Barcelona Seals Place in Knockout Stage; Liverpool Ties Napoli in Champions League

Barcelona was the only team to book its place in the knockout stage of the Champions League, while Liverpool salvaged a point against Napoli at Anfield. Here are three thoughts on Wednesday's action.
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Barcelona was the only team to book its place in the knockout stage of the Champions League on Wednesday, securing its place in the last 16 with a 3-1 win at home to Borussia Dortmund. Inter moved above Dortmund into second in the group with a 2-1 victory away to Slavia Prague.

Goals from Hakim Ziyech and Quincy Promes secured a 2-0 win for Ajax away to Lille as it went top of Group H, while a fortuitous late equalizer from Daniel Wass salvaged a point for Valencia as it drew 2-2 at home to Chelsea.

Liverpool will qualify for the last 16 providing it avoids defeat away to Salzburg in its final qualifier after a 1-1 draw at home to Napoli. Salzburg kept its hopes of qualification alive with a 4-1 win away to Genk.

RB Leipzig missed the opportunity to secure its progress but came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at home to Benfica. Zenit moved to second in the group, Artom Dzyuba and Magomed Ozdoev getting the goals in a 2-0 win over Lyon but it could be undone by its poorer head to head record against Leipzig.

ABRAHAM INJURED AS LAXITY COSTS CHELSEA AGAIN

Chelsea needs only to beat Lille in its final group game to secure progress after a 2-2 draw away to Valencia that was entirely in keeping with their season under Frank Lampard so far. The most consequential aspect of the game, though, could be the hip injury that forced Tammy Abraham off on the stroke of half-time. The forward initially tried to walk off, but ended up having to be carried off on a stretcher, wrapped in blankets, and was in clear distress. He did not, though, go to hospital and the hope is that the injury is not as bad as it first appeared.

Just the same when it faced Manchester City on Saturday, Chelsea had the better of the game, looked dangerous going forward and ended up being undone by its vulnerability at the back. Maxi Gomez had already squandered two glorious chances in the opening half hour missing the ball entirely on one occasion and then hitting his shot into the body of Kepa before Carlos Soler put Valencia ahead on 40 minutes, volleying in a cross from Rodrigo as Chelsea struggled to deal with a goal-kick.

Within two minutes, though, Mateo Kovacic had driven in from the edge of the box – his first goal for the club – and early in the second half, Christian Pulisic touched in after Kurt Zouma had headed down, although it took a lengthy VAR review to confirm that he was just onside

Chelsea, though, couldn’t hold out, Daniel Wass leveling with an attempted cross that sailed over Kepa and in off the post.

LOVREN RESCUES LIVERPOOL

Liverpool again struggled to beat Napoli, despite the Italian club’s internal problems that have seen the president Aurelio De Laurentiis threaten to sue players who rebelled against his imposition of a punitive training camp after a poor league performance. Liverpool should still qualify, needing only to avoid defeat away to Salzburg in two weeks, but it was far from its best at Anfield, falling behind to a controversial first-half Dries Mertens strike. Virgil van Dijk was grounded as the goal was scored having been involved in a heavy collision with Mertens. Jurgen Klopp was adamant there had been a foul, but VAR allowed the goal to stand.

After the introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Liverpool was improved in the second half without getting anywhere near its best, and leveled through a Dejan Lovren goal. 

It could not though find a winner, leaving its fate in the balance. Napoli, second in the group, will qualify with a win over Genk, and will go through whatever its result providing Salzburg does not beat Liverpool.

BARCELONA EASES TENSIONS

The sense remains that Barcelona, despite being top of the league in Spain, is a long way short of its best, but it was the only side to secure its progress on Wednesday. Borussia Dortmund has been in desperate recent form, leaving its manager Lucien Favre in serious danger of losing his job, and it never looked like troubling Barca once it had gone behind to Luis Suarez’s 29th-minute goal. Lionel Messi added a second four minutes later before Antoine Griezmann made absolutely certain with a third midway through the second half.

Jadon Sancho did pull one back late on but to no avail. All of which leaves Barca in the odd position of leading the table and having qualified from a difficult group, and yet facing profound dissatisfaction about how it is playing. Will its form improve to match results, or will results decline to match form?