Champions League: Chelsea cruise past Maccabi Tel-Aviv as Dinamo Zagreb gun down Arsenal

Diego Costa (left) and Loic Remy
Diego Costa (left) and Loic Remy
Diego Costa (left) and Loic Remy

Of England’s four representatives in this season’s Champions League group stage, only Chelsea managed to notch a win in their opening match. The Blues, who have struggled through the first five games of their Premier League title defence, eased past Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 4-0, at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Eden Hazard missed an early penalty, but Chelsea quickly went ahead through Willian’s 15th-minute free-kick, which bounced in the box and eluded Maccabi goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic. Oscar doubled the lead from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time after bitter former Blues defender, Tal Ben-Haim, brought down Diego Costa, before Costa (58′) and Cesc Fabregas (78′) rounded out the scoring in the second half.

The win left the Blues in control of Group G with the maximum three points from Matchday 1. Elsewhere in the group, Porto could only draw, 2-2, at Dynamo Kiev.

On Matchday 2, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will return to Porto, the club where he won his first Champions League title. Victory in Portugal would give the Blues a firm hold on first place.

Olivier Giroud saw red as Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League campaign began in defeat at Dinamo Zagreb in Group F.

The Croatian side had not won a Champions League group match in 16 years but claimed all three points thanks to goals from Josip Pivaric and Junior Fernandes. Theo Walcott scored a late consolation for Arsenal, who lost their opening group match for the second consecutive season.

The visitors started brightly and dominated possession throughout the match but fell in the 24th minute as Dinamo caught the defence napping. Pivaric raced past Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and latched onto a pass on the left before forcing a save out of David Ospina. The ball then appeared to rebound in off Oxlade-Chamberlain, though UEFA awarded the goal to Pivaric.

Disaster struck 16 minutes later as Giroud drew a red card and was sent off. The Frenchman had already seen yellow for dissent in the 23rd minute. While the second booking might have been harsh, he had only himself to blame for the first.

“The first yellow card was Giroud’s fault because he protested, even if there was no foul against him,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger told the club’s official website. “After that he should have not protested to the referee. His second yellow card was completely unlucky to touch the guy. I do not understand the referee.”

Fernandes doubled Dinamo’s lead in the 58th minute, heading in a corner at the near post. Walcott pulled back a late goal for Arsenal, but the visitors were unable to draw level.

It was Dinamo’s first victory in the Champions League group stage since September 1999, a run of 5,831 days, according to Opta. But it shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise. The Croatians have not lost a game in any competition since November 2014.

The result underlined a troubling run of form for English teams in European competition this season. In the Champions League, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal lost their opening group matches. Meanwhile, West Ham United and Southampton have already been eliminated from the Europa League.

If it continues, England’s poor performance on the continent could lead to a reduction in the Premier League’s Champions League places. According to Infostrada Sports, this was the first time three English clubs have lost on the first Champions League matchday.

Arsenal will have to respond positively in their next match in order to put themselves back in the hunt to qualify from Group F. Up next, the Gunners host Olympiakos at the Emirates Stadium on Sept. 29.

Dinamo travel to Bayern Munich on the same day, and a victory in the Allianz Arena would surely be the shock of the season. In Wednesday’s other Group F match, Bayern defeated Olympiakos, 3-0, in Piraeus, Greece. German forward Thomas Muller bagged a brace, bringing his total to 11 goals in his last seven appearances for club and country.

Mario Gotze scored the other goal for Bayern.

Barcelona’s Champions League title defence began with a 1-1 draw at Roma as Lionel Messi made his 100th appearance in the competition. No team has repeated as winners under the current format, and Wednesday’s result suggests Barca will have at least one tough Group E opponent in Roma.

Luis Suarez opened the scoring for the visitors in the 21st minute, but Roma’s Alessandro Florenzi equalized with a spectacular long-range shot from just inside the halfway line.

In Group E’s other match, Hakan Calhanoglu scored twice to lead Bayer Leverkusen to a 4-1 victory over BATE Borisov. The hosts took the lead through Admir Mehmedi in just the fourth minute, but BATE equalized just nine minutes later as Nemanja Milunovic directed a free header past Bernd Leno.

Calhanoglu restored Leverkusen’s advantage shortly after half-time, and Mexican forward Javier Hernandez added a goal on his full debut on the hour mark. In the 76th minute, Calhanoglu finished the scoring from the penalty spot.

Matchday 2 will present a stiffer test for Leverkusen, who will travel to Catalonia to face Barcelona at the Camp Nou. BATE will host Roma the same day.

Hulk scored twice in the second half, but Zenit St. Petersburg needed Axel Witsel’s late goal to claim a 3-2 victory over Valencia at the Mestalla. It was the Russian club’s first win in Spain.

The visitors led, 2-0, at the break, with Hulk smashing in goals in the ninth and 44th minutes. Valencia drew level through Joao Cancelo and Andre Gomes, but Witsel netted the winner in the 76th minute to settle a five-goal thriller.

The result took Zenit to the top of Group H, alone on three points after one match. Elsewhere in Group H, nine-man Gent held Lyon to a 1-1 draw in Belgium.

Lyon will host Valencia on Matchday 2, while Gent visit Zenit.

Wednesday’s Champions League results:

Group E: Bayer Leverkusen 4-1 BATE Borisov, Roma 1-1 Barcelona

Group F: Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 Arsenal, Olympiakos 0-3 Bayern Munich

Group G: Dynamo Kiev 2-2 Porto, Chelsea 4-0 Maccabi Tel Aviv

Group H: Valencia 2-3 Zenit Saint Petersburg, Gent 1-1 Lyon