Matchday 4 of the UEFA Champions League turned out to be disappointing for English clubs as points were dropped all round. It has been a telling few days as England’s so-called ‘top-four’ failed to impress on the European stage once again, with two draws and two losses compiling two nights of misery.
ARSENAL 3-3 ANDERLECHT
Arsenal squandered a 3-0 lead against Anderlecht at the Emirates on Tuesday night in a match which left Arsenal fans in utter disbelief. Goals from Mikel Arteta, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked to have put the Gunners out of sight but a late resurgence from the visitors meant both teams had to settle for a point. Noticeable defensive weaknesses proved costly for the Gunners, who failed to close the game out. A headed goal from Vanden Borre gave Anderlecht hope and when he converted a penalty to make it 3-2 in the 71st minute, the comeback was well and truly on. Arsenal, clearly shaken by the dogged determination of their guests, crumbled and was bombarded during the final quarter of the game. The Emirates dimmed to a stunned silence when Aleksander Mitrovic’s near-post header earned Anderlecht a deserved equaliser, sending the visiting fans into raptures. Arsenal players and fans alike were kicking themselves as they lost ground on group leaders Dortmund, who are now 5 points clear at the top of Group D. Arsenal will need wins against Galatasaray and Dortmund to confirm their progression for the knock-out stage, while Anderlecht’s chances received a huge boost at the Emirates.
REAL MADRID 1-0 LIVERPOOL
Real Madrid claimed the points at the Bernabéu on Tuesday night, seeing off a Liverpool side that surprised in many ways. Commentators seemingly wrote off the The Reds after Madrid’s 3-0 rout at Anfield in October but the return game never truly lived up to its billing. Brendan Rodgers caused a stir by benching much of the side that lost to Newcastle, a decision much scrutinised given the quality of football on display. The only goal of the game came midway through the first half, Karim Benzema comfortably converting Marcelo’s low drive. Many envisaged the floodgates would open but there were few clear-cut chances for either side. Cristiano Ronaldo enjoyed lots of possession but failed to create anything meaningful as Liverpool’s defence proved resistant. After the break, Gareth Bale was introduced after returning from injury, and he immediately made his presence felt. In the 71st minute the Welshman rattled the crossbar after Marcelo’s cut-back; unfortunate not to find the net. But alas the quality was clearly lacking as Real seemed content with the one-goal lead. The game petered out after a few half chances from both sides. Perhaps on balance, Madrid just edged it and was deserving of victory but Liverpool were mere spectators in this disappointing affair.
MARIBOR 1-1 CHELSEA
Chelsea came from a goal down to claim a point against Maribor on Wednesday night. A lacklustre performance from the Premier League leaders delayed their prospects of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League, who were never really at their best. Chelsea squandered several key opportunities in a mundane first half, with André Schürrle slicing the Blues’ best chance from six yards. Boss José Mourinho threw on Diego Costa and Oscar at half time, looking for more clinical finishing from his attackers. After the break, Maribor took a shock lead through a wonder strike from Agim Ibraimi, a fine finish into the top-left corner. Chelsea was clearly rattled, and they pressed for an equaliser from the restart, but misplaced passes in the final third denied them many opportunities. Eventually the equaliser came from a set piece, the ball stabbed into the net by Nemanja Matic. Chelsea strove for a winner, and a penalty was awarded in the 85th minute. Eden Hazard stepped up, but his poor penalty was easily saved by Handanovic. All in all, a point was a fair outcome to a mostly even game.
MANCHESTER CITY 1-2 CSKA MOSCOW
Manchester City dropped vital points at the Etihad on Wednesday night as Russian opponents CSKA comfortably claimed victory. The game started at quite a pace as Seydou Doumbia headed CSKA’s opener in only the 2nd minute of play; an eerie silence permeated the stadium as CSKA fans were banned from attending the game. City needed to respond and five minutes later, they did so; Yaya Touré expertly curling a free-kick into the net making it 1-1. Notable defensive frailties prevented City from asserting any kind of dominance as CSKA re-established their lead, Doumbia drifting into space and coolly slotting away. The Citizens failed to create any serious opportunities despite introducing Nasri and Dzeko early in the second half. The situation only worsened when City, chasing for an equaliser, were reduced to nine men; Fernandinho and Yaya Touré both seeing red. The contest, by now, was well and truly over. This result puts City’s chances firmly in doubt. They have failed to get out of first gear during their Champions League campaign so far, and it looks like Roma and CSKA will battle it out for second place in the group.