Monaco hadn’t been in the main draw of the Champions League in a decade, but the French team looked perfectly comfortable as they survived an offensive onslaught from Bayer Leverkusen to win at home on Tuesday 1-0. They nearly had a penalty just two minutes into the match when Yannick Carrasco was brought down in the box, but they would eventually have to wait until after halftime to net the eventual winner. In between, Leverkusen wasted chance after chance, ultimately putting just two shots on target the entire match despite generating 13 attempts on Danijel Subasic’s goal. The wastefulness came back to bite the Germans in the 61st minute, when Joao Moutinho took Dimitar Berbatov’s pass in the penalty area and slotted past Bernd Leno for the winner. Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt, in desperation, threw Giulio Donati, Stefan Reinartz and Josip Drmic as the visitors chased an equalizer, but Monaco would hold on for the 1-0 win.
Monaco will have their hands full on the first day of October when they take on a Zenit St. Petersburg side that easily handled Benfica on the road for a 2-0 victory to open their Champions League campaign. Hulk, the Brazilian lambasted for his performances in this summer’s World Cup, opened the scoring just five minutes into the match. Less than 15 minutes later, Benfica goalkeeper Artur was being shown the red card after taking down Danny as he received an Oleg Shatov through ball. Playing a man down, Benfica never did find a rhythm, and shortly after readjusting the lineup to accommodate substitute goalkeeper Paulo Lopes the visitors went up 2-0. The goal came courtesy of former Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel, who headed a Danny corner past Lopes for the score that would ultimately prove decisive.
Zenit will certainly be favored against Monaco at home, given their superior firepower, but in a group where everyone is a favorite and nobody is an easy out it is hardly a guarantee that the Russians will take the full three points at the beginning of October. Neither Benfica nor Bayer Leverkusen can afford a draw at this point, making their October 1 encounter in Germany a critical early test for both sides.
Borussia Dortmund might be the second fiddle to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, but they are also rich enough to reload once again after selling off assets to their rivals and the other giants of Europe. They showed again that restorative ability, knocking off Arsenal 2-0 at home to open their Champions League campaign on Tuesday. The first goal came just before halftime whistle on a fast break that was finished off by Ciro Immobile, the Italian striker purchased from Torino just before the World Cup. The second goal came just after the resumption of play in the second half, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — brought in last summer from St. Etienne of French Ligue 1 — finished another break. On both scores, the decisive through ball came from Borussia stalwart Kevin Grosskreutz, who is an instrumental reason why Jurgen Klopp’s side is able to seamlessly incorporate new talent each year.
Arsenal may be in a deficit after their loss in Dortmund, but they’re only one point behind after Galatasaray and Anderlecht played to a 1-1 draw in Istanbul. The hosts had the clear advantage in possession and chances, but it was the visitors that pulled ahead in the 52nd minute when Dennis Praet beat Fernando Muslera with a right-footed finish of a Steven Defour cross. It looked as though the Belgians were going to steal all three points to take home until stoppage time. For the home side, the hero of the hour proved to be Burak Yilmaz, who took Aurelien Chedjou’s pass in the 91st minute and potted the equalizer past Anderlecht keeper Davy Roef at the 11th hour.
So while the Londoners currently sit bottom of Group D, they are in far better position than those that lost their first match in other groups. The Gunners will host Galatasaray on the first day of October with a chance to better position themselves to qualify for the next round. Anderlecht will host Borussia Dortmund hoping to secure more points, while a Borussia victory would effectively cede top spot in the group to the Germans barring an astronomic collapse.