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  • Two Premier League sides clinched first-place finishes in their groups, but it should have been three on a day when two more sides punched their Champions League knockout stage tickets.
By Jonathan Wilson
November 21, 2017

Real Madrid and Besiktas secured their places in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday while Tottenham and Manchester City both confirmed the top spots in their respective groups. Liverpool would have done the same, but it squandered a 3-0 lead at Sevilla to settle for a demoralizing draw.

For Real Madrid, which had been down on its attacking form recently, APOEL proved to be the elixir, as Karim Benzema and Cristinao Ronaldo both scored twice in a 6-0 rout that clinched second place in Group H–a second straight runner-up finish in group play. Tottenham will will go through as the first-place finisher with a game to spare after coming back to beat Dortmund.

Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang got the opener for Peter Bosz’s struggling side, as he ran on to an Andriy Yarmolenko flick, but the Ukrainian was dispossessed early in the second half leading to a Harry Kane equalizer. Son Heung-min got the winner with a neat finish after fine work from Dele Alli 14 minutes from time.

Even with its disappointment, Liverpool remains atop Group E, but at halftime it had seemed on course for qualification, leading 3-0 only to collapse in the second half and succumb to a stoppage-time goal. It was a stoppage-time goal in the group's other game that keeps Liverpool in its current standing. Spartak Moscow had earlier failed to apply pressure at the top, drawing 1-1 against Maribor, The Slovenian side is out, despite taking an 82nd-minute lead through Ze Luis. Jasmin Mesanovic levelled at the death, keeping three sides in contention to go through.

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In Group G, Besiktas sealed the club's first place ever in the last 16 with a 1-1 draw at home against Porto, with Anderson Talisca cancelling out Felipe’s opener. RB Leipzig could yet qualify ahead of Porto in second place after thrashing Monaco 4-1.

Elsewhere, Napoli kept its hopes of qualification alive by beating Shakhtar 3-0 at the San Paolo. Manchester City, which had already qualified, beat Feyenoord 1-0 as Raheem Sterling scored in his fourth consecutive Champions League game, doing so in the 88th minute for the winner.

Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:

SLOPPY LIVERPOOL LETS LEAD SLIP

Liverpool will qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League with a draw at home to Spartak Moscow during Matchday 6, and it will assure itself of the top spot in the group with a win, but it should have had qualification wrapped up Tuesday. Liverpool's last five games have now brought 16 goals, but just as striking was the club's defensive collapse.

Liverpool got off to the perfect start, taking the lead after 88 seconds. Roberto Firmino swept in the ball at the back post after Georgino Wijnaldum had flicked on a Philippe Coutinho corner. A very similar move brought the second, Firmino this time flicking on for Sadio Mane to head in his first goal in the Champions League. Firmino then made it three before halftime, tapping into an empty net–with no-look flair, no less–after Mane’s effort had been saved.

This Liverpool, though, remains horribly fragile. Loris Karius was drawn into an excellent save from Nolito with the score at 1-0, tipping the ball onto the post after Joe Gomez had slipped. Early in the second half, a needless foul by Alberto Moreno gifted Sevilla a free kick, and Wissam Ben Yedder headed it in. Moreno then tripped Ben Yedder as he panicked after mis-controlling the ball on the edge of the box, and the striker added his second from the penalty spot. Sevilla hasn’t lost at home for more than a year and it extended that record as Guido Pizarro forced the ball in as Liverpool failed to clear a last-minute corner, delaying the Reds' gratification and keeping Sevilla very much in the picture to go through.

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SEMIFINALIST NO MORE: MONACO CRASHES OUT

Last season’s semifinalist Monaco crashed out of the Champions League with a game still to play in the group stage. This, sadly, is the reality of modern football. Any side that threatens the elite will find its best players lured away by richer clubs. With Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko all sold and Kylian Mbappe loaned to its chief rival with a sale pending next summer, this was always going to be tricky season.

Porto’s failure to beat Besiktas earlier in the day kept Monaco’s hopes of going through alive, but it had to win. As it turned out, its injury-ravaged side was 2-0 down within nine minutes, largely thanks to the efforts of Brazilian defender Jemerson. First the 25-year-old sliced a Marcel Sabitzer cross into his own net, then his weak pass out of defense was intercepted by Kevin Kampl, who played it forward for Timo Werner to clip home his 10th goal of the season. Werner then banged in a 31st-minute penalty after Radamel Facao had trodden on Willi Orban’s calf.

Falcao pulled one back before halftime, heading in as Leipzig keeper Peter Gulasci came to claim a free kick and got nowhere near the ball. Within a minute, though, Naby Keita had made it 4-1 with a smart turn and shot. It's a harsh dose of reality for Monaco, while the unpredictable Group G's final place will come down to Porto's match vs. Monaco and RB Leipzig's home clash vs. Besiktas. The two contenders for second are both level on seven points.


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NAPOLI STILL FIGHTING

Napoli is still alive and has a chance making the knockout phase after a 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk. Maurizio Sarri’s side still trails the Ukrainian champions by three points with one round of games to go, but it does now have the head-to-head tiebreaker against Shakhtar should they pull even. That means that if Napoli beats Feyenoord in the Netherlands and Shakhtar loses at home to Manchester City on Matchday 6, the Italians will go through–a very possible scenario.

A tight game was turned Napoli’s way by a brilliant goal from Lorenzo Insigne, who drifted in from the left and whipped a shot into the top corner from 25 yards – which will only aggravate further those baffled by Gian Piero Ventura’s reluctance to use him as Italy crashed out the World Cup by failing to score against Sweden. Piotr Zielinski added a second after a smart one-two with Dries Mertens, who then nodded the third from close range to seize the tiebreaker vs. Shakhtar and very much keep Napoli afloat heading into the finale next month.

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