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|5 Champions League Talking Points: Antonio Conte Meets The Man He Failed To Lure by adejohn1998(m): 2:39am On Oct 21, 2017|
English teams enjoyed an excellent night in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Liverpool surged to victory in Slovenia, thrashing Maribor 7-0 in a dominant, devastating display, with Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all on the scoresheet.
Manchester City made it three wins from three as they held off Napoli at the Etihad, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scoring in a 2-1 win over the Italian side.
And Tottenham will also have been pleased with their night’s work, claiming a 1-1 draw in the Santiago Bernabeu against the holders and back-to-back winners, Real Madrid; that result, allied to Borussia Dortmund’s failure to beat APOEL in Cyprus, gives Spurs one foot in the knockout stages.
There were also wins for Spartak Moscow - thrashing Sevilla 5-1 in Russia - Shakhtar Donetsk, RB Leipzig and surprise package Besiktas, who came from behind to continue their 100 per cent record with a win in Monaco.
When Antonio Conte arrived at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea boss, the Italian made Roma’s all-action midfielder one of his major transfer targets.
The Italian envisioned a central midfield pairing of N’Golo Kante and Radja Nainggolan - back when Conte was still keen on playing a 4-2-4 formation in the Premier League.
Chelsea chiefs met Roma officials and sought a deal, with the Giallorossi needing to sell to meet Financial Fair Play rules.
Instead, Nainggolan rebuffed an approach, not wanting to leave the Italian capital, and Miralem Pjanic cashed in his chips to join Juventus.
In the 17 months since, Nainggolan’s game has gone from strength to strength in Rome, with the Belgian increasingly vital to Eusebio Di Francesco. The 29-year-old has played in a variety of midfield roles, but its his taking of responsibility in the final third and link up with leading scorer Edin Dzeko which has particularly impressed this term.
When Nainggolan finally struts his stuff in west London tonight, Conte will hope to shackle a player whom he had hoped would wreak havoc in England.
2. Nemanja Matic returns to Benfica to rub more salt into wounds of his ex.
Had it not been for his time in Portuguese football with Benfica, Nemanja Matic almost certainly wouldn't be returning to the Stadium of Light with Manchester United.
Having struggled to make the grade at Chelsea first time around, the Serbian joined the Portuguese side in desperate need of first-team football.
However, then-Eagles boss Jorge Jesus didn't foresee Matic playing in the advanced creative role in which Matic had initially flourished in Slovakian football. Instead, Jesus made clear that he saw the 6ft 4in midfielder as the man to sit at the base of midfield.
"Jorge Jesus told me on my first day I would be playing as a No.6 or as a defensive midfielder, explained Matic this week. "At the beginning, it was strange for me because I didn't know I could play that position but, slowly, I trained with the team and the manager explained to me how to do it.
"And after a lot of hard work, now, I'm at Manchester United, so I must have done the job well!"
Matic returns to his old club, for whom he made 97 appearances, at a time when current boss Rui Vitoria is coming under pressure; Benfica currently sit third in the Primeira Liga, struggling to keep pace with leaders Porto, and were thrashed 5-0 at Basel in their last European match.
Matic, so impressive in the early part of the season after his summer switch to Old Trafford, doesn't hide his affinity with his former club, but will only be out to control proceedings in Lisbon, as United eye making a big step towards the last 16.
3. Bad timing for Celtic against rejuvenated Bayern?
It looked like four years ago at the Allianz Arena this past weekend.
With wingers tied to the touchline, Javi Martinez patrolling central midfield rather than defence and Jupp Heynckes back on the touchline, Bayern Munich comfortably saw off Freiburg with a 5-0 success to get their old-new boss off to the perfect start.
Heynckes record in the Champions League is astonishing; in three seasons he has twice won the trophy (once with Bayern, once with Real Madrid) and finished runners-up on the other occasion.
Now at 72 can he inspire a Bayern side that looked unmotivated and weary under Carlo Ancelotti? Getting the best out of Robert Lewandowski will help, likewise Arjen Robben, who was arguably the best player in Europe in 2013 when Bayern last wont the trophy.
For Brendan Rodgers and Celtic - thrashed 5-0 at home by PSG but 3-0 winners at Anderlecht last time out - they'll have wished this match was three weeks ago.
The Bhoys want to be expansive and attack, but shutting up shop and looking to counter could be their best bet: fighting fire with fire is likely to see them get burned.
4. Juve face Sporting test
Home defeats for Juventus are a rare thing, but Paulo Dybala's 97th minute missed penalty at the weekend saw Lazio emerge as the first side to win at the J Arena in almost two years.
The Bianconeri must now find a response immediately, and Max Allegri knows last season's beaten finalists can't afford any slips at home to a dangerous Sporting Lisbon side.
Sporting have already won in Olympiacos and scored four in a Taca de Portugal win over Oleiros at the weekend. Now Sporting boss Jorge Jesus - who led Benfica to a Europa League semi-final success over Juve in 2014 - will look to stun the Italian champions once more.
Key will be midfield playmaker Bruno Fernandes, with five goals to his name already this season, but Juve will themselves be calling on Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic, back after injury. If Sporting can get a result, Group D suddenly becomes very interesting.
5. Pray for Anderlecht
Beaten 3-0 by an unfocused Bayern and again by the same score at home to Celtic, Anderlecht look set to finish Group B bottom of the pile - and by some distance.
Tonight sees last year's Europa League quarter-finalists face Paris Saint-Germain at the Constant Vanden Stock, with Unai Emery's men having already hit eight unanswered in their two European games this season.
Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe have all been in frightening form of late, while Julian Draxler is gradually featuring more and impressing after staying at the Parc des Princes.
Things could get very messy in Brussels; prayer looks the Belgian champions' best hope.
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