Having produced dull encounters aplenty during the group stage over the last couple of seasons, the Champions League seems to have set out to impress its viewers this season and matchday four was no different.
Famous away wins, great clubs failing to recapture the glory of yesteryear and new forces to be reckoned with. Here’s what we have learnt…
1) Arsenal must learn from Dortmund win
It wasn’t just the result itself, it was the manner in which it was achieved that should fill Arsenal fans with confidence for the remainder of their club’s European campaign. Having been beaten at home, the Gunners arrived in Germany in the as the knives were being sharpened for them, despite their five-point lead in the Premier League.
Arsenal suffered for long spells of the game but showed the maturity they had sorely lacked in previous seasons and their new-found solidity would be something to draw on ahead of the next two games.
A trip to Naples looks particularly daunting, but Wenger’s men have found a new dimension and, as Jurgen Klopp admitted last night, could go a long way this season.
2) United complicate things for themselves
Having won only eight of their last 35 matches against Spanish opponents, returning from Spain with a point could be seen as a decent result for United, particularly as the 0-0 draw in San Sebastian extended their unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions.
Except, however, that United’s poor performance against a rather average side offered very few positives, with Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini again falling – literally in Young’s case – painfully short of the standard required by the competition.
United now face a trip to Leverkusen, before closing their group against Shakthar and, as largely presumable, both Germans and Ukrainians pick up wins against Sociedad, reaching the round of 16 could be harder than many expected a fortnight ago.
3) Bigger tests to come for PSG
Having put five unanswered goals past Anderlecht two weeks ago, PSG were held to a 1-1 draw at home which meant they surrendered their 100% in Group C which, in hindsight, can only be a positive thing.
Laurent Blanc’s men had sailed through their group until Tuesday night and had been touted as one the tournament’s possible dark horses, particularly considering the outstanding form Zlatan Ibrahimovic has enjoyed this season.
Tuesday’s result, arrived after a performance Blanc himself described as “average”, provided PSG with a first reality check and a timely reminder that nothing can be take for granted in the Champions League.
Having said that, the Parisians are more than equipped to overcome the sterner challenges they’re likely to face in the next few months.
4) Beware of Atletico
A maverick coach leading a team playing attractive football courtesy of a host of players seemingly in the process of becoming stars.
The 2013 Atletico Madrid vintage sounds suspiciously like the Borussia Dortmund of 2012 – including the packed stadium – and the Colchoneros could emulate the achievements of Jurgen Klopp’s men.
After their 4-0 win against Austria Vienna, Atletico are the only team together with Bayern Munich to boast a 100% record at this stage of the competition and, much like Dortmund last season, they’ll be the team nobody wants to face in the round of 16.
5) Milan’s glory days are long gone
The Rossoneri’s struggle in Serie A over the last two seasons has been well documented, but it’s the lack of competitiveness in Europe that will hurt AC Milan’s fans the most, for it’s a competition the club has always regarded as pivotal.
Losing 3-1 to Barcelona isn’t a disgrace per se, but Milan look to have very little left in the tank, their squad a mixture of inexperienced youngsters, players past their best and players who simply aren’t good enough.
19 points behind Roma in Serie A, Milan could still go through in Group H but don’t expect them to challenge for success this season. In fact, they might not be doing so for a long while.