Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all scored as Liverpool won for the second time in three matches in Group C of the 2018 UEFA Champions League after beating Red Star Belgrade 4-0 at Anfield on Wednesday night.
Firmino opened the scoring before Salah added a brace, with his second coming from the penalty spot six minutes after the restart. Mane won the spot-kick and later earned another he saw saved by Red Star goalkeeper Milan Borjan.
Mane added a fourth to give Liverpool a commanding victory.
Xherdan Shaqiri Is Philippe Coutinho’s Natural Successor
Selling Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January didn’t stop Liverpool from reaching last season’s Champions League final. Yet despite the run, it’s still fair to say the Reds have struggled to replace the creative influence Coutinho exerted.
Until now, that is. Xherdan Shaqiri is Coutinho’s natural successor in the No. 10 role at the tip of midfield. The diminutive Switzerland international who usually thrives on the flanks took to a central role brilliantly against Red Star.
Shaqiri showed an impressive range of passing born from intelligence, technique and vision.
Those qualities came to the fore for Firmino’s goal, a move started by Shaqiri, who executed a snappy one-two before sliding left-back Andrew Robertson in behind to tee up the goalscorer.
Shaqiri was even better for Liverpool’s second as he ghosted into a pocket of space between the midfield and forward lines to release Salah with a deft, first-time touch. The contribution underlined Shaqiri’s growing importance as a provider
A positive change is also in the offing at the other end of Liverpool’s midfield after Fabinho provided an answer for why the Reds paid £43.7 million for him this summer.
The former AS Monaco man had barely featured before Wednesday, but he made the most of his first Champions League start for Liverpool. However, the answers Fabinho provided spell trouble for Jordan Henderson.
Through a mix of tough tackling, smart positional sense and quality technique, Fabinho showed he’s an obvious upgrade over England international Henderson. There’s more steel, energy and culture to the Brazilian’s game.
Fabinho showed the latter with some deft work in the build-up to the opening goal. He also proved his chops as an enforcer by leaving more than one Red Star player in a heap.
Henderson’s battling qualities commend his place in the pressing game that manager Jurgen Klopp loves. However, Fabinho looks like the kind of astute holding player who can bring this Liverpool midfield to another level.
Barcelona took command of Group B of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday by beating Inter Milan 2-0. Lionel Messi’s replacement Rafinha and Jordi Alba got the goals.
Barcelona now have a three-point lead at the top of the group and a perfect record after three matches. PSV and Tottenham Hotspur are in last place, eight points behind the leaders.
Dembele Deserves Clasico Place Despite Rafinha’s Goal
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valeverde surprised everyone with his team selection on Wednesday, as he opted to replace the injured Messi with former Inter man Rafinha, rather than Ousmane Dembele.
Fears the 25-year-old would slow down the buildup were proven correct, as Rafinha had a rough first half that included several missed chances and some bad passing. Inter gladly ceded possession to the Blaugrana for large stretches of the half and pressured the forward whenever he got the ball, knowing that would be their best chance to kill attacks.
He did score a goal but that came after a wonderful cross from Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan put the ball on a platter, and while Rafinha did do well to finish, the credit had to go to his team-mate.
Rafinha is a fine player but not the best creator in attack, and it’s that spark Barcelona will need without Messi. Dembele may have struggled against Sevilla, but he’s far more suited as a replacement thanks to his ability to break matches open with a moment of brilliance.
The former Borussia Dortmund man has to return to the starting XI in favour of Rafinha for Sunday’s all-important Clasico against Real Madrid. With his raw pace and technical ability he could be a huge weapon against a struggling Blancos defence, especially if Julen Lopetegui persists with makeshift full-back Lucas Vazquez.
Napoli earned a crucial result in Group C Champions League play on Wednesday, drawing PSG in Paris, 2-2. The French side were saved in stoppage time by Angel Di Maria, whose curling strike from the edge of the box was a touch of pure class and preserved a draw for PSG.
With the draw, Napoli remained in second place on the Group C table with five points, while PSG stayed in third on four points.
PSG Are Too Sloppy to Win Champions League
PSG have the raw talent to beat any club in the world, on any given day. But at present, they also lack the discipline to mount a Champions League title run.
Some of their defensive deficiencies were on display against Liverpool, as the Reds hit them for three goals in a 3-2 loss for the Parisiens. Those same concerns came to light against Napoli.
PSG appeared to be caught napping on the first goal when Callejon absolutely split the midfield open with a perfect pass to Insigne. PSG’s defenders were late to recover and the Napoli man made them pay with a deft chip.
Whereas Insigne and Mertens came up big in the decisive moments, it is perhaps telling of PSG’s current form that they created numerous scoring chances and mostly failed to convert, only to find the back of the net on a Napoli own-goal.
It is concerning that the trio of Mbappe, Neymar and Cavani has struggled with on-pitch chemistry. They are dynamic individually, but as a unit, they appear to still be sanding off the rough edges, and it was apparent against Napoli.
Wasteful in the front, sloppy in the back. That simply isn’t a recipe for success, no matter how much talent has been compiled on the pitch. PSG need to clean up their play if they hope to make a UCL run, let alone escape a tricky Group C.
Thus far they’ve played solid football led by a class manager in Carlo Ancelotti, a strong attacking trio and a sturdy group behind them.
BVB’s Youth Pass The Character Test
Borussia Dortmund pass the test of character against Atlético Madrid was the headline on the Futbolgrad Network following Borussia Dortmund vs Atletico. Dortmund may have defeated Atlético Madrid 4-0, but while the scoreline was decisive, the match was a true character test for a relatively inexperienced side.
Achraf Hakimi (19), Dan-Axel Zagadou (19) and Abdou Diallo (22) were three of the four defenders Favre started against Atlético Madrid. In defence, only right-back Lukasz Piszczek (33) had significant Champions League experience in Dortmund’s lineup.
Added to the two teenagers in the back four were the two 20-year-old wingers Christian Pulisic and Jacob Bruun Larsen. In the second half, Favre added 18-year-old Jadon Sancho to the mix.
Despite all the youth Dortmund, however, were able to stand the ground against one of the toughest opponents in European football. The back four, in particular, was impressive in the first 15 minutes of the second half in which Atlético pressed for the equaliser.
Hanging on Dortmund, however, passed that character test with flying colours and ultimately dismantled the Spaniards. Then towards the end of match one scene, in particular, stood out. Diego Costa looking for a fight was talked down by the 19-year-old Zagadou, towering over the Spanish striker, Zagadou made it clear to Costa that tonight he had been bested in every aspect.