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UEFA Champions League

Champions League talking points: Chelsea’s comeback, Erling Braut Haaland and why Liverpool struggled

Both Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea fought back at home yesterday evening on an incredible night of Champions League action.

Dortmund made a terrible start against Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan, conceding two first-half goals. But a double from defender Achraf Hakimi and a fine finish from Julian Brandt saw them snatch all three points, which massively boosts their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Chelsea also found themselves in a seemingly impossible position as they trailed Ajax 4-1. But following an extraordinary double sending off, the Blues battled back, scoring three late goals to salvage a point.

There were also wins for Liverpool, Leipzig and Valencia, while Barcelona were held at home by a valiant Slavia Prague.

Here are the key stories that you need to know about after a remarkable night.

Lampard stunned by Chelsea’s ‘mad one’…

Chelsea coach Frank Lampard said his side’s heart-thumping 4-4 draw against Ajax in a Champions League Group H match on Tuesday ranked alongside some of the greatest matches he contested as a player for the London side.

“Today was just a mad one. I don’t think there’s too many you can compare it to in my day,” Lampard, who is Chelsea’s all-time top goal-scorer and won the Champions League with the Blues in 2012, told reporters after the match.

“I’ve had some mad nights over the years, and some great nights. For everything that it was tonight, and for the spectacle that it was, it’s certainly right up there.”

Chelsea came from 4-1 down to their Dutch visitors after 55 minutes to rescue a draw, helped by two red cards that reduced Ajax to nine men for the last 20 minutes.

Kepa - 4

The Blues then thought they had gone 5-4 ahead, only for captain Cesar Azpilicueta’s strike to be ruled out by the Video-Assisted Referee for handball.

“Take VAR out of it and the red cards etcetera, what I have to think about is us and the spirit that we showed, and the character is something that I loved and our fans loved,” Lampard said.

“We need to tighten up for sure, but with that spirit we can go places.”

… but Blues should beware Valencia

Valencia breathed life into their hopes of qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League with a stunning second-half turnaround to beat Lille 4-1 at home on Tuesday.

Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen gave the French side a deserved lead in the 25th minute, but Valencia drew level in the 65th minute with an ice-cool ‘Panenka’ penalty from captain Dani Parejo.

The home side went ahead in the 82nd with an own goal from Lille defender Adama Soumaoro, who diverted Jose Gaya’s low cross into the net.

French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia stretched Valencia’s lead two minutes later with an outstanding long distance strike, and substitute Ferran Torres rounded off the win with a coolly-taken finish in the 90th.

Kondogbia scored a sublime long-range goal (Getty)

The victory puts the Spaniards third in Group H on seven points, level on points with leaders Ajax Amsterdam and second-placed Chelsea who played out a thrilling 4-4 draw. Lille are bottom with one.

“This was a crucial game for our chances to qualify and we needed to win it, we worked hard and played with purpose,” said goalscorer Kondogbia.

“We reacted well after conceding and in the end we were much better than them which is why we scored four goals.”

Valencia have had inconsistent results after sacking coach Marcelino in September and badly needed a win after conceding a stoppage-time equaliser to draw 1-1 away to Lille two weeks ago.

They produced a sluggish display in the first half, though, and fell behind when Osimhen fired past Jasper Cillessen after an attempted clearance from the home side took a ricochet and bounced into his path.

Rodrigo could have levelled on the stroke of halftime but was thwarted by a fine save from Mike Maignan and they were fortunate not to concede again when the lively Osimhen teed up Turkish forward Yusuf Yazici but he shot straight at Cillessen.

Lille would pay dearly for their wastefulness as defender Jose Fonte was penalised for handling the ball when he tried to block a cross and Parejo showed nerves of steel by calmly chipping the ball down the middle of the net.

The goal roused the Mestalla faithful and the players fed off their energy, producing a relentless finish to kill off their opponents.  

Haaland’s hot streak continues

Napoli gave another erratic performance as they hit the woodwork twice, wasted a hatful of chances and looked shaky at the back in a 1-1 Champions League draw at home to Salzburg on Tuesday.

Salzburg’s teenage forward Erling Braut Haaland continued his prolific season by putting the Austrian champions ahead from a penalty, his seventh goal in four games in Group E and his 23rd of the season in all competitions.

Rising star Haaland scored again (Getty)

Hirving Lozano equalised with a superb strike one minute before halftime but, despite carving out more openings in the second half, Carlo Ancelotti’s side missed their chance to book a knockout-stage place with two games to spare.

Napoli, who had 30 shots on goal but only three on target, dropped to second in the group with eight points, one below Liverpool, while Salzburg are third with four despite being the group’s topscorers with 12 goals.

Both sides missed early chances before Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly gave away a penalty with a clumsy tackle on Hwang Hee-chan and 19-year-old Norwegian Haaland continued his remarkable scoring run from the spot in the 11th minute.

Napoli, winless in four games, continue to misfire in attack.

Jose Callejon saw a header bounce off the far post and Lorenzo Insigne twice swept the ball over from similar positions near the edge of the penalty area as he failed to keep his composure.

Napoli finally levelled with their 16th attempt on goal. Insigne slipped the ball inside to Lozano who was surrounded by Salzburg defenders but the Mexican still managed to score with a snooker-like shot from the edge of the area which found a tiny gap between Carlos Coronel and his near post.

The pressure continued in the second half as Lozano flashed a shot over the bar and there was a lucky escape for Coronel when Insigne caught him napping with a 30-metre lob which struck the crossbar, hit the goalkeeper’s head and went out for a corner.

Insigne sent another effort wide after a clearance was sent straight to his feet and Fernando Llorente headed wide from a corner, leaving Ancelotti with plenty to ponder.

Liverpool struggle to impress

Unsurprisingly, Klopp’s line-up was greatly influenced by the visit of Manchester City on Sunday. Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané were named among the substitutes and so too was Andy Robertson, scorer of the equaliser at Villa Park and a player for whom there is no natural replacement.

To show caution made sense given the calibre of opposition and the sheer importance of Sunday so it was slightly surprising to see both Mané, Robertson and Firmino all introduced in the closing stages, with Naby Keita, match-winner Oxlade-Chamberlain and Divock Origi replaced. Luckily for Klopp, they all escaped unscathed.

Liverpool half-time player ratings

Perhaps nobody epitomised this lethargy better than Mohamed Salah.

Against a side currently sitting eighth in Belgium’s top flight, this felt like a chance for Salah to fill his boots. By his high standards, he is enduring a relatively barren spell. Domestically, his last non-penalty goal came in September. Salah’s form has been better in Europe, but his finishing on this occasion was wayward.

No player on the pitch had more shots than Salah’s six and there were several bursts through Genk’s backline that ultimately came to nothing. He appeared a little hesitant at time, lacking his usual dead-eyed menace. There is nothing major to be concerned about but the sooner he starts scoring regular from open play again, the better.

The comeback that shouldn’t be overlooked

Chelsea weren’t the only side to battle back against the odds last night.

Borussia Dortmund defender Achraf Hakimi produced a blistering individual performance as he scored a brace to help his side overhaul a two-goal deficit to win 3-2 at home over Inter Milan in their Champions League Group F clash on Tuesday

Lautaro Martinez and Matias Vecino fired Inter into a 2-0 first-half lead before Dortmund came storming back with Hakimi scoring either side of a Julian Brandt effort.

The result left Dortmund second in the group on seven points from four games, one behind leaders Barcelona and three ahead of third-placed Inter. BBottom team Slavia Prague, who earned a 0-0 draw at Barca in the early kick off, have two points.

Inter were in complete control in the first half. But Dortmund’s relentless pressure paid off after the break, with Hakimi pulling one back and then struck the winner after Brandt equalised with a fine finish from a tight angle. 

Results

  • Liverpool 2-1 Genk
  • Napoli 1-1 Red Bull Salzburg
  • Barcelona 0-0 Slavia Prague
  • Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Inter Milan
  • Zenit St Petersburg 0-2 RB Leipzig
  • Lyon 3-1 Benfica
  • Chelsea 4-4 Ajax
  • Valencia 4-1 Lille
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