The Champions League group stage is officially at the halfway point, with the fate of each quartet shaping up and the demands of the road ahead becoming more clear.
Defending champion Liverpool took a big step forward with a convincing 4-1 win at Genk, though it will go into the final half of Group E play trailing Napoli by a point. Carlo Ancelotti's side got the best of Jesse Marsch's in a thrilling 3-2 affair, one in which Norwegian teenager Erling Braut Haland continued his scoring binge with two more tallies in defeat.
Barcelona leads Group F after a 2-1 win over Slavia Praha, but the performance of the day was put in by Inter Milan, a 2-0 winner over Borussia Dortmund in a result that leaves both sides on four points and Inter with the head-to-head tiebreaker after three games.
Things remain tight in the wide-open Group G, with RB Leipzig topping the table after Marcel Sabitzer's goal-of-the-season contender tilting the scales in a 2-1 win over Zenit-St. Petersburg.
Pizzi's 85th-minute goal from long range–absolutely gifted by goalkeeper Anthony Lopes–broke a deadlock and gave Benfica its first three points of the competition with a 2-1 win over Lyon, one that keeps the entire group within three points of each other.
Chelsea has the edge in Group H thanks to a 1-0 win over Ajax and Lille's last-gasp 1-1 draw vs. Valencia. Chelsea and Ajax are even with six points, while Valencia trails by two after being forced to settled thanks to Jonathan Ikone's goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
Ox helps end Liverpool's away struggles
Liverpool may have won the Champions League last season and remains a favorite for another deep run this season, but its recent away form in the group stage of the competition has been poor. Prior to Wednesday's triumph, the last away group win came in October 2017 against Maribor, a 7-0 thrashing that was followed by enough struggles that the away games this season became a point of emphasis for manager Jurgen Klopp.
"Last year we were lucky with how tight the group was that we could lose three times away and still have a chance to make it through the group. That will not happen this year. It’s completely different," Klopp said prior to Wednesday's match.
He's right on a couple of levels. Losing all three away from home would've made things difficult to go through again, sure, but there's also no third powerhouse in its group this season, like PSG was last season. Genk and Salzburg are both valiant in their own right, but the margin for error does seem to be a bit bigger.
Nevertheless, it doesn't appear that Liverpool will need to wade into it. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continued his return to form from long-term injury woes with a pair of fantastic goals, helping Liverpool end its road skid with an emphatic win over Genk.
The result was ruined only by an 88th-minute concession, but the three points give Liverpool some breathing room. Halfway through the group stage, it's three points clear of Salzburg, has the head-to-head tiebreaker and two games at Anfield to go. Things are looking just fine for the defending champs.
Barcelona labors as Messi hits more milestones
Slavia Praha is definitely the minnow in a group that features Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona, but it hasn't made life easy for its favored opponents thus far. Barcelona found that out in Prague as it labored and escaped with a 2-1 win.
It didn't look like that'd be the case when Messi scored three minutes in to mark his 15th straight season with a Champions League goal and make Slavia Praha his 33rd victim on the Champions League stage, a record matched only by Cristiano Ronaldo and Raul.
But Barcelona never established its dominance and is rather fortunate to have all three points, with Luis Suarez forcing an own goal off some tight-angled wizardry following a Messi free kick seven minutes after Slavia Praha pulled even.
Barcelona sits atop this difficult group with two wins and a draw at the halfway point and two of the three remaining matches to come at home, but there's still something off about the way it's going about its business.
Chelsea's subs make the difference
Christian Pulisic and Michy Batshuayi may not be getting the playing time they want under Frank Lampard at Chelsea, but they're still proving they can be difference-makers for the club that remains a work-in-progress as it operates under its new manager and a transfer ban.
The two substitutes combined again for a Chelsea goal, with Pulisic assisting Batshuayi for the third time this season in all competitions. It was a big moment for Pulisic, especially, who is yearning to have more opportunities after being passed over for the more experienced likes of Pedro and Willian and in-house rising talents like Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Efforts like this–which came at the expense of Pulisic's international teammate (for now, anyway) Sergiño Dest–will go a long way in fortifying his place.
Minutes earlier, Pulisic had a great chance to put Chelsea ahead on his own, pulling a chance from 20 yards just wide as he made a run into a dangerous space.
He was spry on the wing, dangerous with the ball at his foot and a genuine threat when he made his move in the attacking third. The starts will come, but things could be worse than being an impact sub for a team that frequently needs a second-half spark.