zenit spent a ton of money at the close of the transfer window and now feature Brazilian striker Hulk.
Malaga's lineup is basically Manual Pellegrini's first choice with Javier Saviola and Isco up front and my favorite player name combo of Nacho Monreal and Ignacio Camacho starting as well.
Zenit's lineup is missing some key personnel, including Axel Witsel, Domenico Criscito, Sergei Semak and Danny, who are all dealing with injuries. Hulk is fit and should provide a good test for the Malaga defense.
Malaga (4-4-2): Wifredo Caballero, Jesus Gamez, Weligton, Martin Demichelis, Nacho Monreal; Ignacio Camacho, Joaquin, Eliseu, Francisco Portillo; Javier Saviola, Isco.
Zenit St. Petersburg (4-3-3): Vyachesalv Malafeev; Alexander Anyukov, Bruno Alves, Nicolas Lombaerts, Aleksander Lukovic; Roman Shirokov, Konstantin Zyryanov, Igor Denisov; Alexander Kerzhakov, Viktor Faizulin, Hulk.
Olympiakos are looking to narrow things up against Schalke by bringing on both Paulo Machado and David Fuster from the start, while the Königsblauen are doing the exact opposite. They've made two big changes to the team that they named at the weekend, bringing in Tranquillo Barnetta and Jefferson Farfan for Julian Draxler and Ibrahim Affelay. The two players coming into the side are much quicker and have more of a tendency to stay wide and hit in crosses than the men they're replacing.
Olympiakos starting lineup (4-3-3): Balazs Megyeri; Jose Holebas, Pablo Contreras, Kostas Manolas, Vasilis Torosidis; Francois Modesto, Giannis Maniatis, Paulo Machado; David Fuster, Rafik Djebbour, Djamel Abdoun
Schalke starting lineup (4-4-1-1): Lars Unnerstall; Christian Fuchs, Joel Matip, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Benedikt Höwedes; Tranquillo Barnetta, Jermaine Jones, Roman Neustädter, Jefferson Farfan; Lewis Holtby; Klass-Jan Huntelaar
Kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local time from Karaiskaki Stadium in Athens. You can catch the game on DirecTV Soccer in the U.S. on the Sky Sports Red Button in the U.K., and on Sportsnet World Plus in Canada.
Massimiliano Allegri continues to struggle with keeping key players fit: Alexandre Pato, Robinho, and Riccardo Montolivo are all out of action for AC Milan v Anderlecht, while Ignazio Abate is only fit enough for the bench. As such, Allegri has gone for a Christmas tree formation, choosing Giampaolo Pazzini, his only fit striker, alone up top.
Anderlecht line up in a 4-2-3-1 with Sacha Kljestan and Lucas Biglia in the middle. They'll miss Milan Jovanović in front due to suspension, his place taken by Dieumerci Mbokani.
AC Milan Starting Lineup (4-3-2-1): Christian Abbiati; Luca Antonini, Philippe Mexes, Daniele Bonera, Mattia De Sciglio; Antonio Nocerino, Nigel De Jong, Mathieu Flamini; Urby Emanuelson, Kevin-Prince Boateng; Giampaolo Pazzini.
Anderlecht Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1): Silvio Proto; Olivier Deschacht, Bram Nuytinck, Marcin Wasilewski, Guillaume Gillet; Sacha Kljestan, Lucas Biglia; Cheikhou Kouyate, Kanu, Massimo Bruno; Dieumerci Mbokani
Substitutes from: Thomas Kamiski, Behrang Safari, Roland Juhasz, Dennis Praet, Ronald Vargas, Oleksandr Yakovenko, Tom De Sutter
Dortmund begin another Champions League campaign hoping this is the year they finally have the kind of success they've been having at the league level. Of course, being punished by UEFA coefficients and drawn with the likes of Manchester City and Real Madrid don't exactly help the situation. Today however, those teams don't matter. If Dortmund want to knock one of those big fish out of the pond, they'll need to get full points against Ajax.
Dortmund's talented roster is on full display today with a talented and young back line anchored by German international Mats Hummels. The always amazing Marco Reus joins the incredibly hard to spell, but oh so fun to watch, Jacob Blaszczykowski on the attack in the midfield with Robert Lewandowski and Mario Gotze up top.
Ajax will try to pull off the upset today with a somewhat familiar face in former Liverpool striker Ryan Babel up front on the attack.
Borussia Dortmund (4-4-2): Roman Weidenfeller; Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels, Lukasz Piszczek, Marcel Schmelzer; Sebastian Kehl, IIkay Gundogan, Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski; Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze
Ajax (4-3-3): Kenneth Vermeer; Toby Alderweireld, Niklas Moisander, Daley Blind, Ricardo Van Rhijn; Christian Pulsen, Christian Eriksen, Siem De Jong; Tobias Sana, Derk Boerrigter, Ryan Babel.
Olivier Giroud returns to the Stade de la Mosson for the first time since his sale to Arsenal over the summer, hoping to down the team he led to a surprising Ligue 1 title last season. Montpellier, of course, will have other ideas, although without the magical presence of that eighth wonder of the world, John Utaka, they might not be able to power out a good result here.
Arsenal will be in good spirits after putting six past Southampton over the weekend, although Giroud didn't feature in that one -- they'll be hoping to get their striker his first goal as a Gunner here. Expect some feistiness if that does happen.
Montpellier starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Geoffrey Jourdren, Henry Bedimo, Hilton, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Garry Bocaly; Marco Estraba, Jamel Saihi; Remy Cabella, Younes Belhanda, Anthony Mounier; Souleymane Camara.
Paris Saint-Germain are going to win the Champions League! Well, maybe not, but there's certainly enough talent on this roster to make a run. Today begins PSG's attempt to prove their worth and that all the investment made by their new owners was for the better. Easier said than done.
Carlo Ancelotti has left Ezequiel Lavezzi, who was left out of PSG's league won over Tolouse last Friday, is on the bench. The usual attacking cerberus of Menez, Zlatan and Pastore starts up front. It's a fairly similar lineup to the last couple matches that has seen PSG begin to get on track after a bit of a rocky start to the season.
As for Dynamo Kiev, unless you're an aficionado of the Ukrainian league, you'll probably only recognize midfielder Niko Kranjcar formerly of Portsmouth and Tottenham.
As you prepare for kickoff between Manchester City and Real Madrid, here's five questions to consider concerning today's match.
AC Milan hosts Anderlecht at the San Siro, where they should be able to right their recent wrongs and grab a win.
Borussia Dortmund have last season's Champions League nightmare hanging over their heads, but they should have no problem against an overhauled Ajax team.
Dinamo Zagreb take on FC Porto as UEFA Champions League action kicks off. Can the visitors take a vital three points in Croatia?
Big-money Paris Saint-Germain get their first real shot at Champions League glory. Can the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic fire them past Dynamo Kiev at the Parc des Princes?
Arsenal will be looking to emerge from the Stade de la Mosson with a win, Olivier Giroud storyline or no.
It's the clash of the Group D titans as Manchester City travel to Spain to take on Cristiano Ronaldo and a suddenly-struggling Real Madrid.
Manchester City and Real Madrid should steal most of the spotlight from everyone else on Tuesday.
Sergio Aguero is ready to play against Real Madrid, according to Blues manager Roberto Mancini.
Wojciech Szcesny has suffered another injury which will keep him out of tonight's game, but Vito Mannone is ready to stand in.
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