Viktoria Plzen, Rangers, and Celtic are the three teams that have already been eliminated from this season’s Champions League after four games. After another dramatic matchday in Europe’s best club competition, in which five clubs secured their places in the draw for the last 16, several of Europe’s elite are on the verge of collapse.
Does Arsenal actually have a chance to win the Premier League this season? While PSG managed to play a match amidst the most recent Kylian Mbappe soap opera, there was also perhaps the most dramatic group-stage encounter ever at Camp Nou and a shocking loss on the road for one of Italy’s most illustrious clubs. Who, though, emerged from matchday four as the biggest winners and losers?
The Performing Side:
There is no doubt that Mohamed Salah needed even the slightest of victories after going nearly a month without an open-play goal and being yanked off against Arsenal on Sunday with the game on the line.
But it appeared like the wait for that victory would go on for at least a few more days when he was announced on the bench against the Rangers on Wednesday. Salah, however, doesn’t need much time to have an influence against a Scottish team that is so poor.
At Ibrox, the Egyptian star found time to not only score a hat-trick but also the fastest hat-trick in Champions League history despite only spending 22 minutes on the field and receiving nine touches.
Gareth Southgate will have been thrilled to see some of his brilliant midfielders prove they are ready for Qatar by shining on the European stage, despite the fact that there are many questions around the England team heading into the World Cup.
Tuesday’s performance by Mason Mount for Chelsea in Milan demonstrated why every coach he works with, whether at the club or international level, has such high regard for him. He contributed significantly to both goals and came close to scoring himself. While Jude Bellingham is still working to earn Southgate’s trust, the evidence is mounting for him to get the start on November 21 against Iran.
He has now scored in each of Dortmund’s four Champions League games this season thanks to his goal against Sevilla. Harvey Elliott had time to score his first Champions League goal during Liverpool’s rout of Rangers, and there is undoubtedly a case to be made for the 19-year-old to be given a shot at the senior level with the Three Lions in 2023.
While VAR undoubtedly assisted in making some judgments this week — see, for example, Tottenham’s first-half penalty against Eintracht Frankfurt or Sergio Gomez’s dismissal from Manchester City — it also demonstrated why so many people are opposed to its continued use in sports.
Who wanted Rodri’s thunderbolt for Man City to be disallowed because the ball had briefly touched Riyad Mahrez’s fingers earlier in the move (apart from FC Copenhagen supporters)? Nicolai Boilesen was found to have handled in the box by VAR in the same game, and City was fairly fortunate to be given the penalty they missed. However, that wasn’t the toughest decision of the week.
That has to do with the choice to penalize Jurrien Timber for a handball during Ajax’s match versus Napoli. After regaining control of the game after the break, the Dutch champs were dealt a cruel blow when VAR ruled that a penalty kick should be awarded despite Timber’s arm is down by his side as he attempted to block a shot.
The Losing Side:
Spanish teams enjoyed a monopoly on the Champions League for a very long time. However, there is a chance that La Liga will only have one representative in the knockout stages this season. With the Blaugrana now needing favors from lowly Viktoria Plzen to qualify after their dramatic 3-3 draw with Inter, Barcelona’s inevitable collapse will garner the majority of the headlines.
After their 0-0 draw at home against Club Brugge, Atletico Madrid has just four points from their first four games in the league.
While Sevilla, under new manager Jorge Sampaoli, showed improvement by winning a point away at Borussia Dortmund, a five-point deficit is a lot to close in just two games. Even Real Madrid, who advanced to the next round despite looking shaky, needed Antonio Rudiger to go above and beyond in stoppage time to save them from defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk.
The Old Firm:
Celtic will regret passing up opportunities against RB Leipzig since they once again played competitively with the Bundesliga team at Parkhead, but they conceded two goals in the second half to secure their fate with two games remaining.
The Europa League finalists from last season entered the competition with positive recent memories of shocking teams on the continent, but they were utterly overpowered. No side has given up more goals than the 16 they have given up in their four games, and with a trip to a confident Napoli coming up, things could be about to get much worse.
Juventus’ notoriously poor start to the season reached a new low on Tuesday as they were defeated away at tournament underdogs Maccabi Haifa, virtually guaranteeing their exit from the league.
But if things weren’t awful enough, it was later discovered that Massimiliano Allegri, the manager in charge of this mess, still has the board’s support and won’t be fired anytime soon. Juve supporters currently have little to look forward to with their team likely out of the Champions League and already facing a difficult road to qualifying for the tournament next season due to a bad start to their Serie A campaign.
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