It’s been a bumpy first half of the Champions League group stage, but Barcelona is still at the summit of Group F.
Lionel Messi scored the opener and Barca held on for a 2-1 win at Slavia Prague on Wednesday. Elsewhere, Dries Mertens scored twice in Napoli’s 3-2 win over RB Salzburg to surpass Diego Maradona’s career goals total for the club.
Inter Milan earned a crucial 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund, and Liverpool won 4-1 at Genk on a brace by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Lionel Messi, Barcelona navigate trip to Prague
In a group that also features Inter and Dortmund, Slavia Prague is clearly the weak link. But Barcelona didn’t fall into the trap.
Lionel Messi barely let fans find their seats before scoring in the third minute on a sharp left-footed first touch (via Bleacher Report):
Jan Bořil fired home the equalizer shortly after halftime, but an own goal seven minutes later held up as Barcelona saw out a tougher-than-expected victory.
The Catalans top Group F on seven points and will host Slavia Prague in the return fixture in two weeks as the second half of group play kicks off. Inter and Dortmund both have four points, but the Italian giants are ahead on goal difference.
Dries Mertens passes Diego Maradona in Napoli win
The Belgian attacker scored two goals and Lorenzo Insigne had the winner to overcome Erling Håland’s brace in Austria.
Mertens has now scored 116 times for Napoli, passing the legendary Diego Maradona for second all-time at the club but still trailing Marek Hamšík’s 121 career goals.
His second was particularly impressive, a one-time volley to finish Kévin Malcuit’s bounding ball across the box:
Håland brought RB Salzburg level in the 72nd minute, but Insigne’s right-footed winner ensued so quickly that nobody was ready, not even the broadcast:
Napoli retook the lead so quickly, they were still showing a replay of Salzburg’s goal 😅 pic.twitter.com/6jHKHKsGqI— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) October 23, 2019
For American manager Jesse Marsch and RB Salzburg, this is the first real disappointment of the Champions League campaign. They dominated Genk in the opener and rallied from three goals back to narrowly lose to Liverpool, but if they don’t get anything out of the return trip to Napoli on Nov. 5, their prospects of advancing start to get dicey.
Napoli, meanwhile, remains atop Group E with seven points by virtue of its Matchday 1 win over Liverpool.
Ox bags two as Liverpool cruises
Speaking of the Reds, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice and they won their second consecutive Champions League match.
Oxlade-Chamberlain thrust Liverpool in front after just two minutes, but his second was the goal to see, a dart from distance with the outside of his right foot:
Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah also scored, while Stephen Odey’s goal right before stoppage time helped Genk avoid the shutout.
Liverpool looked bad in its opener and shaky in the near-chokejob against RB Salzburg, but this was the reigning Champions League winners’ best performance in Europe thus far. Probably because it was against the weakest team in the group, but they’ll take it.
Inter Milan steadies Champions League ship
Antonio Conte’s quest to knock Juventus off its Serie A perch has begun well, but Inter had stumbled out of the gate in Europe.
That changed with the 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund, as Lautaro Martínez continued his recent tear with the opening goal:
Lautaro stays hot, fifth goal in four matches 🔥 pic.twitter.com/G34gWMfP29— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) October 23, 2019
Antonio Candreva sealed the three points with a second in the 89th minute.
Inter takes trips to Dortmund and Slavia Prague before hosting Barcelona in the Group F finale, so a loss on Wednesday would have spelled serious trouble.
Champions League scores
Ajax 0-1 Chelsea
RB Leipzig 2-1 Zeint Saint Petersburg
Slavia Prague 1-2 Barcelona
RB Salzburg 2-3 Napoli
Genk 1-4 Liverpool
Inter Milan 2-0 Borussia Dortmund
Lille 1-1 Valencia
Benfica 2-1 Lyon
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