Champions League Round-Up: Messi magic downs Tottenham and Liverpool lose out in Naples

Champions League

Written by Adam McGroarty (@AdamMcGroarty1) and Toby Foster (@TobyFost)


Barcelona cemented their position in top spot of Group B after a clinical display at Wembley Stadium which saw an injury-struck Spurs squad fight back, but to no avail.

Lionel Messi’s brace inspired Barcelona to their second win at the new Wembley, their first came in the Champions League Final in 2011.

The Argentine started in an attacking three partnered by former Liverpool duo Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez. Barcelona’s midfield consisted of new signing Arthur partnered by Ivan Rakitic, with the pair playing either side of the experienced Sergio Busquets. New summer signing, Lenglet, started alongside Pique with Semedo and Alba making up the either side of the defence that played in front of the German shot-stopper, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.

On the other hand, Pochettino’s men were missing the likes of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, and Jan Vertonghen all through injury. World Cup winner Hugo Lloris made his way back into the side following a spell on the side-lines, whilst Davinson Sanchez also came back into the team replacing the injured Jan Vertonghen. Victor Wanyama partnered Harry Winks in a changed midfield partnership, with Erik Lamela finding his way into the starting line-up alongside Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son. Harry Kane, yet to get his Champions League scoring campaign underway, led the line.

The first goal of the game just two minutes in when Lionel Messi dropped deep and found Jordi Alba who was bursting down the left wing. Lloris wrongly rushed out off his line in an attempt to close the angle, however Alba squared the ball to the Brazilian, Philippe Coutinho, who blasted his strike into the bottom corner of an empty net.

After a frustrating opening twenty minutes for Spurs with not a single shot at goal, Harry Kane lashed a frustrated shot at goal from twenty-five yards out. The dipping shot tested Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal, however it was a comfortable save for the German to keep out.

The Catalonian side doubled their lead in the twenty-eighth minute when Coutinho recovered his mishit shot by hooking the ball back to the edge of the box where Rakitic ran up and struck a sweet shot, curving away from Lloris, clipping the inside of the post and nestling into the net – a superb finish from the Croatian which took Barcelona into half time with a two goal lead and a very dominant display.

It was evident that something had to change tactically for Spurs to match Barcelona’s experienced midfield, Winks and Wanyama were simply being outnumbered and dispossessed. However, just one minute into the second half and Lionel Messi orchestrated a diagonal run across the pitch, drawing out Davinson Sanchez before smacking the face of the post, Spurs were living on the edge.

It soon became apparent that the next goal was decisive in the outcome of the game, and that goal went to Harry Kane in the fifty-second minute. Kane ran at Semedo before turning and sharply changing his angle, resulting in the Portuguese international on the floor and the Englishman curling the ball into the bottom corner under the arm of Ter Stegen. Belief filled the Wembley air, however if any set of players would be able to handle the atmosphere it would be the five time European champions from Spain.

After killing Spurs’ search for an equaliser, Barcelona began to attack and pose a threat on goal once again, and in the fifty sixth minute Barcelona found the killing blow. Messi retained possession in the centre of midfield and found Jordi Alba on the left side of the box. Alba put a low, hard-hit cross towards goal which was expertly left by Suarez for Messi to tuck into the corner of the net, fooling and outclassing both Lloris and Alderweireld.

With over half an hour left to play, Pochettino’s men desperately tried to claw a quick goal back in an attempt to make an interesting ending to the game. That happened just ten minutes after Messi’s goal, when his Argentine compatriot Erik Lamela picked the ball up on the edge of the box. His shot was slightly deflected off of the leg of Lenglet which deceived Ter Stegen and flew into the back of the net. With just under half an hour to go, the 8,000th Champions League goal had been scored.

In Tottenham’s desperate search to try and find an equalising goal it was the Barcelona who were the better side in terms of controlling possession and dictating the play, particularly with their experience in midfield. Players like Busquets and Rakitic were able to kill any threat of a Spurs attack and to subsequently feed the ball into players like Messi. This occurred just before the final whistle in the ninetieth minute when Sissoko was dispossessed. Alba played Messi through on goal, where he buried the ball into the bottom corner sending Hugo Lloris the other way, Totteham’s fate was sealed and it was Barcelona who left Wembley with all three points. Spurs are still yet to attain any points in Group B, but will be hoping to get six points from the next two games against PSV.

Teams and Player Ratings

Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-3-1): Lloris 6/10, Trippier 7, Sanchez 6, Alderweireld 7, Davies 6, Winks 7, Wanyama 6, Lucas 7, Son 6, Lamela 7, Kane 7 Subs: Dier (for Wanyama 57’) 7, Sissoko (for Son 66’) 6, Llorente (for Lamela 79’) 7

FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Ter Stegen 7, Semedo 7, Lenglet 7, Pique 7, Alba 8, Arthur 8, Busquets 9 STAR MAN, Rakitic 8, Coutinho 8, Suarez 7, Messi 9 Subs: Rafinha (for Coutinho 83’), Vidal (for Arthur 87’), Vermaelen (for Busquets 91’)

AM (@AdamMcGroarty1)


 David Silva’s late winner proved enough to spare Manchester City’s blushes against Champions League new boys Hoffenheim.

Pep Guardiola’s side avoided going five games without a win in the tournament but looked far from their best and may count themselves fortunate to leave with all three points.

Hoffenheim, playing their first ever home game in the Champions League having qualified through a third-place finish in the Bundesliga last season, got off to a dream start against City when Ishak Belfodil scored past Ederson inside 45 seconds.

Guardiola will have been concerned at the ease with which Kerem Demirbay’s through-ball to Belfodil perfectly bisected Nicholas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany, particularly after similar defensive frailties were exposed in his side’s 2-1 defeat to Lyon a fortnight earlier.

But for all the persistent worries over a lack of clean sheets, City’s manager can take heart from his side’s immediate response to going 1-0 down: a well-worked team goal to level up the scoreline with eight minutes gone. David Silva’s characteristically incisive raking pass was met by the run of Leroy Sane, who clipped the ball brilliantly into the box for Sergio Aguero to power home his 32nd Champions League strike.

This passage of play leading up to Aguero’s equaliser was, albeit briefly, a prime example of the calibre and class of football which has become all but synonymous with City over the past year. But in order for the Sky Blues to finally break their Champions League duck and lift the trophy next May, Guardiola will be only too aware that this winning brand of penetrating play must now be procured in far longer spells on European nights.

Despite their inexperience at this level of competition, Hoffenheim were to prove a worthy adversary for the English Champions; Ederson was forced into action to deny Belfodil a brace when the Hoffenheim striker latched onto Ameyric Laporte’s blundering backpass, before Florian Grillitsch blazed a first-half shot narrowly over the bar.

City too were not without their moments, but Hoffenheim’s energetic pressing restricted the away side to long-range pot-shots for most of the contest. One such 30-yard speculative strike from Aguero nearly found the net, but for a stunning Oliver Baumann save. Leroy Sane thought he had strong claims for a 78th-minute penalty when felled by Baumann in the box- referee Damir Skomina begged to differ.

Despite the balanced nature of the encounter it was to be City’s ruthless edge, though nowhere to be seen in their shock beating from Lyon last month, which ended up proving the difference this time around. With three minutes to play, David Silva remorselessly capitalised on an error inside the Hoffenheim box from junior centre-back Stefan Posch. The City midfielder neatly pickpocketed the ball from the floundering young Austrian defender before firing straight through the legs of Baumann at close range to score the matchwinner.

Guardiola was keen to heap glowing praise on Silva- a player one year older than Hoffenheim manager Julian Nagelsmann- dubbing him “one of the best” and commending his positive attitude. Yet for all the Spaniard’s obvious brilliance, it is notable that it was yet again Silva, along with Sergio Aguero, who proved to be City’s goalscorers and rescuers in the Champions League. The two men undoubtedly remain the club’s chief driving forces on the European stage to this day. But the very fact that City are still so highly reliant on a long-serving duo who, however brilliant they may be, have proven in the past that they can only take the club so far in continental competitions, might be food for thought for the City supporters who now demand further progress in the one tournament which continues to elude their success.

Teams and Player Ratings

Hoffenheim (4-4-2): Baumann 8, Brenet 6, Akpoguma 6, Posch 5, Kaderabek 6, Demirbay 7, Hoogma 7, Grillitsch 7, de Lira 7, Szalai 6, Belfodil 7 Subs: Kramaric (for Szalai, 54’) 7, Bittencourt (for Grillitsch, 82’) 6, Hack (for Demirbay, 89’) 6

Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson 8, Walker 6, Kompany 6, Otamendi 6, Laporte 5, Silva 8, Fernandinho 7, Gundogan 6, Sterling 6, Aguero 8 STAR MAN, Sane 7 Subs: Stones (for Otamendi, 64’) 7, Bernardo Silva (for Gundogan, 68’) 7, Mahrez (for Sterling, 75’) 6

TF (@TobyFost)


Liverpool’s dream start to the season came to a shuddering halt in Naples courtesy of Lorenzo Insigne’s last-minute winner.

The Reds were well below their usual standards and failed to register a single shot on target over the 90 minutes, but still looked on course to take a point from the contest until Insigne slotted in Jose Callegon’s cross with seconds remaining to steal an important victory for Napoli.

Liverpool suffered a major blow when losing ingenious midfielder Naby Keita to a back injury early on in proceedings, and seemed a shadow of the impressive side which illuminated the Champions League last season. A combination of good defending from Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Djik, along with Napoli’s wasteful finishing and Alisson’s goalkeeping prowess, ensured the Reds remained in contention but Insigne’s last-gasp goal was no less than his team deserved.

Napoli had Liverpool well and truly rattled and went close time and again in what became a one-sided affair. Arkadiusz Milik’s two decent attempts were well saved by Alisson- who also kept out Jose Callergon’s well-struck volley- before Dries Mertens clattered the crossbar with an acrobatic effort after the interval.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that his usually potent strikeforce merely had an off-day against the Italians; Mohamed Salah shanking a desperate shot embarrassingly wide was the closest any of the Reds’ front three came to a goal on a night to forget for last season’s runners-up. More to the point, Salah’s listless performance epitomised Liverpool’s struggles at the Stadio San Paolo- neither the player nor his side ever got properly stuck in to a match which needed to be won to ensure a strong chance of qualification from shark-tank Group C.

Even the late introduction of Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool’s rescuer on so many occasions, could not swing the game in the English side’s favour. As frustrated as his teammates, Sturridge could only watch on in disgust as Insigne gained the day this time around.

Teams and Player Ratings

Napoli (4-4-2): Ospina 7, Maksimovic 6, Albiol 7, Koulibaly 7, Mario Rui 7, Allan 6, Hamsik 7, Ruiz 6, Callejon 7, Milik 7, Insigne 7 Subs: Verdi (for Milik, 67’) 6, Mertens (for Ruiz, 67’) 7, Zielinski (for Hamsik, 80’) 6

Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson 7, Alexander-Arnold 7, Gomez 7, Van Djik 8 STAR MAN, Robertson 6, Milner 6, Wijnaldum 6, Keita 6, Salah 5, Firmino 5, Mane 5 Subs: Henderson (for Keita, 19’) 6, Fabinho (for Milner, 76’) 6, Sturridge (for Mane, 89’) 6

TF (@TobyFoster)


Jose Mourinho’s sea of troubles remained unabated after his Manchester United side played out a remarkably insipid goalless draw to Valencia at Old Trafford.

The ignominy of last weekend’s 3-1 home loss to West Ham had been expected to prompt Mourinho’s team into producing a battling response, but throughout this bore draw there was precious little evidence of the men in red being up for the fight.

Valencia, despite their indifferent start to the domestic season and playing away from home, were never truly defensively troubled at a sparsely-populated Old Trafford in a match desperately lacking in chances and quality.

United recorded the solitary shot on target from either side in the opening 45 minutes but Valencia goalkeeper Neto was barely recalled from his watching brief to smother Marcus Rashford’s attempt.

The second half offered little extra in terms of meaningful action- United’s Paul Pogba at least managed to hit a free kick on the edge of the box firmly goalwards but it was once again a very routine stop for Neto. The Valencia keeper was forced into a more difficult save late on when clawing away Romelu Lukaku’s powerful shot from 20 yards out, but by then the contest was already petering out, if indeed it had ever been up and running in the first place.

The away side’s Goncalo Geudes did look sharper than most and had pace to burn but, rather like his beleaguered United counterpart Alexis Sanchez, was unable to produce anything resembling a genuine goalscoring chance for all his huffing and puffing.

Mourinho avoided a fourth consecutive loss by claiming this drab point but equally the disjointed nature of the performance will have done nothing to ease significant pressure on his position as United manager. He will be well aware that his side will not get away with a performance of this nature in their forthcoming Champions League double-header against Juventus.

Cristiano Ronaldo will make sure of that.

Teams and Player Ratings

Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea 7, Valencia 5, Bailly 6, Smalling 6, Shaw 7 STAR MAN, Fellani 6, Matic 5, Pogba 6, Rashford 6, Lukaku 4, Sanchez 5 Sub: Martial (for Sanchez, 76’) 6

Valencia (4-4-2): Neto 7, Piccini 6, Garay 7, Gabriel 7, Gaya 6, Coquelin 6, Parejo 6, Kondogbia 6, Guedes 6, Batshuayi 5, Rodrigo 5 Subs: Gameiro (for Batshuayi, 73’) 6, Barragan (for Coquelin, 78’) 6, Cheryshev (for Guedes, 83’) 6

TF (@TobyFoster)



CSKA Moscow pulled off a sensational upset to beat reigning champions Real Madrid at the VEB Arena.

The hosts went ahead after just two minutes when Everton loanee Nikola Vlasic latched onto a lax backpass by Toni Kroos and slotted home past Keylor Navas. Real- without the injured Gareth Bale and having rested Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos- fought in vain to snatch an equaliser but though Casemiro struck the post and Karim Benzema the crossbar, the holders were unable to draw level. A total of 26 shots on goal from the Spanish side yielded no results.

Real, possibly feeling the effects of their exertions at the weekend in the 0-0 derby draw with rivals Atletico, were handed a lifeline in added time when CSKA goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev was dismissed for dissent, but the ten men held on to inflict their club’s first ever victory over Los Blancos.


Mats Hummels’ early header was cancelled out by Noussair Mazraoui’s impressive strike as Bayern shared the points in an entertaining encounter with Ajax.

The German Champions have now failed to win their last three games in all competitions, a worrying statistic for boss Niko Kovač, the man charged with replicating Bayern’s 2013 European success.

Hummels was left unmarked inside the box and headed home Arjen Robben’s pinpoint cross after four minutes to put the home side in front, but they were pegged back before the half-hour mark when Ajax’s Mazaroui fired in from the edge of the penalty area. Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer had his work cut out as the first half drew to a close, saving from Hakim Ziyech and Nicolas Tagliafico in quick succession, but after the break the German side were much the better. Real Madrid loanee James Rodriguez had the best chance for Bayern- his shot saved by Andre Onana- but the Dutchmen almost snatched victory themselves right at the death when Lasse Schone’s brilliantly struck free kick was tipped over the crossbar by Neuer at full stretch in added time.


Edin Dzeko scored a sublime hat-trick as Roma made light work of Czech champions Viktoria Plzen in a one-sided clash at the Stadio Olimpico. Former Manchester City forward Dzeko, who had not scored in his previous six games, brutally exposed the frailties of Plzen’s shambling backline as the away side slumped to their worst ever Champions League defeat. Cengiz Under and Justin Kluivert both found the net in the second half to compound Plzen’s woe, but it was Dzeko’s trio of strikes- the first ever hat-trick by a Bosnian in the Champions League- which stole the show in a memorable night for the Romans.


Juventus’ Paulo Dybala took up the mantle of the absent Cristiano Ronaldo in magnificent style as he hit a classy hat-trick to put Swiss Champions Young Boys to the sword. A Juve win never looked in doubt from the off as Dybala notched up his first goal of the evening, a splendid chipped finish from Leonardo Bonucci’s cross, with just five minutes on the clock. Young Boys, slipping to their second consecutive 3-0 Champions League defeat having been beaten by the same scoreline at the hands of Man United two weeks ago, were unable to make any meaningful impression on the game at all and found themselves two goals down with half an hour gone courtesy of Dybala again. The 24-year-old Argentine slotted home after goalkeeper David von Ballmoos spilt his catch from Blaise Matuidi’s long-range strike. Dybala’s treble was effortlessly completed in the second half with a simple tap-in from Juan Cuadrado’s cross.

Juve’s most exciting young prospect could have had four goals if his shot from Federico Bernardeschi’s squared pass had not rebounded off the inside of the post, but it was a commendable performance nonetheless from a player now well and truly staking his claim as world football’s heir apparent to Ronaldo, who watched on from the sidelines whilst serving his one-match suspension.


Neymar was in fine form as his hat-trick inspired PSG to a stunning victory in a one-sided affair on Wednesday Night. The Brazilian scored two free kicks, one in each half, with both being expertly curled into the top right corner of the goal. He also scored a goal from open play, as did striker Edison Cavani when his deflected effort from close range hit the back of the net. Angel Di Maria topped off a fine first half display when he was able to turn in Meunier’s stylishly curled cross with a flick from close range. Mbappe rubbed salt into the wounds of PSG’s Serbian opponents after turning in an effort from Chupo-Moting’s cross along the box. PSG now have their first points in the group after falling to defeat at Anfield a fortnight ago, however the revived squad look eager to make up for lost ground after a rampant display.


Lyon hit a quickfire double through Leo Dubois and former Celtic striker Mousa Dembele to cancel out Riberio Moraes’ brace in a 2-2 draw against Ukrainian champions Shaktar Donetsk.

Benfica thought they had their clash with AEK Athens won after early goals from Haris Seferovic and Alex Grimaldo, but the complexion of the game changed completely when Ruben Diaz was dismissed for the Portuguese side for second bookable offence just prior to half time. AEK got back on level terms after the interval through Viktor Klonaridis’ two strikes in the space of ten minutes, but ten-man Benfica still found enough to overcome their Greek rivals, with substitute Alda Semedo netting the winner late on for a 2-3 away victory.

Griezmann netted a brace against Club Brugge in a 3-1 victory for the La Liga side. A good goal was scored from Groeneveld to initially equalise for Club Brugge, however it was Koke who got the third for Atletico which takes them to six points out of six in Group A.

Team of the Week

DZEKO         MESSI          NEYMAR 




PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Paulo Dybala. The Juventus man proved with a classy hat-trick that he can capably fill the massive boots of absent teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.

TWIT OF THE WEEK: Antonio Valencia. Man United’s club captain ‘liked’ an Instagram post calling for his manager Jose Mourinho to be sacked after their 0-0 draw. Valencia later apologised, claiming he had not read the text on the post before pressing the ‘like’ button.

GOAL OF THE WEEK- There were plenty of good goals to go around, but Ivan Rakitic’s breathtaking half-volley to put Barcelona 2-0 up against Tottenham was easily the best of the bunch.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I think his mouth is out of control and I think he is embarrassing the club” – Manchester United legend Paul Scholes on Jose Mourinho.