PSG gifts Arsenal Champions League group; Besiktas crashes out spectacularly

Tuesday December 6th, 2016

A controversial penalty and red card for Andreas Beck effectively ended Besiktas’s hopes of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League. Needing at least a draw to have a chance of finishing in the top two in Group B, Besiktas was 4-0 down to Dynamo Kiev by halftime and ended up losing 6-0 and with only nine men on the pitch.

That rendered the other game in the group largely irrelevant but Napoli made sure of securing the top spot with a 2-1 win at Benfica. Jose Callejon got the opener with a deft finish, before Dries Mertens jinked into the box to make it two. A Raul Albiol error let Mexican forward Raul Jimenez to pull one back late on, but Benfica goes through in second place.

In Switzerland, Lucas Perez scored a hat trick as Arsenal surprisingly took the top spot in Group A by beating Basel 4-1 while Paris Saint-Germain drew at home vs. Ludogorets.

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Perez had tucked in two close-range finishes within 16 minutes and got his third with an awkward bouncing finish two minutes into the second half. Alex Iwobi got a fourth before Seydou Doumbia’s consolation as Arsenal went unbeaten through a Champions League group for the first time since 2005-06.

If PSG had beaten Ludogorets, it would have won the group no matter what Arsenal did, but it was surprisingly held to a 2-2 draw, the first time it had conceded two goals in a game at home this season. Angel Di Maria got the equalizer in injury time, but the hosts couldn't find a winner and will limp into the knockout round.

Barcelona bounced back from El Clasico disappointment, as Arda Turan struck for a hat trick for the club, which was already confirmed at the top of Group C. It hammered Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 at Camp Nou for good measure. The Turkey midfielder played a one-two to set up Lionel Messi, who gave Barcelona the lead with his 10th goal of the group stage. Turan then added three of his own in a 17-minute span in the second half, with two predatory finishes coming either side of a superb strike.

In the other game in the group, Patrick Roberts, on loan at Celtic from Manchester City, seized on a poor pass from Willy Caballero and cut infield to give the away side the lead after four minutes. Kelechi Iheanacho seized on a Nolito pass to level four minutes later and it finished 1-1, marking the second draw between the two clubs in the group stage. City goes through as a second-place finisher.

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Bayern Munich, already assured of second place in Group D, beat the group-winner Atletico Madrid 1-0. Robert Lewandowski bent in a free kick after 16 minutes, a replica of his late goal against Mainz on Friday, for the only tally.

Rostov took the Europa League slot from the group with a 0-0 draw against PSV Eindhoven.

UEFA Champions League Groups A-D

Group A Group B Group C Group D
Arsenal Napoli Barcelona Atletico Madrid
PSG Benfica Manchester City Bayern Munich
Ludogorets Besiktas Borussia Monchengladbach Rostov
Basel Dynamo Kiev Celtic PSV Eindhoven

*Top two advance to the knockout stage. Third-place finishers go to Europa League round of 32.

Here's what stood out as half of the Champions League groups reached their conclusion:

Player of the day: Andriy Yarmolenko, Dynamo Kiev

Besiktas’s collapse was partially self-inflicted, and partly the result of that controversial red card.

But at the heart of everything for Dynamo was Yarmolenko. The 27-year-old scored one, set up two and was the creative hub, clinically slicing Besiktas apart as the Turkish side lost its head.

Goal of the day: Arda Turan’s second vs. Borussia Monchengladbach

It was a game that didn’t matter, but beauty can occasionally outstrip context. Messi played a perfectly weighted ball inside the fullback for the overlapping Aleix Vidal on the right. He cut the ball back and Arda Turan hit a crisp first-time shot back inside the right-hand post, a superbly composed finish.

Anticlimax across the board

There was some jostling for top spots and for Europa League berths, but in terms of the big prize of making it through to the last 16, this was a night of dead rubbers.

In three of the four groups in action Tuesday, the top two had already been decided. Only Group B remained open. Perhaps the issue has been more marked this year, but this continues a trend. As the rich have gotten richer, the group stage has become more and more predictable with more and more mismatches. In the seven seasons from 2006-07 to 2012-13, there were only 39 games won by four or more goals. In the past three seasons there have been 34, with another 13 this season (and eight games still to be played). It’s a problem in part of structure but, more particularly, of the economic system.

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Besiktas melts down

The one live group wasn’t live for long as Besiktas collapsed away to Dynamo Kiev to leave Benfica against Napoli as a shootout for the top spot in Group B. Dynamo had nothing to play for, but a much-changed side, under no pressure, flourished against anxious opponents.

Artem Besedin turned in an Andriy Yarmolenko cross to put Dynamo ahead but the decisive moment came after 30 minutes as Andreas Beck was deemed to have brought down Derlis Gonzalez in the box. Beck was sent off and Yarmolenko converted the penalty. Two minutes later Vitaliy Buyalskyi chipped in a third. Gonzalez added a fourth on the break with a deflected shot just before halftime. Vincent Aboubakar collected a second yellow card for kicking the ball away 11 minutes into the second half, piling onto Besiktas's misery. Serhiy Sydorchuk and Junior Moraes added the final goals, securing Besiktas's third-place finish in rather embarassing fashion.

Some reward for Ludogorets

Ludogorets had played well through the group stage, perhaps without getting the reward it deserved, and it was again denied a famous win at the death. An unmarked Virgil Misidjan headed Ludogorets into the lead 15 minutes in, but Edinson Cavani leveled in the second half with an overhead finish. Wanderson smacked in a second from Jonathan Cafu’s cutback to restore the lead, but Di Maria poked in the late equalizer to force the draw.

Ludogorets had ridden its luck to an extent as PSG twice hit the woodwork, but still takes its place in the Europa League as the first Bulgarian side ever to finish in the top three of a Champions League group.

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