Champions League Week 3: Crunch time in the group stage

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The Champions League has reached the group stage’s proper halfway point. Three game weeks have passed, and three remain. No one has been eliminated and no one has ensured passage to the next round, but some are finding themselves awfully close to either side of that coin. Who won? Who lost? What next?

 

Best match: TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 3, Olympique Lyonnais 3

Those who read week two’s recap will recall my suppositions that Group F was the most interesting group to watch, and Hoffenheim and Lyon did not disappoint.

Lyon opened the scoring on a defensive error from the hosts. Hoffenheim center back Kevin Vogt lost the ball in the box to a pesky Bertrand Traore, who promptly rolled it into the back of the net to make it 1-0.

Hoffenheim would not stay quiet, though, and Andrej Kramarić scored two short half volleys on opposite sides of halftime to take the lead.

Lyon pushed for a win, and the team’s pressure paid off, as Tanguy Ndombélé equalized before Memphis Depay scored a go-ahead goal a handful of minutes later.

The match proved far from over, and substitute Joelinton put the final goal of the game in the back of the net in stoppage time, ensuring that the two clubs would split the game’s points.

Hoffenheim now has two draws and one loss. The club is still very much in the picture for passage onto the round of 16, but it must win games, beginning with a rematch in Lyon next week.

Lyon, meanwhile, has had control of this group wrestled from its hands after Manchester City’s win over Shakhtar Donetsk, but two of Lyon’s next three games are at home and the team must capitalize to both cement a place in the knockout stages and possibly win the group.

 

Best group: Group C — Liverpool (6 points), S.S.C. Napoli (5 points), Paris Saint-Germain (4 points), Red Star Belgrade (1 point)

Napoli’s dramatic 2-2 tie against Paris Saint-Germain almost made match of the week. Liverpool’s 4-0 romp over Red Star Belgrade did not even come close to match of the week.

This is emblematic for what makes this group entertaining. All of the top three teams are good enough to qualify for the next stage, while Red Star Belgrade is, sadly, not. Despite that, it still very much finds itself in the mix, just one win behind PSG. Napoli’s upset of Liverpool last match week, coupled with impressive play from hometown hero Lorenzo Insigne, has thrust the Italian side into prime position to upset the expected finish of this group.

Napoli actually outplayed PSG, which was sluggish and unable to connect passes in the middle of the pitch, and it took a wonder goal from Ángel Di María to give the French champions a draw at home.

Liverpool has another match against Red Star Belgrade, while Napoli will again play PSG. Should Liverpool win, and Napoli and PSG fail to find any real separation, this group will be dramatically less interesting. Watch out for a close finish.

 

Best player: Achraf Hakimi, Borussia Dortmund

Hakimi set up three goals as Borussia Dortmund romped to a 4-0 win over Atlético Madrid at home. The young left back used his speed to its maximum potential, and Atlético Madrid had no answer, as the 19-year-old waltzed through the team’s back line and zipped crosses into the box.

This was supposed to be one of the closer games of the week, but Dortmund left no doubts as to who was the better team and who deserved to lead the group.

Hakimi was a massive part of that, proving himself a dual threat, attacking and dropping back to defend. This Borussia Dortmund team is young and quick, playing fast attacking soccer, and Hakimi’s performance shows just how well he fits with that playing style and how much his presence enhances its effectiveness.

 

Biggest winner: Borussia Dortmund — 4-0 win vs. Atlético Madrid

Both of these teams came into this match nearly tied at the top of Group A with six points apiece, strong goal differentials and talented players. Whoever came out on top would be in the driver’s seat for winning the group and qualifying for the next stage.

Borussia Dortmund won emphatically, putting four past an Atlético Madrid team that many expected to at least get a point out of this game.

This win puts Dortmund three points and nine goals ahead of Los Rojiblancos ahead of the two teams’ rematch in Madrid. This means that Dortmund can afford to tie in a difficult road match, while Atlético will likely have to employ attacking football in search of all three points. This will play right into Dortmund’s brand of counterattacking football.

 

Biggest loser: Tottenham Hotspur — 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven

Tottenham’s situation is looking increasingly distressed. The team was unable to hold onto what should have been a win in its opening match against Inter Milan. Tottenham could be forgiven for dropping points against a very good Barcelona team, but this match against PSV was a must-win.

Tottenham came back from one down to take a lead, coasting through the second half and staying in complete control of the game until goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made an uncharacteristic error, bringing down Hirving Lozano outside the box and getting a red card for his blatant foul.

After going down to 10 men, Spurs collapsed and were lucky to be scored on just once as they settled for a draw instead of all three points.

Tottenham needs to finish games, and more critically win them. This marks the second time that Spurs have blown a lead late. The team should have six points, and instead it has just one and is very much not in control of its future.

Spurs must win practically every game from here on out to go to the next round, and this is very much one that got away.

Jasper Sundeen writes for Bear Bytes, the Daily Californian’s sports blog. Contact him at [email protected].