Bayern cruises by Arsenal, Chelsea gets needed win in Champions League
Bayern Munich beat Arsenal 5-1 in the performance of Matchday Four and a bad night for the Gunners was made worse when Olympiakos beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 in Greece thanks to an injury-time winner. Elsewhere, there was some respite to the pressure on Jose Mourinho as Chelsea edged past Dynamo Kiev 2-1, though Porto stays atop of Group G after a 3-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, which was eliminated with the loss.
Barcelona extended its lead in Group E with a comfortable 3-0 win over BATE Borisov, while there was another humdinger between Roma and Bayer Leverkusen, with the Italians jumping from bottom to second in the group with a 3-2 win. Zenit St. Petersburg became the third team to secure its place in the round of 16, continuing its 100% record in Group H by beating Lyon 2-0, while Gent can still progress after beating Valencia 1-0 for its first Champions League win.
Here is what caught our eye:
Player of the Day: David Alaba (Bayern Munich)
The first thing you wonder about David Alaba's brilliant goal, Bayern's third and scored just before halftime from outside the area, is just what on earth a left back is doing 25 yards from the opposing goal, dispossessing an opponent in a central position. By the time he's won the ball, jinked into space and curled a left-footed shot into the top corner, you remember that this is Alaba, the prototypical modern footballer.
As Shakhtar Donetsk coach Mireca Lucescu put it: "Alaba is the product of Guardiola's philosophy."
If the modern game is about fullbacks who can do more than just defend, Guardiola takes this to another level. In Philipp Lahm, Alaba and Juan Bernat, he has three fullbacks who can and often do play anywhere. When any of them move into midfield, the defense becomes a back three and midfield has an extra man. And this was not the first time that Alaba popped up in the No. 10 position, which might be another reason why Arsenal seemed to have no response.
Alaba also set up Arjen Robben for Bayern's fourth goal with a run into the area that belonged to a left winger. His perfect cross was side-footed home by Robben 38 seconds after he'd come off the bench.
Alaba, the left-back-turned-playmaker-turned-winger, is the perfect Guardiola player. As if that's not enough, the Spanish coach thinks his best position is actually at center back. Scary stuff.
Also noteworthy was the two-goal performance of Zenit forward Artyom Dzyuba, who scored both Hulk-assisted goals in the win over 10-man Lyon that cements the Russian side's place in the last 16 along with Real Madrid and Manchester City. Dzyuba has been one of the beneficiaries of Russia's new regulations restricting foreign players in teams. This performance was the perfect response to reports that Zenit boss Andre Villas-Boas wants to sign Falcao in January.
Goal of the Day: Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
No Messi, no problem. Barcelona coasted to a 3-0 win over BATE Borisov with two goals from Neymar (the first a penalty from a one-step run-up, the second from a Suarez assist) and one from Suarez, who found space on the edge of the area from Neymar's pass and toe-poked the ball into the corner of the net. The game was just the latest instance of dominance from the two South American superstars, who have carried Barcelona among a rash of injuries (Ivan Rakitic was the latest casualty on Wednesday), none bigger than the one to Messi that will reportedly keep him out of the season's first Clásico.
Honorable mentions are also due to Alaba; Olivier Giroud, who volleyed Mesut Ozil's chipped pass beyond Manuel Neuer for Arsenal's consolation tally; and Mexico's Miguel Layun, who curled Rodrigo Tello's center into the far corner.
Turning Point of the Day: Willian's free kick
Things were looking bleak for Mourinho with 10 minutes left on the clock at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had just been pegged back, with Dynamo deservedly leveling the score after 78 minutes when defender Aleksandar Dragovic made amends for his first-half own goal. Chelsea had missed some chances but so had Dynamo, and with Andriy Yarmolenko firing in set pieces, Chelsea looked vulnerable.
At that point, Mourinho threw on Eden Hazard and Pedro, and it was the Belgian substitute, rested (or dropped) for this game, who won a foul 28 yards from goal.
Willian stood over the free kick, and the Brazilian, who has been Chelsea's outstanding player this season, scored his third direct free kick of the season. It could prove a decisive moment in the season and in Mourinho's Chelsea career.
A draw would have left Chelsea in third place in Group G, but as it is, the reigning English champion is in position to qualify, albeit currently three points behind group-leading Porto. Mourinho won't be at the stadium for Chelsea's next match at Stoke over the weekend–he has been banned by the FA–but at least he will still be in a job.
Eye-Opening Result of the Day: Roma 3, Bayer Leverkusen 2
In case you thought the Matchday Three game that finished 4-4 between these two sides could not be improved upon, Roma and Leverkusen gave it a good go. Roma was 2-0 up inside half an hour, as Mohamed Salah and Edin Dzeko combined for a goal and assist each. Leverkusen kept on playing with its high line, Roger Schmidt insisting on his risky strategy and clearly sticking with his live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword philosophy.
But he did not survive; despite pulling two goals back inside six minutes at the start of the second half, Roma won the game 3-2 after Miralem Pjanic converted a late penalty. Another crazy game, and Roma has jumped from bottom of the group to second place with the result.
With two games left, though, you just never know what is going to come next.
Gent's deserved 1-0 win over Valenica was also significant. The Belgian debutant, whose goal was a penalty converted by Sven Kums, has quietly impressed in Group H and could yet catch Valencia for second spot. Expect coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck to be in the mix for a bigger job soon, too. Walter Baseggio has tipped him as next Anderlecht coach, while Aad de Mos has said he would have him replace Frank de Boer at Ajax.
Major Takeaway of the Day: How Arsenal can go through
Arsenal’s night might not have been so bad if Olympiakos had failed to beat Dinamo Zagreb in Athens. It almost happened: Armin Hodzic headed Dinamo ahead and at that moment, Arsenal was only three points behind the Greek champion. When Konstantinos Fortounis missed a penalty for the host, you wondered if it might be one of those nights. But it kept pushing and substitute Felipe Pardo made an immediate impact with a smart equalizer.
When Josip Pivaric was dismissed for Dinamo, Olympiakos had more space to play in and sure enough, with 89 minutes on the clock, Pardo scored a dramatic winner to put Olympiakos level on nine points with Bayern, with Arsenal and Dinamo stuck on three points.
“It’s not over,” said Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker. “And that’s how we will approach the situation now.” Although a Bayern-Olympiakos draw on Matchday Five would eliminate the Gunners, if Arsenal beats Dinamo Zagreb at home and Bayern does the same to Olympiakos, it will all come down to Matchday Six, when Arsenal will need to beat Olympiakos by two goals to overtake it on head-to-head goal difference (which is the first tiebreaker should both be on equal points). Group F is shaping up to be an absolute thriller.