While a shorthanded Liverpool managed to progress, with a 1-0 win over Ajax, Real Madrid slipped to a second loss to Shakhtar Donetsk in the group stage this season. It seemed like last week Madrid had done the hard work. After slightly defeating Inter Milan 3-2 at home, he went on to win at San Siro, edging out Antonio Conte’s side, who lost discipline and focus. There were signs of promise from Eden Hazard and Martin Odegaard and a feeling he would survive a poor start to competition. But Saturday’s home loss to Alaves was a reminder of just how bad this group is.
Still, the prospect of a loss to a Shakhtar side who had taken a single point from their three Champions League games since defeating Madrid (while being outclassed 10-0 at the time) seemed distant. . Shakhtar was toothless in the first half, but Dentinho’s introduction to the injured Junior Moraes after 25 minutes changed everything. As Raphael Varane hesitated in the 57th minute, Dentinho jumped for the opener, and with Madrid lacking a sense of energy, dynamism or cohesion, he exerted very little pressure on the home goal. Solomon added a second to the break eight minutes from time because no one closed it, but the truth is Shakhtar had a couple of great chances in the second half as well.Maybe the staff aren’t quite what they used to be, but that can’t explain how bad Madrid were here, or how inconsistent it has been all season. It was a pitiful performance. There seemed to be little organization, little plan, little idea of how to find a way through a stubborn and increasingly confident side of Shakhtar, but worse than that there seemed to be little urgency or desire in the Ukrainian snow.
Zinedine Zidane’s approach has always been to keep things tight and wait for talent to take its course, but this has proved increasingly difficult since Cristiano Ronaldo left, a situation exacerbated by the lack of ‘Eden Hazard with a muscle injury. But Madrid are also not solid defensively, looking hopelessly provisional without Sergio Ramos. Madrid may not be in as bad a situation as Barcelona, but they are also suffering from an over-reliance on two big name figures.
Inter dominated the first half and took the lead thanks to Matteo Darmian, to concede a header from Alassane Plea just before the break. Romelu Lukaku, however, struck twice in the second half to keep Inter’s hopes alive, despite Plea’s second later. Gladbach leads the squad by one point ahead of Shakhtar and Madrid, although Shakhtar have the head-to-head advantage, with Inter two points behind. Real Madrid host Gladbach in next week’s group final, with Shakhtar at Inter. Just as there is a scenario where Madrid win the group – a victory over Gladbach and a draw or loss for Shakhtar to Inter – there is one where Real are completely eliminated, not making the round of 16. for the first time since 1997. A Real Madrid’s defeat and Inter Milan’s victory would send Real down the squad and out of Europe, and the pressure is enough to get Zidane to defiantly assert “I’m not going not resign ”in his post-match remarks.As for the 2019 European champion, the decision to choose a weakened side against Atalanta last week backfired against Liverpool who lost 2-0, meaning Jurgen Klopp had to choose a relatively strong side against Ajax. Liverpool only needed a point to secure their progress but it looked uncertain for long stretches as Ajax had the best chances, peaking with David Neres hitting the post after 58 minutes. In less than a minute, however, Liverpool had their heads, thanks in large part to a bizarre mistake from Andre Onana. The Ajax keeper left Neco Williams’ cross presumably thinking he was offside, but Curtis Jones stole to cushion the ball into an empty net with the outside of his right foot.
Liverpool’s form this season remains patchy, but they’ve done enough. Atalanta and Ajax, who meet next week, both have the chance to move from that group behind Liverpool.
Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, two-time finalists in the past decade, missed a chance to secure their place in the knockout stage by conceding a late penalty against Bayern in a draw 1 -1. The defending champion, having already clinched the top spot in the group, fielded a very weakened squad and was largely outmatched, passing behind Joao Felix’s goal before shooting even (while also breaking his 15-game winning streak in the competition ). Atletico dying late means they have to avoid Jesse Marsch’s Salzburg defeat next week in order to progress – and ensure that at least one side from the Spanish capital remains alive.