If Inter Milan, before the Champions League season began, had been given the chance of being level on points with the second-placed team in their group going into the final match day, not only would they have taken it, it would have been a positive. After so long out of club football's elite, no one was expecting the Nerazzurri to pull up trees on returning, and as such there were expected to be baby steps of progress.

That Inter's first Champions League campaign for six years lasted only six games wasn't really surprising. They only managed to get here thanks to a late collapse by Lazio in the final Serie A game of last season, and when the draw was made, they looked below Barcelona and Tottenham in Group B. But rather what's irksome is the manner of which their departure came. At the end of Matchday Two, Luciano Spalletti's side were on six points, level with Barcelona and six ahead of both Spurs and PSV.

Even after Matchday Three, when they suffered their first defeat at the Nou Camp, Spurs' draw in Eindhoven meant they were still five points clear of the bottom two with three games left. Then came what looked like a giant point at home to Barcelona, before the setback at Wembley at the end of November.

Yet, qualification was still very much attainable going into the final group game. A win at home to PSV, coupled with Spurs failing to win at the Nou Camp, would send the Italians through. Given that Barcelona hadn't lost at home in Europe since 2013, a win for Inter would almost certainly be enough. But if anything was debatable in the final games of this group, it surely wasn't whether Inter would beat PSV. 

And when Barcelona took an early lead in the other game, Inter were on the right track. Yet somehow, they conceded early as well, a piece of sloppy defending from Kwadwo Asamoah leading to Hirving Lozano eventually giving the visitors the lead. This was the kind of cock-up that was supposed to no longer be associated with Inter. This was the kind of failure that was meant to have gone with the old Inter, the Inter that led Serie A unbeaten for about half of the season, yet managed to finish outside the Champions League places; the kind of Inter that ended Juventus' unbeaten run and we're second in the league, yet just managed to hold on to a top-half spot; the kind of Inter that mounted a six-game winning run in spring, yet weren't good enough for a Europa League position.

Yet here they were, shooting themselves in the foot. 'We did less than we could have done', said Spalletti, who saw his side get an equaliser via Mauro Icardi in the second period. That's one of Inter's problems this season, and the previous ones. For all their improvements, their mini and relative rejuvenation, Inter still haven't found a cure for their over-reliance on their skipper. Of the six goals they scored in the Champions League this season, Icardi bagged four. Their method of 'Icardi will bail us out' has served them well, but it's bound to not be enough in some cases.

Yet, at the time Icardi got that leveller, the Milanese sleeping giants were heading for the last 16, with Spurs still trailing at the Nou Camp. But Spurs would get their own equaliser, and that left Inter needing one more goal to go through. They wouldn't get it, and with elimination came La Gazzetto Dello Sport giving Spalletti and his side the tag of 'Scempions'. 

Elimination is by no means disastrous for the Italians, the Europa League, as winger Matteo Politano and goalkeeper Samir Handanovic pointed out, is very much winnable, and going out at the group stage wouldn't have been out of the question at the beginning of the season. But what stings is the fact that they came so close and had it in their palms. The fact that they let it slip, is a giant kick in the teeth.

Elsewhere

  • It was job very much done by Liverpool, who needed to beat Napoli to go through to the knockout round. The Reds were utterly dominant at Anfield, yet very nearly paid the price for missing a catalogue of chances. Those misses ultimately mattered little.
  • Real Madrid were already assured of top spot in Group Group after Matchday Five, so a weakened lineup was as expected as defeat would be unsurprising. But no one foresaw CSKA Moscow scoring three at the Bernabeu without reply. Yet it's just as bewildering that the Russians did the double over the European champions yet managed to finish bottom of the group.
  • It was a brilliant display by Tottenham at the Nou Camp, as Spurs got a point, the least they deserved, to make the last 16. Yet one goal in either this game from Barcelona, or in the other from Inter, would have meant a different story on the night.
  • Six goals. Two red cards. Two goals in stoppage time. Ajax-Bayern Munich at the Johan Cruyff Arena was the definition of a classic.

Results

Club Brugge 0-0 Atletico Madrid

Valencia 2-1 Manchester United

Plzen 2-1 Roma

Benfica 1-0 AEK Athens

Manchester City 2-1 Hoffenheim

Red Star Belgrade 1-4 PSG

Galatasaray 2-3 Porto

Inter 1-1 PSV

Barcelona 1-1 Tottenham

Liverpool 1-0 Napoli

Real Madrid 0-3 CSKA Moscow

Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 Lyon

Schalke 1-0 Lokomotiv Moscow

Young Boys 2-1 Juventus

Monaco 0-2 Dortmund

 

Through to the last 16

Seeded: Dortmund; Barcelona; PSG; Porto; Bayern Munich; Manchester City; Real Madrid; Juventus

Unseeded: Atletico Madrid; Tottenham; Liverpool; Schalke; Ajax; Lyon; Roma; Manchester United

Published in International Watch

As December arrives and starts to make itself comfortable, removing November’s prints and marks from the office and making it its own, introducing itself to the staff and getting to know the environment, the Champions League group stage edges closer to its end. The fat lady hasn’t quite sung yet, but she’s prepping her vocal cords, calming her nerves and being told to get ready, while the curtains on the stage start to come up to welcome her arrival.

Going into Matchday Six, many are already set for the last 16, 12 in fact, and by Wednesday night, the numbers will finally be complete, the Champions League will become the European Cup again (let that Clive Tyldesley quote go), and we’ll be 29 games away from knowing who Real Madrid will beat in the final at the Metropolitano come June.

So, how does each team look, as they head into their final games in the group?

Group A

Group A is very nearly done and dusted. The teams heading for the last 16 are already known, with Atletico Madrid’s and Borussia Dortmund’s place for the knockout round very much sealed. Club Brugge have also already acquired third place and the Europa League spot, with Monaco guaranteed to finish bottom. The French side’s quest for a first win in Europe since April 2017 continues, and they host Dortmund, who still have a chance of finishing in top spot. Atletico travel to Belgium.

Fixtures: Club Brugge v Atletico Madrid; Monaco v Dortmund

Group B

Barcelona are already through to the next round, and as group winners too, but the battle is the one to make the last 16 with them. Inter Milan and Tottenham are currently locked on seven points, with Spurs above the Italians by virtue of a better head-to-head record. Spurs will go through if they win, but they have the small matter of playing group winners Barca at the Nou Camp. Inter will hope the Blaugrana do them a favour, as the Nerazzurri host a PSV side already guaranteed to finish bottom of the group.

Fixtures: Barcelona v Tottenham; Inter v PSV

Group C

The state of Group C still remains quite unknown, as many predicted when the draw was made. Napoli are currently top of the group, after three draws and two wins in five games. Paris St. Germain are close behind with eight points, while Liverpool, last season’s finalists, are two points further back. PSG will go through with as much as a point away at bottom-placed Red Star Belgrade, the Serbians still having an outside of making third place and the Europa League, but that rests on them beating PSG and Liverpool losing at home to Napoli. The Reds need nothing less than a win against the Italians to go through, and that might not even be enough. A 1-0 win will do, but they will need to win by two clear goals if Napoli score, or win by one and hope PSG, almost improbably, lose in Belgrade. Napoli will finish top if they win at Anfield.

Fixtures: Liverpool v Napoli; Red Star Belgrade v PSG

Group D

The top two have already been decided in Group D, as well as the order they’ll be in, Porto’s win over Schalke on Matchday Five sealing top spot for them, with the Miners themselves guaranteed to finish second. The only thing to be decided is who finishes third and takes the Europa League place, Lokomotiv Moscow’s win over Galatasaray at the end of November making that far from settled. Yuri Semin’s Russian side visit Schalke on Matchday Six, knowing a win and failure for Galatasaray to do similar at home to Porto means third spot is theirs.

Fixtures: Galatasaray v Porto; Schalke v Lokomotiv Moscow

Group E

Bayern Munich and Ajax are guaranteed a place in the last 16 – Ajax getting that far for the first time in 12 years – and face a battle for top spot, with both teams meeting in Amsterdam on Wednesday. Ajax can finish top with a win, while Bayern need just a point to be confirmed number one in Group E. With Benfica already assured of third spot, their home game against AEK Athens is little more than a dead rubber.

Fixtures: Ajax v Bayern Munich; Benfica v AEK Athens

Group F

Manchester City have already booked their passage to the next round, after a draw in Lyon last month. That result in France also means Lyon’s qualification chances still hang in the balance, and Bruno Genesio’s side travel to Lviv to face Shakhtar Donetsk. Shakhtar will go through with a win, but anything less won’t suffice. A defeat could even open the door for already-eliminated Hoffenheim, who travel to the Etihad, to finish third.

Fixtures: Manchester City v Hoffenheim; Shakhtar Donetsk v Lyon

Group G

Real Madrid are through to the last 16, and as group winners too, with Roma assured of second place behind them. That leaves the only area undecided to be third spot, with CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen both on four points. Czech side Plzen are ahead of CSKA on goal difference, and so will make the Europa League if they match the Russians’ result against Real Madrid.

Fixtures: CSKA v Real Madrid; Plzen v Roma

Group H

In Group H, Manchester United’s late winner against Young Boys on Matchday guaranteed their passage to the next round, and all that remains is the small matter of who finishes top between them and Juventus. United will win the group if they beat Valencia, and Juve fail to do similar against Young Boys. Young Boys’ fate as the bottom side in Group H has already been sealed.

Fixtures: Juventus v Young Boys; Manchester United v Valencia

Published in International Watch

Paris est Magique’. That message is one that is placed somewhere, or rather, up there, in the Parc des Princes, and it’s nights like this that tell us, no matter how rarely it occurs, against the supposed the European heavyweights, sometimes, ‘Paris Saint-Germain est Magique’. From the fans to the players, it was the kind of night many expect to a regular feature with the French champions.

As the PSG players took to the turf at home to Liverpool, there was no second-guessing the mission, win. Le Parisiens sat in third place in Group C, a point behind both their guests and group leaders Napoli, who hosted Red Star Belgrade. A win for Napoli against Serbians, very much likely, and a win in the French capital for Liverpool would signal the end of PSG’s Champions League campaign. A draw between PSG and Liverpool, coupled with a win for Napoli, would mean PSG would require Liverpool failing to beat Napoli on Matchday Six. Either way, anything other than victory for Thomas Tuchel’s side, and disaster loomed.

From the start of the game, it looked like the hosts recognised what needed to be done, and begun very much on the front foot, only a poor control from Edinson Cavani prevented them from getting a chance to take the lead inside 40 seconds. PSG looked very different from the lax and lethargic side that lost at Anfield on Matchday One. Then, the accusation was that with the club on such a high plane from the rest of the sides in Ligue 1, they weren’t tested enough, and were likely to crumble under any form of intensity from top European opposition. But here at the Parc des Princes, it was they who had he intensity, who upped the ante, and when Juan Bernat gave them the lead after 13 minutes, it was very much deserved.

Another accusation labelled at the feet of the French champions is that they tend to look more like a top-heavy side with a mash-up of star-names rather than a team, but Tuchel’s influence on the side hasn’t gone unnoticed, his switch to a back-three allowing for the front players to shine, yet creating room for a more rounded side. Here, it looked like a back-three from the off, but most noticeable was the flexibility, a formation that changed to a 4-4-2, particularly when they were without the ball, a willingness of the players to work more and sometimes play less, an example was Neymar, who displayed very little of the self-indulgence he’s always accused of, committed more to being part of a unit, and started and finished things for the side’s second goal.

The two-goal hardly flattered PSG, and the game looked likely to go 3-0 than 2-1. But it would go 2-1, James Milner, converting from 12 yards, after Angel Di Maria’s rash challenge on Sadio Mane inside the box. Referee Szymon Marciniak initially gave a corner, but after consulting with his assistants, opted to award the penalty, a decision that caused outrage among the PSG players, also taking the idea that they were a bunch of overpaid players with no passion for the side to the woodshed.

But after the break, with PSG 2-1 up, another form of magic seemed to happen. PSG were no longer constantly on the front foot. In fact, they were hardly on the front foot, putting themselves under unnecessary pressure at the back, dropping deeper, almost showing shades of their first half display at Anfield in September. The counter-attacks were breaking down due to ill-advised decision-making, Marco Verratti collecting a second yellow card looked inevitable, and Thiago Silva was as imperious as he was shaky at the back.

It was like PSG had performed a notable disappearing act, making all their intensity, and sense of security go away. Tuchel’s substitutions bothered on safety more than anything else, Neymar reverted to being a bit more indulging, and while the threat of a third goal still lingered, their sense of control was gone. In the end it mattered little, as despite the pressure Liverpool mounted, the only shot on target they had was the Milner penalty, and victory takes PSG ahead of the Reds, and a win away from the last 16, as they visit Red Star Belgrade on Matchday Six. Their first half Jekyll was enough to make up for the subsequent second half Hyde.

This performance still had elements of worry about it, but PSG, particularly in the first half, answered questions as to whether they can step up in Europe against top opposition, and this result is the kind that could serve as a turning point for a European season. Now, that’s a sense of ‘Magique’.

Elsewhere:

  • Lyon proved a tough nut for Manchester City once more, Les Gones battling to a 2-2 draw against the English champions, but Bruno Genesio’s side’s failure to hold onto a lead means they’ll basically face a play-off with Shakhtar Donetsk for a place in the last 16.
  • Five Champions League games. Five games in which there’s been a goal in the final five minutes. Sadly for Hoffenheim, those stats are likely to consign them to the bottom of Group F.
  • A look at the crowd and shake of the head in resignation, a bottle slam, and a message to his lovers. Yes, Jose Mourinho has taken Manchester United to the next round of the Champions League.
  • Also in the next round are Ajax, for the first time since 2006, after a Dusan Tadic double saw them past AEK Athens. Erik Ten Hag’s side are one of 12 teams to have sealed a spot in the last 16, meaning only four places remain up for grabs going into Matchday Six.
  • And if ever Cengiz Under didn’t quite abide by his name. Oops.

Results

Dortmund 0-0 Club Brugge

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Monaco

Tottenham 1-0 Inter

Lyon 2-2 Manchester City

AEK Athens 0-2 Ajax

Juventus 1-0 Valencia

PSV 1-2 Barcelona

Napoli 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Porto 3-1 Schalke

Manchester United 1-0 Young Boys

Hoffenheim 2-3 Shakhtar Donetsk

Roma 0-2 Real Madrid

Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 Galatasaray

PSG 2-1 Liverpool

Plzen 2-1 CSKA

Bayern Munich 5-1 Benfica

Published in International Watch

The celebration of the first goal was one of defiance, first from goal-scorer Santi Mina, then teammate Geoffrey Kondogbia, just about highlighting the pressure Valencia have been coming under, and how much importance this game against Young Boys in the Group H of the UEFA Champions League had. ‘We wanted to stay alive in this beautiful championship and the reaction of the players was very good because we came from an unfair defeat’, said Los Che manager Marcelino.

Things have looked unfair for Valencia of late, struggling in games, one win and eight – eight! – draws in the league so far this season, the previous weekend’s result was a defeat at home to Girona, when they did everything other than the find the net, and on the occasion they found the net, the Video Assistant Referee stepped in to deny them.

There was no VAR in midweek, yet it seemed like Valencia’s luck wasn’t going to change for the better, as when Rodrigo was put clean through, the flag went up for offside, and replays showed it was the wrong call. But things got a much better feel minutes later, as Mina put them in front, reacting first after Carlos Soler hit the post with an initial effort. Valencia looked to be in the ascendancy, but in a move that typifies their season so far, they were pegged back, Rory Assale finding the bottom corner to give the Swiss side parity.

However, Los Che wouldn’t let their heads drop, and they found a reward again, Soler with a delightful that was poked home by Mina for his second, four minutes before halftime. ‘He is a player that last season had a great performance’, said Marcelino of Mina. ‘This year he started playing, then he had the bad luck to be injured and has returned with a lot of energy.’ Mina did exude a lot of energy on the night, in his movement, his goals, and even his goal celebrations. ‘I think all the players are hungry and everyone wants to win, but they all suffered more than they should because of what was happening’, added the manager.

There have been quite an amount of relative ‘suffering’ in the Valencia side this season, even their only league of the season was laboured. But here, they got something they’ve barely had all season, a cushion, a margin for error, as a third goal early in the second half, from the excellent Soler, gave them a two-goal lead. Valencia finally had room to breathe, they could finally keep an opponent at arm’s length, and they did, despite some huffing and puffing from the Young Boys side, Valencia were in control, and probably should have added more to the scoreline.

It hardly mattered little when the final whistle went, signalling a first win in the Champions League this season, which gives them a glimmer of hope for qualification for the last 16. It also gets a victory monkey off their backs, with Marcelino quick to note how important it is to keep winning, particularly on the domestic front. Marcelino also admitted uncertainty when asked whether this is a turning point of the season, but he’ll hope so; for the first time in a while, they didn’t seem to be choking on the pitch. For the first time in a while, they won with room to spare. For the first time in a while, luck didn’t desert them.

Valencia have two games left in this group, at Juventus and at home to Manchester United, qualification wouldn’t come easy, if it does come. But that’s not the immediate concern right now, that’s winning at Getafe in the league this coming weekend. Even in the long run, the Champions League campaign might ultimately not matter. If this proves to be a catalyst for a resurgence, it might not save their adventure with the European elite, but that’s hardly Valencia’s big picture here. Their entire season is what’s in play.

  • Smash and Grab for United in Turin

It looked like another defeat at the hands of Juventus for Manchester United, another defeat that was a formality; Cristiano Ronaldo had given the Italian champions the lead, and only some lax finishing prevented the Bianconeri from going out of sight. But United, having ridden their luck, would take full advantage, first a wonderful Juan Mata free-kick drew Jose Mourinho’s side level, then a set-piece from Ashley Young caused mayhem in the Juventus area, and resulted in an Alex Sandro own goal. Within four minutes, United turned a sure-fire defeat into the unlikeliest of wins, and have gone from dropping out of the top two in Group H to taking a significant step towards the last 16.

Elsewhere:

  • Oh, nothing to see here, just another day when Manchester City struck six past an opponent, making it 19 goals in four games. This half-a-dozen win over Shakhtar Donetsk does get extra spotlight for Raheem Sterling’s blatant dive that won a penalty for the second goal of the game, but City are firmly top of Group F.
  • Speaking of Group F, it was another late show involving Hoffenheim, with the Germans needing a late equaliser to get a 2-2 draw at Lyon. For Lyon, it was the ultimately tossing of a healthy position, as Les Gones had a two-goal lead and a numerical advantage with 25 minutes to go, yet had to make do with just a point. Bruno Genesio would need no telling how much of an opportunity they passed up, and suddenly it’s become a battle for second place involving three teams.
  • Five goals for Real Madrid at Plzen, two for Karim Benzema, 11 goals scored without reply in three games under Santiago Solari. Yet it’s obvious that Real are still far from getting there.
  • A monumental day in Belgrade for Red Star, the minnows stunning Liverpool to a two-goal win, thanks to a double from Milan Pavkov, to plunge Group C right into chaos. In their two home games in this group, against Napoli and Liverpool, the Serbians haven’t conceded a single goal.
  • Things looked to be going south for Spurs again, a goal down after a minute against PSV at Wembley, whatever slim hopes of qualification they had looked to be fading fast. But two late goals, thanks to Harry Kane, has them breathing again, on a Wembley turf PSV manager Mark van Bommel didn’t sugar-coat its features. ‘It’s shit’, said the former Barcelona midfielder.
  • More misery for Monaco and Thierry Henry, as his Monaco side were battered on home soil by Club Brugge, the Belgians getting a first win in the Champions League proper in 13 years.

Results

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Dortmund

CSKA 1-2 Roma

Manchester City 6-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Red Star Belgrade 2-0 Liverpool

Inter 1-1 Barcelona

Benfica 1-1 Ajax

Lyon 2-2 Hoffenheim

Juventus 1-2 Manchester United

Monaco 0-4 Club Brugge

Plzen 0-5 Real Madrid

Tottenham 2-1 PSV

Porto 4-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

Valencia 3-1 Young Boys

Napoli 1-1 PSG

Bayern Munich 2-0 AEK Athens

Schalke 2-0 Galatasaray

Published in International Watch

‘When you put on this shirt, you know you have arrived at the very top; there’s no greater honour’, said a 19-year old Sergio Ramos, when the current Real Madrid skipper joined the club from Sevilla in 2005. Also, Sergio, when you put on the shirt, you know there’s little margin for error, little room for laxity. Too much success is still hardly enough success at the Bernabeu, and no amount of achievements can bring room to rest on your laurels, not even a bit.

Hence, the whistles the Real players received from the Bernabeu faithful on Saturday. That was the first league game under Santiago Solari, the first league game since the sacking of Julen Lopetegui, ergo the first league game, and more importantly, the first home game, since the utterly unacceptable trouncing at Barcelona in the Clasico, which, despite the hard-fought and unconvincing victory over Valladolid, fans haven’t shied away from showing their continued discontent. Which explains a celebration of defiance from Ramos himself, who scored Real’s second, from the penalty spot.

Defiance is one of things Los Blancos need at the moment. Upon his (temporary) appoint, Solari said to have found a group ‘in pain but eager to start and reverse the situation’. And if Saturday’s game offered any semblance of evidence, then the situation is quite a tough one. Not only do the European champions have ground to make up in the league – they are seven points off the top in La Liga – they also have to get the crowd back onside.

The fans don’t seem to ready to get onside at the moment, the wounds of the Clasico are no close to healing, not to talk of the scars going away; so, perhaps a Champions League game against Czech side Viktoria Plzen is the most ideal at the moment. Not because they’re less-fancied opponents. In fact, because they’re less-fancied opponents, this might feel like a no-win situation. Win, and the reaction is ‘well, it’s Plzen’, the result gets sniffed at, and its significance is downplayed, victory will still be seen as baby steps on this road to recovery. Lose, and the repercussions are unthinkable.

Rather, Plzen are the ideal opponents because it’s a game away from home, away from what seems like an angry unforgiving mob of a Bernabeu stadium right now. Playing away might suit Los Blancos at the moment, there might be less pressure, less whistles, the atmosphere is likely to be less toxic, and in truth – no disrespect to Plzen – the Czechs are less-fancied opponents.

Real’s road to redemption is long. They still have quite some penance to make. Victory at Plzen is hardly much of a positive and hardly makes much of an impact in that regard. Yet victory at Plzen is a must.

Elsewhere:

  • Life at Monaco hasn’t begun well for Thierry Henry, who still remains winless as manager of the French principality club, and recent results have seen them drop to 19th place in the league, four points from safety. They are without a European win since April 2017, and will have to break that duck on Tuesday against Club Brugge, to have any hope of progressing from Group A.
  • Hoffenheim are also running out of chances, and time, to stake a claim towards progressing to the last 16. Julian Nagelsmann’s debutants sit bottom of Group F after 2-2 and 3-3 draws and a 2-1 defeat. There has been the drama of late goals in each of Die Krachgauer’s games in this group so far; a relatively boring game would suffice if it comes with a win, as they travel to Lyon on Matchday Four.
  • Tottenham’s Champions League campaign may well be done and dusted. One point from three games, the chances of Spurs progressing in Group B are remote, if not impossible. After a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture in Eindhoven, they host PSV, aiming to kick-start the unlikeliest of miracles.

Fixtures

Plzen v Real Madrid

Lyon v Hoffenheim

Red Star Belgrade v Liverpool

Atletico Madrid v Dortmund

Tottenham v PSV

Manchester City v Shakhtar Donetsk

Juventus v Manchester United

Monaco v Club Brugge

Inter v Barcelona

Bayern Munich v AEK Athens

Napoli v PSG

Valencia v Young Boys

Schalke v Galatasaray

Benfica v Ajax

Porto v Lokomotiv Moscow

CSKA v Roma

Published in International Watch

At fulltime, Paris St. Germain looked beaten, looked spent, as the players stood on the pitch at the Parc des Princes, while some crouched. But unlike most of the Champions League games from which Le Parisiens have incurred criticism, their look of tiredness was merely physical; no emotional or psychological beat down, rather just fatigue from going hammer and thongs late on, as the French champions salvaged a point in the dying embers against Napoli. ‘The players used up a lot of energy tonight…’ said manager Thomas Tuchel.

‘We are happy to (have) finished on a positive note’, said Angel Di Maria, scoring of PSG’s late equaliser. ‘You have to fight to the very last second if you want to reach your objectives.’ And PSG did fight in this game, something they’ve been chided for lacking in this competition. According to many, and not without reason, as a result of the lack of intensity with which the Ligue 1 is played, when opponents on the continental front up the ante, PSG look suspect.

But here, it was Tuchel’s side who raised tempo, starting very much on the front foot, Kylian Mbappe proving a handful for Mario Rui, and only a lack of communication from Neymar and Edinson Cavani prevented them from a shot at an early lead. ‘Our first 15 minutes were very good’, said Tuchel, ‘but then we lost our structure, our confidence and we started losing the ball.’ And the German was spot on in that assessment, as after their dominant opening quarter of the game, PSG seemed to take their foot off the gas.

Napoli grew into the game, Jose Callejon scratched a shot at Alphonse Areola, who was then beaten moments later by Dries Mertens, but had to be grateful to the underside of the bar for keeping the score level. But neither he nor the frame of the goal could help the hosts on the half hour mark, when Callejon’s brilliant pass found Lorenzo Insigne, whose first-time finish was as unerring as it was impudent. Suddenly PSG were chasing the game, chasing the group, defeat here, coupled with Liverpool’s lead at home to Red Star Belgrade at the time, meant they were much outside the top two in Group C, looking in.

‘At half-time, I told the players we had to play more simply, faster and with more disciplined’, Tuchel said. ‘We needed to improve.’ And aided by a switch to a back-three – Thilo Kehrer came on for Juan Bernat – PSG did show improvements. Their equaliser came with a touch of fortune, Mario Rui diverting an Mbappe cross into his own net on the hour, but it came about as a result of the pressure the hosts had generated. ‘We had a lot of chances, crosses, and we saw the real Paris St. Germain in the second half’, said Thomas Meunier.

Another spanner would be thrown into their works, though, as Mertens gave Napoli the lead for the second time with 17 minutes left, after a ricochet fell his way, a situation Tuchel described afterwards as ‘very frustrating’. All of PSG’s hard work looked undone, but again, unlike previous Champions League games, they didn’t spend time licking their wounds. ‘…we fought back a second time and that shows a good mentality’, noted the manager.

With the clock running, it was Di Maria, who had a rather inconsistent and unconvincing game, popped up with an equaliser. ‘The second half was excellent’, said the Argentine. ‘We need to build on this second (half) and keep improving.’

The result leaves PSG outside the top two in Group C as the group stage reaches the halfway mark, but Tuchel is still siding with optimism, and on evidence of this game, with good reason. ‘We have three matches left in the group and we want to win our head-to-head with Napoli first of all’, the manager added. ‘It lasts 180 minutes and we have played 90. It’s 2-2 and we have the chance to win it in two weeks.’

  • Swashbuckling Schwarzgelben

It’s unheard that Atletico Madrid lose a game 4-0 under Diego Simeone, but that’s mood which Borussia Dortmund are in at the moment. The Bundesliga leaders took Los Colcheronos to the woodshed at the Signal Iduna Park, with a double from Raphael Guerreiro either side of goals from Axel Witsel and Jadon Sancho. Die Schwarzgelben have scored 37 times in 12 games so far this season; 10 of those games they have won, and are still unbeaten under Lucien Favre.

  • United very much a cut below

Paul Scholes, on BT Sport, noted the ‘air of acceptance’ that surrounded Manchester United’s defeat at home to Juventus on Tuesday, and the former Red Devils midfielder was absolutely spot on, as rarely have 1-0 wins looked so dominant and inevitable. United improved in the second half, but the best – and really, only thing – they could muster was Paul Pogba hitting the post, thanks to some sloppy play from Rodrigo Bentancur, proof of United’s second half improvements owing much to Juve’s complacency more than anything else. Another winning return to Cristiano Ronaldo, as the Bianconeri remain one of two sides in the competition to not have conceded.

Elsewhere:

  • It was the first test without Lionel Messi and it was a test passed, as the Barcelona skipper watched from the stands while his teammates did the job of dispatching Inter at the Nou Camp. Goals from Jordi Alba and Rafinha, the former Inter loanee, who was brought into the line-up as a replacement for Messi; so who needs Leo after all.
  • Inter’s defeat doesn’t seem so costly, as PSV and Spurs opted to play out a 2-2 draw in Eindhoven. Spurs had come from a goal down to lead, and looked utterly in control, but failed to kill off the game (sound familiar?) and things took another turn when goalkeeper Hugo Lloris got sent off. There was no hiding how damaging the result was to Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who said post-match that his team’s Champions League campaign is ‘nearly over’.
  • It was Hoffenheim’s turn to find a late goal after conceding them in their opening two games, Joelinton popping up in the second minute of stoppage time to rescue a point in a 3-3 draw with Lyon. The result, though, leaves Julian Nagelsmann’s side one defeat away from elimination.
  • There were whistles at the end at the Bernabeu, despite Real Madrid ending their miserable run of form with a win. The performance was much more improved, even if it was only against Viktoria Plzen, who still made a fist of it, and only lost 2-1. Asked whether Julen Lopetegui would be the manager in the Clasico this weekend, director Emilio Butragueno answered yes with certainty. Asked whether Lopetegui would still be the manager after the Clasico, ‘you hear rumours’, was Butragueno’s response. That clarifies that.
  • It’s been 12 years since Ajax saw the light of Champions League knockout stage, but the Dutch side are close to it again, after Noussair Mazraoui’s late winner saw off Benfica, and keeps them top of Group E. Erik Ten Hag’s team are one win away from making the last 16.

Results

PSV 2-2 Tottenham

Club Brugge 1-1 Monaco

PSG 2-2 Napoli

AEK Athens 0-2 Bayern Munich

Real Madrid 2-1 Plzen

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester City

Young Boys 1-1 Valencia

Ajax 1-0 Benfica

Liverpool 4-0 Red Star Belgrade

Roma 3-0 CSKA

Dortmund 4-0 Atletico Madrid

Barcelona 2-0 Inter

Hoffenheim 3-3 Lyon

Manchester United 0-1 Juventus

Galatasaray 0-0 Schalke

Lokomotiv Moscow 1-3 Porto

Published in International Watch

There was a moment at the Bernabeu on Saturday, when, midway through the second half, Real Madrid were two down against Levante. Gareth Bale tamely put an attempt wide, then moved to gesture the crowd to get onside, trying to roar the Bernabeu faithful to back the team, but the Welshman got whistles and jeers. That reaction just about sums up the tired atmosphere that is currently associated with Real Madrid, from the crowd to the face of the manager himself, the sense of fatalism is palpable.

Julen Lopetegui’s days as Real Madrid manager, 132 of them so far, already look numbered. At his unveiling, the former Porto coach described it as his happiest moment, just a day after being sacked by the Spanish national team on the eve of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. The Spanish football federation took offence at being informed that Lopetegui had taken the Real job just five minutes before it was announced, and opted to dismiss the manager. As Lopetegui was unveiled by the European champions, the sceptical view was that why would he risk a chance to coach Spain at the World Cup for a job at a side that could easily get rid of him.

The chance to manage Real Madrid doesn’t come often, was the view of many, including Lopetegui himself, but this job is perhaps football’s most poisoned chalice, and less than five months in, the toxicity at the club is hard to miss. The possibility of the Lopetegui project at Real getting blown to bits was not far-fetched, but it wasn’t expected to be this catastrophic, this early on.

Despite Los Blancos losing to Levante this weekend, the biggest surprise was that they scored a goal, ending their run of over eight hours of football without finding the net, a new club record. They haven’t won since the end of September, a run of three defeats in four league games, four in five in all competitions, crisis standard for a side like Real Madrid.

Which makes their next immediate fixture, a Champions League Matchday three game at home to Czech side Viktoria Plzen, an absolute must-win. It is not a case of getting a victory that would be sniffed at, or bagging a win that would come a few ‘yeah, but’ reactions; this is simply about getting the job done and getting over the line, about three points that would come any which way.

Lopetegui looks to have run his race at Real, and a certain form of unavailability of managers right now seems to be what’s granting the former Real goalkeeper a stay of execution, and a win here might not change his fate at the Bernabeu dugout. Failure to win, though, and the need for him to be gone might just outweigh the necessity of an immediate replacement.

Elsewhere:

  • There’s also a feeling of last chance saloon at Spurs, although it’s not with the manager’s fate. Rather, it looks like the eleventh for Spurs to save their Champions League season, after starting with two defeats. They travel to face a PSV side who are also pointless so far in Group B, and a draw here could leave both sides realistically playing for no more than a Europa League spot.
  • Napoli lie in top spot in Group C as they travel to the Parc Des Princes on Wednesday, Carlo Ancelotti coming face-to-face with his former charges Paris St. Germain. It’s also a meeting against a former club for Edinson Cavani, facing Napoli for the first time since leaving in 2013; more importantly, it’s a chance for one side to steal a march on the other in this tight group.
  • Sticking with reunions, it’s a meeting of Manchester United and Juventus, old Champions League foes, at Old Trafford, a game which sees Cristiano Ronaldo return to his old stomping ground. That the Portuguese has already had to attend a press conference means his meeting with his former club is overshadowing the fact that Paul Pogba also faces old friends on Wednesday.
  • Four days after his Monaco rein began with defeat to Strasbourg in Ligue 1, Thierry Henry’s next game in charge of the principality club is a trip to Belgium, as his side visit Club Brugge, in their continued search for a first Champions League victory since April 2017.
  • Conceding a late equaliser on Matchday one, losing to another late goal on Matchday two, Hoffenheim have been burned more than once in this competition this season already. Die Krachgauer host Lyon in their third game in Group F, and another failure to win would be a dent in their last 16 hopes.

Fixtures

Barcelona v Inter

Shakhtar Donetsk v Manchester City

AEK Athens v Bayern Munich

Young Boys v Valencia

Real Madrid v Plzen

Hoffenheim v Lyon

PSV v Tottenham

Club Brugge v Monaco

Roma v CSKA

Dortmund v Atletico Madrid

Ajax v Benfica

Manchester United v Juventus

Liverpool v Red Star Belgrade

PSG v Napoli

Galatasaray v Schalke

Lokomotiv Moscow v Porto

Published in International Watch

Real look Predictable under Lopetegui so far and, Despite long-term Preaching, Patience Hardly Lasts in the Capital: UEFA Champions League; Matchday Two

It’s important to keep things in perspective and not go overboard. Real knew what they were getting into when they appointed Julen Lopetegui, and there have been more than a couple of signs that when his system is well ingrained into Los Blancos, they may well look a cut above the rest. But so far, they’re still facing teething problems under their new boss, and following defeat to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, have failed to score in three successive games- the first time that happened in over a decade-, an aberration by their standards.

Lopetegui, though, is keen to dispel talk of under-performance, preaching calm. ‘Ten days ago we beat Roma and weren’t so invincible’, he said post-CSKA. ‘Now, we are not so bad’. The manager’s words do possess some form of truth, but here’s some more actuality: at a club like Real Madrid, tags like ‘weren’t so invincible’ and ‘not so bad’ are almost unacceptable. Perhaps the biggest problem with Real so far isn’t that they are unconvincing or haven’t scored in three straight games, but that Real look predictable.

Real have been many things in the past; a slapdash side with very little long-term view; a well-oiled counter-attacking machine; a street-wise side with an iron will to win, among others. But never have the European champions looked predictable. Perhaps it’s due to fatigue suffered by a few players (read: Luka Modric), the arrival of a new manager that requires acclimatisation, or complacency, but there’s been very little urgency in Real’s games. The passing game will take some getting used to, and is showing signs of progress, but Real haven’t quite displayed those passing methods in really breaking down a side, they’ve never really applied any kind of earnestness in the final third with their passing game.

Then there’s the personnel being set up so far. It’s been a pattern of Los Blancos this term, when chasing a game or needing a goal, the option is to bring on Lucas Vazquez and Mariano Diaz- if they’re not already on the pitch. There’s little dynamism in the substitutions, little potential of game-changing alterations. Perhaps this is where Real missed a trick by not quite acquiring a marquee-like player after Cristiano Ronaldo, for a side that was always going to need time to fully blossom this season, having a game-changer or proven match-winner to get you past those inevitable games where you’ll lack conviction is quite an enviable feat.

In the defeat in Moscow, Real’s numbers read: 26 shots, four on target, 72% possession, 712 passes, with a 91% completion. Possession, not penetration. And the ratio of shots on target to shots show that Real are neither creating many chances, nor are they taking the little ones created. They dominated CSKA, but lacked penetration. They were just about the better team against Atletico Madrid in the derby last weekend, but it was all a bit dreary. They had possession in Seville, three days before the Atletico game, yet looked incompetent of creating anything in a 3-0 defeat.

Lopetegui said post-match that he has no doubt the goals will come, as will the wins, and he’s not wrong. But perhaps what the manager should worry about is the air of predictability when Real take to the pitch these days. If that continues, then the fear-factor dissipates, and, for all the prospects of this new Real project, that would be unacceptable.

This is still the third month of the season, so once more, it’s key to note the importance of not going overboard. There have been more than a few promising signs, and even the most infallible sides go through blips. But the problem is, Real Madrid are never like most sides.

Messi Masterpiece at Wembley

Only a minute had gone at Wembley when Lionel Messi got a pass, turned, looked up, saw Jordi Alba, and proceeded to find him with an elegant. How long did it take you to read that previous sentence? Yet Messi did all that almost at once. Two goals, many dribbles, passes, side-stepping, and the fact that he hit the same base of the post twice in three minutes with virtually the same run, almost like he took back us in time with the second effort. He’s still better at playing football than we’ll ever be at describing him play football.

Partenopei Get Going at Last

Napoli did everything right at Red Star Belgrade, except score, as the game in Serbia ended goalless. A similar theme was showing on Matchday Two, as they outplayed Liverpool, making the reds look remarkably prosaic, but couldn’t score. But salvation came in the final minute of normal time, when Lorenzo Insigne slid in Jose Callejon’s cross, to give Carlo Ancelotti’s side a win that takes them top. There’s still much time for twists and turns in Group C, but the team considered by many to be the third-best placed to qualify from this group lead the way with a third of its games played.

Elsewhere

  • At some point, Red Star goalkeeper Milan Borjan had to raise a smile, and that facial expression that asked the question ‘what else could I do’. The goalie had just been beaten by a Neymar free-kick for the second time, as the Serbians conceded six at Paris St. Germain. At least they can take solace in the fact Marko Marin got them a goal of their own, and that but for Borjan, PSG would have surely hit double figures.
  • In other circumstances, it would have been a case of Lyon’s stark inconsistency, beating Manchester City yet trailing at home to Shakhtar Donetsk. But two goals in two minutes erased a two-goal deficit, and suddenly a case of how Les Gones showed resolve to come back from the dead. Most importantly, they’re still top of Group F.
  • In this week’s Anti-Mourinho development, aren’t we glad to report that Manchester United looked tepid in a goalless draw at home to Valencia.
  • Another game, another defeat for Monaco. Leonardo Jardim has so far this season tried a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3, a 4-2-3-1, as well as a 3-4-3, all yielding little joy. Worrying times for Les Monegasques.

Results

PSV 1-2 Inter

Bayern Munich 1-1 Ajax

Lokomotiv Moscow 0-1 Schalke

Roma 5-0 Plzen

Hoffenheim 1-2 Manchester City

Juventus 3-0 Young Boys

CSKA 1-0 Real Madrid

Tottenham 2-4 Barcelona

Galatasaray 0-1 Porto

Napoli 1-0 Liverpool

Manchester United 0-0 Valencia

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Club Brugge

Lyon 2-2 Shakhtar Donetsk

PSG 6-1 Red Star Belgrade

AEK Athens 2-3 Benfica

Published in International Watch

It was something of a statement. Spurs turning up at Wembley and making light work of Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League group stage, with an unfit Harry Kane and little need to be at 100%, just two weeks after getting a draw at the Bernabeu. Mauricio Pochettino’s side took four points from Real, and six from Borussia Dortmund in a group which they were tipped by many to fail to get out of. Spurs had peaked.

Then a harsh European lesson in the last 16, as after taking a 2-2 draw from Turin, and dominating just about the entirety of the second leg, the North Londoners still crashed out of the competition at the hands of Juventus. That tie was lost thanks to a five-minute window when Spurs looked like they didn’t know what hit them, and the same seemed to happen in Matchday One of this season’s Champions League, again against Italian opposition. Spurs weren’t quite as dominant as they were against Juventus away at Inter, but when they took the lead at the San Siro, their looked to be only one winner. Inter looked unable to conjure up any form of escapology, and it almost seemed like Spurs were toying with the Nerazzurri, ahead and in control with five minutes left. Yet, in the second minute of stoppage time, Pochettino’s side were behind, and ended up with nothing.

That result was the last of their three successive defeats, which posed the question as to whether they were in crisis. They’ve managed to recover since then, three straight wins- one requiring a penalty shootout in the League Cup- looked to have put to bed talk of the team falling apart, but as they prepare for their second Champions League game of the season, at Wembley, against Barcelona, there’s the sense that this game has the look of a must-win already. A defeat here, and they could end Matchday Two six points off the top two in Group B, a mountain to climb, and the fact that the opponents are Barcelona makes defeat more plausible than victory.

But Spurs won’t be fazed by the Spanish giants, having gone toe-to-toe with one last season. ‘Last season was Real Madrid and now it’s Barcelona’, Pochettino told Marca. ‘It is the essence of the Champions League to play these type of matches against the best teams in the world. They are exciting and motivate us a lot’. Pochettino is no stranger to facing Barcelona, his first game as manager of Espanyol back in 2009 was a goalless draw at the Nou Camp. The Argentine hasn’t had much joy against the Catalan club, but is still stoked about the idea of getting one over the four-time European champions. ‘I’m a periquito and of course it motivates me to win against Barcelona’.

Spurs will also take motivation from the fact that Barcelona are in no untouchable form. Ernesto Valverde’s side followed up a defeat against Leganes, where they conceded two goals in the space of 68 seconds at Butarque, with a draw at home to his former side Athletic Bilbao, where they needed the introduction of Lionel Messi, and a late goal from Munir El Haddadi to salvage a point. The Blaugrana have already conceded as many league goals after seven games this season as they did after 17 last term, an apparent flaw Spurs would hope to cash in on.

Victory over Barca is far from a long shot for Spurs, who’ve shown that they can rise to the challenge. However, victory over Barca is vital for Spurs, who haven’t quite shown that they are the best when under pressure.

Elsewhere:

  • A 4-0 win over Frosinone as well as a derby victory against Lazio means Roma might just have gotten their season together after all. Defeat to Real Madrid on Matchday One was not unexpected, but the home game against Czech side Plzen on Matchday Two is one in which victory is more than estimated.
  • An opportunity missed for Napoli, in Matchday One, who could only play out a goalless draw at Red Star Belgrade. Carlo Ancelotti’s side host Liverpool on Wednesday, in what looks like the game of Matchday Two.
  • Since that uncharacteristic defeat at home to Lyon on Matchday One, Manchester City have gone on a run of three wins, ten goals scored and none conceded in three games. They visit Hoffenheim next, and will be expected to get their European campaign back on track.
  • Speaking of getting European campaigns back on track, Paris St. Germain welcome Red Star to the Parc des Princes. Le Parisiens were defeated a fortnight ago in rather unimpressive fashion at Liverpool, anything short of victory here and there would surely be more inquests.
  • Monaco have had little joy so far this season, both on the domestic front or in Europe. The principality club lie in 18th place in the French Ligue 1, and began their Champions League season with a defeat at home to Atletico Madrid. They travel to the Signal Iduna Park to face Dortmund, the last team they beat in the Champions League (back in April 2017), on Wednesday.
  • And what tactic would Manchester United put forward at home to Valencia? Yes, this is where the Anti-Jose convention is taking place this week.

Fixtures

Manchester United v Valencia

CSKA v Real Madrid

Juventus v Young Boys

Hoffenheim v Manchester City

AEK v Benfica

Roma v Plzen

Bayern Munich v Ajax

Lyon v Shakhtar Donetsk

Tottenham v Barcelona

Atletico Madrid v Club Brugge

Lokomotiv Moscow v Schalke

PSV v Inter

Porto v Galatasaray

Napoli v Liverpool

Dortmund v Monaco

PSG v Red Star Belgrade

Published in International Watch

‘It’s all well and good putting eight goals past Dijon, but it’s in matches like this that you have to stand up and be counted’. Adrien Rabiot didn’t mince his words, or hide, in any way, his discontent. After Paris St. Germain had lost, despite taking the lead through the midfielder, 3-1 at Real Madrid in the first leg of last 16’s Champions League tie, BEIN Sports wanted a word. He gave them a few that would ring loud in the continent. Simply put, for all their dominance on the domestic front, PSG’s measure of success, the yardstick to define their achievement, for the umpteenth, was the Champions League.

But, barely a month after Le Parisiens put eight past Dijon in Ligue 1, they would suffer a late collapse at the Bernabeu. Two weeks, one Neymar injury, one misty night in Paris and another listless display later, the side from the French capital were tumbling out of Europe in a 5-2 aggregate loss, a defeat that made The Guardian’s Barney Ronay label them as ‘plastic Galacticos, while newspaper L’Equipe’s reaction the following morning read, to English, ‘All that, for that?’.

And that question has been posed again, after PSG looked so remarkably second-best at Liverpool, in their opening Group C game of competition, they didn’t deserve the sense of what might have been that comes with conceding a late decider, as they did. Except the sense of what might have been is not about the result, but rather how different things would seem if they looked a team, performed like a unit, not a mash-up of names. Again, ‘all that, for that?’ For all the money spent, the players assembled, the promise of a Parisian project, is that really what they could come up with? PSG have constantly tried and failed to break the glass ceiling in Europe, since their return to the Champions League in 2012, they’ve never gone beyond the quarter-finals.

Whether by looking tactically out of place (against Manchester City in 2016), simply getting dusted off (Barcelona, 2015), failing to withstand pressure when push turned to shove (Chelsea, 2014), or simply collapsing (Barcelona, 2017), PSG have contrived to fall pre-maturely in the continent, all while being dominant in France (only once since 2012 have they failed to win the league, only once have they failed to win the French League Cup, and only twice have they failed to win the Coupe de France in that time). So, it’s not ludicrous to suggest that PSG’s increasing dominance on the domestic front is playing a part in their continent travails. As UEFA Champions League co-commentator Stewart Robson put it at Anfield, with the intensity of the French first division much lower than in Europe, PSG are always likely to come up shocked should opponents up the ante in the Champions League.

Perhaps that explains why the football was so un-Tuchel like, no pressing game, especially not from the front, from a side coached by a manager who once sounded out his appreciation for the opposition gaffer’s style in a game where his own side lost 5-1. At Anfield on Tuesday, a style was non-existent, the collective performance next-to-nothing, even Rabiot himself failed to stand up and be counted here, almost like the side were waiting for an individual moment or something out of thin air to pull them out of the mire. And the fact that it almost did, that one run at the Liverpool defence from Neymar resulted in an equaliser by Kylian Mbappe, should just about increase their ire, about how much they are capable of, but how little of it they show.

Perhaps this is nothing other than early days under Thomas Tuchel, an awakening that the gaffer would adapt them to sooner than later, and not many sides will get much joy at this seemingly cacophonously impenetrable fortress that is Anfield. But PSG’s growing stature means bouts of criticism are likely to fall in after every setback, particularly if the setback is so recurrent. Tuchel, post-match, described the result as illogical. Perhaps his mind was taken back to the time when his Borussia Dortmund side conceded late goals to lose at Anfield in the Europa League in 2016, which the sucker punch was almost impossible to swallow. Here, though, if there was any sense of injustice over the late goal, is that PSG hardly deserved to have had a shout up until then.

Elsewhere:

  • PSG may have begun Group C on the back foot, but it doesn’t look too damaging early on. Particularly after, in the other group game, Napoli did everything other than score in Belgrade, Carlo Ancelotti’s side getting held to a goalless draw by Crven… Red Star Belgrade!
  • For 84 minutes, Mauro Icardi was a passenger at the San Siro. The Inter skipper had cut a frustratingly isolated figure, and had taken 14 of the most unnoticed touches a player can. But his 15th, his first shot of the game, was an unadulterated volley that found its way to Spurs’ bottom corner. Inter had averted defeat, and via the bonce of Matias Vecino in stoppage time, completed a turnaround against a Spurs side still far from all right, and yet were in control for virtually the entirety of the second period.
  • Schalke looked to have eased their woes, a Ralf Fahrmann save from an Alex Telles penalty early in the first half, and a goal from Breel Embolo midway through the second, seemed on course to get Domenico Tedesco’s side back on track after a troubling start to the Bundesliga. But thanks to Moussa Marega’s theatrics, Porto were awarded another penalty, an opportunity they wouldn’t pass up. Plenty of positives for Die Konigsblauen, yet the most important- excuse this- ‘P’ has just one next to it in all competitions this season.
  • It’s easy to say this afterwards, of course, but there was an air of inevitability when Lionel Messi stepped up to take his free-kick in the first half against PSV. The first of three goals on the night for the Barcelona skipper, who has eight hatricks in Champions League.
  • Real Madrid began their CR7-less assault on Europe with a win over Roma, where they racked up 30 shots, double figures of corner-kicks, scored three times, yet should have gotten at least three more.
  • Speaking of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese skipper was also in Spain when Real were tussling with Roma. But 400 kilometres away, at the Mestalla, Ronaldo was sent off in the first half for having the audacity to get a coming together with Jeison Murillo, an inexplicable decision that reduced the best player in the world to tears of frustration. Juventus shook off that setback to come away with a 2-0 win, via a pair of Miralem Pjanic penalties, but we’re unlikely to have heard the last of this game.
  • Two goals and an assist from Paul Pogba, who spearheaded Manchester United’s comfortable victory at Young Boys, the Swiss side simultaneously impressing and showing why they are likely to do little more than finish bottom of Group H.

Results

Valencia 0-2 Juventus; Young Boys 0-3 Manchester United; Real Madrid 3-0 Roma; Viktoria Plzen 2-2 CSKA; Manchester City 1-2 Lyon; Shakhtar 2-2 Hoffenheim; Ajax 3-0 AEK Athens; Benfica 0-2 Bayern Munich; Galatasaray 3-0 Lokomotiv Moscow; Schalke 1-1 Porto; Liverpool 3-2 PSG; Red Star Belgrade 0-0 Napoli; Inter 2-1 Spurs; Barcelona 4-0 PSV; Club Brugge 0-1 Dortmund; Monaco 1-2 Atletico Madrid.

Published in International Watch

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