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Champions League Wednesday – Villas-Boas on the chopping block as Chelsea lose again at Leverkusen, on-fire Van Persie seals Gunners qualification

  Thursday 24th November 2011

Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Chelsea

Chelsea’s progression into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League will come down to a shoot-out with Spanish side Valencia at Stamford Bridge following an injury time defeat in Germany.

Ghost of Chelsea past. Ex-Blue Michael Ballack played his part in a damaging loss for Chelsea.

Ghost of Chelsea past. Ex-Blue Michael Ballack played his part in a damaging loss for Chelsea.

A cagey first half, in which Chelsea old boy Michael Ballack came closest to scoring with a looping header which bounced off the crossbar, was merely the prologue to the second half plot which contained a number of twists and turns.

Defender Manuel Friedrich played the part of the protagonist when he headed into the roof of the net in the 91st minute. Those versed in the art of goalkeeping might point to Petr Cech’s failure to repress the header, especially when there appeared no apparent barrier to him doing so.

Such are the fine margins of Group E that, for much of the second half, Chelsea occupied a qualifying position after Didier Drogba struck three minutes after the restart.

The Ivorian showed trademark strength and power in latching on to Daniel Sturridge’s pass, turning and slotting home, all the time repelling the attentions of two Leverkusen defenders.

The Blues’ tenure as top tenants of Group E was terminated in the 73rd minute when Branislav Ivanovic was caught sleeping at full back and allowed Sidney Sam to latch on to a through pass. Sam’s cross and Eren Derdiyok’s header into the net went unchallenged, as the Chelsea defence was unable to retreat in time.

Chelsea’s decisive match with Valencia, 7-0 winners over whipping boys Genk in the group’s other match, will take place on December 6th.

Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

Robin van Persie continued to combine his professional football career with that of an alchemist, as the Dutchman’s golden touch was enough to see off a resilient Borussia Dortmund and ensure Arsenal qualify as winners from Champions League Group F.

A nondescript first half passed with barely a whiff of attacking threat – two Dortmund efforts from distance the most noteworthy.

Both teams pressed with a rigour and energy without possession that was matched only by a lack of composure and ball control in possession.

Matters for Dortmund were not helped when young German internationals Sven Bender and rising star Mario Gotze were forced off the field through injury.

The second half was more of a spectacle for those who appreciate their football played in the final thirds of the pitch rather than in the crowded central areas. Arsenal’s opener from Robin van Persie owed everything to the tenacity and finesse of Alex Song, who sidestepped three players before supplying the perfect cross for the on-fire striker to nod down and past Roman Weidenfeller in the Dortmund goal.

Not even the vociferous travelling fans could inspire their team and it was Arsenal who looked the more threatening side. Gervinho passed up the most presentable of chances when he rounded Weidenfeller but, in doing so, allowed retreating to defenders to clear.

The second goal did arrive when van Persie swept home from two yards following a near post flick-on from Thomas Vermaelen.

The German champions, still in the hunt for second place in the group, scored a consolation deep into stoppage time. Song unwisely tried to emulate his earlier antics near to his own penalty box and ultimately lost possession, which ended with Shinji Kagawa drilling home from close range.

Martin Briggs

Full results:

Group E

Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Chelsea

Valencia 7-0 Genk

Group F

Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund

Marseille 0-1 Olympiakos 

Group G

Zenit St Petersburg 0-0 Apoel Nicosia

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-2 FC Porto

Group H

AC Milan 2-3 Barcelona

BATE Borisov 0-1 Plzen

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