UEFA’s premier club competition resumed with four ties in the first knockout round which saw wins for Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Benfica
Five-time European champions Barcelona face almost certain elimination from this season’s Champions League after a 4-0 second round first-leg defeat to Paris Saint-Germain in Paris.
But there were no such problems for three other former winners with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Benfica recording first-leg wins over Napoli, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund respectively.
The hosts made a lively start in Paris and were rewarded in the 18th minute when Angel di Maria curled a 20-yard free-kick over the wall and beyond Marc-Andre Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal.
The home side doubled their advantage when Marco Veratti slid in Julian Draxler to fire beyond Ter Stegen just before half-time.
The French champions were not content to sit on their laurels after the restart and extended their lead further as Angel di Maria held off the challenge of Andres Iniesta before curling an unstoppable 25-yard shot into the top corner.
Edison Cavani rounded off the scoring, instinctively firing Thomas Meunier’s pass beyond Ter Stegen from inside the penalty area in the 71st minute.
Barcelona pressed for an away goal but Samuel Umtiti’s close-range header off the post was the closest they came, meaning they must overcome the biggest aggregate deficit in tournament history if they are to progress.
“We go back to our stadium and really we need a heroic performance” – luis enrique
“The message to the squad is clear: we still have 90 minutes to go”, warned PSG manager Unai Emery despite the result.
Luis Enrique, whose long-term future as Barcelona manager is likely to come into question with his side struggling to keep pace in the domestic league and facing an early European exit, refused to concede the tie was over.
“It is extremely difficult for us now”, he said. “We go back to our stadium and really we need a heroic performance.
“But why not dream?”
Defending champions Real Madrid, who lead Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league, came from behind to beat Napoli 3-1 at the Bernabeu.
Lorenzo Insigne fired the Italians in front after eight minutes before Karim Benzema levelled. Second-half strikes from midfielders Toni Kroos and Casemiro gave Madrid a commanding lead to take to Naples.
“We played a great game. I think it was the right result”, commented Real manager Zinedine Zidane.
“I still believe we can make it. I’m confident”, said Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri despite the defeat.
Bayern Munich produced a stunning second-half display to thrash English Premiership side Arsenal 5-1 in Bavaria.
Arjen Robben’s superb long-range shot handed the home side a 10th-minute lead. The Gunners hit back on the half-hour mark when Alexis Sanchez scored on the rebound after Manuel Neuer had saved his penalty following Robert Lewandowski’s trip on Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny.
But Bayern ran riot after the break with Lewandowski heading the German champions in front on 53 minutes. Three minutes later Thiago Alcantara coolly finished off a fantastic team move, slotting Lewandowski’s flicked assist beyond David Ospina.
Lewandowski hit the bar and Ospina saved brilliantly from Javi Martinez as Bayern looked to put the tie out of sight before Thiago struck his second of the game after 63 minutes.
Number five came shortly before the end: substitute Thomas Muller’s neat finish rounding-off a sensational second-half performance from the five-time winners.
“We lost our organisation after the third goal”, claimed Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Bayern’s Bundesliga rivals Dortmund will have to come from behind if they are to reach the quarter-finals after losing 1-0 to Benfica in Lisbon, despite dominating the game.
“That’s only possible in football, to play this well and to still lose” – Thomas Tuchel
Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou bundled home the game’s only goal with Benfica’s sole attempt on target, a reactive finish from a corner in the opening moments of the second-half.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who shot wildly over from 14-yards after ten minutes, wasted Dortmund’s best chance when his 57th-minute penalty was saved by Benfica goalkeeper Ederson.
“That’s only possible in football, to play this well and to still lose”, said Dortmund head coach Thomas Tuchel.
“Luckily there’s a return leg for such games.”
—Alistair Sargent, (Correspondent, Sport)