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Barca Still Vulnerable in Europe, Xavi Admits



FC Barcelona might be threading a familiar path in Europe with the latest result where they slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday (07 November).
With this result, they spurned the chance to seal an early qualification to the Round of 16 Champions League knock-out stages.

FC Barcelona have struggled miserably in Europe since they last lifted the trophy in 2015, only reaching the quarter-finals in two occasions.

Danylo Sikan’s dipping header in the 40th minute secured Shakhtar a famous victory as Xavi Hernandez’s flat Spanish champions failed to trouble their Ukrainian opponents.
Barcelona still lead Group H ahead of Porto, second, hosting Royal Antwerp later on, with the Portuguese side able to pull alongside the Catalans on nine points with victory.
“We can see we’re in a bit of a footballing rut, we have to do a reset,” said Barca coach Xavi.
“We played a bad game, we have to admit it.”
Xavi said his team had wasted a good chance to progress.

“After two years without qualifying for the last 16, today is a missed opportunity,” he continued.
“It’s the most inopportune moment. There are a lot of demands (on us), I think that today we couldn’t fail and we failed.”
After failing to progress from the group stage for two seasons running, Barcelona saw this clash as an opportunity to get the job done with two games to spare.
However Shakhtar, playing their home games in Hamburg because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, held their own from the start.

Barcelona missed big chances in the first match in October but this time Marino Pusic’s team shut down their uninspired visitors, who produced just one shot on target.
Xavi insisted his team’s performance in the narrow 1-0 league win over Real Sociedad on Saturday was unacceptable, despite the good result, but his team did not heed the coach’s words.
Shakhtar forced Marc-Andre ter Stegen into the first save of the game, with the German goalkeeper denying Mykola Matviienko at the near post after he got in behind Joao Cancelo.
Ilkay Gundogan and Raphinha lashed over from distance as Barca created no danger, with veteran striker Robert Lewandowski woefully disconnected on his return to Germany.

The former Bayern Munich forward has not scored in any of his last six appearances for Barca, amounting to his worst run of goalscoring form for over a decade.
The hosts took the lead a few minutes before half-time, easily slicing the visitors open when Giorgi Gocholeishvili took advantage of Barcelona left-back Marcos Alonso being a long way out of position.

The full-back crossed for Sikan, who beat Andreas Christensen in the air and headed beyond the reach of Ter Stegen.
Ter Stegen saved from Gocholeishvili early in the second half as Shakhtar continued as they left off.
Just before the hour Xavi took action, sending on speedsters Alejandro Balde and Lamine Yamal, as well as Pedri, looking to shake up his team’s lifeless display.
Barcelona were better but not bright enough, as Shakhtar goalkeeper Dmytro Riznyk enjoyed a quiet night.
“Not so long ago we were playing very good football — it’s a mental issue,” said Xavi.
Shakhtar’s latest young Brazilian winger, Newerton, scored a stunning second in the final stages but it was chalked off for offside — it would have been a superb way to crown a glorious night for Pusic’s team.

Barcelona had seven minutes of added time to work with but could not find a breakthrough, with Felix unsuccessfully appealing for a penalty after he was clipped on the edge of the box.
The Ukrainian champions, third, celebrated joyously at full-time and now sit only three points behind Barcelona, who host Porto in their next Champions League match on November 28.
“We do things step by step and we stay humble,” said Pusic, who was proud of his team’s defensive effort.
“We like to attack and we had several good moments tonight, but game organisation comes first.
“If you concede easily at this level there is not a high chance you will win.”
Barcelona midfielder Oriol Romeu said his team had to look in the mirror after their disappointing display.
“Every defeat is a warning,” he told Movistar.
“We have to be self-critical and see what we did wrong, to correct it quickly.” with reports

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Champions League: Man City, Real Madrid, Bayern qualify for UCL last 16



Expectedly, there were less drama as the record 14-time champions, Real Madrid joined holders Manchester City, last season’s runners-up Inter Milan, Real Sociedad, RB Leipzig and Bayern Munich, to qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League with two group games to spare.

However, Manchester United’s poor form continued as they slipped to a stunning 4-3 defeat against FC Copenhagen, just as FC Barcelona could not wrap up qualification, having to wait till matchday 5, before attempting to scale the hurdle.

Madrid, the record 14-time European champions, made sure of their progress from Group C with a 3-0 home win over Braga after surviving an injury setback just before kick-off.
There were grunting around the Santiago Bernabeu when starting Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga pulled out hurt in the warm-up, but his replacement Andriy Lunin excelled by saving Alvaro Djalo’s sixth-minute penalty.

With recuperating Starman, Jude Bellingham rested, to properly recover from the shoulder injury he sustained during the LaLiga game against Rayo Vallecano over the weekend, returnee Brahim Diaz gave Real a 27th-minute lead before the fantastic Brazilian duo of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo both scored in the second half.

Rodrygo thanked Carlo Ancelotti for supporting him through a tough start to the season after scoring in Real Madrid’s 3-0 Champions League win over Sporting Braga on Wednesday.
Rodrygo, who hasn’t found the net in LaLiga since the first weekend of the season, but has now scored in consecutive Champions League games, ran to hug Ancelotti after scoring in the 61st minute at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“I’m very happy, it was a perfect game,” Rodrygo told Movistar. “I’m very happy with the goal and the assist, but also with the win and qualification.
“The hug was to thank Ancelotti. When you aren’t in a good moment, that’s when you see who people really are. I wasn’t in a good moment and he was always there with me. I scored and I had to celebrate it with him.”

Rodrygo has been an important player for Madrid in recent seasons, contributing to their 2022 Champions League and LaLiga double and scoring 18 goals in all competitions last season, but has struggled so far this campaign.

“In my career, there’ve been forwards who’ve scored in every game and others who have moments when it’s hard to score,” Ancelotti said in his postmatch news conference. “All you can do is support them. A player with Rodrygo or Vinícius’s characteristics will score sooner or later. They have extraordinary quality, it’s just a question of time.

“Vinicius and Rodrygo combined spectacularly in the second half. There aren’t many duos who can counter-attack like Rodrygo and Vinicius.”
Ancelotti admitted that playmaker Diaz, who returned to Madrid from AC Milan last summer, had been unlucky not to play more often.
“He showed great quality, defensive sacrifice, he did very well,” Ancelotti said. “That means he could have played more minutes. But [Jude] Bellingham has played in that position. Today Brahim replaced him very well.”

The coach said goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who dropped out of the starting XI before kickoff and was replaced by Lunin, had felt “discomfort” in the warm up and would be assessed on Thursday.

Napoli are poised to go through from the group alongside Real despite being held to a 1-1 draw at home by Union Berlin.
Matteo Politano put Napoli ahead late in the first half but David Datro Fofana, on loan from Chelsea, equalised soon after the restart.
The result allowed Union to end a 12-game losing run but they cannot now qualify for the last 16.

Their Bundesliga rivals Bayern qualified with a 2-1 victory at home to Galatasaray, their 17th consecutive win in the Champions League group stage.
Thomas Tuchel’s side saw Galatasaray have a goal disallowed for offside before Harry Kane headed in the opener with just 10 minutes left.
Kane then added another, his 19th goal already for Bayern in just 15 appearances, before Cedric Bakambu pulled one back in stoppage time for Galatasaray.

“He’s a phenomenon and we’re proud that he’s playing in the team,” Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer told broadcaster DAZN of Kane.
Galatasaray still stand every chance of going through from Group A after United lost in a remarkable game in Denmark.
Erik ten Hag’s team appeared to be cruising thanks to two goals in the first half an hour by their Danish striker Rasmus Hojlund.

Yet they suffered a blow when Marcus Rashford was controversially sent off in the 42nd minute for a foul on Elias Jelert, and Copenhagen took full advantage to haul themselves level by the break.

Mohamed Elyounoussi pulled one back before Diogo Goncalves equalised from the spot in the ninth minute of stoppage time.
Still United got back in front via a Bruno Fernandes penalty midway through the second half, but Lukas Lerager made it 3-3 seven minutes from time and Roony Bardghji, the 17-year-old Kuwait-born Swedish Under-21 international, got Copenhagen’s winner in the 87th minute.

Ten Hag’s team have now lost three of their four Champions League matches this season and have been beaten in nine of their 17 games in all competitions.
“I think first we played very good until the red card. The red card changed everything. Then it becomes a different game,” Ten Hag told broadcaster TNT Sports.
“I saw lots of positives, but in the end we lose some focus. It’s hard when you play so long with 10 men.”

Meanwhile, Arsenal are on the brink of progressing from Group B after a 2-0 home win over Sevilla, in which Bukayo Saka set up Leandro Trossard for the opener in the first half, and then added the second after the break.

“I’m really happy with the performance from the team. They showed aggression and commitment,” Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta told TNT Sports.
The Gunners are four points ahead of both Lens and PSV Eindhoven, with the Dutch side boosting their own hopes by beating the French side 1-0 thanks to Luuk de Jong’s early header.
Lens had substitute Morgan Guilavogui sent off late on.

In Group D, Inter secured their progress with a 1-0 win away to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, a game settled by a late Lautaro Martinez penalty.
That result also allowed Real Sociedad to qualify after their earlier 3-1 defeat of Portuguese giants Benfica, who have lost all four matches in the group.

Mikel Merino, Mikel Oyarzabal and Ander Barrenetxea all scored in the first 21 minutes for the hosts, before Brais Mendez hit the post with a penalty. Rafa Silva pulled one back for Benfica. with reports

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Ancelotti returns to Napoli with Real to prove a Point



Fourteen times champions, Spain’s Real Madrid are set to play one of the most in-form teams in Italy in what promises to be their “toughest group-stage game”, as veteran coach, Italian Carlo Ancelotti, said on Monday (02 October) ahead of the huge Champions League clash.

LaLiga leaders Real began their quest for a record-extending 15th European Cup with a last-gasp 1-0 home victory over Union Berlin last month, while Italian champions Napoli, who are currently third in Serie A, won 2-1 at Sporting Braga.
Tuesday’s clash at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium could be pivotal to both sides’ aims of taking top spot in group C.

“We’ll play against one of the best teams in Italy. They did very well last year. It will be a competitive and evenly matched game as they have a high level,” Ancelotti, who once managed Napoli, told a news conference.
“It’s going to be the toughest game of the group stage for us. I don’t want to say that we’re used to it, but the shirt of this club weighs on us.”
The match will also see Ancelotti return to Naples after he managed 73 games at the club from 2018 to 2019, leading the team in an unbeaten run in the Champions group stage before being sacked with the team in seventh place in Serie A.

“I had positive moments, it is a wonderful city. There were also less good moments, but I have the memory of a positive experience,” Ancelotti said.
“Backtracking before a game like this doesn’t make sense. When the relationship between a club and a coach doesn’t have the right feeling, it’s better to stop.
“I think it was the right decision for Napoli and for me, because two years later I came back to the best club in the world.”

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is not a man to hold a grudge, as reflected by his return to the Spanish capital despite being harshly sacked by Los Blancos chief Florentino Perez in 2015.
However the 64-year-old veteran would doubtless enjoy proving a point when his Madrid side visit Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Ancelotti was axed by president Aurelio De Laurentiis in December 2019, less than an hour after helping Napoli reach the Champions League knock-out stages with a 4-0 thrashing of Genk.
The Italian side were struggling in seventh in Serie A at the time and won their first Scudetto for 33 years in 2023, so De Laurentiis will consider his decisions more than justified.

Ancelotti spent a year and a half in charge of Napoli, guiding them to a second place finish in the 2018-19 campaign, but his tenure was abruptly cut short in its sophomore year.
At the time it seemed Ancelotti had reached the game’s summit years earlier and was on the way down football’s food chain, with his next appointment at Everton appearing to confirm that.
Dressing room tensions and a dispute with De Laurentiis over a training camp led to his downfall in Campania. The president appeared to think Ancelotti did not have it in him to manage the squad.

However Ancelotti’s surprise return to the helm of Madrid in 2021 put him back among the elite, and in 2022 he won his fourth Champions League title as a coach, more than anyone else, as well as LaLiga to complete a superb double.

Meanwhile, Madrid’s 3-0 win at Girona on Sunday ensures they also arrive in Italy as leaders in LaLiga, after a wobble in the derby against rivals Atletico Madrid. A painful 3-1 loss at the Metropolitano on September 24 saw Ancelotti come in for criticism for his tactics and diamond midfield system.

However the Italian made some minor changes and it proved sufficient to earn a comfortable victory over the high-flying Catalans, who had hoped to score a second consecutive home win over Madrid at Montilivi.
“Winning here means that we did well and I’d like to highlight our defensive work, which was very good,” Ancelotti told reporters.

The coach deployed Eduardo Camavinga at left-back instead of the more attacking Fran Garcia, and also asked Jude Bellingham to help with covering Girona to ease the burden on Vinicius Junior.
“We put Bellingham on the outside to avoid Vini having too many defensive duties, bearing in mind that (Aurelien) Tchouameni was in the centre to provide cover,” added Ancelotti.

Bellingham has seven goals and two assists this season across all competitions, largely playing in the number 10 role, despite his capacity to operate in deeper areas.
It was an “invention” by Ancelotti to help cover for the departed Karim Benzema and so far it has paid dividends for the England international, top scorer in Spain.

The coach’s tactical shift and subsequent tweaks dispel any doubts over his dedication at Madrid, showing he is not just on cruise control and heading towards the Brazil national team job he is set to take next summer.
Part of the reason behind the new set-up is to add muscle to the team and bolster the midfield, after Manchester City demolished the record 14-time European champions in last season’s semifinal.

The visit to Napoli will be another acid test for both Ancelotti’s plan and Madrid’s squad depth, with striker Victor Osimhen in excellent form, despite his recent anger over the club insulting him on social media network TikTok.
Los Blancos are without injured defender David Alaba, leaving only Antonio Rudiger and Nacho Fernandez available in central defence.

Napoli coach Rudi Garcia will also be looking forward to the game – he was due to face Madrid when at Roma in 2016, but was sacked ahead of the last 16 tie.
Real Madrid and Napoli last met in the Champions League in the 2016-17 round of 16 when the Spanish giants won both legs 3-1 to and went on to claim the title. with and www.reuters reports

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Champions League matchday 2



Game-by-game preview

Get the lowdown on each of the 16 matches as the 2023-24 Uefa Champions’ League group stage continues.
The best of the best are competing on the ultimate stage in the 2023-24 Uefa Champions’ League group stage; get all the key information on the 16 fixtures coming up on matchday 2.

Tuesday 3 October
Union Berlin v Braga (18:45)
History will be made at the Olympiastadion when Union Berlin host their first-ever Champions League game, but the Portuguese side are at least more familiar. Speaking after the draw, Union president Dirk Zingler said: “With Braga, we face an opponent we already know from the Uefa Europa League.” That knowledge came from last season when the sides traded 1-0 victories and Union will be happy if they repeat their home success from those meetings, which came courtesy of Robin Knoche’s penalty.

Did you know?
None of Braga’s previous 13 Champions’ League group stage matches finished in a draw.
Salzburg v Real Sociedad (18:45)
Speaking after their notable 2-0 victory at Benfica on Matchday 1, Salzburg coach Gerhard Struber said: “We played a very good game, but we have to stay calm. Our aim is to play in Europe after the winter. We want to improve in this competition from game to game.” The Austrian side have continued their European journey after the group stage in each of the last six seasons but only once in the Champions League. A six-point haul after two games would give them a huge chance to reach the last 16 of this competition for the second time.

Did you know?
La Real are without a win in their last 11 Champions’ League group stage matches (D5 L6), stretching back to a 2-1 victory at Galatasaray in September 2003.
Man United v Galatasaray (21:00)
André Onana gave a refreshingly honest interview after Erik ten Hag’s men slipped to a 4-3 defeat at Bayern in their opener, saying: “The team was very good, I think it’s because of me that they didn’t win this game. So I’m happy for the work of the team. We just have to move on.” United are usually a different proposition at home, though, and were unbeaten in 32 games at Old Trafford before a reverse against Brighton four days before matchday 1.

Did you know?
Galatasaray have lost only one of their last 19 Uefa club competition matches (W10 D8).
Copenhagen v Bayern (21:00)
Bayern were on the right end of that pulsating contest against Man United but Leroy Sané felt there was plenty of room for improvement. “We’re happy to have won our first Champions League game of the season,” he said. “It was a pretty wild game. We were good going forward, but have to stop making so many mistakes.” The same could be said for Copenhagen, who were two goals up at Galatasaray but were pegged back late on after Elias Jelert’s red card. Who can cut out the errors best at Parken?

Did you know?
Bayern are unbeaten in a competition record 35 Champions’ League group matches (W32 D3) and have won each of their last 14 games at that stage, also a record.
Lens v Arsenal (21:00)
Lens coach Franck Haise praised his side after they put their patchy domestic form behind them to draw 1-1 at Sevilla on Matchday 1, saying: “The team played with heart, with intelligence, and showed that we are still here and we are still a good side. I know what they are capable of. I have full confidence in my squad.” They will need all that belief when they host an Arsenal side that confidently dismantled PSV 4-0 in their group opener.

Did you know?
Arsenal have scored in their last 18 Champions’ League group-stage matches.
PSV Eindhoven v Sevilla (21:00)
José Luis Mendilibar highlighted the elite nature of the competition following Sevilla’s home draw with Lens. “It’s a Champions League match with the best in Europe and without playing well you add a point. We have to think this is not bad.” PSV would gladly have taken a point instead of the result they suffered at Arsenal but will be expecting better here, having won their last five at home in European competition, scoring 18 goals in the process.

Did you know?
PSV are without a win in their last 13 Champions’ League group stage matches (D4 L9).
Napoli v Real Madrid (21:00)
“We need to defend better, more compact. It’s tough in the Champions League, different to the domestic league,” said defender Juan Jesus after Napoli edged past Braga late on in their group opener. The Partenopei could draw inspiration from Union Berlin, who put on a defensive masterclass to frustrate Madrid until the last kick of the game, when Jude Bellingham prised the points. Stopping the in-form Englishman may be key for Rudi Garcia’s side.

Did you know?
Napoli have won seven of their last eight Champions’ League group-stage matches.
Inter v Benfica (21:00)
Nerazzurri goalkeeper Yann Sommer praised his side’s mentality after the 2023 finalists snatched a point at Real Sociedad. “We showed character,” he said. “It says a lot that we never give up. Good teams can have a bad game, but it’s important you get something even out of a bad game, and we did that today.” Unlike Benfica, who never recovered after António Silva’s early dismissal in their 2-0 home defeat by Salzburg and will need to summon the spirit of their unbeaten group-stage campaign last term to begin their turnaround this term.

Did you know?
Inter have now scored exactly 200 goals in the Champions League, group stage to final.
Wednesday 4 October
Atlético de Madrid v Feyenoord (18:45)
Diego Simeone has seen most things in football during more than three decades as a player and coach but goalkeeper Ivan Provedel’s last-gasp equaliser on Matchday 1 might well have been a first. “We had clear goalscoring chances, defended organised and with a lot of effort,” he said. “I am left with a good feeling despite the goal in the last minute.” Five days later Atlético beat Real Madrid 3-1 in LaLiga, giving Feyenoord a warning that Simeone’s side usually react well to setbacks.

Did you know?
Atlético have won only two of their last 11 Champions’ League group stage matches (D3 L6).
Antwerp v Shakhtar Donetsk (18:45)
Toby Alderweireld offered Shakhtar a warning after Antwerp were beaten 5-0 by Barcelona on their group stage debut. “Sometimes it’s not bad to be beaten like this,” he said. “It makes you angry, you store that up and then you feel the heat and deploy it next time you play.” The Ukrainian side will be equally determined to make amends for Matchday 1 when they shipped three goals inside half an hour as they succumbed to Porto.

Did you know?
Shakhtar have won only one of their last 14 Champions’ League group stage matches (D6 L7).
Celtic v Lazio (21:00)
Brendan Rodgers was in philosophical mood after his nine-man Celtic side were defeated 2-0 at Feyenoord, saying: “If we can get to the last game when we play Feyenoord at home with everything to play for, then we will be in with a fantastic chance.” Their form in Glasgow will be pivotal if they are to remain in contention come matchday 6, meaning they must end their ten-game winless home run in the group stage as soon as possible.

Did you know?
Lazio are unbeaten in seven Champions’ League group stage matches (W2 D5).
Dortmund v Milan (21:00)
Edin Terzic was quick to point out areas of improvement for Dortmund after they suffered a disappointing 2-0 reverse at Paris. “We wanted to be braver, attack more, leave our positions more,” he said. “We saw after the break what is possible if you are ready to move those three to five metres up and trust the player behind you.” Milan did display the necessary courage against Newcastle on Matchday 1; now adding a clinical edge will be their goal after Stefano Pioli’s men drew a blank in that game.

Did you know?
Dortmund have only lost one of their last 15 home games in the Champions’ League group stage (W9 D5).
Newcastle v Paris (21:00)
Newcastle followed up their encouraging goalless draw at Milan by winning 8-0 at Sheffield United in the Premier League, showing their ability to balance to domestic and European commitments. “Three games, three clean sheets, really good week,” summarised defender Dan Burn. “We were built on being solid defensively last season so it’s great to get back to that.” Paris also followed up a good Champions League result – the 2-0 victory against Dortmund – with an excellent domestic showing as they beat Marseille 4-0, although Kylian Mbappé limped off injured.

Did you know?
Newcastle have lost only two of their last 19 Uefa club competition group stage matches (W10 D7).
Leipzig v Man City (21:00)
“The Saxons profited from an exciting start and a strong second half, which made up for a period of weakness in the first,” was the summary of Leipziger Volkszeitung after Leipzig’s 3-1 success at Young Boys on Matchday 1. Marco Rose’s side will not be able to afford any first-half lapses against City and Erling Haaland, who scored three of his five goals against them in last season’s round of 16 second leg before the break.

Did you know?
City have lost only two of their last 30 Champions’ League group stage matches (W22 D6).
Crvena zvezda v Young Boys (21:00)
“We have to play with the same courage as we did today up against the top teams, but iron out those moments of poor concentration,” was the verdict of YB coach Raphaël Wicky as they slipped to a 3-1 defeat by Leipzig. Their Serbian opponents showed the bravery that Wicky desires, taking the lead at holders Man City before eventually going down 3-1. Both will see this game as vital if they are to harbour hopes of making it out of this section.

Did you know?
Crvena Zvezda have won one of their three home games in both of their previous Champions League group appearances.
Porto v Barcelona (21:00)
Xavi Hernández was purring after his side began their European campaign by cruising past Antwerp 5-0. “All my players are enjoying themselves,” he said. “We are playing better football than before – probably the best football since I took over.” A sizeable task facing Porto then, but Sérgio Conceição’s men have shown they will not go away quietly having scored five times in the 90th minute or beyond in their opening six Portuguese Liga outings.

Did you know?
On Matchday 1, Barcelona’s Lamine Yamal (16 years 68 days) became the second youngest player to make an appearance in the Champions League after Youssoufa Moukoko (16 years 18 days). with

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