A rare start for Christian Pulisic paid dividends for Chelsea in their win over Salzburg, while Weston McKennie and Juventus fell just short in their do-or-die comeback attempt against Benfica.
Red Bull Salzburg 1 – 2 Chelsea
Christian Pulisic put in a solid 75-minute shift on the right side of Chelsea’s midfield on Tuesday night, assisting on their eventual winning goal as their win in Salzburg secured a first-place group-stage finish.
Having been relegated to, at best, mop-up duty in Chelsea’s Premier League campaign by head coach Graham Potter, Pulisic started on the right side of the Blues’ midfield and put in a performance indicting that his recent lack of use hasn’t led to an accompanying build-up of rust.
He had 56 total touches over 75 minutes, created a pair of chances, one of them being for the late winner, completed 80% of his 30 passes, and was peripherally involved in the team’s other goal in the winning effort.
Chelsea needed just under 23 minutes to open the scoring in a chaotic scene that was helped with some amount of luck. Conor Gallagher’s long cross from the right towards Kai Havertz was defended well, however the ball popped up and landed in Pulisic’s path.
While he wasn’t able to cleanly control the ball, he did deflect it backwards into the path of Havertz, who took a few touches and dropped it back to the top edge of the area for a clean, 18-yard strike from Mateo Kovacic.
The Austrians restored parity three minutes after the halftime break, capitalizing on a fast-break that ended with Maximilian Wöber’s long cross from the left feeding Chukwubuike Adamu for a one-timed finish on the hop.
Chelsea pushed to restore their lead, and finally succeeded in the 64th minute, with Pulisic squaring the ball for Havertz just outside the area, for a 20-yard strike that klanged the underside of the crossbar and landed over the line.
The American eventually left the field in the 75th minute in favor of defender César Azpilicueta, and the visitors held on to the lead to take all three points.
The win secures the first spot in Group E for Chelsea with one game to spare. They visit Brighton in Premier League action over the weekend before hosting Dinamo Zagreb in a meaningless group finale on Wednesday.
Benfica 4 – 3 Juventus
Weston McKennie and Juventus looked headed to an embarrassing defeat on their visit to Benfica, however did mount a short comeback attempt that made the loss respectable, albeit one that still eliminated their knockout chances.
The American played the full game just to the right of Manuel Locatelli in a five-man midfield, and was perhaps the Bianconeri’s best player on the night. In addition to his goal, he took another shot, completed 28 of 35 passes, made a pair of interceptions, three recoveries, and to clearances.
John Brooks was in uniform for Benfica, however was left on the bench for the duration of the game.
Antonio Silva opened the scoring for the hosts after 17 minutes, heading in a fine cross from Enzo Fernandez.
While Moise Kean did equalize four minutes later after an uncleared corner and botched save by Benfica keeper Odisseas Vlachodimos eventually rolled to his foot directly in front of the goal-line for a thumping finish, Juan Cuadrado’s 26th-minute handball allowed Joao Mário to restore Benfica’s lead from the spot.
Rafa Silva then quickly added another for the hosts, redirecting Mário’s low cross from the right over the line in the 35th minute, before bringing the score to a dominant 4-1 five minutes after the break with a chip over Juventus keeper Wojceich Szczney that looked all too easy.
However, rather than roll over, the visitors mounted a valiant comeback attempt that would fall just short.
Promising youth prospect Samuel Iling-Junior set up a second for Juventus in the 77th minute with a perfect cross from the left edge of the field to the penalty spot, which Arkadiusz Milik put away with a one-timed, left-footed finish.
Then McKennie brought his team to within a single score two minutes later; another dangerous cross from Iling-Junior triggered a chaotic tussle in front of goal that ended with the American’s snap finish from six yards.
Sensing the result slipping from their fingertips, Benfica locked down for the final 11 minutes of regulation and generous amounts of added time, and eventually held on for the win.
The result officially knocks Chelsea out of contention for a spot in the final 16 of the competition. They are now in a race with Maccabi Haifa to secure third and a spot in the Europa League. They do hold a significant advantage in goal differential over the Israelis despite both being on three points, and are likely safe to advance, with an expected loss to Paris Saint-Germain next Wednesday most likely to be matched with a Haifa loss to Benfica.
Celtic 1 – 1 Shakhtar Donetsk
Cameron Carter-Vickers and Celtic were eliminated from any progression in European competition, with a disappointing home draw against Shakhtar Donetsk securing last place in Group F.
The American captained the team and put in a respectable performance in the center of the defense. The team did dominate their Ukrainian visitors on the ball with 54% possession and a 15-8 shot margin, but were unable to hold on to their early lead.
Celtic jumped ahead in the 34th minute, with Georgios Giakoumakis collecting a blocked cross from Greg Taylor and smacking it over the line from eight yards out.
However, the visitors equalized in the 58th minute, thus keeping their own knockout dreams alive, as Mykhaylo Mudryk charged through the Celtic defense and unleashed a 20-yard rocket to the upper left corner.
The draw ensures that Celtic will finish last in Group F, leaving them with only their domestic campaign to worry about, which resumes on Sunday with a visit to Livingston.
Borussia Dortmund 0 – 0 Manchester City
Gio Reyna earned the start and played nearly the full game for Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night, helping the team miraculously hold on for a scoreless draw against power-packed Manchester City.
Reyna was deployed on the left side of a five-man midfield, and had a solid 87-minute outing, with 21 completions in 25 attempts, one shot on goal, one chance created, and one drawn foul.
Still, City were utterly stifling, with 73% possession, even if they were unable to put together the final product in front of goal.
Dortmund were the more dangerous of the sides in the early going, with Karim Adeyemi, Reyna and Youssoufa Moukoko all threatening Stefan Ortega’s goal in the first half. However, the biggest chance fell to City, with Riyad Mahrez failing to convert from the spot just before the hour after Emre Can brought down the Algerian star in the area.
The two teams held on for the draw, with the result most likely securing first place for City and second for Dortmund, barring any unexpected miracles in the final Group G games.
Napoli 3 – 0 Rangers
Malik Tillman and James Sands both started for Rangers on Wednesday night, as the Scottish team continued their dismal run in the Champions League group-stage with a shut-out loss at Napoli.
Tillman was deployed directly behind the center forward and played 67 minutes, taking a single shot having only 37 total touches. Sands played the full game as a left-sided holding midfielder, and was more involved with 68 total touches, five of eight duels won, two fouls committed, eight recoveries and a pair of clearances.
The Italians wasted no time to essentially put the game to rest, with Giovanni Simeone striking from the right edge of the six-yard box just inside the far corner in the 11th minute, then completing his brace five minutes later with a header taken between the pair of helpless central defenders.
Rangers stopped the bleeding, although never looked primed for a comeback. Their last hopes of taking anything from the game were put to rest in the 80th minute, after Leo Østigard headed in Giacomo Raspadori’s corner for the 3-0 advantage.
Despite having zero points after five games, Rangers are remarkably still not mathematically eliminated from a shot at qualifying for the Europa League group stage. They will host Ajax, who themselves are on three points, on Tuesday.
With the Dutch champions having won the first leg 4-0, an extraordinarily unlikely 5-0 victory for the Scots would see them clinch a spot in the second-tier competition.
Josh Cohen had his roughest outing for Maccabi Haifa in their difficult Champions League campaign, being forced to pick the ball out of his own net seven times in his team’s 7-2 road loss at Paris Saint-Germain.
Sergiño Dest was left off of AC Milan’s traveling squad for their Wednesday-night trip to Dinamo Zagreb, where they came away with a 4-0 victory. The win gives Milan the slight advantage over third-place Salzburg in the race for Group E’s second knockout spot. The two teams face off in Milan on Wednesday with everything on the line, but before the Italians will visit Turin in Serie A action.
Owen Otasowie was nowhere to be found on Wednesday night as Brugge slipped up against FC Porto in a 4-0 home loss.
Tim Chandler stayed on the Eintracht Frankfurt bench for the duration of their 2-1 home win over Olympique Marseille.