CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCHDAY 5 TAKEAWAYS

2023-12-01 · 3 min read · UEFA Champions League/Soccer
Real Madrid Jude Bellingham, Antonio Rudiger and Nico Paz

Angel Martinez | Credit: Getty Images | Manu Fernandez/AP

Five down, one to go. The Champions League group stage is nearly at its end and there are still plenty of questions left to be answered. The group of death has absolutely lived up to the hype with all four teams still with a fighting chance. Progression is still in the balance for two of the four English Premier League sides, while underdogs such as FC Kobenhagen, Real Sociedad and PSV Eindhoven have shown why they belong. Below are the key talking points after five matchdays.
UEFA 'apology'
UEFA has all but acknowledged that the decision to award Paris Saint-Germain a penalty deep into stoppage time of Tuesday's eventual 1-1 draw with Newcastle United was incorrect. Tomasz Kwiatkowski, the video assistant referee who advised experienced compatriot Szymon Marciniak to review Tino Livramento's 96th-minute handball and overturn his initial on-field decision, was scheduled to act as the VAR for another match on Wednesday but was swiftly removed from duty after the contentious incident in France. That's as close to an "oopsie" as you'll ever get from the haughty organization.
AC Milan's cycle is effectively over
Tuesday's 3-1 defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund leaves Milan with a snowball's chance in hell of reaching the Champions League knockout round. That's a huge blow for a club that only recently turned a profit for the first time in nearly two decades, due in large part to last season's run to the semifinals of the competition.
But the fact is that Milan have been trending downward for the better part of the calendar year. Last season's Champions League run masked significant issues, including a lack of scoring, significant frailties in defense, and a debilitating injury bug that continues to wreak havoc on the squad. Milan wouldn't have even qualified for this season's Champions League if Juventus weren't docked points for false accounting. At various points, they've leaked up to five goals per game and failed to ignite their attack, sometimes going 20 chances before burying one.
Onana errors leave Man Utd on brink
Andre Onana didn't do anything to ease the pressure on himself in Istanbul. The unsettled goalkeeper has been deservedly questioned after several suspect errors this season, but his latest shocker will sting the most if it ends up costing Manchester United a spot in the Champions League knockout rounds. Victory seemed inevitable after Scott McTominay made it 3-1 for United in the second half on Wednesday. But then, disaster struck again for a United outfit fresh off coughing up a two-goal lead in a losing effort in its last Champions League outing. After letting in a soft goal off Hakim Ziyech's free-kick in the first half, Onana outdid himself on another set piece from the Moroccan that should've been comfortably saved. Onana clumsily batted the ball into his own net, paving the way for Galatasaray to score an equalizer shortly after. Now that he's conceded a club-record 14 goals in the group stage, one has to wonder if Erik ten Hag is considering a change heading into Manchester United's most important game of the season to date against Bayern Munich on Dec. 12.
Inter spoil Joao Mario's big day
For 34 minutes, it felt like we were watching the Benfica of last season again. With the major caveat that Inter Milan rested several key starters - including talisman Lautaro Martinez - between league matches against Juventus and Napoli, Benfica, already eliminated from knockout-stage contention after losing all their previous Group D matches, scored three times in just over half an hour at the Estadio da Luz on Wednesday. Former Inter midfielder Joao Mario, of all people, notched all of them. Benfica were moving the ball quickly, and Inter's second-string XI was making defensive blunders all over the place.
Last season's finalists came all the way back for a 3-3 draw and nearly snatched the win when Nicolo Barella struck the post in stoppage time. Unfortunately for fans of the Portuguese side, this was more like what they've seen from their team in this season's Champions League. The stalemate was Benfica's first point of the group stage, but it felt like another defeat.
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By: Aaron Cantin

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