For 92 of the 96 minutes that Liverpool played against Sevilla on Tuesday night, they were in a position that would see them confirmed as Group E winners. From the 30th to the 51st minute, the Reds had a 3-0 lead, having picked the Spaniards off at will in that opening half-hour. Slack corner defending from the home side certainly helped, with Roberto Firmino and then Sadio Mane all too happy to capitalise. When Firmino added his second of the night, Liverpool were in a dream position and Sevilla looked all at sea. However, the visitors were careless and complacent in the second half and when Wissam Ben Yedder scored twice to make it 3-2, the Reds were rightly rattled. Sevilla kept pushing for an equalising goal and Liverpool managed to keep their noses in front until stoppage time, when atrocious defending from a Sevilla corner allowed Guido Pizarro to stab home the goal that completed an extraordinary comeback. About the only thing that went right for Liverpool on a wretched night was the other result from the group, a 1-1 draw between Spartak Moscow and Maribor. The Russian side looked set for victory when Ze Luis scored in the 82nd minute, but the Slovenian visitors plundered a last-gasp equaliser to dent Spartak’s chances of qualifying for the last 16.
Manchester United also missed out on the chance to advance as group winners after they surprisingly lost 1-0 away to Basel, who yet again took the scalp of an English club at St Jakob Park. The visitors were completely dominant in the first half but were left to rue wasteful finishing and bad luck, with two efforts striking the woodwork. Basel gradually got a sense that this match was there for the taking and they finished much the stronger side, striking in the final minute of normal time when Michael Lang turned home a low cross at the far post. It was a vital goal for the Swiss club, who needed to win to remain level on points with CSKA Moscow after they beat Benfica 2-0 earlier in the day. The Russian side were good value for a win that keeps them in contention to qualify from Group A, while Benfica remain without a point in what has been a catastrophic campaign for them.
Liverpool and Manchester United both blew a glorious chance of winning their group, but Tottenham made no mistake to get the job done with a 2-1 victory away to Borussia Dortmund, a result that confirmed them as Group H winners. Spurs had to answer plenty of questions from the German side in the first half and survived a scare when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang somehow missed when one-on-one with Hugo Lloris, but the Gabon striker gobbled up his next chance to put Dortmund in front. Spurs reorganised at half-time, though, and were dominant in the second half, equalising through a typically deadly Harry Kane finish. With 15 minutes to go, Son Heung-min kept up his impressive form to put the visitors ahead and Tottenham saw out the remainder of the match comfortably to clinch first place in the group. Real Madrid will have to be content with second despite thrashing APOEL Nicosia 6-0 in Cyprus. They were four to the good at half-time, the first arriving from a stunning Luka Modric volley, and Cristiano Ronaldo added two more in the second half as the holders won at a canter.
Manchester City were widely expected to win at a canter at home to Group F whipping boys Feyenoord, but it took them until the 88th minute to find a way past the Dutch champions. With progression to the last 16 already assured, Pep Guardiola took the chance to make changes to his starting line-up and Sergio Aguero was among those to come in. However, the Argentine supremo fluffed several chances on a frustrating night for him and it looked for long spells like that frustration would be matched by his team. Eventually they did breach the Feyenoord defence and it was a tidy finish from top scorer Raheem Sterling which maintained their 100% record in the group. The identity of the team joining them in the knockout stages remains unknown after Napoli defeated Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in Italy, the visitors having only needed a draw to qualify. All three goals came after half-time, with Lorenzo Insigne’s opener among the best goals that will be scored in the Champions League all season. Napoli still need to beat Feyenoord to progress, while also hoping that Shakhtar don’t beat Manchester City.
Chelsea became the third English club to seal their place in the knockout stages when they comfortably beat Qarabag 4-0 in Baku. The pattern of the game was set from the 18th minute when the Azeri side had a player sent off and Eden Hazard converted the resulting penalty. Willian helped himself to two goals and Cesc Fabregas added a spot kick of his own as the Blues advanced to the last 16. Atletico Madrid kept alive their hopes of joining them after they beat Roma 2-0 in a must-win game for Diego Simeone’s side. Antoine Griezmann’s form might have dipped of late, but his class is permanent and he demonstrated it with a sumptuous overhead kick to break the deadlock. Kevin Gameiro doubled Atletico’s lead late on, but they still need to beat Chelsea and hope for a favour from Qarabag to stay in the competition.
Having lost 0-5 at home to Paris Saint-Germain in September, Celtic crashed 7-1 to the Ligue 1 side on Wednesday night. Brendan Rodgers’ men actually got off to a dream start, scoring through Moussa Dembele in the opening minute, but once Neymar equalised on nine minutes, the floodgates opened and PSG ran riot. Neymar and Edinson Cavani got two each, with Kylian Mbappe, Marco Verratti and Dani Alves also on target. Despite this dreadful scoreline, Celtic are still almost certain to take the Europa League spot from Group B after Anderlecht lost 1-2 at home to Bayern Munich. The Belgian side missed a glut of first half chances and were made to regret their profligacy, with Robert Lewandowski and Corentin Tolisso netting for Bayern after the interval. Anderlecht must beat Celtic by four goals in Glasgow to climb off the bottom of the group.
Besiktas clinched top spot in Group G to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages for the first time. They had to overcome a bad start against Porto in Istanbul, Felipe opening the scoring just before the half-hour. However, it was Porto’s on-loan playmaker Talisca who equalised against his parent club and there were no further goals in the second half, a situation that suited Besiktas perfectly. Porto are level on points with RB Leipzig, who thumped Monaco 4-1 away to consign last season’s semi-finalists to a European exit. The Germans were two goals up inside nine minutes and three to the good on the half-hour. Radamel Falcao pulled one back shortly before the interval but Leipzig’s response was immediate, Naby Keita scoring a magnificent goal for the rampant visitors, who stand a great chance of getting out of the group on their Champions League debut.
Barcelona sealed first place in Group D after a scoreless draw away to Juventus in a match that promised plenty but delivered virtually nothing. Lionel Messi was surprisingly left on the bench and made little impact when he came on in the 55th minute, while it was also a frustrating night for Luis Suarez. The Catalans looked the more likely of the two teams to score, but goal chances were few and far between on a tepid night in Turin. While Barcelona’s job is done, Juve still need to win their final match to make sure of going through. That was because Sporting Lisbon cruised to a 3-1 win over bottom side Olympiakos, with Bas Dost on target twice for the Portuguese side, who know that any slip-up by Juve in Greece opens the door for them to eliminate last season’s beaten finalists.
When you step back from the shock and disgust of how Liverpool collapsed in the second half in Seville, you’ll see that they remain top of Group E and knowing that a win at home to Spartak will keep them there. Even a draw would be enough to see them advance to the last 16, but that there remains any uncertainty about those equations is a damning indictment of how Liverpool completely blew what seemed an unassailable position. If they contrive to miss out on the knockout stages for a third Champions League campaign in a row, this is the night that will haunt Jurgen Klopp and his players for the rest of their careers.