A potentially tricky night turned out to be a stroll in the park for Chelsea as the Blues advanced to the knock-out stages thanks to a comfortable 3-0 win over Valencia at the Bridge. Meanwhile, already through Arsenal lost in Greece to Olympiacos while Europa League holders Porto were dumped out.
Two out of two Premier League clubs have safely negotiated the group stages of the Champions League but when the draw was made in Nyon a few months back, no one could have expected Chelsea to need a victory in the last game to advance but perhaps that is the sign of the times under new boss Andre Villas-Boas. They have received a lot of criticism in recent weeks but nobody can question their fight, spirit and organisation tonight as they ran out comfortable winners.
An early Didier Drogba goal settled the nerves before the ever improving Ramires gave the Blues some comfort. Valencia were still in with a chance of progressing themselves and were a constant threat to Petr Cech’s goal but couldn’t find the breakthrough with the post and fine saves denying the Spanish side. After the break, Drogba sealed the win with a fine goal which was appreciated by his teammates.
In the other game in Group E, Genk held Bayer Leverkusen to a 1-1 draw which means not only do Chelsea qualify but as group winners. Valencia have to settle for the Europa League and Genk’s European season is over.
1. Chelsea 11 pts
2. Bayer Leverkusen 10 pts
3. Valencia 8 pts
4. Genk 4 pts
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas: “It’s a very, very good result and I’m happy for the players. Guess what? We finished top of the group against all the odds. There has been a lot of criticism of our players and they gave everyone a slap in the face today.”
Before tonight we knew that Arsenal had topped Group F and it was between Olympiacos and Marseille to battle it out for that second qualifying spot. With Wenger inevitably fielding a “weakened” team in Greece, Olympiacos went into an early two goal lead thanks to goals from Djebbour and Fuster. Despite resting some of his bigger players, the Gunners had plenty of quality and it was Yossi Benayoun who got them back into the game just after the break but the home side wrapped up victory with another goal a few minutes from time as Modesto reacted quickest in the box when a header hit the post.
The fans in Athens went from ecstasy to agony as news filtered through from Germany where Marseille scored two late goals to pip the Greek champions to that second spot. Marseille were 2-0 down inside the opening half but goals from Remy, Ayew and Valbuena secured dramatic comeback.
1. Arsenal 11 pts
2. Marseille 10 pts
3. Olympicaos 9 pts
4. Dortmund 7 pts
There was no change in Group G as Apoel Tel Aviv secured top spot after becoming the first Cypirut club to qualify for the knock out stages in game week 5. Apoel lost at home to bottom club Shakhtar Donetsk but it didn’t knock them off their perch as Porto drew 0-0 with Zenit in Portugal. The result means Zenit finish in second while Europa League holders Porto are back in that competition after falling just short of progressing.
1. Apoel 9 pts
2. Zenit 9 pts
3. Porto 8 pts
4. Shakhtar 5 pts
Out of all the groups, Group H was done and dusted way before this evening’s proceedings. Barcelona secured top spot while AC Milan couldn’t be caught in second. Barca strolled to a 4-0 win over Bate Borisov despite an under strength side. Two goals for Pedro and one a piece for Roberto and Montoya sealed a comfortable group stage for the holders.
Two goals in two minutes for AC Milan looked to have secured a comfortable victory away to Viktoria Plzen but the home side showed their spirit with a late comeback to earn a famous 2-2 draw with the Italian giants. Pato and Robinho scored in quick succession but Bystron and Duris gave the home fans something to remember their campaign by as they head into the Europea League.
1. Barcelona 16 pts
2. AC Milan 9 pts
3. Plzen 4 pts
4. BATE Borisov 3 pts
It’s over to tomorrow evening as both Manchester clubs look to secure their progression but City have a lot to do while United are in Basel where a draw is enough.