The reigning European champion Liverpool sealed its places in the last 16 of the Champions League on a night on which Napoli, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Chelsea and Valencia also went through.
Liverpool needed only to avoid defeat to progress and wrapped up a comfortable win with two goals in the space of two minutes in the second half from Naby Keita and Mohammed Salah. Arkadiusz Milik got a hat-trick as Napoli wrapped up second place in the group with a 4-0 win over Genk.
Goals from Jadon Sancho and Julian Brandt were enough to see Borussia Dortmund through as Lucien Favre’s side beat Slavia Prague 2-1 and Inter went down 2-1 at home to a second string Barcelona. A Rodrigo goal gave Valencia a 1-0 win at Ajax and take it through at the top of the group, with Chelsea second after a 2-1 win over Lille. Lyon joined Leipzig in the knockouts as it came from 2-0 down to draw with the Bundesliga side, and Zenit St Petersburg crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Benfica.
COMPOSED LIVERPOOL EXERT CLASS AS ANCELOTTI SACKED
Liverpool had a slightly anxious wait but in the end the European champion secured its progress to the last 16 comfortably enough, two goals in two minutes just before the hour seeing off the challenge of a spirited Salzburg. It was the two failures to beat Napoli that had put Liverpool in danger and there were a couple of nervous moments in the first half. But once Naby Keita had struck after 57 minutes, nodding in Sadio Mane’s cross after Salzburg had been opened up by a classic long diagonal, its progress looked assured. Mohammed Salah added a remarkable second, rounding the keeper and squeezing his shot in from a narrow angle.
After a season in which, for all that its results have been excellent, Liverpool has often been a little fraught, hanging on to games, this was an impressively composed performance especially after half-time, a display that showed its capacity to hold an opponent at arm’s length.
Salzburg played with its usual verve, and Erling Braut Haaland, who failed to score in a Champions League game for the first time, offered some threat, but by the second half Liverpool was in control. It will look back on its first group stage appearance in quarter of a century with a level of satisfaction, having impressed with its high tempo approach. It qualifies for the Europa League and looks to have a decent chance to reaching the latter stages.
Although Napoli confirmed its place in second, and ended a run of nine games without a win, by beating Genk 4-0, the club sacked its manager Carlo Ancelotti around an hour after the final whistle. The president Aurelio de Laurentiis had been threatening to sell numerous key players following their refusal to attend a punitive training camp.
Seventh in the table and eight points off fourth, there are no guarantees Napoli will qualify for next season’s Champions League. A club statement said the parting of ways was amicable but gave no further reason for the split.
LUCKY LAMPARD PROGRESSES AT FIRST ATTEMPT
Quite how Chelsea reached the last 16 of the Champions League defies explanation, but the hard work had been done in the crazy draws against Valencia and Ajax, from both of which Lampard’s open side was incredibly fortunate to take a point. Its only task on Tuesday was to beat a Lille side that, stripped of the players that had made it one of the most watchable sides in France last season, had taken a solitary point from its previous five games.
This was another game that highlight the best and worst of Lampard’s team. It began with great authority and within 35 minutes was 2-0 up, Tammy Abraham converting Willian’s cross for his 13th goal of the season before Cesar Azpilicueta headed a second. With nothing to play for Lille hadn’t even selected its strongest side, yet as the second half wore on and Lampard began to make substitutions, Chelsea wobbled badly, exposing the defensive vulnerabilities that have haunted it so often recently. Loic Remy scored one and then in injury time had a fine chance to score an equaliser that, with Valencia beating Ajax, would have put Chelsea out. He struck the ball straight into the body of Kepa, though, and Chelsea, once again in the Champions League, got the result it needed by the skin of its teeth.
CONTE FALTERS IN EUROPE AGAIN
The one doubt about Antonio Conte as a coach is his record in European competitions and he failed once again to reach expectations as Inter finished third in an admittedly tough group behind Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund.
Inter played well in patches, but was undone by the home draw against Slavia Prague, and then the defeat away to Barcelona when it bossed the first hour of the game. Needing to beat Barcelona at home to progress, Inter stuttered again, despite Barca leaving out a number of its stars, suffering a 2-1 defeat to ensure it will be playing Europa league football in the spring.