|Angel interceptor: Di Maria shoots to give Real Madrid a late win after they again struggled to find the net [AFP]
A flash of inspiration from Angel di Maria gave Real Madrid a win over Auxerre but a similar show of class from Zlatan Ibrahimovic was only enough for AC Milan to draw at his former club Ajax in the European Champions League.
Just when it seemed Real were about to write another chapter of the strange saga of their misfiring forwards, Di Maria came off the bench and seven minutes later volleyed home the only goal for the nine-times European champions in the 81st minute.
Group G rivals Milan fell behind before Ibrahimovic popped up to score against the Dutch side and give the Italians a 1-1 draw following Mounir El Hamdaoui's 23rd-minute strike for the hosts.
In great form since returning to Italy after a year with Barcelona, Ibrahimovic earned the point by controlling superbly and smashing in for the equaliser on his return to the club where he came to prominence a decade ago.
Bayern Munich, last season's runners-up, were also behind at Basel in Group E on Tuesday before a second-half double from Bastian Schweinsteiger, including a controversial penalty, saw them scrape a 2-1 victory.
Roma won by the same scoreline at home to CFR Cluj in the other Group E game while there were more comfortable wins for English rivals Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as Spartak Moscow and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Jose Mourinho, hired by Real after winning the Champions League with Inter Milan last season, is seeking to become the first coach to win the competition with three different clubs but had Di Maria to thank after his expensive side again failed to convert talent into goals.
Real have had no trouble dominating possession under his leadership but have scored only six goals in five Spanish Primera Liga games, including two goalless draws.
They were clearly superior again on Tuesday but needed Mesut Ozil and Di Maria to come off the bench to provide fresh impetus, the Argentine chesting the ball down in the area before volleying into the corner for the winner, as Auxerre players claimed Sergio Ramos had handled the ball in the build-up.
"When I came here, this team had defensive problems," Mourinho said in his own defence.
"Now we are more solid but we still need to find our stride in attack."
Real top the group with six points, with Milan second on four. Real host Milan next in a clash of two sides who have won the European Cup 16 times between them.
Four-times winners Bayern also have maximum points in Group E after Schweinsteiger's late heroics, while Chelsea and Spartak are making all the running in Group F with six points apiece.
Chelsea's 2-0 victory at home to Marseille was in no doubt once John Terry had squeezed the ball home with the outside of his left boot for an opener in the seventh minute.
Nicolas Anelka dinked in the second from the penalty spot as Chelsea safely avoided what could have been a third straight defeat in all competitions.
Arsenal have six points in Group H along with Shakhtar, who beat Braga 3-0, Brazilian winger Douglas Costa creating two goals and scoring another.
Ten-man Arsenal played brilliantly at times in Belgrade but flirted with trouble, eventually winning 3-1 through goals from Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci.
Cleo scored a penalty for Partizan and missed another after the hosts had Marko Jovanovic sent off in the second half.
Arshavin also missed a penalty for Arsenal in a frantic game that went ahead despite multiple floodlight failure.
Spartak beat Zilina 3-0 in Russia in the night's early kickoff.