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Champions League

5 things we learnt from UCL

Against top opposition, Real Madrid are still a one-man team 

Without their star striker and Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema, Real Madrid were second-best against RB Leipzig on Tuesday. 

Now, it’s important to note that, having sealed qualification, the reigning European champions had nothing to play for, and so made a number of changes to their team. However, for the second game running, they struggled without Benzema leading the attack. 

Carlo Ancelotti’s side made difficult work of their league meeting with Sevilla at the weekend, with only a late show rescuing the three points. This time, against German side Leipzig, Real Madrid simply could not get going. 

In fact, the 3-2 scoreline flattered Madrid: the Germans were comfortably the better side, and should have won by more. 

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that any team would miss a striker of Benzema’s quality. However, it is worrying how dependent they are on an almost 35-year-old striker when they should be preparing for life without him already.  



It is time to take Napoli seriously 

Four wins from four coming into this week’s Champions League matches meant Napoli were already through, and so they took the opportunity to rest a number of starters. However, it did not seem to affect them too much: they thumped Rangers 3-0 to keep their 100 percent record in Europe going. 

Sure, Rangers did not offer much by way of a fight on the night. However, you can only beat what is in front of you. Besides, when a team can rest its entire front three – there was no Victor Osimhen, Kvhicha Kvaratskhelia or Hirving Lozano in the starting lineup – and still produce such a menacing performance, it is a real statement of intent. 

Against Rangers, the goalscoring responsibility fell to Giovanni Simeone, who is enjoying a strong campaign in Europe. Not only are Napoli playing terrific football, but their style and intensity is repeatable and their options are deep. Even the more established European giants have to be worried about facing them at this point. 



Barcelona pay the price for mortgaging their future 

Let’s face it: no one is entirely sure how Barcelona, weighed down with debt as they are, were able to afford all the players they signed. We knew what it was in general terms though: the Spanish giants essentially mortgaged their future in order to be competitive in the short term. The idea was that success in the short term would make up for this spending. 

It has not worked out how the Barcelona decision makers envisaged at all. Despite boasting the most stacked attack in Europe, Barcelona are out of the Champions League. The 3-0 home defeat to their bogey team, Bayern Munich was the final nail in their coffin, the ultimate humiliation that sends them down to the Europa League for the second season in a row. 

It would not even be a big deal ordinarily. After all, these things can happen to the best of teams. However, it hits hard here because of what Barcelona have had to sacrifice. All those levers pulled, all that creative accounting, all for nothing. Sad stuff. 

Barcelona are going well in the league, and so Xavi’s job is just about safe. However, it might not be for much longer, especially if they suffer the same sort of disappointment in the Europa League as they did last season when they lost at home to Eintracht Frankfurt. 

Footballing history is littered with examples of clubs that overreached and fell off their perch, often forever. Barcelona fans must not wait and see how the risky decisions made in the summer will affect their team long-term. 

As it stands, winning the La Liga is the only way to salvage this season. Both to justify the massive amounts spent and because the €61.5 million purse for the La Liga winner will go some way to balancing their terrible finances.  



What will it take for the Juventus board to fire Allegri ? 

Juventus have been bad for a while now. All season long, in fact. Their latest defeat came in Lisbon, where they fell 4-3 to Benfica. That result eliminated them from the Champions League completely, a truly shocking state of affairs for the Old Lady. 

Things are not much better in the league either, where Juventus are already 10 points off the pace. So, why in the world will Juventus not sack Max Allegri? What sort of hold does he have on them?  

The 4-3 scoreline in Lisbon actually flattered them, as it was only a late flurry that made the result somewhat respectable. It really was an error-strewn performance, and even the one thing one could usually praise Allegri’s teams for – their defensive organization – isn’t there anymore. So what is the point of keeping him? 

We assume that as with every other big team, Allegri was given a remit to meet before the season started. His continued presence in the Juventus dugout has to mean that he’s either meeting expectations or surpassing them. But there’s no way a club like Juventus set expectations this low, right?  



MNM are in a terrifying groove in Paris, but defensive issues remain 

Paris Saint-Germain put on a footballing clinic against Maccabi Haifa 7-2 on Tuesday, with their front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe all pitching in with goals. 

Great players will always find a way to play together—they want to win, after all. So it is not a surprise that three of the best players in the world, playing together, would make magic. On this evidence, Messi finally feels at home, and all three of Argentina, Brazil and France will be rubbing their hands ahead of the World Cup at the domestic form of their best players. 

However, PSG did concede twice to Maccabi Haifa. No disrespect to the Israeli side, but it is clear that the French side still have a weakness at the back, especially in terms of concentration. So far this season, they have yet to keep a clean sheet in the Champions League. It is precisely this frailty at the back that is often their downfall in the knockout rounds of this competition.  

Can they continue to rely on their attack to pull them out of the fire, especially against the better UCL sides who will defend better than Maccabi and pose a sterner test to the PSG rearguard? 

That remains to be seen. 

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