Champions League grades: Arsenal earn high marks, Celtic woes drag on

Editor’s note: these grades are for teams’ performances in this week’s round of matches rather than their chances of winning the competition as a whole.



Five Arsenal goals by half-time, and six different scorers by full-time, this was Mikel Arteta’s team at their attacking best, and they took heavy vengeance on the French team they previously lost to. Kai Havertz, after his goal at Brentford at the weekend, began the scoring on a night when Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka in full flight tore their opponents apart. Top of the Premier League and safely qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League in their first appearance for five seasons, things are shaping up very well for the Gunners.


Borussia Dortmund

Winning in San Siro is no mean feat, doing so with such class is yet harder. Milan were admittedly underpowered, reduced to only one centre-back, a limping Fikayo Timori, but Borussia Dortmund expertly picked at such weaknesses. Mats Hummels meanwhile, rolled back the clock in marshalling the defence and once fellow veteran Marco Reus opened the scoring from the penalty spot, Dortmund were set fair. Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, who scored their second, looks the latest Englishman off the BVB production line to follow Jude Bellingham, and Jadon Sancho while Karim Adeyemi, their other scorer, showed off talent that doesn’t always come to the fore. Gio Reyna was left on the bench meaning his face-off with USMNT colleague Christian Pulisic, who was kept quiet beyond a couple of flashes, never came to pass. From a highly difficult group and to bely their indifferent Bundesliga campaign, Dortmund qualified to leave Milan, Newcastle and PSG fighting over the scraps.



The heroics continue. Beating Antwerp in Hamburg was rather easier than beating Barcelona last time out for Shakhtar but the Belgians made a real fight of things. Mykola Matvyenko’s early header seized a lead he and his fellow defenders saw out so that the final group match, in Porto will decide both teams’ destiny. The next question is whether players like him, goalkeeper Dmytro Riznyk and sought-after midfielder, Heorhiy Sudakov, linked with several Premier League clubs, will be at Shakhtar when the knockouts come next year.


Atletico, Young Boys, Real Madrid, PSV Eindhoven

A trip to Feyenoord looked a tough prospect for Atletico Madrid, but it was an assignment they saw out well. Alvaro Morata had one of those games where his obvious talent shrinks in the face of poor finishing and it took two own-goals to get them over the line but making the last 16 with a game to spare spelled relief for Diego Simeone. Rodrigo Riquelme was singled out for praise by his manager, for his defensive shift as a left wing-back, and was near to tears when he received the man of the match award. “I have been fighting for a long time to play for the club of my life,” he said. Simeone’s can be a tough school.

Atletico Madrid showed well on their trip to Feyenoord.
Atletico Madrid showed well on their trip to Feyenoord. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images


Newcastle, Lazio, Copenhagen

Perhaps, instead of the shocking penalty decision that robbed Newcastle at the end, Tuesday will be remembered as the night Lewis Miley announced himself on the European stage. Those in the know have singled out Miley as the next Paul Gascoigne for some time now. He played his part in Newcastle’s goal and he also contributed defensively, providing backup to Kieran Trippier’s task of keeping Kylian Mbappe quiet. It almost paid off. Eddie Howe’s team are wracked by injuries but that presents opportunities for the likes of Miley to shine and embody the spirit that gives Newcastle an unlikely fighting chance of qualification in their final match with Milan.


Manchester United, Galatasaray, Barcelona, Manchester City

Who said the group stage was dull? Mostly by dint of their own failings, Manchester United have played in a series of heart-stopping encounters. Unlike in the Premier League they possess an attacking threat, and each of Alejandro Garnacho, Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay scored fine goals, with Fernandes’s particularly spectacular. In the Premier League, their defence has looked better of late but here was the repeat of the atrocious defending they have saved for Europe. Set pieces were a disaster mostly thanks to lax goalkeeping of Andre Onana, which has lately been improving in domestic football. At no point did United try and gain control of a game by careful play. The Champions League seems to induce the red mists from which they emerge to go two goals up and then throw away leads just as readily. And in Galatasaray, they faced an opponent more than willing to go toe to toe in a game that deserves a high mark for its relentless entertainment.


Benfica, Inter, Napoli

It has been a poor competition for Benfica this season but when Joao Mario scored the first ever hat-trick of the Champions League era for the club of old European Cup legend Eusebio, they seemed likely to end their barren run. And yet they ended the night with just a point, as Inter, already through, threw on their big guns and might even have won it during a helter-skelter last 10 minutes. Still, at least Benfica got a first point of the campaign.


RB Leipzig, Porto, Bayern Munich, SC Braga

Bayern Munich made it to 39 unbeaten group games, meaning Manchester United have to stop it getting to 40 next time out. Copenhagen have proved to be tough opponents for those in Group A, and defended very well, keeping Harry Kane in particular starved of space. Manuel Neuer, back in the team for the last month after his post-World Cup skiing accident, looked back to his old self in making a late double save that preserved Bayern’s record and also kept United in the competition.


PSG, Antwerp, Red Bull Salzburg, Real Sociedad

The name Bradley Barcola will ring out for many years after the summer signing from Lyon put in a display of missing the target that had Parisians gasping in disbelief. In xG terms, PSG battered at that understrength Newcastle team but still never looked convinced they could score until Tino Livramento was ruled to have committed a handball offence. That led to the standing down of the errant Polish VAR official but it also meant PSG retained destiny in their hands, for which they can count themselves highly fortunate.


Sevilla, Porto

Ricardo Pepi’s late winner for PSV Eindhoven meant that Sevilla desperately need to beat Lens in their final group game to return to their natural habitat, the Europa League. The striker from El Paso scored in time added on in a match his USMNT colleague Sergino Dest had begun a fightback from two goals down by setting up Ismael Saibari for the first. Sevilla were cruising until striker Lucas Ocampos took it upon himself to get sent off.


Milan, Red Star Belgrade, Lens, Union Berlin

It looked as if Union Berlin might be another team to end their Champions League duck, only for them to fail to take advantage of Braga being down to ten men after Sikou Niakate’s red card. When Robin Gosens put them into the lead a first win looked on, only for them to fall victim to Alvaro Djalo’s latest goalscoring feat. Real Madrid’s visit to Germany will complete Union’s European season and force them to concentrate on their dire, relegation-threatened Bundesliga season, with two games to play before the winter break.



Celtic have played far worse in the Champions League than in Rome against Lazio but anything other than a 15th consecutive game without a win in the competition looked unlikely. A defence including Cameron Carter-Vickers fell prey to the mastery of the finishing of Ciro Immobile to set an unwanted record. Still, at least Brendan Rodgers got to hand the Pope a signed Celtic shirt.