Assi di Coppe: A Roundup of Italian Champions League Efforts

In this week’s edition of our Champions League round-up we saw the fourth match day of the Group Stage. Each of the Italian sides remained in contention, but there were tricky ties to navigate. Some were looking to assure qualification, others to remaining within a hairs width of reaching the knockouts.

Juventus-Atletico Madrid 1-0

Atletico Madrid’s visit to the Allianz Stadium was a potential banana skin for Juventus who managed to convincingly cement their place in the knockout rounds.

Paulo Dybala had threatened with a curling effort earlier at the Juventus stadium, after a neat one-two with Miralem Pjanic gave him an opening. Atletico were not without threat as Wojciech Szczesny spilled a solid effort from Saul, only to regain the ball before Alvaro Morata could capitalize. In first half added time referee Anthony Taylor adjudged Mario Hermoso’s tackle on Rodrigo Bentancur as a foul, despite protests. An in-form Dybala lined the free kick up and rifled an exceptional effort over the heads of his teammates and Jan Oblak and on the underside of the bar for his seventh of the season. Oblak, touted by many as a candidate for the best current goalkeeper in world football, will feel disappointed but the venom with which Dybala strikes the free kick leaves him stranded.

Atletico found it difficult to force the issue producing a tame effort from Saul after a corner. It was Juventus who came closest to registering another goal, with a sharp Federico Bernardeschi effort from range hitting the upright. Two incisive through balls by Joao Felix to Angel Correa gave Atleti their best chances; the first adequately snuffed out by an effective Juventus defence, while the second should have been dispatched by Correa who chose to square to Morata occupying an offside position.

Maurizio Sarri will be very pleased with his work as his side find themselves comfortably through as group winners and still unbeaten in his tenure.

Atalanta-Dinamo Zagreb 2-0

Still without a win and on the brink of exiting European football, there was pressure on Atalanta to produce at home against Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb. The away side had so far proven more adept in the Champions League and would provide a difficult challenge.

Luis Muriel forced an error from Dino Peric after Dinamo failed to clear the ball. Muriel dispatched the resulting penalty to give Atalanta a calming early advantage. As the game went on the Bergamaschi pushed for a decisive second. Star man Alejandor Papu Gomez slalomed past his opponent to rifle the ball into the far corner, settling nerves for the Italians and ensuring Atalanta’s first win.

The Italian side will be largely disappointed with their European showing so far this year but after their first three points they find themselves still with hope of qualification. A difficult away game in Ukraine awaits and with it the conclusion to who finishes in second place in Group C.

Slavia Praha-Inter 1-3

Antonio Conte’s men found themselves in a precarious position before their game at Slavia Praha, needing a win to remain in contention for qualification. Slavia had already proven themselves as no slouches taking a point at the San Siro and giving an exceptional account of themselves against Barcelona.

A masterclass from Romelu Lukaku in Prague brought back memories of power and brilliance not seen since Adriano’s time at Inter. A formidable partnership is forming in Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku, as the Belgian was on hand to create both times either side of his own goal. A powerful run down the right hand side gave Lukaku a chance to swing the ball in for Martinez. The Argentinian’s first time effort showed decent technique, as the Nerazzurri took an early lead.

Another instance of controversy for VAR came after a calamitous mistake by Slavia Praha. The Czech outfit gave the ball away very cheaply only for Martinez to square to a grateful Lukaku who finished off – NO GOAL. VAR pulled play back to an earlier incident where Stefan De Vrij was adjudged to have committed a foul in his own box. Tomas Soucek dispatched the penalty as the game opened up.

Slavia Praha showed their tenacity as both sides pushed for a winner. Inter may have begun to feel like it was not going to be their evening as they struck the woodwork twice, in emphatic style. Ten minutes from time another slip in the Slavia backline allowed a powerful Lukaku run that took him past the opposing keeper and to the net. Inter’s backroom staff went wild eight minutes later as a delicious ball from the outside of Lukaku’s left foot was met by none other than Martinez for an exceptional third.

Conte’s men are in second spot ahead of Borussia Dortmund on goal difference. Their final game sees them entertain Barcelona in what will be a very special evening at the San Siro.

Liverpool-Napoli 1-1

A visit to the in-form side in world football at Anfield came at a difficult time for Napoli. Their fans were spotted earlier in the day with golf clubs in the Liverpool city centre as tensions continued to rise before the game in scuffles outside the stadium. The game was nicely balanced but the English side will have expected to win the group.

The beginning of the game did not prove so straightforward. A cautious start by both sides made sure that the opening didn’t offer much in the way of tempo. Just after the 20th minute, Dries Mertens lead with his elbow in a challenge against Virgil Van Dijk. The Dutch center back remained on the floor as Mertens’ incisive run was picked out and the Belgian capitalized in the absence of his opponent with a brilliant finish against Alisson Becker. After a quick VAR check Ancelotti’s men led.

A resolute Napoli defense kept Liverpool at bay for large parts of an interesting encounter. In a tight game Liverpool were often limited to intricate flicks in the box which were quickly snuffed out. Liverpool reverted to basics going wide and picking out precise crosses to no avail. Just after the hour mark a James Milner corner was met well by Dejan Lovren who glanced past a helpless Alex Meret. It seemed the Anfield crowd would draw another inevitable win but it was not to be. Napoli worked hard in transitioning from defensive phases in quick counter attacking moves threatening late on for a winner of their own.

At the final whistle both sides will settle for the point, with Napoli perhaps the happier side as they still harbor realistic hope of snatching top spot.

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