The Premier League entered the second half of Champions League group stage play unbeaten this season.
Roma took a big fat sledgehammer to that record. Chelsea was complicit, too.
The Blues never really showed up during a 3-0 loss in the Italian capital, with a brace by Stephan El Shaarawy and a gorgeous strike by Diego Perotti dooming the reigning English champions to the country’s first defeat in the competition.
Or maybe Chelsea did show up, and a deficiency many predicted before the season reared its ugly head. Chelsea was second-best in pretty much every facet, lazy and disorganized, a performance that bore no resemblance to the humming, high-energy fever the team frequently hits under manager Antonio Conte.
Which begs the question: Is Chelsea’s thin squad starting to show?
The Blues benefited from not having to concern themselves with Champions League games, or indeed any European soccer for that matter, last season. Thus, they were fresher for the stretch run, able to ward off challengers to the league lead they’d shot out to.
Now that the Champions League is back on the table, it might be starting to show. Chelsea made precisely one change from the side that had ground out three points at Bournemouth on Saturday, and Conte’s preference for most of these players could be starting to tax them.
Could be. Roma didn’t care.
El Shaarawy’s opening goal was a stunning strike 38 seconds in, the fastest goal in the Champions League this season:
Roma’s El Shaarawy with a SCREAMER on Halloween! https://t.co/QBWkj52HqH
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 31, 2017
The second goal exemplified Chelsea’s night, with Radja Nainggolan playing a ball forward that Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger inexplicably allowed to bounce at the top of the 18-yard box. El Shaarawy pounced on the mistake and tapped right of Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to double the lead in the 36th minute.
Perotti scored the third goal in the 63rd minute with a low rocket that beat Courtois near-post after the Argentine was given too much space at the top of the box.
The win lifts Roma to the top of Group C with eight points, while Chelsea is right behind on seven points.
The other Group C match was indicative of a campaign-wide theme on Tuesday.
Ties galore for minnows
Spanish giants Atletico Madrid are likely glad they’re done with the Azerbaijani Champions League debutantes. Who knew?
Atleti drew Qarabag for the second straight match, spilling points they probably couldn’t afford to spill if they want to reach the knockout stages in Group C, with Chelsea now four points ahead of them and Roma five.
Qarabag actually went in front in the 40th minute when Spanish central midfielder Michel headed home a corner, shocking the Wanda Metropolitano crowd silent. Ghanaian midfielder Thomas equalized for Atleti in the 56th minute, then the hosts caught a break when Qarabag’s Pedro Henrique was red-carded for a karate-kick challenge on Diego Godin three minutes later.
But Atleti couldn’t take advantage, and eventually went down to 10 men themselves when Stefan Savic was shown a second yellow right before stoppage time.
Qarabag wasn’t alone in earning a point against one of the world’s premier clubs. Group D saw a couple of surprising draws, with Juventus falling behind Sporting CP early in Portugal before Gonzalo Higuain brought the Italian champions level with a finish off a through-ball by Juan Cuadrado.
Juve’s point was only magnified as Barcelona finished scoreless against Olympiakos despite tripling the hosts’ shots and sextupling their shots on goal. That means Lionel Messi and Co. lead Group D with 10 points, but Juventus is only three back on seven points and welcomes Barcelona to Torino on Matchday 5 on November 22.
Manchester United shaky again despite 2-0 win
Manager Jose Mourinho has come under a bit of heat in recent weeks for his uninspiring setups and his side’s equally uninspiring performances, and Tuesday was little different.
The Red Devils hosted Benfica at Old Trafford but looked a tad toothless all evening. Anthony Martial missed a penalty in the 14th minute, with Benfica keeper Mile Svilar becoming the youngest goalkeeper in Champions League history to save a penalty. The first goal, on a long shot by Nemanja Matic, took an insanely fortunate bounce off Svilar before going in:
Benfica’s Mile Svilar is going Trick AND Treating today.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) October 31, 2017
Daley Blind, who looked lost most of the night, converted a second-half penalty won by Marcus Rashford to seal the three points and bring United to the brink of the knockout stages thanks to four wins in four matches this campaign.
It’s the 38th straight home game without a loss for United under Mourinho, but the Portuguese boss wasn’t in the mood to praise his team.
“What did you make of tonight’s performance?” he was asked in the postgame interview.
“No,” Mourinho curtly and humorously replied.
Man United hopes to join the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, who both clinched knockout stage qualification in Group B. PSG swatted away Anderlecht 5-0 thanks to a hat trick by Layvin Kurzawa, while Bayern Munich beat Celtic for the second straight matchday, meaning at best Celtic could tie the German champions on nine points but still lose the head-to-head tiebreaker.
CSKA Moscow 2, FC Basel 1