Champions League: five talking points from matchday two

It might not have been a vintage round in terms of upsets and it might not have revealed anything new about the pretenders to European football’s biggest prize, but the second round of fixtures in the Champions League still offered plenty of talking points.

Here’s what we’ve learned…

1) How far can Arsenal go?

The answer, based on their performance since the arrival of Mesut Ozil, is “very far”. The Gunners produced arguably their best performance of the season on Tuesday, disposing of a Napoli side that had dropped only two points in the first six Serie A rounds and had beaten Borussia Dortmund on matchday one.

Rafael Benitez’s side was by many considered Arsenal’s first proper test this season and Arsene Wenger’s men passed it with glowing marks.

Ozil’s arrival has galvanised his team-mates, none more so than Olivier Giroud who’s turned from the erratic striker who infuriated some Arsenal fans last season into a deadly centre-forward, the position in which some still consider Wenger to be short of options.

With two matches against Borussia Dortmund and a trip to Naples still to come, Arsenal shouldn’t get carried away too soon, but their current form has definitely turned many a head in the continent.

2) Dear Europe, meet Madrid’s other team

Any Spanish club competing in the Champions League and not being Real Madrid or Barcelona are often treated with contempt or dismissed as nothing more than a flash in the pan.

Deportivo La Coruna and Valencia lit-up the early 2000s, while Villareal enjoyed their season of glory in 2006, but the Madrid-Barca duopoly has always obscured the rest of La Liga teams.

This season, however, Madrid’s second team has come to the fore, and in some style too. Having conquered the Bernabeu on Saturday, Atletico came from behind to Porto 2-1 at the Dragao Stadium, where the Portuguese giants hadn’t lost in 74 games stretching over the last four seasons.

Despite being without in-form striker Diego Costa, and with David Villa replaced at half-time, Atletico secured a win which could prove crucial in their bid to reach the round of 16, where they’d be likely to be the team everybody wants to avoid.

3) PSG look the business

When Laurent Blanc replaced Carlo Ancelotti in PSG’s dugout in the summer, the Parisians looked to have hampered their chances of bettering last season’s quarter final place, given the Italian’s experience in the competition.

However, Blanc – hardly a novice, it has to be said – and his men have so far made the most of a relatively easy group, picking up back-to-back wins and scoring seven goals in the process.

Half an hour it’s all it took Ibrahimovic & co. to dismantle Benfica on Wednesday night and while PSG will come across much tougher than Anderlecht, Benfica and Olympiakos, they’ve got enough talent to go even further than last season.

4) WunderBayern

Pep Guardiola must be wondering why so many doubted that he could improve a side that had conquered everything last season.

Strictly speaking, Bayern might not be drastically better under the former Barcelona manager than they were under Jupp Heynckes’ tutelage, but their performance against Manchester City proved the doubts about Guardiola were largely misplaced.

Less than two months into the season, Guardiola’s tactical changes have been assimilated seamlessly by last year’s European champions, who look even more fluid in possession and menacing going forward than they did 12 months ago.

Thomas Muller, a midfielder, was deployed up-front alone, an homage to Pep’s days at Barca when he believed he could do without a striker. But, then again, when the lone “striker” is supported by the likes of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, who needs a centre-forward anyway?

5) Serie Aaargh

Matchday two was a mixed bag for English clubs, but it was much, much worse for their Italian counterparts. On Tuesday, AC Milan’s woeful start to the season continued as they needed a late – and very dubious – penalty to salvage a draw against Ajax, while Napoli were brought back down to Earth by Arsenal.

As bad as Napoli were on Tuesday, their form this season shouldn’t be a cause for concern for Rafael Benitez, particularly as they lost against one of Europe’s in-form sides, while the same can’t be said for Juventus.

The Serie A champions looked to have secured a last-gasp win against Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray as Fabio Quagliarella put them in front with three minutes to go, only for Galatasaray to equalise 60 seconds later.

Despite picking up just two points in two games, Juventus remain favourites to qualify, while Napoli and Milan could face an uphill task to reach the round of 16.

 

 

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