All three British clubs enjoyed what could be invaluable away wins in their second batch of Champions League group matches on Wednesday.
Celtic led the way with a 3-2 win at Spartak Moscow, their first win in 21 away Champions League games and first in Europe’s premier club competition since beating Shamrock Rovers in 1986 when it was the European Cup.
Titleholders Chelsea too ended a winless away streak – albeit only stretching back to October 2010 when they also beat Spartak Moscow – with a 4-0 win over Danish debutants FC Nordsjaelland although the scoreline flattered the winners.
Manchester United also claimed the three points away from home with a 2-1 victory at Cluj – both goals coming from Robin van Persie – but it was by the skin of their teeth in the heartland of Transylvania.
There were mixed fortunes for two of the teams Chelsea beat on their way to an unlikely victory in the Champions League last term.
Bayern Munich – who lost to Chelsea in the final on penalties – suffered a stunning 3-1 away defeat at BATE Borisov, the Belarus side proving to be the surprise package of this season’s tournament with two wins from two to top Group F.
Barcelona, beaten in the semi-finals by Chelsea, had no such problems as Lionel Messi created both their goals, one for Alexis Sanchez and the other for Cesc Fabregas, in the 2-0 win over Benfica in Lisbon.
Victory extended the 2011 champions’ winning streak in all competitions this season to eight and kept them two points clear of Celtic in the group ahead of their forthcoming double header.
The only blip on the landscape for Barca was another injury to iconic central defender Carles Puyol, who had made a remarkably quick recovery from a knee injury but dislocated an elbow shortly after coming on as a substitute.
Celtic were on their way to another away defeat – they had lost their last 11 away – until the momentum swung their way shortly after the hour mark when trailing 2-1 to the Russian side the hosts had defender Juan Insaurralde sent off.
An own goal by Dmitri Kombarov and a last minute header from Greek international striker Giorgos Samaras sealed the points and left manager Neil Lennon a happy man.
“My players played exciting football tonight,” he said.
“It’s fantastic that we managed to battle back and win in the second half as we were playing against very strong opponents.
“It’s too early to make any conclusions as we have two matches with Barcelona ahead but we have already taken a big step forward.”
Chelsea were hanging on somewhat at times during their clash in Denmark but three goals in the last 11 minutes including Juan Mata’s second of the game left manager Roberto Di Matteo satisfied.
“We needed a second goal because they were resilient and thanks to a great save by Petr Cech we stayed ahead,” said Di Matteo, whose team top the group.
“However, eventually we got the second and from then on we coasted but the scoreline is perhaps not reflective of the game itself.”
Van Persie’s brace – taking his total to seven in seven games for United – saw them come from behind and while Sir Alex Ferguson was not happy with the defending for the goal they conceded he was content overall.
“To be fair we defended well apart from the goal. I’ve got to be pleased because Cluj have a good home record and coming away from home in Europe is never easy,” said Ferguson, whose side top the group with six points from two matches three clear of Cluj and Braga.
Bayern were never in the hunt in Belarus but while the result may have surprised many it didn’t Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes.
“I knew before the match that we were up against a very good team,” he said.
“They are very well organised especially in defence which they have proved so again.
“We hit the post and the bar too, so we had some bad luck, but you have to take the lead in these games.”