Liverpool bounced back from their disappointing home loss to Leeds United on Saturday by ending Napoli´s perfect Champions League record. Jurgen Klopp´s side prevailed with late goals from Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez to go level on points with the Serie A leaders, but couldn´t produce the four-goal winning margin needed to top the group.
In a game with few clear cut chances Thiago Alcantara was denied by Napoli Goalkeeper Alex Meret in the first half, while Napoli defender Leo Ostigard had a header from a free-kick ruled out for offside via VAR. As the clock ran down it, looked as though the game was heading for a draw, when Salah bundled the ball over the line from close-range following substitute Nunez´s header on 85 minutes and Nunez himself sealed the win deep into stoppage time, gleefully smashing home after Virgil van Dijk’s header from a corner had been saved by Meret.
Victory over in-form Napoli, one of Europe´s most exciting teams, will be a massive boost to morale at Anfield, though Napoli did go into the match knowing that only a four-goal defeat would prevent them from winning the group. Ibrahima Konate´s return from injury was welcome as the Reds looked more solid with the Frenchman alongside Van Dijk. However, this has been a season of inconsistency for Liverpool which has seen several false dawns. Klopp has tried a number of formations apart from his usual 4-3-3, including 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 diamond, as he has struggled to cope with injuries. Victories over quality teams like Manchester City and Napoli, and demolitions of Bournemouth and Rangers have been in stark contrast to defeats to Nottingham Forest and Leeds. Liverpool now face a huge test of their credentials when they travel to third placed Tottenham on Sunday, looking to find some consistency.
A first Champions League campaign in 12 years for Rangers came to a close with another defeat, and an unwanted record. They recorded the worst group stage performance by any club since the Champions League was rebranded in 1992. While Rangers are not the first team to pick up no points from six games, no team has posted such a record with a worse goal difference. Czech champions Viktoria Plzen also picked up no points this season, but their -19 goal difference, confirmed by a 4-2 loss at home to Barcelona on Tuesday, was one better than that of the Glasgow outfit. The record was previously held by Croatian side, Dinamo Zagreb, having finished bottom of their group with no points and a -19 goal difference in 2011/12.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst´s side needed a highly unlikely five-goal swing to beat Ajax to third place and the Europa League. However, goals from Steven Berghuis and Mohammed Kudus put Ajax in control before a James Tavenier penalty halved the deficit in the 87th minute. However, Francisco Conceicao restored the Dutch side´s two goal advantage two minutes later leaving Rangers with a goal difference of minus 20.
Rangers had an impressive European campaign last season, reaching the final of the Europa League. This season, hampered by injuries, and, subsequently, a lack of self-belief, they have failed to step up to the demands of the Champions League. They must now concentrate on narrowing the gap on Celtic in the race for the Scottish title.
A hugely dramatic night saw Tottenham progress to the Champions League last 16 as Group D winners courtesy of a stoppage time winner from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Group D was incredibly closely contested and at one point, had the scores in both games remained the same, Spurs would have been out of the competition.
Marseille suffered a setback when Eric Bailly was forced off early as his injury problems continued before Jordan Veretout had a good chance of breaking the deadlock when his shot was palmed away by Hugo Lloris. But Spurs were dealt a blow of their own, when Son Heung-min was forced off midway through the opening period, after sustaining a heavy knock to his cheekbone.
Tottenham needed a draw to qualify for the knockout stage but were overrun during the first-half at the Stade Velodrome. Marseille took a deserved lead through former Newcastle United defender Chancel Mbemba in first-half stoppage time. A short corner was swung in by Veretout and Mbemba headed home in emphatic style, meaning Spurs, as things stood, had dropped to third in the group and were heading for the Europa League.
With boss Antonio Conte serving a touchline ban in the stand, Tottenham made a change with Emerson Royal replacing Ryan Sessegnon at the interval. Spurs improved immediately and Clement Lenglet headed in an Ivan Perisic free-kick on 54 minutes to equalise.
Marseille, desperately needing the win to make the Europa League, piled on the pressure, leaving Tottenham clinging on, but as they pushed forward they were caught on the break in the fifth minute of added time as Harry Kane played in Hojbjerg to seal victory for Spurs.
Sporting Lisbon’s 2-1 home defeat by Frankfurt meant Spurs ultimately finished top, but at one point they were heading out, as this final round of fixtures in Group D provided drama and anxiety in equal measure. The stoppage-time winner by Hojbjerg also saw Marseille finish bottom of the group, meaning they missed out on a place in the Europa League as well as failing to progress to the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Real Madrid 5 Celtic 1
Celtic´s Champions League campaign came to an end with defeat to Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. Celtic began the game bravely, pressing Madrid high, however, they found themselves two goals down within the first 21 minutes as the home side were awarded two penalties for handball, which were converted by Luka Modric and Rodrygo.
On 6 minutes Mortiz Jenz attempted to block a shot from Federico Valverde and handled. Modric calmly slotted the penalty home. Celtic responded well, making opportunities for Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate, but neither could trouble Thibaut Courtois in the Madrid goal. Madrid though, always looked dangerous and a typically flowing move led to a Rodrygo effort striking the arm of Matt O’Riley and, though it was not as clear as the first penalty incident, the spot-kick was awarded. Rodrygo had little trouble in converting.
Vinicius missed a great chance a minute later as Madrid threatened to run riot, however the 14-time European Champions were then guilty of giving the ball away on a few occasions as Celtic began to pressure them and the Scottish Champions looked as though they might get back into the game. Hatate stole the ball, allowing Daizan Maeda to put Furuhashi through. However Courtois stood tall and also saved well from Hatate’s shot from the edge of the area soon after.
Then Liel Abada drove to the bye-line and was fouled by Ferland Mendy for the third penalty of the first half, but Courtois kept out Josip Juranovic´s penalty to preserve Madrid´s two-goal lead.
Carlo Ancelotti´s side started the second half powerfully when on 51 minutes Dani Carvajal pulled the ball back for Marco Asensio to steer past Joe Hart. Vinicius added another ten minutes later, getting across his marker to beat Hart to the ball to divert it into the net from Valverde´s cross.
Ballon D’or winner Karim Benzema came off the bench on his return from injury before Valverde claimed the fifth, curling a fantastic effort beyond Hart. Jota then curled a superb free-kick past Courtois to give the travelling Celtic support something to cheer.
Celtic have been competitive during each of their six Champions League matches, however, have failed to take their chances and have often conceded at crucial times. Ange Postecoglou can reflect that many of his players have not looked out of place at this level, but that overall his team are still short of the quality needed to turn promise into points in Europe´s premier competition.
Chelsea came from behind to defeat Dinamo Zagreb at Stamford Bridge. Graham Potter´s side had already won Group E, however, they were looking for a response after Saturday´s loss at Brighton.
It was a difficult start for Chelsea as Dinamo took the lead when poor defending saw Bruno Petkovic head in from close range. After struggling to create anything Chelsea put together a good move which led to their equaliser. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang backheeled the ball to Raheem Sterling inside the box and he calmly slotted home.
On-loan Juventus midfielder Denis Zakaria then marked his debut with a goal on 30 minutes, driving in a low shot which just crossed the line as a defender attempted to clear.
Dinamo, who needed to win to finish third and go into the Europa League, stuck to their task and Edouard Mendy made a good save to deny Bosko Sutalo shortly after the interval.
Aubameyang hit the bar and Conor Gallagher was denied late on, but ultimately Zakaria’s goal was enough to seal victory.
Manchester City came from behind to beat Sevilla in their final Champions League group game, in a match which saw City youngster Rico Lewis, 17, score on his full debut. Sevilla have endured a torrid start to the season, however, a first half header from Rafa Mir had given them the lead.
Seven minutes into the second half Lewis moved onto Julian Alvarez’s pass and sent a powerful strike past Yassine Bounou. A fantastic curling pass from substitute Kevin de Bruyne sent Alvarez running in behind and he rounded Bounou to give City the lead. Riyad Mahrez sealed the win seven minutes from time.
City are now unbeaten in 23 Champions League games at the Etihad Stadium and nobody will relish facing Pep Guardiola´s side when the knockout stages get underway in February.
The Champions League resumes in February with the knockout stages. The draw for the round of 16 takes place on Monday November 7.
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