Champions League roundup: Liverpool held again; Tottenham, Man City in great shape

Spartak’s Fernando, left, challenges for the ball with Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino during the Champions League soccer match between Spartak Moscow and Liverpool in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

There was little wrong with the performance. It was dominant, in many senses of the word. And it really should have yielded three points. But it didn’t.

Liverpool was held to 1-1 draw in Russia by Spartak Moscow despite countless chances and dangerous attacking moves. The Reds wasted 4-v-2s in the first half and squandered opportunities all the way into eight-plus minutes of second-half added time. The hosts, whose fans had raised a tifo that read “WIN OR DIE” before kickoff, did all they could to hang on for a draw.

And somehow, they did.

It is not time to panic for Liverpool. Two-thirds of the group stage, and two fixtures against Slovenian minnows Maribor, remain. But two points from two games is not an ideal start.

Liverpool drops two more points

The Reds were certainly the better team. Roberto Firmino had a free header saved in the first half. The attacking quartet of Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah started together for the first time in a competitive match, and they combined decently.

But Spartak took the lead against the run of play. Coutinho, playing as part of a three-man midfield rather than on the left wing, committed a foul 25 yards from his own goal. Fernando beat Loris Karius over the wall:

But questions will be asked of Karius. The ball was a good five or six feet inside the near post. Many above average keepers would have kept it out.

A couple minutes later, Spartak broke in search of a second. But their attacking forays were few and far between. Liverpool had most of the ball. Its pressure paid off eight minutes after going behind. Coutinho and Mane engineered a delightful combination on the edge of the box, and Coutinho’s finish was convincing:

In the second half, Coutinho had a free kick well saved at the near post. The visitors really dialed their pressure up in the game’s final 10 minutes. Daniel Sturridge sailed a close-range volley over the bar. Salah had a header repelled by reserve keeper Alexander Selikhov. It just wasn’t Liverpool’s day.

But as disappointing as the two draws have been, they should end up being of little consequence. Liverpool still sits in second place in the group, tied with Spartak, and two behind Sevilla after the Spanish outfit beat Maribor 3-0. Liverpool gets Maribor next, then again in early November. Two wins – the expected outcomes – plus a result at home against Spartak will almost surely see the Reds through to the knockout stages.

Tottenham in great shape

Spurs had a rocky opening 35 minutes in Cyprus. APOEL hit the bar 19 minutes in with Hugo Lloris rooted to the spot. Later in the first half, Lloris smacked a clearance right off Davinson Sanchez. The ball ricocheted a few feet wide of the Tottenham goal.

The visitors, though, found their way through a porous APOEL defense in the 39th minute. Harry Kane got his third goal of the Champions League campaign:

In the second half, he got his fourth …

… and his fifth:

Spurs got a favorable result in Germany as well. Madrid beat Dortmund 3-1, and the gap between second and third in Group H is already six points.

Dortmund already in trouble

Real Madrid. Borussia Dortmund. Tottenham. One has to go to the Europa League. And after two rounds, the clear favorite to miss out on the Champions League knockout rounds is Dortmund. The Germans lost 3-1 at home to Real Madrid, two weeks after losing to Spurs by an identical scoreline.

Gareth Bale struck a stunning opener on Tuesday:

Bale then set up Cristiano Ronaldo for a second. Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang got one back for Dortmund, but an equalizer eluded the hosts, and Ronaldo put the game out of reach with 11 minutes remaining. Here’s our Leander Schaerlaeckens on Madrid continuing to roll in Europe even while struggling domestically.

Manchester City in control in Group F

City was far from dominant. Shakhtar Donetsk actually had plenty of attacking-third possession in the first half, and only a last-ditch Fernandinho tackle denied the visitors early on. Brazilian attackers Bernard and Marlos both looked dangerous for the Ukrainian side.

But three minutes after the break, Kevin De Bruyne gave City the lead with a howitzer from 20 yards – one which goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov strangely didn’t even attempt to stop:

Pyatov redeemed himself with a 72nd-minute penalty save from Sergio Aguero, but City saw out the victory. Raheem Sterling sealed it late. And with Shakhtar having beaten Napoli two weeks ago, City has opened up a three-point lead atop the group.

Napoli back on track

Napoli fell to a surprise 2-0 defeat at the hands of Shakhtar on Matchday 1. Matchday 2 restored order. The vibrant Lorenzo Insigne set the Italian side on its way in the 7th minute:

He then dedicated the goal to Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik, who recently suffered his second ACL tear in less than a year:

Though the tribute didn’t quite go to plan at first:

The goal celebration came after Napoli’s players unfurled a banner lending their support to Milik before the match:

Napoli won 3-1.

Other Scores

Sevilla 3-0 NK Maribor
Besiktas 2-0 RB Leipzig
Monaco 0-3 FC Porto