- PSG won the pivotal Group C bout vs. Liverpool, while a Messi-inspired victory clinched a brutal Group B for Barcelona and four other sides clinched last-16 places in the Champions League.
Liverpool must beat Napoli at Anfield on the final match day and potentially have some math go its way if it is to reach the last 16 of the Champions League after it lost to PSG, 2-1, on Wednesday's half of Matchday 5 across the competition. The Reds will be looking to join Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Porto and Schalke, who all secured their places in the knockout phase joining the eight other sides already guaranteed advancement.
Liverpool, last season’s runner-up, paid the price for a sloppy first half when it went 2-0 down after goals from Juan Bernat and Neymar, before a James Milner penalty just before the break inspired a much-improved second-half display.
The Premier League's other side in action Wednesday, Tottenham, kept its hopes of progress alive as Christian Eriksen’s goal gave it a 1-0 win over Inter Milan. Spurs moved provisionally into second place behind Barcelona, which clinched first in Group B despite being far from its best. Nonetheless won 2-1 at PSV, set on its way by yet another superb goal from Lionel Messi and a redirect of a Messi free kick by Gerard Pique.
In Group A, a Benoit Badiashile own goal and a strike from Antoine Griezmann secured Atletico Madrid’s progress to the last 16. It'll be joined in the knockout stage by Dortmund, which was held to a 0-0 draw at home vs. Club Brugge and sits two points behind Diego Simeone's Rojiblancos in the race for first place.
Meanwhile, in Group D, Lokomotiv Moscow’s first win of the campaign ended Galatasaray’s hopes of progress, meaning Porto and Schalke both knew they had qualified for the knockout stage before they kicked off in Portugal. Eder Militao’s first goal for the club set Porto on its way to a 3-1 win, which ensured it topped the group and sent Schalke through as a group runner up.
Here's what stood out the most from the day in the Champions League:
Much-improved PSG ramps up pressure on Liverpool
PSG had been poor in their earlier meeting at Anfield, perhaps missing Marco Verratti, but it was a very different story in Paris on Wednesday. Its pressing was more aggressive and pinned Liverpool back for long periods. PSG’s opening goal was a little fortunate but not unexpected, with Bernat seizing on a loose ball after a Kylian Mbappe cross had been blocked, ghosting across the box and deceiving Allison with a scuffed shot that took a slight deflection off Joe Gomez.
Verratti has been in fine form recently, but was very fortunate not to be sent off for an ugly lunge on Gomez. That, though, was no excuse for the odd sloppiness of Liverpool’s performance as it slipped to a fourth consecutive away defeat in the Champions League (plus the final against Real Madrid in Kiev). Having taken the lead, PSG dropped off, but offered a persistent threat on the break. Tactically, this was a far more mature performance from PSG than any previously in the group. It was a counterattack that brought the second goal, with Mbappe and Neymar combining on the left to open Liverpool up, before the Brazilian tapped in after Allison had blocked Edinson Cavani’s effort from Mbappe's cross.
Just when it seemed Liverpool was reeling, a wild tackle from Angel Di Maria scythed down Sadio Mane in the box. Referee Szymion Marciniak at first pointed for a corner, but eventually he was persuaded by his assistant to give the penalty. Milner converted just before the halftime whistle to give Jurgen Klopp's men a lifeline.
The second half was a very different story, as old failings haunted PSG. It became stretched and, although PSG threatened on the counter, there were long periods when Liverpool seemed to be within reach of the equalizer. Liverpool’s fate is still in its hands, albeit against a tough opponent to whom it has already lost in the competition, while PSG will go through by beating Red Star in Belgrade. Nothing can be taken for granted, but in a potentially pivotal contest, PSG showed growth and earned the result it desired.
Napoli gets the job done
Napoli’s job was essentially to make sure it won–and won comfortably–to ensure, at worst, a point at Liverpool would be enough in the final round of matches. It did that in some style. There were doubts as to whether Carlo Ancelotti would be able to continue the success of Maurizio Sarri after the departures of Jorginho and Pepe Reina, but in Europe, in particular, Napoli has been excellent.
Napoli had surprisingly drawn away to Red Star but was never in danger of slipping up Wednesday once Marek Hamsik had tucked in, as a left-wing corner was flicked on at the near post. Dries Mertens jabbed in a second, reacting smartly after Fabian Ruiz’s cross had been deflected. Mertens got the third as well, latching onto a Hamsik ball and finishing superbly for his 100th goal for the club. El Fardou Ben Nabouhane pulled one back after great work from Marko Marin, but Napoli will go through with a draw or win at Anfield or if it loses by a single goal while scoring.
Red Star, which has proven to be a tough opponent at least playing in Belgrade, is reduced to the role of spoiler vs. PSG in the group finale.
If Liverpool beat Napoli by 2-1 or higher-scoring, and PSG beat Red Star, Liverpool will finish third on head to head away goals.— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) November 28, 2018
If Liverpool only beat Napoli 1-0 that would also guarantee progress, but no other one-goal win can do this. Hence the two-goal reference. https://t.co/kw6M2BKDAd
Sissoko, Eriksen save Spurs
It took a brilliant goal, but Tottenham’s hopes of reaching the knockout stage remain alive after a narrow win over Inter. Moussa Sissoko, reborn in recent weeks after a disappointing period of form, was the architect, surging through the Inter rearguard before rolling the ball across goal. Deli Alli then turned smartly before laying the ball on for Eriksen, who lashed in his first-time shot.
Tottenham had produced its best performance of the season in beating Chelsea on Saturday, but Eriksen and Son Heung-min, having played such a big part in that game, were left on the bench. Both eventually were brought on, and that gave Tottenham an edge it had missed early on. Tottenham, though, will continue to regret the soft points dropped away to Inter and PSV earlier in the competition.
The win lifts Spurs level on points with Inter (ahead via tiebreaker), but they have to go to an already-qualified Barcelona in the group finale, while Inter is at home against last-place PSV. A couple of games ago it didn't look like Tottenham had much of a chance to go through, but now it at least has hope.