Champions League matchday 4 round-up: Liverpool made to work for win over Maribor

Champions League Review Liverpool

Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Maribor on Wednesday night was almost a carbon copy of the victory against Huddersfield at the weekend – a frustrating first half which ended goalless, a missed penalty, an early second-half goal to settle the nerves and eventually a comprehensive victory. Having been hit for seven in Slovenia, Maribor were far more cautious at Anfield and they kept their hosts at bay up to half-time, although Liverpool had spurned some good chances to score. They finally hit the front shortly after the interval through Mohamed Salah and survived yet another penalty miss, this time from James Milner. A superb Emre Can finish doubled the home side’s lead and effectively secured the points, with substitute Daniel Sturridge adding one more in the closing minutes. The only minus was an early injury to Georginio Wijnaldum, who went over on his ankle. The other game in Group E saw Sevilla exact revenge on Spartak Moscow for the thumping in Russia two weeks ago, the La Liga side winning 2-1 this time around. The pick of the goals came from Ever Banega, a sweet strike from outside the box which ultimately proved to be the winner.

Tottenham bombed in the group stage last season but, with two group matches still to play this term, they are already assured of their place in the knockout rounds after a famous 3-1 thrashing of holders Real Madrid. Two recent defeats had raised questions about Spurs’ ability to maintain good form throughout the season, but they made the champions of Europe look rather ordinary at Wembley on Wednesday. It was a pivotal night in the career of Dele Alli, who struck either side of half-time on his return to continental action following a three-game suspension. A neat finish from Christian Eriksen rounded off the win for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, with Cristiano Ronaldo helping himself to a late consolation. It couldn’t spoil a fantastic night for Tottenham, though, who have shown that they are capable of going far in this competition. Their progression to the last 16 was sealed by the other result in Group H, with Borussia Dortmund again held to a 1-1 draw by APOEL Nicosia. Having taken a first-half lead, the German side would have been especially disappointed not to win and, with just two points on the board so far, they must win their final two games to have any hope of avoiding a group stage exit.

Manchester City can also relax in the knowledge that they are through to the knockout stages following an eventful 4-2 win away to Napoli. The Serie A leaders struck first with a tremendous goal from Lorenzo Insigne before goals either side of half-time from Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones put City ahead. Jorginho’s penalty levelled it once more and then Sergio Aguero became Manchester City’s all-time leading scorer with a typically lethal finish. Raheem Sterling found the net in stoppage time to kill the game off once and for all and secure the Premier League leaders’ passage to the next phase. Shakhtar Donetsk look set to join them after they came from behind to beat Feyenoord 3-1, a result which means the Ukrainians need only one more point to guarantee a top-two finish.

Manchester United were far from impressive against Benfica on Tuesday but, thanks to more than a little luck, they recorded a fourth consecutive win in the group against spirited but average opposition. Anthony Martial somehow won a penalty when he went to ground in the box but justice was done as his spot kick was saved by Mile Svilar. The teenage goalkeeper’s luck was out, though, when just before the break, Nemanja Matic’s shot hit the post and rebounded off his back to trickle over the line. Benfica were the better side for long periods but never really threatened an equaliser and once Daley Blind converted the home team’s second penalty of the night, the points were in the bag. United aren’t absolutely assured of qualification for the last 16 yet, though, after CSKA Moscow came from behind to beat Basel 2-1 in Switzerland. With those teams level on six points, Jose Mourinho’s men only need a draw in Basel to win Group A, while Benfica are all but out of Europe for this season.

Chelsea are still in a good position to qualify from Group C despite a 3-0 hammering away to Roma, who overtook them at the top of the group. The Blues were behind inside 40 seconds when Stephan El Shaarawy’s powerful drive found the net. Chelsea had their fair share of possession but a horrendous misjudgement from Antonio Rudiger left El Shaarawy in to double his tally and Roma’s lead shortly before half-time. Any hopes of a fightback were extinguished when Cesc Fabregas cheaply gave the ball away and Diego Perotti bore down on goal before smashing an unstoppable shot past Thibaut Courtois. Roma had further chances to deepen Chelsea’s misery but could be quite content with a three-goal victory. Elsewhere in the group, Atletico Madrid are in real danger of crashing out after being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Qarabag. The Azeri side even took the lead through ex-Birmingham man Michel before a thunderbolt from Thomas Partey brought Atletico level. Both teams finished with 10 men on a dreadful night for the 2016 runners-up, who are still waiting for a first win in this year’s competition.

Celtic can no longer qualify for the knockout stages after a slightly unfortunate 1-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich, who toiled but were clinical with their chances. An awful defensive mix-up between Dedryck Boyata and Craig Gordon allowed Kingsley Coman to give Bayern a fortuitous lead, although there was a suspicion of handball from the Frenchman just before he scored. Callum McGregor briefly drew Celtic level on 73 minutes but Javi Martinez soon had Bayern back on top and they secured the win that took them into the last 16. The group’s other game ran along expected lines, with Paris Saint-Germain thumping Anderlecht 5-0. The French side now have 17 goals from four group games and there was an unlikely hat-trick scorer in Layvin Kurzawa, the left-back upstaging PSG’s regal front line to take them serenely into the knockout rounds.

Barcelona’s perfect record in Group D was ended by Olympiakos on Tuesday, the Greek side holding their illustrious visitors to a goalless draw in Piraeus. Unsurprisingly it was the Catalans who had most of the chances, but there was no route to goal for Lionel Messi or Luis Suarez on the night. The spoils were also shared in the group’s other game between Sporting Lisbon and Juventus in the Portuguese capital. The home side struck first through Bruno Cesar and remained in front until the final 15 minutes, with Gonzalo Higuain eventually restoring parity. Barcelona need just a point to make sure of going through, with Juventus three points further back and three clear of Sporting.

Having blown a glorious chance to qualify for the knockout rounds last season, Besiktas are just one point away from winning Group G after rescuing a 1-1 draw in Istanbul against Monaco. The French side scored first, a fine strike from Rony Lopes on the stroke of half-time, before the Turkish champions equalised with a Cenk Tosun penalty after the interval. Porto are in a favourable position to make it out of the group after they beat RB Leipzig 3-1, two second-half goals for the home side ensuring a second win in the group.

Liverpool now know that two draws from their final two games away to Sevilla and at home to Spartak Moscow would see them through to the last 16 for the first time in nine years. Even a defeat in Spain followed by a draw with Spartak could be enough, but they will need to take care of their own business from hereon as the other two teams in Group E should beat Maribor, whose lack of quality was ruthlessly exposed both home and away by the Merseysiders.

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