Manchester United, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain all qualified for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, joining Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and title-holders Bayern Munich in the draw for the next round.
Two struggling former European champions, Juventus and Benfica, got their campaigns back on track with respective victories over Copenhagen (3-1) and Anderlecht (3-2), but the sixth and final Matchday will looks likely to test their mettle further, as tough matches against Galatasaray and PSG await.
Finally, it is worth noting that a total of 36 goals were scored during the second instalment of Matchday 5, which equates to a remarkable average of 4.5 per game.
The big match
Bayer Leverkusen 0-5 Manchester United
Goals: Antonio Valencia 22, Emir Spahic o.g. 30, Jonny Evans 65, Chris Smalling 77, Nani 88
United, who had failed to win any of their last four Champions League outings away from home (three draws and one defeat), took 20 minutes to find their feet in this Group A encounter, before their experience, clinical finishing and pure talent combined to completely overpower Leverkusen.
First, Ryan Giggs fed Wayne Rooney down the left, who looped over a fine angled cross to the back post, where Antonio Valencia stretched to knock the ball home. Eight minutes later, Bayer conceded a free-kick which Rooney proceeded to whip into the net, with the help of a mistimed header by Bosnian defender Emir Spahic.
Die Werkself already looked as if they would prefer to hear the final whistle rather than the half-time one, and after the break things got even worse, as goals by Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, both set up by Rooney again, made it 4-0. In the final minutes, Giggs found Nani, who rounded the ’keeper to put the icing on the cake for the Red Devils.
The other games
Shakhtar Donetsk 4-0 Real Sociedad
The Basques went toe-to-toe with Shakhtar for 37 minutes before succumbing to a Luiz Adriano shot. The second half would be a much more dispiriting experience for the visitors, as Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa (twice) built up an unassailable lead for Donetsk.
The Ukrainians, who hold a one-point advantage over Bayer Leverkusen, now have their destiny in their own hands, but must travel to Manchester in the final week.
Real Madrid 4-1 Galatasaray
Juventus 3-1 Copenhagen
It would be unfair to suggest that the score in Madrid reflected the way in which the tempestuous duel panned out, but credit must be given to Real who, already handicapped by numerous absences, had to play with ten men for two thirds of the game, following Sergio Ramos’ sending-off.
Los Blancos still managed to open the scoring, Gareth Bale firing home a powerful free-kick, but Galatasaray replied through Umut Bulut just one minute later.
The Spaniards took control at the start of the second period, just as the Turks were exerting considerable pressure on their deficient defence. Angel Di Maria did well to set up Alvaro Arbeloa, who beat the offside trap to hand his side the lead, before Di Maria and Isco sealed the points.
Meanwhile, Juventus won their first Champions League match of the campaign courtesy of Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, whose hat-trick featured a pair of penalties and a header from a Paul Pogba cross.
Andrea Pirlo – who was appearing in his 98th Champions League fixture, more than the 11 Copenhagen players put together – and Co now only need a draw in Istanbul to ensure their presence in the Round of 16.
Anderlecht 2-3 Benfica
Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Olympiacos
PSG booked their ticket for the knockout stage for the second successive year via the irrepressible Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who got the French champions off the mark in the 7th minute (his 39th goal in 100 games in Europe’s premier club competition), and Edinson Cavani, who nabbed the winner in injury time. Ten minutes earlier, a resilient Olympiacos side had levelled against the run of play.
Elsewhere, Benfica had Rodrigo, who also scored a last-gasp winning goal, to thank for their triumph in Brussels. The road ahead still appears treacherous for the Portuguese team, now level on points with Olympiacos, as they welcome PSG to Lisbon next time around. The Greeks face Anderlecht, who have already been eliminated.
CSKA Moscow 1-3 Bayern Munich
Manchester City 4-2 Viktoria Plzen
Most issues had already been decided in Group D, in which Bayern Munich and Manchester City had claimed the qualifying slots on Matchday 4.
But the Germans had made it clear that they had no intention of taking their foot off the pedal and, despite having to endure a temperature of -10 degrees Celsius at the start of the second half, they did not disappoint.
Bayern’s attacking triumvirate of Arjen Robben, Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller did the damage on the night, securing the club’s 10th consecutive success – a new tournament record – in the process.
During that time, City overcame a courageous Plzen outfit who had twice come from behind to equalise, but ran out of steam as the match drew to a close.
Manchester United’s qualification for the Round of 16 will constitute a pleasing birthday present for Ryan Giggs, who celebrates 40 years on the planet on Friday, 22 of which have been spent plying his trade for United.
The former Welsh international (64 caps, 12 goals) continues to defy his age, putting in excellent performances in the famous red jersey as if he fully intends to attain the practically mythical feat of 1,000 appearances for the same team.
Giggs’ current statistics stand at 169 goals and 953 matches, 138 of which have now been played in the UEFA Champions League, a record which places him just four behind Spanish icon Raul.
Real Madrid 1-1 Galatasaray (Umut Bulut 38)
Attempting to respond immediately to Real’s opener, Didier Drogba demonstrated a sublime piece of skill in order to thread the ball through for Umut Bulut, who accelerated past Pepe and slotted the ball into the right-hand corner of Iker Casillas’ net.
The strike represented the third Champions League goal of the season for the Turkish international (29 caps, 9 goals).
11 – The total number of goals and assists (six and five respectively) registered by Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben during his last seven Champions League matches.
Have your say
Can Juventus earn a place in the next round versus Galatasaray in Istanbul?