Manchester City beats Barcelona in thriller; four powers earn UCL knockout berths
- Manchester City bounced back from an earlier drubbing with an inspired performance, while Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and PSG are already through to the UCL knockout stage.
A rejuvenated Manchester City came from behind to beat Barcelona 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium Tuesday, keeping alive its hopes of topping their group to headline a wild day in the UEFA Champions League.
In the other games in the first half of Matchday Four, Arsenal and Bayern Munich also overcame early deficits to record important wins that guaranteed theirplaces in the knockout stages. Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid will join them, having both won on late goals of their own.
In Manchester, Ilkay Gundogan struck twice as City moved to within two points of Barcelona at the top of the group. Some of the pressure was eased on City as Borussia Monchengladbach was held to a 1-1 draw by Celtic and now sits three points back in third. Thorgan Hazard crossed for Lars Stindl to volley in after 32 minutes, but Moussa Dembele converted a second-half penalty to level after being brought down by Julian Korb, who was sent off for the infraction.
In Bulgaria, Arsenal went down 2-0 inside quarter of an hour but had leveled by halftime before Mesut Ozil scored an impressive late winner. Arsene Wenger’s side remains level with PSG after the French champion won a dramatic game away to Basel.
Blaise Matuidi put PSG ahead two minutes before halftime, but Luca Zuffi equalized with 14 minutes remaining. Basel’s Geoffroy Serey Die was sent off for a second bookable offense with six minutes to go and PSG took advantage, with Thomas Meunier grabbing sensational winner on a 20-yard volley in the final minute.
Atletico Madrid secured qualification for the last 16 with its fourth straight win in the group stage, although it took a late winner from Antoine Griezmann to seal a 2-1 success against Rostov. Griezmann had put Atletico with a clever flicked volley, but Sardar Azmoun leveled with a crisp finish within two minutes. But in injury time, the France international got his second of the night to send Atleti through.
Bayern Munich is also through after it came from behind to beat PSV 2-1. Santiago Arias headed PSV in front after 14 minutes, although he looked offside as he followed in the rebound from Davy Propper’s initial header. Robert Lewandowski leveled from the penalty spot before halftime before getting the winner with 16 minutes to go.
Benfica moved level with Napoli on seven points at the top of Group B, as Eduardo Salvio’s penalty gave it a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv. Earlier in the afternoon, Marek Hamsik had earned Napoli a point away to Besiktas after Ricardo Quaresma had opened the scoring from the penalty spot. The Turkish champion is a point behind the two leaders.
Here is what stood out the most from a riveting day in the Champions League:
Player of the Day: Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid
Griezmann’s first goal was remarkable, a spinning flicked chest-high volley that demonstrated great athleticism and imagination but just as important was his second as he anticipated a flick-on and poked the ball in off the underside of the bar for the injury-time winner that kept Atletico ahead of Bayern in the group and secured its place in the last 16.
Griezmann is a tireless and intelligent player, but he also has a vital ruthlessness in front of goal.
Goal of the Day: Marek Hamsik, Napoli vs Besiktas
On a day with plenty of candidates (Griezmann, Kevin De Bruyne's free kick, Barcelona's counter started and finished by Messi, Meunier's volley, Ozil's winner), it was the early game that earns the plaudits. Napoli desperately needed an equalizer. Having lost 3-2 to Besiktas two weeks ago, Maurizio Sarri’s side risked falling behind the Turkish champion in the group table after trailing thanks to Ricardo Quaresma’s penalty, but three minutes later, Hamsik was afforded space about five yards outside the box and took clinical advantage, whipping a left-footed shot just inside the left-hand post to earn a valuable point.
A thriller at the Etihad
Manchester City enjoyed perhaps its greatest night of Champions League football, coming from behind to beat Barcelona in an astonishing game at the Etihad. After Raheem Sterling had been denied an early penalty, Barcelona seemed to have taken control and took the lead after 21 minutes, with Messi getting his 90th Champions League goal following a breakaway with Neymar that took the ball from one penalty area to the other in 12 touches and 14 seconds.
But six minutes before halftime, Sterling capitalized on a defensive error and showed admirable composure to lay on an equalizer for Ilkay Gundogan. And six minutes into the second half, De Bruyne whipped in a free kick to give City the lead for the first time in any of those six meetings with Barcelona. Andre Gomes hit the bar after a bizarre backpass from John Stones, and on 74 minutes City got a third, Gundogan adding his second after a rapid counter.
City remains second in the group by two points, but just as important is what this may mean for City’s sense of self-belief.
Arsenal takes on the November curse
November has ruined many a previous Arsenal season, and it looked as though it may begin badly for Arsene Wenger’s team this year, but it came back from two down to record a valuable win. Although it ended up losing 6-0, Ludogorets had caused Arsenal problems two weeks ago, and it took the lead Tuesday after 12 minutes, with Jonathan Cafu nudging in a free kick as goalkeeper David Ospina dithered.
Three minutes later it was 2-0, with Cafu beating Kieran Gibbs, breaking into the box and crossing for Claudio Keseru to score. Arsenal pulled one back on 20 minutes, as Granit Xhaka side-footed in Mesut Ozil’s cross, and Arsenal drew level before halftime through an Olivier Giroud header.
Ozil then skipped through with three minutes to go to nab a winner, sending Arsenal back to a familiar place, the knockout stage.
The problem of the format
Change is coming in the Champions League, one way or another, and it is probably necessary.
Two of the four groups to have completed four matchdays are already settled, with PSG and Arsenal through from Group A and Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich through from Group D. Yes, there is a battle for first and second, and for who goes into the knockout stage of the Europa League, but it does the competition no good at all if the important issues in so many groups are settled with two matchdays still to be played.