Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Real Madrid will resume their bid for a first European Cup treble in 42 years against Neymar‘s Paris Saint-Germain after the big-spending duo were on Monday drawn together in a mouth-watering Champions League last 16 clash.
No club has won the European title three years running since Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s, underlining how big an achievement it would be if Madrid – 12 times winners overall – won the trophy again in the final in Kiev in May.
Barca’s Spanish rivals Real know exactly what it takes to be European champions, and in Ronaldo have the most prolific goal-scorer in the competition’s history.
Emilio Butragueno, a Real director and former striker, regretted that one of the favourites would be eliminated so soon in the competition.
“For the potential of the two teams, luck has worked out this way and one of the two teams will be out at the last 16 stage, which we think is a bit soon taking into account they are two of the contenders for the title,” Butragueno told BeIN Sports Spain.
PSG made waves in the transfer market in the close season when they signed Brazilian star Neymar for a world-record 222 million euros ($261.5 million), followed closely by great French hope Kylian Mbappe, who will cost 180m euros when his loan deal becomes permanent next summer.
“Every summer they have signed great players, they get stronger all the time and they have had a nearly impeccable group stage,” acknowledged Butragueno.
“With Neymar and Mbappe they have improved a lot up front, they are a very dangerous team who will demand the best of us. We need to face both games like finals and for the fans it will be a thrilling tie.”
PSG ambassador Maxwell said the Real tie threw up the chance for the Parisian club to atone for their 6-1 hammering by Barcelona that eliminated them in the last 16 last season.
“It’s a good draw, with two good games to play,” Maxwell said. “Our fans will like it after we were knocked out by Barcelona last season.
“It will be nice. It’s a beautiful challenge for the club. I think we’re ready for that.”
Barcelona will be wary of Chelsea, the English club enjoying four wins to three in their 12 previous Champions League meetings, their most recent coming in the semi-finals in 2012 as the London side marched to the title.
“It is a good tie, the factor of playing the first leg away can always help you a little,” said Barca director Guillermo Amor.
“We are very optimistic, we are confident and want to keep going in this competition.
“We will see who arrives better for the dates of the game. We hope we will be strong because we are facing a strong team, an English team that runs and is very physical but also has very good players.”
English Premier League leaders Manchester City play Basel, who have had some fine results against English sides in recent years, while five-time winners and current Bundesliga table toppers Bayern Munich drew Turkish giants Besiktas.
Bayern’s director of sport Hasan Salihamidzic said the Germans would not be underestimating Besiktas, who should enjoy some raucous support from the city’s Turkish community.
“We know how strong they are after we followed their games against Leipzig. It will be a difficult task, but we are looking forward to the unusual atmosphere in their stadium,” he said.
“One always says that it is a disadvantage to play at home in the first-leg, which is right — it certainly won’t be an advantage – but we are strong enough to accept that and we will give our all.”
England’s three-time champions Manchester United face Sevilla, Liverpool, five-time winners, will be up against two-time former champions Porto, and Tottenham take on last year’s beaten finalists Juventus.
Juve vice-president Pavel Nedved dubbed Spurs a “very solid team”.
“Juventus have been there (finals) twice in the last three years, it’s something that definitely does not happen to everyone, for now we think of Tottenham and nothing else.”
Unfancied Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk will play Roma to round out the eight ties, with first legs set for February
Basel (SUI) v Man City (ENG)
Bayern Munich (GER) v Besiktas (TUR)
Chelsea (ENG) v Barcelona (ESP)
Juventus (ITA) v Tottenham (ENG)
Porto (POR) v Liverpool (ENG)
Real Madrid (ESP) v PSG (FRA)
Sevilla (ESP) v Man Utd (ENG)
Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) v Roma (ITA)
First legs to be played on February 13/14 and 20/21. Second legs – March 6/7 & 13/14
Instead, thanks to an inspired performance from Philippe Coutinho, the home side ran riot in a 7-0 win over Spartak Moscow that ensured they topped their group.
Here are two good and two bad performances from the game.
Captain on the night until James Milner came on, and boy did Coutinho rise to the occasion. He scored his first hat-trick for Liverpool and became only the third player to score a Champions League hat-trick for the club, after Michael Owen and Yossi Benayoun. The Brazilian also brought up 50 goals for his Liverpool career. Not a bad night, then.
Coutinho seemed to relish the responsibility of the armband. He could be seen rallying his team-mates, handing out instructions when necessary, and tracking back with vigour. Most importantly, his intensity never dropped, even as Liverpool kept on scoring. This sort of performance in a must-win game is a captaincy hallmark, and if he stays at Liverpool beyond this season, Coutinho could be the next Steven Gerrard.
In an odd way, it’s a shame that James Milner is such a selfless player. He is an excellent midfielder and deserves to be starting there for Liverpool, and, to be fair, he often does. He’s also a more than capable left-back, and that’s where he’s gotten most of his playing time for the Reds, and before that, for Manchester City. It’s not his preferred position – and he moved to Liverpool in order to get more time in midfield – but he plays there without complaints, and delivers more often than not from that position.
Most times, when Milner is picked at left-back, it’s to offer Liverpool greater defensive solidity. But on Wednesday, the Englishman showed he’s lost none of his attacking nous, setting up Sadio Mane’s stunning goal, Liverpool’s fourth, with a trademark run and cross. He bagged another assist soon after, cutting back onto his right foot and laying the ball off to Coutinho, who duly completed his hat-trick.
Where Coutinho rose to the occasion of being captain, his opposite number had a horrid time on the pitch. No, Denis Glushakov was not solely responsible for Spartak’s capitulation on the night. But his team was crying out for leadership, and their captain couldn’t respond.
Glushakov was bypassed too easily in midfield, but more than that, he seemed to visibly lose spirit even before Liverpool were out of sight. When Spartak fell a goal behind, then two, then three, at no point did it seem like Glushakov could calm his team down, or rally his charge. It was an unexpectedly poor outing from an experienced hand.
Georgi Dzhikiya’s game started in the worst possible way, as he gave away an early penalty that put paid to any chance Spartak had of staying compact and holding fort against the Liverpool attack before finding a killer goal – which must surely have been the plan. Instead, Dzhikiya’s foul on Mohamed Salah in the box, a clumsy tackle as he ran straight into the Egyptian, let Liverpool take an early lead, settle down, and play Spartak out of the game.
From that moment onwards, Dzhikiya’s game only got worse, as it was often down his side that Liverpool found their best attacking play. Spartak’s defence was a shambles throughout, but the 24-year-old stood out for the number of times he was caught out by a marauding Liverpool.
Liverpool strolled into the knockout rounds of the Champions League for the first time since 2009 as a rapturous Anfield crowd were sent into seventh heaven with a mesmerising display of attacking football.
Jurgen Klopp’s hosts were excellent right from the start, with Philippe Coutinho converting a fourth-minute penalty after Mohamed Salah was hauled down inside the box. Two more in the space of three minutes – Coutinho’s second was an excellent team move, and Roberto Firmino – effectively ended the contest, but already qualified Liverpool were not done there.
Four more goals followed in the second-half as Klopp’s men went for the kill. Sadio Mane got in on the act just after the break and then added a second – in between Coutinho sealing his hat-trick. And Salah had the final say as he rifled in number seven to send out a message that the Reds are back at Europe’s top table, and back with a bang.
Here, we analyse the performance of Liverpool’s Mane man.
Goals – 2
Shots – 5
Shots on target – 2
Touches – 65
Key passes – 2
Dribbles – 2
Dispossessed – 1
Aerials won – 0
This was Mane’s eighth game back following a month out with injury, and he had only found the net prior to the match in one of the previous seven – gradually finding his way back to both form and fitness.
And while Coutinho, Salah and Firmino swarmed all over Spartak Moscow from the off, it looked as if the Senegal man would struggle to make an impact.
That all changed in the 15th minute when he orchestrated the second goal, surging from his own half to feed Salah, who then found Firmino who teed up Coutinho for a sublime team goal.
Spartak could barely get into the game, which became even harder with the second goal the cue for Mane to take charge. He hugged the right touchline and constantly drifted in from it, causing headache for the visitors’ defenders. He clipped in to Firmino for him to kill the game.
Spartak might have hoped the hosts would then sit back and conserve their energy, but Mane seemed determined to make up for his slow start. The second-half wasn’t even two minutes old before he thumped in a fourth from James Milner’s cross, picking up a good position at the back post.
He netted again late on to make it six, showing his boundless energy is a weapon in defence too as he dispossessed a defender before freeing Sturridge down the right. He then had the legs to get into the box and on the end of Sturridge’s delivery to prod in.
With a busy Christmas period on the horizon for Liverpool and the latter rounds of the Champions League to come in the New Year, Mane looks like he is approaching something akin to his best form at exactly the right time for his club.
15th min – quiet up until this point and his part is understated, but the wideman sparks Liverpool’s second goal, which essentially kills the game off with 75 minutes still remaining. He drives from halfway and spots the fine run of Salah. The Egyptian then feeds a ball through to Firmino who rolls it across goal to Coutinho who calmly sidefoots home. Beautiful goal.
19th min (ASSIST) – Wow. What a start from the rampant Reds. Mane is quickly into his stride, the Senegalese surges forward and clips a cross into the box. It strikes Spartak defender Tasci on the arm but Firmino isn’t appealing for a second penalty, stabbing home with the outside of his right boot.
47th min (GOAL) – Well, it took a while for the Silky Senegalese to get into the game, but he has grown into it and delivers a sumptuous volley to signify Liverpool’s utter dominance. Half-time substitute James Milner gets free down the left and arcs a ball into the box, Mane positions himself and thunders an emphatic side-footed effort past Aleksandr Selikhov.
76th min (GOAL) – Misery mounts for Moscow as Mane nets his second of the night. He initiates the move by winning possession in midfield and going on the attack. He spreads the ball wide to Daniel Sturridge before hooking in the England man’s centre.
VERDICT – 9/10
The Senegal flyer has a flash of bright blond colouring in his no doubt expensive hair do, and despite Philippe Coutinho scoring a hat-trick, the former Saints star was not about to be outshone by the Brazilian.
The Reds roared into the game from the off, and although it took Mane 15 minutes to find his feet, his contribution was telling. Starting the move for the second, he provided the assist for their third before getting in on the act in the second-half with a brace in an all-round sparkling display.