Champions League Review: Ronaldo back in the spotlight while English clubs impress

The Champions League is back with a bang as the knockout stages kicked off with some classic first-leg ties across Europe.

Paul Wilkes has been keeping an eye on all the action with Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City all resuming their quest to claim the top prize – and the small matter of Real Madrid taking on PSG.

Here’s everything you might have missed as the biggest club competition in world football returned this week.

READ MORE: Ronaldo leads Real Madrid comeback

READ MORE: Mane nets hat-trick as Liverpool run riot

Mane’s confidence has been restored

Liverpool’s attacking trident have been exceptional throughout this season, but Sadio Mane has looked unusually out of sorts at times. The interchanging of positions between the Senegalese attacker and Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah has thrilled, although Mane hasn’t always been as clinical.

He was certainly assisted by Jose Sa to score in his third consecutive match in the Champions League, when the 25-year-old goalkeeper allowed the ball to squirm under his body. Sa became the regular number one for Sergio Conceicao’s team last October and has started only 19 games in comparison to veteran Iker Casillas’ 19 campaigns.

Four minutes later, James Milner hit the post and then Salah appeared to have all the time in the world to play keepy-uppys before finishing for the Red’s second. Salah now has an incredible 30 goals in all competitions and is only the 13th Liverpool player to achieve the feat.

Sadio Mané celebrates scoring Liverpool’s third goal against Porto.
Sadio Mané celebrates scoring Liverpool’s third goal against Porto.

Liverpool had never previously won at Porto and their hosts were unbeaten in 20 domestic matches. Mane added a third in an outstanding counter attack from the now fab three, which included another clever back heel from Firmino.

The Brazilian still had time to get himself on the scoresheet, when he grabbed his eighth goal in European competition this term. There was love in the air for Mane, as he completed his hat-trick with sheer power to become just the second Liverpool player to score three in an away game on the continent.

Porto had a couple of half chances, when Otavio’s shot deflected off a sliding Dejan Lovren and flew over the crossbar and when Tiquinho Soares dragged an effort wide. However, they never really troubled Loris Karius and Liverpool looked extremely comfortable as they cruised to a 5-0 victory.

Tottenham’s formation is difficult to beat

Tottenham Hotspur got off to the worst possible start in Turin, when they found themselves 2-0 down inside the opening nine minutes. Mauricio Pochettino’s side haven’t lost when he has deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation this term and they illustrated their character once again.

They switched off as Gonzalo Higuain struck a superb volley on the turn and again for Ben Davies’ mistimed his challenge on Federico Bernardeschi. Higuain dispatched the resulting penalty to double his return in the competition for this season, after he managed only two goals in the group stage.

Harry Kane should have scored when he headed at Gianluigi Buffon and then forced an unbelievable one-handed save from the 40-year-old moments later. He did get the better of the veteran when he rounded him and finished into the empty net to equal Steven Gerrard’s record of seven goals for an Englishman in a single campaign in the competition for an English side.

READ MORE: Pochettino hails ‘amazing’ Eriksen

READ MORE: Allegri – It was crazy to think we’d win 3-0

Serge Aurier’s rash challenge just before half-time on Douglas Costa gave Juve the opportunity to restore their two-goal advantage from the penalty spot, although Higuain hit the crossbar on this occasion. Massimiliano Allegri’s men had other opportunities in the second half, but Christian Eriksen’s free-kick gave Spurs an invaluable 2-2 draw.

It’s the first time in two years that Juventus have conceded twice in the Champions League at home. They had let just one goal past them in their previous 16 matches, which included encounters with Barcelona, Napoli and Roma.

It was another very good performance from Spurs and given the quality of the opposition arguably their best away result. Their six defeats have come when Pochettino has altered the system, but the wins over Manchester United and Arsenal show a team that now understands their individual roles within the collective.

Man City steamroll Basel


There was no arguing that Basel were the easiest team on paper that the English clubs had to face, although it certainly wasn’t expected to be a formality given the result they managed against another side from Manchester in the group stage.

The Swiss champions plan of sitting deep and playing long balls over the Manchester City defence did cause problems initially, until they found their rhythm.

Dimitri Oberlin found himself through on goal in the early stages, but the 20-year-old striker was unable to lift the ball over the advancing Ederson. Ilkay Gundogan headed in from Kevin De Bruyne’s corner, but Valentin Stocker found himself on-on-one with the Brazilian goalkeeper moments later.

Bernando Silva then controlled Raheem Sterling’s cross with his chest and volleyed the ball at Basel keeper Tomas Vaclik, who failed to get a strong hand to the effort. Sergio Aguero unleashed his trademark shot with little back lift from outside the box to give them a 3-0 lead after only 23 minutes.
Gundogan’s stylish finish in the second half ensured that it was the 23rd time that City have scored four goals or more since Pep Guardiola took the hot seat. City’s professional display will allow them to rotate back at the Etihad Stadium.

Ronaldo shows Neymar he isn’t finished yet

Real Madrid started extremely brightly at the Bernabeu, as they looked to put their terrible league form behind them. The Galacticos currently trail La Liga leaders Barcelona by 17 points and were eager to prove they aren’t a spent force.

PSG were keen to show that they were ready for the new-found expectation at the club. Neymar seemed as though he was auditioning for a future move to the Spanish capital.

With Dani Carvajal suspended, it was Nacho who was tasked with keeping the Brazilian winger quiet. The versatile defender managed to get across to deny Neymar, but the interception fell invitingly for Adrien Rabiot who arrived in the box unmarked and opened the scoring.

Giovanni Lo Celso pulled Toni Kroos to the ground just 12 minutes later and Cristiano Ronaldo equalised from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time. It led to an entertaining and open second half with both sides having periods of dominance.

Ronaldo knew little about his second, as the ball rebounded off him and into the net. Marcelo made PSG’s task in the second leg much more complicated, when he converted Los Blancos’ third.

 

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