Arsenal and Liverpool enjoyed contrasting evenings, while Real Madrid edged past Juventus and PSV overcame Monaco in last night’s Champions League games.
Liverpool put themselves in a strong position to qualify for the quarter finals after surviving a few anxious moments on their way to overcoming Bayer Leverkusen.
Luis Garcia put The Reds in front on 15 minutes after a good pass from Igor Biscan while John Arne Riise’s free kick on 35 minutes extended the lead.
Another set piece – this time from Dietmar Hamann – appeared to wrap up the win in injury time but there was still time for Franca to grab a consolation after a howler from Jerzy Dudek
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez absolved his error-prone goalkeeper from blame for the late goal that handed Bayer Leverkusen a Champions League lifeline.
“If we had scored all the chances we had we would not be talking about the goal we conceded,” the Spaniard said.
“It was a difficult shot that bounced in front of him, in my opinion Jerzy had a good game.”
Despite the late setback, Benitez was delighted to see his side’s inconsistent season click into gear days before they face Chelsea in the League Cup final.
“Sure 3-0 is better than 3-1 but if you had offered me this score before the match, I would have signed for it,” he said.
“Of course now we will have to play the second leg a little differently because we know that a 2-0 defeat will put us out. But when you score three goals in the Champions League it gives you confidence for sure.”
The fact that Liverpool coped so well without the influence of their suspended captain, Steven Gerrard, will also have been encouraging for Benitez.
But he will also be aware that Leverkusen created enough chances to have given the night a radically different complexion if it had not been for the wastefulness of their two strikers, Dimitar Berbatov and Andrej Voronin.
“My view is that we were a little unlucky to lose by that margin,” said Bayer coach Klaus Augenthaler.
“At 3-0 the tie was virtually dead but our goal has given us a lifeline and given that, in the group stage, we produced wins against Real Madrid, Roma and Dynamo Kiev when we needed them, we have a chance.
“Now we just have to get this game out of our system.”
Arsenal put in a dreadful defensive performance in Munich, before pinching a late away goal that could yet prove crucial.
Kolo Toure was at fault for Bayern’s first goal after four minutes when his poor header allowed Claudio Pizarro to volley past Jens Lehmann.
Pizarro grabbed the second goal on 58 minutes after slack marking by Toure, before Lehmann flapped at Torsten Frings’ cross on 65 minutes prior to Hasan Salihamidzic finishing at the far post.
Frings then missed a glorious chance, while Lauren was lucky not to be sent off for a nasty two-footed tackle on Bixente Lizarazu before Toure went some way to redeeming himself with a late strike after Patrick Vieira had hit the post.
“We were very, very disappointed with the quality of our performance,” was the Gunners boss’ verdict.
Wenger conceded that the London side’s defence, and Ivorian Toure in particular, needed an injection of confidence after conceding 45 goals this season in all competitions.
“Pascal Cygan did well but Sol Campbell, with his experience, makes everybody better,” Wenger said.
“Kolo has a bit of a doubt in his mind at the moment. He has lost a little bit of his confidence and we have to pump him up again.”
Real Madrid took control of their tie against Juventus thanks to a first-half header from Ivan Helguera. The central defender glanced home David Beckham’s free kick just past the half hour of a scrappy encounter which was only illuminated by the dazzling skill of Zinedine Zidane.
Raul, Ronaldo and defender Walter Samuel all had opportunities to extend Real’s lead, but ultimately the Spaniards had to settle for a slender one-goal advantage ahead of the return leg of the first knockout round in Turin.
Juve offered a brief riposte with Ruben Olivera prompting Casillas to beat out his low shot before Emerson headed into the arms of the Real keeper after being picked out unmarked in the penalty area.
With Juventus then losing Nedved to injury, and Alessandro Del Piero lacking any sparkle, their prospects of grabbing an away goal looked remote.
“We are a little bit disappointed because we felt that the result didn’t do us justice,” said Real’s Portuguese midfielder Luis Figo.
“The good thing, though, was that we didn’t let in a goal and that makes us optimistic about our chances when we go there.”
Juventus star Alessandro Del Piero says his team need to deliver a “perfect” performance if they are to overturn the 1-0 deficit.
“The only recipe for beating them in Turin is to produce a perfect performance,” said Del Piero, who was often left isolated in attack as Juve came under pressure from the Spaniards.
“In the return game it will be vital to close down space and attack their defence. But we can do it.”
The Dutch Eredivisie leaders PSV Eindhoven have a slim advantage on last year’s finalists Monaco with a 1-0 win at the Philips Stadion.
Brazilian defender Alex scored the eventual winner with an eighth minute header from skipper Mark van Bommel’s corner.
PSV looked the better side throughout the contest and the former Holland and South Korea manager was frustrated that his side did not convert more of their chances after taking an early lead.
“It was a typical European Cup match,” said Hiddink. “We put Monaco under pressure from the first moment because we expected that it would cause problems for them.
“After the early opening goal, we should have scored the second from the few small chances we created.
“In the second half, we did better and kept control, but still I wished we had decided the battle in this match.”
Monaco boss Didier Deschamps was disappointed with his side’s inability to test PSV goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes throughout the first leg defeat.
“It is a disappointing result, especially because we didn’t score a goal,” Deschamps said.
“We will leave with mixed feelings because, in my opinion, this defeat was not necessary, but we didn’t play well in attack.
“My strikers lost too many battles, although PSV have a good defence full of internationals.”