Champions League Week 6 Recap: Return of Ajax

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Best match: Bayern Munich 3, Ajax 3

This was not the greatest game of football ever played — by a long shot — but it was entertaining, if nothing else.

Bayern Munich and Ajax met in a gritty, down-to-earth affair in Amsterdam with first place in Group E on the line. Despite an early Robert Lewandowski goal, neither team was able to establish dominance in the center of the pitch.

Ajax charged out of the home locker room after being down 1-0 at the half — the team’s attacking play put the German giants on the back foot before a series of crossing passes resulted in Dušan Tadić’s equalizing goal.

The next fifteen minutes saw two red cards handed out, as Maximilian Wöber first hacked down Leon Goretzka of Bayern Munich with a hard tackle in the 67th minute. Thomas Müller would more than equal the severity of that initial foul, as his flying kick to the head of Nicolás Tagliafico in the 75th minute reduced both sides to 10 men.

Tagliafico stayed down, and the medical team rushed onto the field to staple closed a gash in his head. The left back would not be subbed off, though; after changing shirts, he rushed back onto the field.

Substitute Kasper Dolberg made an immediate impact for Ajax, earning a penalty that Tadić promptly converted. Bayern’s bench would not be outdone, though, and Thiago Alcântara made his presence felt, dancing through the penalty box before drawing a foul. Lewandowski converted the ensuing penalty, adding his and Munich’s second goal of the game.

Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman stole the spotlight with a half-volley goal in the 90th minute to seemingly give his team the comeback victory and kickstart the party in the away stands.

But remember our injured friend Tagliafico?

In the night’s final plot twist, a bloodied but not beaten Tagliafico managed to snatch a victory away from an already celebrating Bayern Munich, scoring in stoppage time to end the game in a dramatic draw.

Best group: Group G — Real Madrid (12 points), AS Roma (9 points), Viktoria Plzeň (7 points), CSKA Moscow (7 points)

This was not supposed to be an entertaining group. Real Madrid and Roma had wrapped up the top two spots and punched their tickets to the knockout round in Week 5. Moscow and Viktoria Plzeň had been eliminated.

Apparently, someone forgot to inform them of that fact. Against two of last season’s semifinalists, Viktoria Plzeň and CSKA Moscow scored massive upsets.

In front of a home crowd in the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Real was embarrassed to the tune of a 3-0 hammering at the hands of CSKA, which carved up the Madrid back line like liquid butter (really no resistance at all).

Elsewhere, Viktoria Plzeň ended its Champions League campaign in style, scoring a 2-1 upset over AS Roma at home and leaving its supporters with a memorable season finale. Staunch defense and a fair dose of luck helped bring the Czech team to success, and the victory will undoubtedly be an exclamation point to an otherwise lackluster Champions League run for Viktoria.

Best player: Tie — Jason Denayer and Nabil Fekir (Both Olympique Lyonnais)

206 years after the Russian winter defeated Napoleon Bonaparte, French forces again found themselves fighting in the Eastern European snow.

Olympique Lyonnais needed to not lose to Shakhtar Donetsk in order to nose its way into the elimination stages of the Champions League, but after an hour of play in frosty Ukraine, Lyon was doing just that — losing.

Cue Fekir, who scored his third goal in five matches in the 65th minute to tie the game. Fekir took a pass from the edge of the box before turning and tucking his shot through a gap smaller than the mean score on the CS 61A final and into the top-left corner.

Fekir would be the man at the controls of Lyon’s attack throughout the evening. Despite the slippery and unforgiving snow, he remained calm and poised on the ball, creating opportunity after opportunity before he tired of the rest of his team’s failures and scored himself.

On the other end of the pitch, defender Denayer shut down last week’s best player Taison by dishing out tackles, making critical plays and stopping Shakhtar’s potent attack in its tracks, finally putting Napoleon’s soul at ease.

Biggest winner: Borussia Dortmund

Tottenham Hotspur and Olympique Lyonnais both scraped into the round of 16 by the skins of their teeth, but I’ve written a lot about them recently, so Borussia Dortmund it is.

The league-leading German side hopped over Atlético Madrid in the final game of group play to take the first spot in Group A.

Atlético Madrid sank to an improbable draw at Club Brugge, and Borussia Dortmund took advantage of its rival’s shortcomings.

Raphaël Guerreiro scored two goals against AS Monaco, and Dortmund climbed ahead of Atlético on goal differential, earning a presumably easier opponent and home match for Borussia Dortmund in the knockout stage.

Biggest loser: Inter Milan

Inter Milan began its last match of the 2018-19 Champions League with the very real possibility of this not being its last match of this Champions League season.

Had Inter simply bettered Tottenham Hotspur’s result, the club would have gone through to the next round. Inter Milan was hosting bottom team PSV Eindhoven, while Tottenham was on the road against Barcelona — one of the best teams in football history.

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano scored for PSV in the 13th minute, and from then on, it was all downhill. Star striker Mauro Icardi equalized in the 73rd minute, but Tottenham would respond with its own tying goal in the 85th at Barcelona to produce a 1-1 result and eliminate Inter Milan.

For the Milanese club, this represents a missed opportunity. After eight years of absence from Europe’s elite competition, Inter Milan fans will have to wait until next season for any semblance of glory.

Jasper Sundeen writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].