Champions League winners and losers as Eden Hazard rescues Chelsea while Dries Mertens fluffs his lines

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This week saw an exciting round of Champions League fixtures, featuring one of the best group stage games in recent memory as Chelsea and Roma played out a thrilling draw, along with some other intriguing fixtures.

Here’s a look at three winners and three losers from this week’s games…

WINNERS

Eden Hazard

Hazard says he’s absolutely certain he won’t win the Ballon D’or this year, and he’s not sure when he’ll be one of the real contenders for the award.

While he’s right about the first part, more performances like the one on Wednesday and the days of him just being among the top nominees and not a main contender will be over.

The Belgian covered up for a poor Chelsea side, who seem to be lurching back towards that crisis they seemed to have staved off at the start of the season.

Cenk Tosun

Who saw this coming? In a group with Porto, RB Leipzig, and Monaco, Besiktas are top with a perfect record.

Tosun has been a big part of that, driving the Turkish side’s progress with his goals, and he was at it again on Tuesday night. After Monaco scored to take the lead at home, they would have thought they were well on their way to getting a first Champions League win of the season, but a quickfire brace from the Turkish striker turned the game on its head.

Besiktas are now favourites to progress from the group, a stellar achievement given they were tipped to finish at the bottom.

Harry Winks

All the pre-match talk was about Harry Kane, but it was a different Harry who stole the show for Spurs on Tuesday.

Mauricio Pochettino has always been rewarded for his faith in youth – Kane himself is a shining example – and Winks is on his way to being another success story.

Thrust into a slightly unfamiliar defensive midfield role – at the Santiago Bernabeu, no less, against the European champions – Winks excelled, not once looking overawed by going up against Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Casemiro.

More performances like this, and he’s sure to get the opportunities for Spurs, and England won’t have a midfield selection headache for the World Cup – Winks will have smashed the door down to usurp Jordan Henderson in the starting XI.

LOSERS

Dries Mertens

Mertens has been in explosive form for Napoli since his switch to striker last season, and that form has carried the club to the top of the Serie A table. This was his stage, his moment to show that he could mix it with Europe’s best.

Instead, he fluffed his lines, especially in a horrid first-half. He simply went missing.

And that’s before we get to his penalty. You’ll rarely see him strike a ball so poorly. And it ended up being the difference between a loss and a draw against Manchester City.

Edin Dzeko

It’s harsh to put a player who’s scored two goals in a Champions League away game, against the champions of England, in the losers column. 

But it could have been even more. The moment was there: point-blank header to wrap up a hat-trick and earn his side a stunning win at Stamford Bridge. And Dzeko missed. 

That Roma were in any position to win that game was down to the Bosnian in the first place, as he scored a wonderful brace to bring them back from 2-0 down and take a 3-2 lead. His first was a stunning volley reminiscent of Robin van Persie. His overall performance was fantastic. 

But greatness comes down often comes down to small moments, and Dzeko came up just short. 

Clement Lenglet

The Frenchman is one of Europe’s most promising young defenders, but he had a nightmare on Tuesday. 

Admittedly, he was left high and dry by Sevilla’s tactics, as they went irresponsibly gung-ho in their search for an equaliser and left little cover for their defence. But he lost his personal duel with Spartak Moscow’s Quincy Promes, and that ended up being key to Spartak’s rout. 

Spartak are a good side, but Sevilla losing 5-1 to them is inexplicable. Lenglet can hopefully use the result as a lesson and come back stronger in the reverse fixture. 

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Lionel Messi still pivotal to Barcelona and other things learned from win over Olympiacos

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Barcelona remain in control at the top of Group D after a comfortable 3-1 home victory over Olympiacos, despite playing most of the match with 10 men following Gerard Pique’s red card just before half time.

Here’s a look at what we learned from Wednesday night’s game at the Nou Camp.

Ernesto Valverde could be right about Gerard Deulofeu

The Barcelona boss said of the winger following the league draw at Atletico Madrid at the weekend that he takes many risks but could prove to be a match-winner for the club this season.

His point was illustrated perfectly on Wednesday night as Deulofeu provided the cross for the opener as Dimitris Nikolaou turned the ball into his own net but then proceeded to regularly miss his targets with high balls into the box – Barcelona are not a tall team. When Valverde looked for a way to replace Pique in defence, it was Deulofeu who was sacrificed so that Javier Mascherano could come on to play in the back line.

Messi hits another milestone

Well, we already knew that. The Argentina star took the game by the scruff of the neck and crushed any hope Olympiacos had of getting back into the match following Pique’s red card with a goal and an assist early in the second half.

His superb free-kick was his 100th goal in European competition, 97 in the Champions League and three in the Super Cup, and at the age of 30 he remains just as pivotal to anything Barcelona might achieve as he ever has.

Messi magic

Messi magic

Own goal is Barca’s 12th man so far this season

Valverde is still blessed with many attacking options despite Neymar’s departure but Messi remains his talisman with 15 goals in all competitions this season. But who is second on the list? Luis Suarez? Ivan Rakitic? Andres Iniesta? No, own goal. Nikolaou’s was the fifth own goal Barcelona have benefited from this campaign. For the record, Suarez is the second highest scorer at the club with three goals.

Olympiacos’ stay in Europe could be a short one

Despite their numerical advantage the visitors struggled to create anything of note until Nikolaou went part way to atoning for his own goal by heading a consolation at the beginning of injury time.
Olympiacos are clearly a team lacking confidence after just one win in five matches domestically and three defeats in the Champions League leaves them bottom of Group D at the midway point with Barcelona and Juventus still to visit Greece. Even a third-place finish and Europa League qualification could prove difficult.

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Man United's Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan show signs of fatigue and other things learned from win at Benfica

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Manchester United struggled to break down a determined Benfica side on Wednesday, but an improved second-half performance saw them earn a narrow win to maintain their perfect record in Group A.

Their goal was rather fortuitous as Marcus Rashford’s free-kick had enough pace for Benfica keeper Mile Svilar to accidentally carry it over the line as he caught it.

It marred a historic debut for Svilar, who became the youngest keeper to start a Champions League game, but it meant another three points for United.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s game…

RASHFORD, MARTIAL GIVING MOURINHO FAITH IN YOUTH 

Before Rashford’s goal, the young Englishman had also sent in a couple of corner kicks that looked like direct attempts on goal. Both of those attempts and the one that got his goal were signs of his immense talent, but you wouldn’t be unduly surprised if a manager were to get frustrated. After all, in all three of those situations, he would have been better served trying to find a teammate.

Regardless of how close you may come on occasion, scoring directly from a corner is highly unlikely, and Rashford’s free-kick – from a distance and an angle where shooting is not the ‘smart’ option – actually went straight into the goalkeeper’s hands.

Except, of course, that he forced the keeper into an unfortunate error, carrying the ball over the line. Whether it was an unwavering self-belief or naivety, Rashford was rewarded for the kind of attempt that was a clear indication of his young years.

He showed that youthful optimism on other occasions too, beating the Benfica full-backs with clever flicks and turns, and Anthony Martial did the same a couple of times after replacing him.

In fact, Martial had a Rashford moment, as well, shooting and forcing a save from a narrow angle when passing would have been the better option. But he saw a tiny opening and went for it. That’s what the best players do. And credit to Mourinho for backing the youngsters’ abilities.

Rashford and Martial are showing that Mourinho can trust youth.

Rashford and Martial are showing that Mourinho can trust youth.

LUKAKU, MKHITARYAN SHOWING SIGNS OF FATIGUE?

Henrikh Mkhitaryan had a bright start to the season, and admittedly two games is a small sample size, but since the latest international break ended, the Armenian has looked a little off-colour.

Romelu Lukaku, meanwhile, was largely starved of service here, especially in the first half, as he was at Anfield on Saturday, but also struggled to fashion chances for himself – although he did put in a couple of excellent crosses in the first half that could have led to goals.

Two games is not enough to declare a slump, but it does beget the question – is the duo suffering from fatigue? A Saturday lunchtime game right after the international break, especially a high-intensity one such as Liverpool away, followed by a Champions League tie, is not the ideal way to ease your way back into things, and Lukaku and Mkhitaryan seem to be feeling the effects more than most.

It’s hard to see what Mourinho can do. Rashford limped off, so the option of playing him through the middle for at least one game to allow Lukaku some rest is likely gone, for now. Juan Mata could slot in for Mkhitaryan in the No. 10 role, but he seems to have grown accustomed to his wide right berth. Shockingly for a club that’s spent so much in recent years, United are short on options.

Mkhitaryan looks like he needs a rest - and so does Lukaku.

Mkhitaryan looks like he needs a rest – and so does Lukaku.

BLIND NEARING MAKE-OR-BREAK MOMENT?

This was one of Daley Blind’s poorer games in a United shirt. He was often caught offside while looking straight across the line, he looked shaky in defence, and his contribution to United’s attacks was minimal.

It’s been masked by United’s strong start to the season, but Blind has been enduring a tough campaign so far. After a season in which he excelled at both centre-back and left-back, the Dutchman seems to have regressed.

His crossing has become less accurate and his link-up play with whoever is playing ahead of him has been less than stellar. It’s no surprise that Ashley Young is the first-choice left-back at the moment, Matteo Darmian is ahead of Blind in the pecking order as well, and Luke Shaw was in the travelling squad for this game as he continues his recovery from injury.

Blind needs to rediscover last season’s form quickly. Otherwise, his Manchester United days may be numbered.

Manchester United need Blind to show last season's form.

Manchester United need Blind to show last season’s form.

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