WINNERS AND LOSERS OF THIS WEEK’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCHUPS

2023-02-23 · 4 min read · Champions League/Soccer
Joško Gvardiol, Romelu Lukaku and Vinicius Junior

AP/Andreas Gora | Sporting News

All four of the English squads failed to win their first match of the round-of-16 which has to be the biggest surprise so far. Although Liverpool failing to beat Real Madrid is far from breaking news, the way it happened was shocking. The Reds were rolling Tuesday night up 2-0 inside 10 minutes at home. There were no more positives for Liverpool after that, allowing five unanswered goals to Madrid with at least two of them being their own fault.
Elsewhere, Chelsea fell in Germany to Dortmund 1-0, Tottenham is coming back home down 1-0 to AC Milan and Manchester City is also coming home tied 1-1 against RB Leipzig. With half of the round-of-16 in the books, here are the biggest winners and losers at the turn.
Winner: Joško Gvardiol
Joško Gvardiol brought RB Leipzig back on level terms with Manchester City with a tremendous effort in the 70th minute. The young Croatian catapulted himself high above Rúben Dias and headed home past Ederson, who was off his line slightly. The Leipzig goal came at a crucial time of the match in which the home side mounted pressure in the final third but could not convert on some key opportunities.
Gvardiol still has a long way to go before he can be called a consistent big-game scorer, but his tallies against City and Madrid prove he is not afraid of the biggest stages, and that could be a trait that helps Leipzig manage the second leg at the Etihad Stadium.
Loser: Erling Haaland
Erling Haaland failed to live up to the lofty expectations he has set for himself this season. The 22-year-old did not have a shot on target for the fourth time in five games. The Manchester City forward went without a shot in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest in the Premier League, and he also failed to hit the target against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa in league play as well this month.
Haaland is still one of the most dangerous strikers in world soccer, but he has just five tallies since the turn of the year. The lack of shots on target—and subsequent goals—from the towering Norwegian may become a concern if it keeps up over the next few weeks. If he continues to struggle ahead of the second leg on March 14, though, City could be in trouble of failing yet again in the Champions League.
Winner: Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku has the potential to be Inter Milan's difference-maker on a potential deep run in the Champions League. The Belgium international scored off his own rebound in the 86th minute to give the Italian side the slightest of advantages over FC Porto.
Lukaku should gain confidence from his goals in the last week, though, and that may lead to a scoring tear over the next few weeks. Inter must focus on getting the 29-year-old back into starting form for the second leg on March 14. The Champions League might be the only competition it can win this season since it is 15 points back of Napoli in Serie A and faces a tough Coppa Italia semi-final against Juventus.
Winner: Vinicius Junior
Vinícius Júnior brought Real Madrid back from a brutal start at Anfield. The Brazilian playmaker opened his 2023 knockout-round account with a spectacular finish in tight space from the left side of the penalty area that curled into the bottom-right corner. Alisson, the Liverpool goalkeeper, helped Vinicius get on the scoresheet again in the 36th minute. The Brazilian played an attempted clearance right off Vini's foot, and the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Vini also picked up an assist on the final goal of the night, which was the second netted by Benzema. The two goals and one assist marked the most successful match of the season for Vinícius Júnior. He had one two-assist performance and three with one goal and one assist across all competitions before Tuesday.
Loser: Liverpool's Defense
Alisson's mistake on Vinícius' second goal was the beginning of Liverpool's demise. The concession of the first strike was excusable because Vinícius used a brilliant bit of skill to carve the ball through the defence. Alisson's error that sent the ball right to his fellow Brazilian's feet changed the dynamic of the contest.
Real Madrid leveled the match before halftime after Liverpool ran all over it in the first 15 minutes thanks to goals from Núñez and Salah. Liverpool's defence let it down again on Militão's goal. The Real defender got free on a preplanned play between him and Modrić and thundered a header home past Alisson. By that point, Liverpool's morale appeared broken. It got even worse when Benzema's shot deflected off Gomez for the fourth Madrid goal.
Winner: Napoli's Dynamic Duo
It came as no surprise that Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia were key players in Napoli's two goals. Osimhen broke the deadlock with Eintracht Frankfurt in the 40th minute on a perfectly crafted counterattack. The goal was the 19th of the season for the Nigerian forward, who has been one of the breakout stars across Europe's top five leagues.
Kvaratskhelia has become the best signing in Europe with his 17 goals and 15 assists across all competitions. The Georgian did not let a first-half penalty miss deter him, as he was a menace to the Eintracht defence for most of the contest. The 22-year-old finally got on the scoresheet in the 65th minute. He produced a brilliant backheel pass to Di Lorenzo, who finished off the victory with a low-rolling effort past a diving Kevin Trapp.
Napoli's dynamic duo put the Serie A leader in a fantastic position to close out the round-of-16 tie at home, where it has not lost all season.
Sports Tree Profile

By: Aaron Cantin

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