Champions League matchday 3 round-up: Seven up for rampant Reds

Champions League Review Liverpool

Goalscoring has been a major issue of late for Liverpool, but on Tuesday night in Slovenia they finally enjoyed a game where the number of goals they notched was ideally proportionate to the chances that they created. The dam well and truly burst on a Maribor side who absolutely did not help themselves, with the visitors 3-0 up inside 20 minutes as the front three of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah all struck. The Egyptian doubled his tally just before half-time and Firmino added a fifth early in the second half as a feeble Maribor side provided the most obliging of opposition for the Reds. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on to register his first goal in a Liverpool shirt and, in added time, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s goal ensured that the Merseysiders recorded the joint-highest away win in Champions League history. There were also goals aplenty in the other Group E game as Spartak Moscow racked up a sensational 5-1 hammering of Sevilla in the Russian capital. The teams were level at half-time but then Spartak cut loose, showing infinitely more ambition than what they had done against Liverpool to put the Spanish side to the sword. It’s a result that blows the group wide open, with three teams very much in the hunt to qualify for the last 16.

Tottenham failed to advance from a less than stellar group last season, but Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu against holders Real Madrid showed how far they have come in the past year under Mauricio Pochettino. They were under the cosh early on in the Spanish capital but began to threaten after withstanding that early pressure and were good value for the lead that was given to them by Raphael Varane’s own goal just before the half-hour. They couldn’t quite get to the interval in front, though, after Serge Aurier conceded a penalty which Cristiano Ronaldo buried. You might have felt that was the cue for Madrid to dominate the second half, but the best chances fell to the visitors and, only for some outstanding saves from Keylor Navas, Spurs would have had a momentous night at the Bernabeu. It also finished 1-1 in the other Group H encounter as Borussia Dortmund were frustrated by APOEL Nicosia. The Cypriots actually took the lead on the hour mark but the Bundesliga side were soon level through Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The draw does neither team much good, however, with both of them six points off the top two positions midway through the group stage.

Manchester United made it three wins out of three in Group A on Wednesday night, although they produced one of their poorer performances of the season thus far in seeing off a Benfica side desperately lacking in quality and confidence. The first half at the Estadio da Luz was truly dire, although the visitors at least put together some decent attacking play after the interval. It took a rather fortuitous goal to win it for them, Marcus Rashford’s free kick being carried over his own goalline by 18-year-old debutant keeper Mile Svilar. On the balance of play, though, United probably deserved the win. The group’s other game was also won by the away side as Basel got the better of CSKA Moscow in the Russian capital. Taulant Xhaka, younger brother of Arsenal’s Granit, scored the opening goal in the Swiss champions’ 2-0 victory, which sees them hot favourites to progress to the last 16.

Manchester City also maintained their 100% record in the group stage, although Napoli gave them a much sterner test than any of their recent Premier League opposition. Another rout looked like it could be on the cards when Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus netted inside the opening 12 minutes, but after that the Neapolitans threatened on a few occasions. They should have pulled a goal back when Dries Mertens had a penalty near the end of the first half, but his spot kick was poor. Kalidou Koulibaly fared better from 12 yards when Napoli won another penalty later in the match, but City did enough to make it three wins from three in the Champions League. Also in Group F, Shakhtar Donetsk came from behind to beat Feyenoord 2-1 in Rotterdam. Steven Berghuis gave the Dutch champions an early lead but a Bernard double either side of half-time gave Shakhtar their second win of the group and kept them three points behind Manchester City.

It isn’t just City’s current crop who are proving adept at finding the net, either. Two of their former charges struck in the colours of Roma as the Italian side played out a riveting 3-3 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. A routine home win appeared to be on the cards when David Luiz and Eden Hazard struck in the opening half, but a fine goal from Aleksandar Kolarov shortly before the interval to put a different complexion on proceedings. Edin Dzeko produced an outstanding volley to equalise after the break and the Bosnian striker then completed a remarkable turnaround from Roma, but there was to be one more twist as Hazard scored his second to ensure that Chelsea would at least preserve their unbeaten record in Group C. It also ended honours even in the group’s other match as Qarabag sensationally held Atletico Madrid scoreless, despite having star striker Dino Ndlovu sent off in the second half. For last season’s semi-finalists, two points after three group games is a dismal return.

Last year’s other semi-final fallers are also in real danger of exiting at the group stage this time around after Monaco’s 1-2 home defeat to surprise Group G leaders Besiktas left them with just a single point midway through the group. Radamel Falcao put the Ligue 1 champions in front on the half-hour, but two goals from Cenk Tosun (one of which was assisted by ex-Liverpool enigma Ryan Babel) ensured that the Turkish side preserved their perfect record. They now have a substantial five-point lead from RB Leipzig, who moved up to second after beating FC Porto 3-2 in Germany. All the goals came in a thrilling first half as the tournament debutants put themselves in a very good position to qualify for the last 16.

As many expected, Celtic were defeated by Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. While the 3-0 scoreline suggests that it was one-way traffic, the Scottish champions actually gave a good account themselves for large spells, but were undone by a clinical Bayern side. Thomas Muller’s close-range finish opened the scoring and a Joshua Kimmich header made it 2-0 by half-time. Mats Hummels added one more early in the second half and Bayern kept a spirited Celtic at bay to return to winning ways in Group B. Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain unsurprisingly eased past Anderlecht, netting four without reply in Brussels. The front trio of Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar were all on target, with Angel di Maria rounding off the rout to leave PSG on the verge of qualification for the knockout stages.

Barcelona are also as good as through following a comfortable 3-1 win over Olympiakos at the Nou Camp. An own goal in the 19th minute broke the deadlock and not even a first-half red card for Gerard Pique could halt Barca’s momentum. Lionel Messi and Lucas Digne struck in quick succession after the hour mark to wrap up the points, a late consolation for the Greeks barely registering in the grand scheme of things. Group D’s other encounter was far closer as Juventus came from behind to beat Sporting Lisbon 2-1 in Turin. Miralem Pjanic and Mario Mandzukic were on target for the Serie A champions, who badly needed the win to remain on course to emerge from the group.

As ever on Champions League group stage weeks, there were some resoundingly one-sided games, none more so this week than Liverpool’s seven-goal romp in Slovenia. The Reds should rack up three further points in the return fixture at Anfield in a fortnight’s time, setting themselves up ideally for the crucial run-in as they seek to get out of the group. They will have far harder tests to come, but Tuesday night’s mission could not have gone any better for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

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