Thursday, August 5, 2021

Five things we learned from the Champions League

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Five-time winners Liverpool romped into the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday, while Shakhtar Donetsk, Porto and Sevilla also joined them in the knockout stage.

Here, AFP Sport looks at five things we learned from the final day of group-stage matches:

Liverpool’s ‘fab four’ ready for latter stages
Needing only to avoid defeat against Spartak Moscow at Anfield to reach the last 16 for the first time in nine years, Liverpool hammered the Russian champions 7-0 to win Group E and send out a statement of intent to future opponents.

Jurgen Klopp named an attacking side featuring Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho as captain, and they repaid his faith in style. Coutinho scored his first Liverpool hat-trick, while Mane, Firmino and Salah all found the net to leave the ‘fab four’ with 45 goals between them this season.

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On this evidence, the group runners-up, including Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, could do worse than to avoid Liverpool in Monday’s last-16 draw.

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Ronaldo still breaking records
Real Madrid’s domestic woes continued at the weekend as they failed to take advantage of a Barcelona slip-up by being held at Athletic Bilbao. World Player of the Year Ronaldo has only found the net twice in 10 La Liga games this season, but he broke two more Champions League records in the 3-2 win over Borussia Dortmund.

The competition’s all-time leading scorer became the first player to ever score in all six group games of a season, while also drawing level with old rival Lionel Messi on 60 group-stage goals in total.

If Real are going to buck current form and win a third straight European crown, they’ll need Ronaldo to extend his season-leading tally of nine Champions League strikes.

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Talented Napoli disappoint
Serie A high-flyers Napoli dropped into the Europa League as Shakhtar Donetsk’s victory over Premier League leaders Manchester City rendered their 2-1 loss at Feyenoord effectively a dead rubber.

Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli left their mark on the Champions League, with enterprising displays in back-to-back defeats by City, but ultimately disappointed by also losing to Feyenoord and Shakhtar.

They can now focus fully on their tilt at a first league title since 1990, after losing top spot with a 1-0 loss to Juventus at the weekend.

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Monaco misery intensifies
French champions Monaco were dumped out of Europe two weeks ago with a 4-1 home loss to RB Leipzig and, after naming a much-changed team, were pitiful once more in a 5-2 thrashing at Porto as the Portuguese league leaders eased through.

Leonardo Jardim’s men look a shadow of the team that shone en route to the semi-finals last term.

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The departures of Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy in the transfer window decimated the Ligue 1 title-winning squad. New signing Rachid Ghezzal summed up Monaco’s recent slump with a red card for a needless slap after being given a rare start in Portugal.

Besiktas should not be underestimated
Besiktas would have been forgiven for putting in a below-par performance at RB Leipzig having already wrapped up top spot in Group G, but they completed an unbeaten campaign with an impressive 2-1 win.

The Turkish champions rang the changes but were still too good for Leipzig in Germany, as Spain international Alvaro Negredo and Brazilian Talisca scored in either half.

Senol Gunes’ side won’t be easy to beat as they embark on their first foray into the last 16 in 31 years, especially with a second leg in front of their vociferous home fans.

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