Champions League winners and losers

Date published: Thursday 8th April 2021 1:32 - Ian Watson

Champions League winners and losers Foden Klopp Mbappe

The individuals culpable in Liverpool’s defeat feature prominently among the Champions League losers. Three young England talents make the winners…



Phil Foden
If he hadn’t already, with the latest reminder of his ridiculous talent, Foden cemented his place among Pep Guardiola’s certain picks.

Early winner: Phil Foden, certain starter in Man City’s best XI


Kevin De Bruyne
It’s been a decent few days for De Bruyne. While the ink was drying on a contract he negotiated himself to make him the deserved recipient of the Premier League’s highest salary, the Belgium star scored City’s opener before getting his side off the hook with a trademark delivery from the inside right, via his weaker foot – or rather, less-brilliant foot – onto Ilkay Gundogan’s instep for the German to tee up Foden for an oh-so-crucial winner.

What have you done this week?


Manchester City
That really was a huge goal for City. The Champions League hasn’t been kind to them and when Marco Reus scored an 84th-minute leveller, they might have been forgiven for feeling sorry for themselves. As sorry as any side who have won 26 of their last 27 games could…

But Foden’s late strike restored the advantage Guardiola admitted that City felt under pressure to claim given the fortunes of the two sides coming into the game.

With City streaking towards the Premier League title and Dortmund struggling in the Bundesliga, the hosts were heavy favourites in this quarter-final tie, a tag which was apparently not lost on the City players. The Germans pushed City and had they retained parity ahead of the second leg, the weight of recent history might again have sat heavily on City’s shoulders, regardless of their domestic form.

It still might. City go to Dortmund having been bundled out at this stage by Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon, while Monaco overturned a first-leg deficit in the last 16 prior to those three exits. But Guardiola feels he knows what needs to remedied by next week, and that slender advantage should settle the nerves sufficiently.


Thomas Tuchel
Chelsea’s first defeat under the new manager intensified the spotlight on the Blues for the biggest match of their season so far. When word slipped out about a training ground row between Kepa and Antonio Rudiger, the glare burned even brighter.

But Tuchel’s players gave the manager just the response he will have craved. Chelsea were hardly dominant against Porto at Sevilla – the hosts doubled Chelsea’s six shots –  but the Blues offered the defensive resilience and spirit to demonstrate that recent days were just a blip.

Tuchel said he was ‘pretty sure’ that his players would react in the correct manner but with any Chelsea squad, especially one he is still sussing out, it was impossible to know. When changes needed to be made – more on those later – Tuchel’s worked, with Olivier Giroud and Christian Pulisic having the desired impact from the bench.

Tuchel brought it all together for Chelsea’s first consecutive wins in Champions League away knockout games since April 2004 – 14 managers ago.


Mason Mount
The one player Tuchel is learning to trust above almost anyone else is Mount. Which is handy since so few of his other attacking players are proving themselves worthy of similar faith.

It was thought Mount was among the Blues with most to lose by Tuchel’s arrival but the England star has proved the doubters who saw him as a little more than Frank Lampard’s pet project spectacularly wrong.

In recent months, Mount has endeared himself not only to Tuchel but also Gareth Southgate, making himself undroppable for club and country while proving himself to be far more than a likeable try-hard.

The timing of his first Champions League goal, after half an hour which saw Porto attempt to establish something resembling home advantage, was as cute as the finish. Agustin Marchesin in the Porto goal should certainly have done better, but the early strike after leaving Zaidu Sanusi for dead gave the Argentine stopper little time to set his feet, meaning those were his only tool to attempt a save.

For almost two seasons now, Mount has struggled for recognition among bigger names and high-profile purchases. But those more illustrious team-mates, and Tuchel, are now reliant on Mount to plot a route to unexpected Champions League glory.


F365 Says: Chelsea need more than Mount to win the Champions League


Edouard Mendy
Many of us remain to be convinced that Mendy is the long-term solution to Chelsea’s previous goalkeeping woes. But you can’t knock the Senegal stopper’s numbers.


Paris Saint-Germain
PSG’s focus is abundantly clear this season. They may be off the pace in Ligue 1 – by only three points after losing at home to Lille at the weekend – but conquering Europe for the first time is, of course, the primary aim.

And Mauricio Pochettino’s men are certainly going the right way to achieve it. For successive rounds, PSG have gone into the back yards of European heavyweights, opponents with far greater pedigree in this competition, and given both a bloody nose and a kick in the balls.

The victory over Bayern Munich in the first repeat of last season’s final was certainly different to the clinic they laid on at the Nou Camp. In Bavaria, PSG were dominated and had the hosts not been so woefully wasteful, it would be a different picture ahead of a tantalising second leg at the Parc des Princes.

But Pochettino’s side demonstrated the kind of character that is so often doubted at PSG. “We must congratulate the players for their sense of sacrifice,” said the coach – and he is right. ‘Sacrifice’ is certainly not a trait associated with the Parisians but this looks like a very different side to those that have previously chased the biggest prize in vain.

Pochettino reflected further. “We managed to do damage using our strengths,” of which Kylian Mbappe is certainly PSG’s greatest. They might not be defensively perfect, evidenced by the sheer volume of shots allowed on Keylor Navas’s goal, but PSG are perfectly set-up to counter, especially with Bayern so flaky at the back.

And now they have the perfect opportunity to complete the job by playing exactly the same way.

Bayern Munich PSG F365


Jude Bellingham
While all eyes were on Haaland, even to the extent that his choice of rucksack was scrutinised for clues over which club he might join next season, Bellingham quietly enhanced his growing reputation as one of England’s brightest talents.

His performances in Dortmund’s midfield have gone largely under the radar in his home country prior to the 17-year-old going toe-to-toe with City’s stars on Tuesday night. That certainly won’t have done Bellingham any harm as he continues his progress away from the scrutiny of the Premier League, but there is no excuse now for Anglophiles to ignore his talent on the premise of him being out of sight, out of mind.

Southgate recognises the teenager’s quality, even if Bellingham’s name has not featured as prominently as it should in the debate elsewhere over England’s squad for the European Championships. A performance which should have been capped with a goal rather than a booking will probably boost his immediate England prospects and certainly enhance his profile.


Toni Kroos
We can only presume that Liverpool forgot everything they – and everyone else – knew about the Real Madrid midfielder. Because, inexplicably, Kroos was allowed to run the show on Tuesday night.

How much of that we can attribute to Kroos’s excellence and Liverpool’s wretchedness is unclear, so poor were the visitors. Especially in the first half, when the Germany star was allowed all the time and space he needs to lift his head and pick out Real’s runners with the kind of laser-guided passes that Kroos built his entire reputation on.

How do you stop him from doing that? Don’t give him time or space. And, ideally, make him at least ponder the prospect of running the other way. But despite Jurgen Klopp’s best efforts – the selection of Naby Keita at least suggests they were aware of Kroos – the 31-year-old led Liverpool a merry dance.


Real Madrid
Zinedine Zidane’s side were without Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane but Real protected their makeshift defence with the kind of industry and focus their visitors so clearly lacked.

The effort apparently told on Real towards the end since they looked utterly spent as the clock ticked down, but by then, the ascendancy had been claimed. A two-goal advantage flips the tie on its head, with Real now the favourites going to an empty Anfield next week, looking to follow in the footsteps of seemingly every other visitor to Liverpool this year.

Zidane’s only concerns: Ramos and Varane look likely to be missing again next week, when Liverpool cannot be as bad as they were for long spells on Tuesday. And in the meantime, they have the super-massive El Classico to contend with at the weekend.




Jurgen Klopp
The Liverpool manager has never been a good loser, which to many on Merseyside is no bad thing. And in recent seasons, it has barely mattered while the Reds have been steamrollering all before them, first in Europe, then at home.

But this season, this year especially, has seen Klopp’s mask slip with staggering regularity and his reaction to Liverpool’s latest defeat was a barely-concealed attempt to shift the focus from his side’s obvious and repeated failings.

Early loser: Jurgen Klopp and the search for good answers

The first 45 minutes in Madrid’s ‘improper stadium’ was as bad has it has ever got under Klopp, according to Jame Carragher. And the manager fudged it too with the selection of Keita.


Naby Keita
Seeing your number go up on 42 minutes is so much worse than the half-time hook because the impression is that for not a single minute longer, let alone three minutes, can your side accommodate the kind of levels Keita was sinking to.

And, to be fair to Klopp, Liverpool really could not afford to carry Keita for as long as they did, even if the Liverpool manager expressed his regret at having to resort to such a drastic measure.

But it was entirely justified. “Keita went into midfield to put pressure on Kroos and Modric and he was nowhere near them,” added Carragher, and Thiago’s presence, coupled with the rocket lit up their arses by Klopp’s half-time fury, certainly helped to spark a second-half improvement. But still it was not good enough.

Keita was hailed as a complete midfielder after he eventually arrived at Anfield, but almost three seasons into his Liverpool career, it doesn’t appear as though he can be trusted with any of the responsibilities which come with playing in Klopp’s midfield.


Georginio Wijnaldum
Keita wasn’t the only Red who stank the place out. Wijnaldum was bad too – standing completely still on the edge of the box during the build-up and execution of Real’s third goal was just weird – but surely not so bad that Barcelona would suddenly swerve the Holland midfielder after a year of wooing the prospective free agent, as Marca have suggested.


Trent Alexander-Arnold
Probably the worst of Klopp’s under-performers at the worst possible time if the right-back hoped to get himself off Southgate’s England sh*tlist.


F365 Says: Alexander-Arnold and Klopp the worst of rotten Reds


Timo Werner
The Chelsea striker is struggling not only to get through his current slump in form, he can’t even plot the route out of it.

Tuchel revealed prior to Chelsea’s Porto trip that he sent Werner away from the training ground when the Germany star stayed behind to work on his finishing. Which last week looked like this…

“You’ve been doing that since you were six,” was Tuchel’s response to the sight of Werner putting in the extra yards. “So don’t worry, it will come. If a woman doesn’t want to go out with you, you cannot force her. Step back and maybe she will call you.”

Using Tuchel’s analogy, Werner has been blocked. And it’s not just his finishing which lacks with necessary finesse. His approach work remains awkward and clumsy too.

While Mount’s runs are being missed, Werner’s are mis-timed. On the rare occasion Jorginho looks for a more direct route, by the time the Italian gets his head up, so often Werner has gone too soon.

Kai Havertz struggled similarly and both were hooked with 25 minutes remaining. The pair would hardly be the first imports to struggle in their maiden seasons in England, and those who took a year to settle previously did not spend half of it in lockdown. Havertz can use his age as an excuse but Werner was certainly expected to hit the ground running. Just not down dead ends.


Sergio Conceicao
At least the media bothered to pose the Porto coach some questions after this Champions League tie, in contrast to the silence he met when he opened the virtual floor in the wake of the stunning win over Juventus. And it was hard to argue with Conceicao answers.

“We were better than Chelsea. Our team played a very good match, was consistent in defence and dangerous in attack. We managed to create some chances… but it is the goals that count. Chelsea scored – we did not. There are no moral victories, it is the result that counts.”

Fair dos. Porto have been patronised plenty enough, pegged as the plucky underdogs lucky to be here. Which may ring true to an extent. But Conceicao recognises that his side had an opportunity to go even further, or at least make Chelsea squirm ahead of the return leg, but it was one they failed to take.


Bayern Munich
“The opponent scored three goals from few chances and we had many chances,” said Hansi Flick. Indeed.

Bayern had 31 attempts on Navas’s goal and while the PSG keeper was in fine form in the Bavarian snow, the hosts were exceptionally wasteful, especially in comparison to the visitors, who scored with half of their attempts.

Against his former side, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had perhaps his best night in a Bayern jersey but never can the former Stoke striker fully cover for Robert Lewandowski’s absence. But between them, the Bayern players must make a better fist of it with Lewandowski absent again for the return leg in Paris.

They will also have to tighten up. Bayern have been susceptible at the back all season and change is coming. But not before next week, and deficit-chasing certainly doesn’t offer Flick many options for firming up his rearguard to stop the devastating PSG counter.

The holders are in a mess largely of their own making.


The Romanian ref squad
It hasn’t been a great season for the Champions League’s Romanian officials. After the racism storm which surrounded PSG’s group stage clash with Istanbul Basaksehir, they blotted their copybook again with a couple of questionable decisions.

The first denied Bellingham a perfectly good goal; the second prompted linesman Octavian Sovre to chase Haaland up the tunnel for his autograph.

His motives may have been sound – apparently, the official collects signatures to auction off for a charity which supports young adults with severe autism – but it’s just not a good look. Though Dortmund will insist that Sovre’s autograph hunt was not the worst decision on the night.

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