Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich became the first sides to book their places in the Champions League knockout stage, doing so in different fashions on Tuesday.
PSG thrashed Anderlecht for a second straight game, riding a rare hat trick from defender Layvin Kurzawa and first-half goals from Marco Verratti and Neymar to complete a 5-0 win–improving to 4-0-0 in the competition with 17 goals scored and none conceded.
Bayern is second in that group, but assured of progress thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker with Celtic following a lackluster 2-1 win. Javi Martinez's goal–for which he paid the price with a bloody eye–secured the win and passage under returning manager Jupp Heynckes.
Manchester United, like PSG, has won four out of four, but it is not yet quite guaranteed its place in the last 16. United beat Benfica 2-0 to lead both Basel and CSKA, which beat the Swiss champions 2-1, by six points.
Things looked desperate for CSKA when Luca Zuffi looped in a shot from the edge of the box to give Basel a first-half lead, but second-half strikes from the returning Alan Dzagoev and Pontus Wernbloom transformed the game.
Roma took over the leadership of Group C, with two goals from Stephan El Sharaawy helping the Italian side to a 3-0 demolition of Chelsea, while Atletico for the second game running, drew against Azerbaijani champion Qarabag.
Two draws in Group D mean that nothing is settled there. Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw away to Olympiakos but still tops the group and is one point from securing a place in the last 16, while Gonzalo Higuain’s equalizer away to Sporting gives Juventus the edge in the battle for second after a 1-1 draw in Lisbon.
Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
PLENTY OF REASON FOR WORRY FOR CHELSEA
These are worrying times for Chelsea. It was only a month ago that Antonio Conte’s side produced a performance of extraordinary maturity and domination to beat Atletico 2-1 in Madrid, raising thoughts that this might be the Blues' year again in the Champions League. Since then, they’ve lost twice in the Premier League and looked ragged in drawing 3-3 with Roma at Stamford Bridge. They were defensively suspect as well in the 4-2 win over Watford.
Any thought those vulnerabilities may have been resolved disappeared after 40 seconds Tuesday, as Edin Dzeko knocked down a long ball for El Shaarawy to smash in with a controlled half-volley. The second followed after 37 minutes as Antonio Rudiger mystifyingly let a long ball drop, allowing El Shaarawy to get in ahead of Cesar Azpilicueta and poke his finish past Thibaut Courtois.
Conte reshuffled his pack, putting Pedro to right back. With 63 minutes gone, Diego Perotti went past Pedro to add a third and the game was beyond rescuing. After a slightly shaky start, Roma is going from strength to strength under Eusebio Di Francesco, but something looks very wrong at Stamford Bridge.
ANOTHER ODD SETBACK FOR ATLETICO MADRID
The good news for Chelsea is that it remains four points clear of Atletico in second and so is just a win from booking a place in the last 16. What’s not as great is that to be in that position, it has needed two favors from Qarabag. It was bad enough for Atletico to draw in Azerbaijan two weeks ago, but it was far worse to do so at home.
It could have been worse as well, as Michel headed in a right-wing corner in the 41st minute to put Qarabag ahead. One of Atletico’s great strengths in the past few years has been its defensive solidity, particularly from set plays, but seven of the 10 goals it has conceded this season have been from headers. That’s not the only issue; there has been a general lack of drive about the club this season, and although Diego Costa will join in January, it cannot simply wait for his arrival, nor can it expect everything to be resolved by his return.
Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey bent in a 25-yard, side-footed effort after 56 minutes to dampen thoughts of a first victory for an Azerbaijani side in the Champions League group stage, and those hopes diminished further when Pedro Enrique was sent off three minutes later. But Qarabag held out to claim its first away point in the Champions League and deal Atletico another surprising setback.
THINGS WILL GET BETTER, MILE SVILAR
Mile Svilar’s Champions League misfortunes for Benfica continued. The 18-year-old became the youngest goalkeeper in Champions League history two weeks ago and marred an otherwise impressive display by carrying a Marcus Rashford free kick over his own goal line to hand United the win. He made at least some amends for that at Old Trafford by saving Anthony Martial’s first-half penalty low to his right but then, in the final minute of the first half, Nemanja Matic’s 30-yard drive hit the post, bounced back, struck his prone body and bounced into the net. At 18 years and 65 days, he became both the youngest player to save a penalty and to score a Champions League own goal.
Daley Blind then hammered in a second penalty as United maintained its perfect record at the top of the group. CSKA’s come-from-behind win over Basel, though, means there is still work to be done for Jose Mourinho's side.