Bayern Munich and Chelsea, who have now won all four of their matches thus far, and Real Madrid, who had to settle for a share of the spoils with AC Milan, are the first three teams to secure their tickets for the next round of the UEFA Champions League, a feat achieved with two group-stage matches to spare.
The second night of Matchday 4 fixtures saw forwards gain the majority of the headlines, as no fewer than 32 goals were scored across Europe. Remarkably, seven of those strikes were notched by Marseille away to MSK Zelina. The evening was not short on upsets either, with Shakhtar Donetsk overcoming an Arsenal side that had found the net 15 times in their previous three group matches.
The big game
AC Milan 2-2 Real Madrid
Goals: Filippo Inzaghi 68, 78 (AC Milan); Gonzalo Higuain 45, Pedro Leon 90+4 (Real Madrid)
In a Group G match of considerable quality, the fans were certainly not short of action to admire, and it was the visiting Spaniards who dominated the first hour of the match, creating all the best chances by dint of excellent teamwork and impressive speed.
Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Madrid's Xavi Alonso both shone throughout, and it could be argued that the duel between a resurgent Gennaro Gattuso and an on-song Cristiano Ronaldo was worth the admission price alone. As the half-time whistle approached, Gonzalo Higuain, released by a pinpoint pass by Angel Di Maria, beat the offside trap and opened the scoring for the Spanish giants.
The script did not look like changing much during the first 15 minutes of the second half, as Milan struggled to find a way back into the match, but everything was to change with the introduction of the evergreen 'Pipo' Inzaghi. As wily and clinical as ever, the former Juventus striker turned the match on its head with two opportunistic strikes in the space of ten minutes, first taking advantage of successive errors by Di Maria and Iker Casillas to draw his team level, then latching on to Gattuso’s ball over the top to poke the Rossoneri into an unlikely lead.
But Real heads did not go down, and deep into injury time they found a late equaliser through substitute Pedro Leon, who slotted home a fine through ball from Karim Benzema. One small consolation for Milan: Real Madrid’s remarkable winless run at the San Siro continues.
The other games
In Group E, Bayern Munich’s experience was too much for CFR Cluj in Romania, the Germans taking advantage of a shaky defence to run out resounding 4-0 winners. Mario Gomez was in clinical form, and his hat-trick went a long way towards propelling Bayern through to the last 16.
It was also a good night for the group’s other heavyweight, Roma. Having surprisingly lost their home match with Basel 3-1, they got their qualification hopes firmly back on track with a significant 3-2 win in Switzerland, the Giallorossi’s goals coming from Jeremy Menez, Francesco Totti – his first for almost six months – and Leandro Greco.
Group F saw Spartak Moscow hold out for a half against the attacking might of Chelsea, before succumbing to strikes from Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Branislav Ivanovic (2) in the second period. Drogba was in inspired form, setting up two goals and provoking a penalty which he duly dispatched himself.
Marseille, meanwhile, produced arguably the performance of the night by destroying Slovak outfit MSK Zilina 7-0 away from home. Pierre-Andre Gignac scored three times and Lucho Gonzalez notched a brace in an incredible match, the result of which provides a major boost to the French side’s chances of qualifying from the group. L’OM were unable, however, to surpass the Champions League record held by Liverpool, who memorably put eight goals past Besiktas on 6 November 2007.
In Group G’s other match, Auxerre dragged their qualification campaign back from the brink by emerging 2-1 victors from a must-win clash with Ajax. Their chances remain slim for all that, as reaching the last 16 will require at least three points from their final two matches against Milan and Real.
Last, but certainly not least as far as tonight’s action is concerned, Group H is now wide open after an unrecognisable Arsenal side fell to a deserved 2-1 loss against a highly-motivated Shakhtar Donetsk team. Despite opening the scoring through Theo Walcott’s breakaway goal, the Londoners found themselves dominated by Mircea Lucescu’s men, and their disarray was summed up by Craig Eastmond heading the ball into his own net after 28 minutes. Former Gunner Eduardo sealed the points for the Ukrainian side with a clinical finish right on half-time.
The victory puts Shakhtar on the same number of points as Arsenal, and three ahead of Braga, for whom results could not have gone much better on the night. Brazilian centre-back Moises was on target in a 1-0 triumph, a scoreline which gives the Portuguese side a real chance of making it out of the group at the first time of asking.
700 - the number of goals that Real Madrid have now scored in Champions League play, a total amassed during 327 matches. Los Merengues’ 700th came courtesy of Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain. Madrid lead the list of freescoring clubs in the prestigious tournament, leaving second-placed Bayern Munich, who can boast a respectable total of 457 goals from 243 matches, trailing in their wake. Manchester United (416 goals from 220 matches), Barcelona (403 from 212) and AC Milan (376 from 216) make up the top five.
Goal of the night
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Arsenal, Eduardo 45
The goal that would prove to be the winner came just before the break. The move began with Razvan Rat finding team-mate Darijo Srna on the right wing with a long, diagonal pass. The Croatian international escaped the clutches of Gael Clichy, before cutting into the box at pace. Rather than continue his run, he quickly fed Eduardo, who calmly sidefooted the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski from midway inside the area.
The goal doubtless represented a joyful yet poignant moment for the former Gunners front man, who scored 22 times in 60 appearances during his time at Emirates Stadium.
Tuesday 23 November
Group E: Roma-Bayern Munich, Basel-Cluj
Group F: Spartak Moscow-Marseille, Chelsea-MSK Zilina
Group G: Ajax-Real Madrid, Auxerre-AC Milan
Group H: Braga-Arsenal, Partizan Belgrade-Shakhtar Donetsk
Have your say
Could Auxerre and Braga possibly pull off surprise home victories in their respective Matchday 5 clashes with AC Milan and Arsenal?