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Champions League

Player ratings as Valverde & Asensio strike late

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A late double from Federico Valverde and Marco Asensio earned Real Madrid an unconvincing 2-0 win over RB Leipzig in the Champions League.

The defending champions were without the injured Karim Benzema up front, and Los Blancos clearly missed their talisman as they struggled to generate any momentum against a Leipzig side who were lively on the counter attack.

Indeed, the Bundesliga upstarts enjoyed the best openings of a rather timid 45 minutes, as Christopher Nkunku and Emil Forsberg both went close. Timo Werner was also a threat on the break, using his pace to unsettle former Chelsea teammate Antonio Rudiger, but like his Stamford Bridge days, he didn’t look too convincing in front of goal.

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Real’s main threat came via Vinicius Junior, who was full of trickery and silky touches on the left wing, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side lacked the usual verve and zip they can often generate playing in front of a packed Santiago Bernabeu.

But with the game heading towards a share of the spoils, Real finally clicked into gear and took the lead with just over ten minutes to go.

Vinicius jinked inside neatly before picking out Valverde with a crisp, low pass across the penalty area, and the Uruguayan composed himself before firing an unstoppable effort past the despairing dive of Peter Gulacsi.

The points were then sealed in injury time as Toni Kroos’ fizzed low corner was wonderfully turned home by Asensio – the Spaniard gliding a first-time effort in off the far post with his instep.

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Vinicius Junior was impressive once more for Real Madrid

Vinicius Junior was impressive once more for Real Madrid / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

GK: Thibaut Courtois – 7/10 – Solid and dependable as ever, making three saves on the night.

RB: Dani Carvajal – 6/10 – Played a few hospital passes but always found a teammate safely. Grossly underrated because of past injury problems.

CB: Antonio Rudiger – 6/10 – Saw plenty of the ball and looked to advance play when possible. Made a couple of good interceptions and recovered possession on numerous occasions.

CB: Nacho Fernandez – 6/10 – An obvious understudy to Eder Militao but did a reasonable job against a threatening Leipzig front line.

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LB: David Alaba – 6/10 – Shunted back out to the left flank after a period of playing in central defence. Created a few chances but arguably now looks more comfortable in the middle.

DM: Aurelien Tchouameni – 7/10 – Casemiro’s successor has all the tools to become one of Europe’s very best. Understands the game so well for a player so young.

CM: Luka Modric – 6/10 – Incredible to think that the Croatian, who glides across the field so effortlessly, is now 37. Has put in more efficient displays but did well on the whole.

CM: Eduardo Camavinga – 6/10 – Neat and tidy in possession but lacked the impetus to get Real Madrid going.

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RF: Federico Valverde – 8/10 – Stepped up when Real Madrid needed him, firing a terrific low drive into the corner.

CF: Rodrygo – 5/10 – Filling Karim Benzema’s boots is borderline impossible but it’s clear that Rodrygo’s future is not down the middle.

LF: Vinicius Junior – 8/10 – An inventive live-wire on the left flank, Vinicius caused problems whenever Real were able to get him into advanced positions. Great play to set up Valverde’s opener.

SUB: Marco Asensio (64′ for Camavinga) – 7/10 – A wonderful, wonderful finish sealed the deal for Real in injury time.

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SUB: Toni Kroos (81′ for Modric) – 6/10 – The German’s low corner was turned home by Asensio for a more glossy scoreline.

SUB: Ferland Mendy (81′ for Alaba) – N/A

SUB: Mariano (85′ for Vinicius) – N/A

SUB: Dani Ceballos (85′ for Rodrygo) – N/A

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Manager: Carlo Ancelotti – 6/10 – Will have been disappointed by his side’s lack of intensity – something that didn’t look like changing until Valverde’s moment of quality. Could have changed things up earlier but ultimately was proved right by decision to keep faith with those on the field.

Subs not used: Lopez (GK), Lunin (GK), Vallejo, Odriozola, Hazard

GK: Peter Gulacsi (6); RB: Mohamed Simakan (6), CB: Willi Orban (6), CB: Abdou Diallo (5), LB: David Raum (6); DM: Amadou Haidara (7), DM: Xaver Schlager (6), RM: Dominik Szoboszlai (6); AM: Emil Forsberg (7), LM: Christopher Nkunku (7), CF: Timo Werner (6)

Subs: Benjamin Henrichs (N/A), Kevin Kampl (N/A), Yussef Poulsen (N/A), Andre Silva (N/A)

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Subs not used: Blaswich (GK), Halstenberg, Gvardiol, Novoa

Player of the Match: Vinicius Junior



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Champions League

Lionel Messi breaks two Champions League records against Maccabi Haifa

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Lionel Messi’s goal against Maccabi Haifa saw him set two new Champions League records.

It wasn’t an easy night in Israel for Messi and PSG by any means, with the home side taking a shock lead 24 minutes in courtesy of Tjaronn Chery.

However, they couldn’t stay in front for long with Messi getting his team an equaliser just 13 minutes later.

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He spread the ball out wide to Kylian Mbappe who got to the byline and played it back, giving the Argentinian an easy finish from well inside the box. The goal proved to be the start of PSG’s comeback, with the French side going on to win 3-1, and that wasn’t the only reason it was significant.

With his goal, Messi scored against his 39th different club in the Champions League, setting a new record in the process.

Before that, he and long-term Cristiano Ronaldo were level on 38, and with Ronaldo not playing in the Champions League this season, the record is now set to be Messi’s for quite some time.

That wasn’t the only record the 35-year-old secured on Wednesday as Messi has now scored in 18 consecutive Champions League campaigns – every year since 2005/06 – accomplishing a feat never seen before.

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Perhaps the biggest record – most Champions League goals – still eludes him, with Ronaldo scoring 14 more, and it seems unlikely he’ll be able to make up such a margin before he retires, but it would take a brave man to put it past him.



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Champions League

Borussia Dortmund couldn’t stop me

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Erling Haaland has praised Borussia Dortmund for how they defended against Manchester City, but was keen to point out that they still couldn’t find a way to stop him.

Man City struggled to break the Bundesliga side down in what was an eventual 2-1 Champions League win on Wednesday, not having a single shot on target until John Stones’ 80th minute effort.

That shot on target was also their first goal, and their second one was the winner, with Haaland volleying his team to victory.

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The Norwegian praised the way his former team played and defended but issued a reminder that it wasn’t enough to stop him.

When told by an interview on BT Sport that BVB ‘clearly know how to stop you’, Haaland replied: “They didn’t stop me, I scored!

“But yeah, they played well and they were good, and I was quite sure I was going to be followed all game because they know me very well.

“Dortmund were really good today, and in the end, the three points is what matters.”

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Haaland’s goal was one of the best he’s scored, with the striker lifting his leg extremely high to turn in a stunning cross from Joao Cancelo.

The team’s first one wasn’t bad either, with Stones firing in from outside the box, but Haaland joked that his was the better of the two.

“Yeah, two wonderful goals today. I think mine was a bit better, honestly,” he added.

The 22-year-old now has just one goal less than Luis Suarez in the Champions League and only four fewer than Wayne Rooney.

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Champions League

Pep Guardiola lauds ‘exceptional’ Jude Bellingham after stellar Champions League outing

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Pep Guardiola was full of praise for the “exceptional” Jude Bellingham after he impressed in Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in the Champions League.

The 19-year-old had put Dortmund on course for a surprise win at the Etihad Stadium when he headed home Marco Reus’ centre just before the hour mark, but the Bundesliga giants were unable to hold on as late goals from John Stones and Erling Haaland turned the tide in City’s favour.

Nevertheless, Dortmund were impressive in their defensive shape throughout the 90 minutes, as well as causing problems on the counter, and Bellingham was one of the more impressive performers on the night.

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Mixing finesse on the ball with wonderful vision and instinctive reading of the game, Bellingham out-duelled the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan for large periods, and showed why he’s one of the most highly-rated teenagers in world football.

Liverpool are long-term admirers of Bellingham, but judging by Guardiola’s comments after the game, there’s every chance City may look to sign the England international when the time comes for him to leave Dortmund.

“I was impressed two seasons ago when he was 17. Now he’s 19… he was good at 17, imagine now at 19,” Guardiola said of Bellingham. “He’s able to follow [Ilkay] Gundogan, Kevin [De Bruyne], win the duels, transitions are fast, to have the sense in the box for the goal he scored.

“So yes, an exceptional player. I think everybody knows it, not because the manager of Manchester City says it, everybody knows it.”

Bellingham’s manager at Dortmund, Edin Terzic, was equally full of praise for his display on the night, telling the assembled media: “Jude, like all the other players, gave a great performance in offensive and defensive terms. 

“He blocked so any passes and crosses and also got forward… once again, he was very good against Manchester City.”

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