Barcelona, Bayern Munich roll; Arsenal survives in Champions League
Shall we just cut ahead to Milan next May and let Barcelona and Bayern Munich play out the Champions League final? Both sides were in stunning form Tuesday night, as Matchday Five saw the competition favorites secure their spots at the top of their respective groups. Barcelona was irresistible in beating Roma 6-1, while Bayern, despite Holger Badstuber's red card, eased past Olympiakos 4-0.
Bayern's result opened the door for Arsenal, which beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 and can still go through despite losing three of its first four games by beating Olympiakos by two goals or more (or scoring four goals in a win) on Matchday Six. Its fellow London contender, Chelsea was a 4-0 winner at Maccabi Tel Aviv and can secure first in its group with a final matchday win over Porto, which was beaten at home to Dynamo Kiev. All three sides can still qualify from Group G.
In Group H, Lyon missed the chance to have a shot at qualification by losing 2-1 to Gent after group-leading Zenit St Petersburg had beaten Valencia 2-0. Meanwhile, behind Barcelona in Group E, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and BATE Borisov all remain alive for the knockout stage thanks to BATE's surprising 1-1 draw with Leverkusen.
Here is what caught our eye on a day of some dominant action across the Champions League:
Player of the Day: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
While the stars at Barcelona and Bayern Munich put on masterclasses at home in matches that secured first-place finishes, it was Mesut Ozil who inspired Arsenal to its crucial 3-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb. The German opened the scoring with a rare header to cap a passing move that began by Gunners' own corner flag and thereafter he was at the center of all Arsenal's best moves.
Shortly after Nacho Monreal won the ball on the edge of the area and set up Alexis Sanchez for a second goal, Ozil could have had a third, but, after jinking past three defenders, he curled his shot just wide. It still seems astonishing to think that even after two years of being at Arsenal, there are plenty who remain unconvinced by his quality. The World Cup winner has 10 assists this season, including seven in his last seven league games.
Coach Arsene Wenger has spoken about his personality and how, unlike many other great players, none of his passes are needless. With Ozil, nothing is ever done for the camera. He makes the right decisions while always putting the team first. If he plays at the same level against Olympiakos on Matchday Six, then Arsenal has a chance of pulling off its qualification feat.
Goal of the Day: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Roma's defense had been carved open at least three times before Dani Alves ran onto Neymar's defense-splitting pass to square for Luis Suarez for the opening goal. Barcelona, showing the same form with which it smashed Real Madrid over the weekend, went one better with its second goal.
A 29-pass move culminated in Neymar feeding Suarez, who chipped his marker for Messi to run into the area and lob the ball delicately over Wojciech Szczesny in the Roma goal. The last seven touches, including Messi's finish, were all one-touch passes between Barcelona's sensational front three.
The third goal was another perfect strike, but of a different kind: Suarez made it 10 goals in his last 10 games with a volley that arrowed into the bottom corner.
The second half saw more goals, with Messi setting up Gerard Pique for Barcelona's fourth before scoring himself after another Neymar-Suarez combination. Both Messi and Suarez passed up the opportunity to score a hat trick when a late penalty was given to Neymar. Szczesny made the save but sub Adriano hammered in the rebound to make it six. As if things couldn't much worse for Roma, Edin Dzeko missed a penalty after that (though he did score on the last kick of the game to salvage something).
Eye-Opening Result of the Day: Porto 0, Dynamo Kyiv 2
Porto remains top of Group G after five games, but now it's only just. The side that had not conceded a goal at home from open play all season, and was unbeaten in its last 20, went down 2-0 at the Dragao, leaving the Ukrainian champion with an excellent chance of qualification. It will go into Matchday Six two points behind Porto and Chelsea, who play each other.
Andriy Yarmolenko opened the scoring from the penalty spot but the big surprise was Denis Gonzalez's second goal: a run from halfway, turning his marker and firing a high shot that slipped through Iker Casillas's palms and into the back of the net. The calculators will be out in force in two weeks, but what we know is this: a draw will see Chelsea go through; a Dynamo win will guarantee its place in the next round; Porto needs to win to definitely qualify, as a draw might not be enough. For that to happen, it would certainly need to improve on this performance.
Turning Point of the Day: Sels avoids red card for Gent
Zenit Saint Petersburg's 2-0 win over Valencia in the early kickoff did Lyon a huge favor. It opened the door for the French champion to still go through despite having only one point from its opening four games. But wins over Gent and Valencia would see Lyon qualify: could it take advantage?
Jordan Ferri gave it the perfect start with an early goal, but a crucial moment midway through the first half changed the momentum: Gent goalkeeper Matz Sels rushed out of his goal to clear a throughball and cleared it with his hand. He denied Alexandre Lacazette a clear scoring opportunity but stayed on the pitch. Sure enough, not long after, Danijel Milicevic scored with a smartly taken free kick to equalize for the Belgian side.
There was a chance for Lacazette to win the game in the final minute, but he could not convert off Mathieu Valbuena’s free kick. Instead, the twist came from the visitor. On 92 minutes, Elimane Coulibaly headed the winning goal from close range.
This was not how Lyon wanted to finish its last European game at Stade Gerland. Boos rang out around the stadium on the final whistle. It was a far cry from the glory night of 1995, when Lyon beat Lazio 2-1 in the UEFA Cup last 16, or when it beat Bologna 2-0 in 1999 in the UEFA Cup quarterfinal, and eventual champion Bayern Munich 3-0 in the 2001 Champions League. This time, it went out with a whimper. Gent, meanwhile, on its competition debut, could still make it to the last 16.
Major Takeaway of the Day: Barcelona, Bayern look unstoppable
The build-up to the Arsenal game focused on the worst-case scenarios, which could have seen the Gunners eliminated from the group stage for the first time in 19 years under Arsene Wenger. Instead, the major question we were left asking is just how could Arsenal have lost to this side on Matchday One? And to Olympiakos at home on Matchday Two? On this form, though, Arsenal has every chance of beating Olympiakos by the two goals it needs to reach the next round. But its squad is stretched: there is no cover for Olivier Giroud in attack and the latest injury to Francis Coquelin has left Mathieu Flamini holding the fort at the base of midfield. Any more injuries would make life difficult for Wenger.
Is this all academic anyway? Bayern was unstoppable in its first 20 minutes against Olympiakos, racing out to a three-goal lead. There was even time for a Thomas Muller gag, as he formally shook hands and gave a slight bow to Arjen Robben after the Dutchman set him up for the third goal. This was in direct response to reports that Robben is too selfish for his teammates and does not pass enough to Robert Lewandowski.
The performance of the day came from Barcelona, which has now scored 10 goals in its last two games. Saturday’s 4-0 win over Real Madrid kicked off debate over whether Barcelona’s current form is better than that of Pep Guardiola's treble winners. The fact the conversation is even taking place shows how relentless this group of winners is. Can we say that it has the three best players in the world in its attack? And the inevitable question that follows is: can this team not only retain its Champions League title but repeat its treble of last season?