Manchester City and Real Madrid became the first teams to qualify for the Champions League knockout stage with wins over Sevilla and PSG, respectively, on Tuesday. Manchester City punched its ticket with a 3-1 victory inspired by Raheem Sterling, while Real Madrid sealed its perennial place in the last 16 by shutting out PSG for a second straight game and keeping its unblemished defensive record through four European games.
Elsewhere across the competition, there was an astonishing comeback tale for Juventus defender Stephan Lichsteiner in a draw vs. Borussia Monchengladbach, while Wayne Rooney scored a dramatic winner for Manchester United and mercifully ended the Red Devils' 404-minute goal drought.
Shakhtar Donetsk got on the board with 4-0 win over Malmo, while Benfica went to the top of Group C after beating Galatasaray 2-1, as Atletico Madrid could only draw 0-0 with Kazakhstan minnow Astana.
Here is what caught our eye on another day across the Champions League:
Player of the Day: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)
Talk about a quick start. Manchester City raced into a two-goal lead inside 12 minutes at Sevilla and had Sterling to thank for both of them. The English winger, starting out wide on the left, stepped up in the absence of the rested Kevin de Bruyne (and don't forget with David Silva and Sergio Aguero are still out injured), scoring the first with a smart finish and creating the second. His was the second City goal scored by an Englishman in the Champions League in the last five years (James Milner against Bayern Munich was the other).
On City's second, Sterling dispossessed Sevilla right back Coke by the right touchline, burst into the area with a driving run and cut the ball back to Wilfried Bony. The Ivorian struck a decent shot that Sergio Rico could only parry for Fernandino to double the Premier League side's lead.
Coke made amends by setting up Benoit Tremoulinas for a Sevilla goal, but the one-goal lead did not last long.
After Jesus Navas hit the post, Bony made it 3-1 and it could have been more: Sterling, taking on defenders at will, set up Fernandinho and Bony for more chances, but City was profligate in front of goal.
No matter: Juventus's 1-1 draw at Borussia Monchengladbach means City goes to the top of Group D and is into the next round out of arguably the toughest group in the competition. Sterling, with six goals in his last 10 games, provided the swagger and confidence that allowed City to do without three world-class players.
Goal of the Day: Stephan Lichsteiner (Juventus)
This was more like the Italian champion and Champions League runner-up Juventus rather than this season's inconsistent struggler: a moment of brilliance that equalized Monchengladbach's early goal, which was smartly taken by U.S. defender Fabian Johnson. Paul Pogba created it, the Juve No. 10 (or rather 10+5 as he now has scrawled on his shirt) scooping a delightful pass into the path of Lichsteiner, whose volley flew into the far corner.
This was an astonishing return to action for the Swiss defender, who one month ago was withdrawn from the league match against Frosinone with breathing difficulties. Only last month he had heart surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat, and at one stage thought he might miss the whole season. What an impact to make on his first game after surgery.
Eye-Opening Result of the Day: Astana 0, Atletico Madrid 0
Kazakh champion Astana remains unbeaten at home in this competition, after following up its Matchday 2 2-2 draw with Galatasaray with an impressive goalless draw against Atletico. No wonder its players met the final whistle as though they had won the league: with two games left, it is still in contention for third (or even second place), two points behind Matchday 6 opponent Galatasaray.
And it could get even better for Stanimir Stoilov's team: Astana has one game left in the Kazakh league and could win the title this weekend after winning three games in the last 10 days, including against previous leader Kairat, who is just one point behind. Imagine the celebrations then.
Turning Point of the Day: Trapp, Cavani fail for PSG
No one can criticize PSG coach Laurent Blanc for his approach at the Santiago Bernabeu. Two weeks after Blanc was crushed for cautious tactics in the goalless draw in Paris, the visitor was dominant in the first half in Madrid with five good chances to open the scoring. Blaise Matuidi, Zlatan Ibrahmovic and Adrien Rabiot kept Keylor Navas, and the post, busy, before sighs went around the Bernabeu when Marcelo, the only outfield player for whom Madrid has no natural replacement, limped off.
On came Nacho and the Spaniard was in the right place when, two minutes later, Toni Kroos's shot looped off Thiago Silva's knee and into his path on the side of the area. Nacho cushioned a soft volley goalward and looked as surprised as anyone that Kevin Trapp was so far out of position that the ball rolled into the net. Talk about against the run of play!
Trapp was brought to PSG in the summer as an upgrade on Salvatore Sirigu, whose big-game performances were a cause for concern.
In PSG's Champions League elimination by Barcelona last season, the Italian might have done better on two Luis Suarez goals.
But Sirigu never made an error like this one. Trapp, who is better with his feet and therefore more suited to Blanc's style of play, cost PSG two points in a league game against Bordeaux, but the consequences of this mistake could be more significant.
He was not the only villain: Edinson Cavani missed a one-on-one on the stroke of halftime, after a surging run and defense-splitting pass by the excellent Angel di Maria. Madrid defended its lead as you would expect from a side that has only conceded once at home all season and despite PSG's best performance of the season, and a late Di Maria free kick that struck the crossbar, the Spanish side goes top of Group A and looks likely to stay there.
Major Takeaway of the Day: United's drought ends
For a long time, this game felt like the one that Louis van Gaal lost the Manchester United fans.
Chants of "We want to attack! We want to attaaaaack! We're Man United, we want to attack!" could be heard around Old Trafford, and they reached a crescendo midway through the second half when the United bench signaled for Anthony Martial to come off for Marouane Fellaini. At that stage, the score was 0-0 and even though Martial had started as center forward, with Wayne Rooney playing behind him, United's barren run in front of goal, after three straight 0-0s, looked set to continue.
The game turned on its head in the space of three minutes around the 77-minute mark. First CSKA had a chance on the break, from which Seydou Doumbia forced David de Gea into a great save and then saw a goal-bound shot cleared off the line by Chris Smalling. Such are the fine margins between crisis and success.
Shortly after, Marcos Rojo won the ball in his own half, crossed for Jesse Lingard out wide (yes, width, Louis) to volley the ball across goal for Rooney to head the ball into the roof of the net. The cheers were of relief as much as anything else, especially as PSV's 2-0 win over Wolfsburg would have pushed United into third in the table. As it is, United is now top of the group and van Gaal, if pushed for a response to the fans, can point to the Group B table and ask what all the fuss is about.