Liverpool were made to wait to secure their place in the last 16 of the Champions League as Napoli secured a vital point with a 1-1 draw at Anfield on Wednesday.
Dries Mertens threatened to inflict Liverpool’s first home defeat in the Champions or Premier League since April 2017 with a sweetly struck opener midway through the first half.
Dejan Lovren’s header protected that proud unbeaten run, but the holders still need to get at least a point away to Salzburg on December 10 to secure their passage into the last 16.
Napoli remain a point behind Liverpool but are well-placed to reach the knockout stages as they host winless Genk in two weeks’ time.
The Italians had travelled to Merseyside in disarray with coach Carlo Ancelotti seemingly on the brink of being sacked after a slump in Serie A.
President Aurelio De Laurentiis has also threatened to sell the entire squad and take legal action against the players after they refused his orders to be confined to a week-long training camp earlier this month.
However, the Italians are the only side to have beaten the European champions this season and proved a thorn in Liverpool’s side again.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were unsettled by the early loss of Fabinho to injury and were unhappy when the visitors opened the scoring on 21 minutes.
Mertens leaned into Virgil van Dijk as the Dutchman headed clear and was left on the ground holding his side.
Napoli played on and when the ball was played forward again Mertens was unmarked to run through before beating Alisson Becker from a narrow-angle.
After a VAR review for a potential foul and offside, the goal was allowed to stand and there were a few more nervy moments for the home fans before Van Dijk got back to his feet and was able to continue.
Klopp grew increasingly frustrated on the touchline as Liverpool failed to find their rhythm before the break.
However, a talking to from the German-inspired a second-half turnaround.
Kalidou Koulibaly bailed out his goalkeeper with a clearance off the line from Roberto Firmino after Alex Meret dropped a simple cross into the box.
Mohamed Salah was left out of Saturday’s late win at Crystal Palace due to an ongoing ankle problem and again looked far from his best.
The Egyptian snapped at his best chance from Andy Robertson’s cross before Firmino headed another good opportunity wide.
It seemed a matter of time before the equaliser arrived, but when it did it came from an unlikely source as Lovren rose above Mertens to power home James Milner’s corner.
Again a VAR check was needed as Mertens this time claimed to be the victim of a push, but the goal stood.
Liverpool have made a habit of scoring late to soar clear at the top of the Premier League, but there was no late drama this time round to leave the Reds with work to do in Austria.
Chelsea’s Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi (C) vies with Valencia’s Spanish defender Jose Luis Gaya Pena (L) and Valencia’s Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista (R) during the UEFA Champions League Group H football match between Valencia CF and Chelsea FC at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia on November 27, 2019.
JOSE JORDAN / AFP
Daniel Wass’s late equaliser denied Chelsea a place in the last 16 of the Champions League as a profligate Valencia fought back for a 2-2 draw that maintains both sides’ chances of reaching the knockout stages.
A wide-open game swung the visitors’ way after Carles Soler’s opener for Valencia as Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic put Chelsea in pole position to avenge their 1-0 defeat on home soil to the Spaniards on matchday one.
However, after Kepa Arrizabalaga had saved Dani Parejo’s penalty, Wass’s cross flummoxed the Spanish international to give Valencia a lifeline.
Both sides are tied on eight points at the top of Group H but could be overtaken by Ajax who travel to Lille later on Wednesday.
Victory at home to Lille in two weeks’ time will ensure Frank Lampard’s men make the last 16 and they were thankful for five huge misses from the hosts to escape with a point on a night that could also prove costly as top-scorer Tammy Abraham was stretchered off at half-time.
Maxi Gomez was the principal villain for Valencia as the Uruguayan twice failed to find the net with the goal at his mercy in the first half.
When Valencia did finally break the deadlock there was a hint of fortune in the finish as the ball ricocheted off Soler’s legs, but had enough power to beat Kepa.
Defeat would have left Lampard’s men on the brink of elimination, but they responded immediately after falling behind as Kovacic produced his first goal for the club at the perfect time with a fine low strike.
The Croatian should have had a second moments later after brilliant work by Pulisic but pulled his shot too close to Jasper Cillessen’s near post and the Dutch ‘keeper saved.
Abraham was then left wincing in pain and holding his left hip as he was trampled on inside the area and eventually had to be stretchered down the tunnel after both sides had already made their way to the dressing room at half-time.
Despite the loss of their key marksman, Chelsea took the lead five minutes into the second period when Pulisic kept up his fine scoring form by prodding home Kurt Zouma’s knockdown.
Following a lengthy VAR check for offside, the goal was given, but Valencia were furious there was not a check for a potential foul by Zouma in the build-up.
The hosts still only had themselves to blame for not getting all three points as Rodrigo chipped over with the goal gaping after Kepa scampered from his goal to clear and was caught in no man’s land.
Kepa made amends 25 minutes from time with a brilliant save from Parejo’s penalty after Jorginho was harshly penalised for a foul on Jose Luis Gaya.
The drama did not end there, though, as Wass’s overhit cross smashed off the far post and into the Chelsea net eight minutes from time.
And Valencia should have gone onto win it as in seven minutes of stoppage time Rodrigo curled wide before somehow prodding wide from Gaya’s cross with the whole goal to aim at.
Late goals from Sarabia and Kylian Mbappe was all that was needed by PSG to avoid a defeat by Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League heavyweight clash on Tuesday night.
Manchester City booked their place in the Champions League last 16 for a seventh successive season despite a lacklustre 1-1 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s side were well below their best at the Etihad Stadium, but Ilkay Gundogan’s second-half strike put them on course to wrap up first place in Group C with one game to spare.
Although Manor Solomon equalised for Shakhtar, Atalanta’s win over Dinamo Zagreb ensured City can’t be knocked off top spot.
With the group clinched, Guardiola has the bonus of being able to rest players for the trip to Zagreb on December 11.
That is especially important as the Zagreb fixture comes between vital Premier League matches against Manchester United and Arsenal.
While City won’t give up their Premier League title without a fight, Liverpool are in such a strong position that Europe could provide Guardiola’s best hope of a major prize this term.
Guardiola won the Champions League twice as Barcelona boss but the last of those triumphs came in 2011. He hasn’t gone past the quarter-finals with City.
Returning to the knockout stages was a first step toward ending that frustrating streak, but Guardiola will know injury-hit City have plenty of room for improvement.
City made a sloppy start and were almost caught out when a long punt into their half prompted Ederson to rush off his line.
When the City keeper completely missed his attempt to clear, Shakhtar’s Mateus Tete charged into the penalty area, only for Fernandinho to block the shot with a superbly timed last-ditch slide.
Moments later, Ederson made a better dash off his line to clear after another Shakhtar raid threatened to open City up.
City’s limp opening was at least partially due to the absence of the club’s record goalscorer Sergio Aguero, sidelined for several weeks after injuring a thigh in Saturday’s win over Chelsea.
Gabriel Jesus started in place of Aguero, but the Brazilian, who has scored five goals in eight starts this season, was largely anonymous.
Rodri had City’s first sight of goal, but the midfielder’s shot was too close to Shakhtar keeper Andriy Pyatov.
Ponderous for much of the half, City gradually found some rhythm and Nicolas Otamendi’s header from Angelino’s cross forced an agile save from Pyatov, while Gundogan’s deflected effort looped wide.
City have opened talks with Raheem Sterling about a new long-term contract that would reportedly make the 24-year-old one of the highest-paid players in the Premier League.
Sterling’s place among the world’s elite is without question, but this wasn’t the England winger’s best night.
He did perk up to create a chance that Jesus was unable to take early in the second half.
City finally conjured a move befitting their ability, cutting through the Shakhtar defence to take the lead in the 56th minute.
Kevin De Bruyne was the catalyst with a swift surge and pass into Jesus in the Shakhtar area.
Jesus did well to control and poke the ball across to Gundogan. The German midfielder took a touch before slotting into the bottom corner from 10 yards.
Even that wasn’t enough to paper over the cracks for sluggish City and Shakhtar equalised in the 69th minute.
Tete slipped his pass to the overlapping Dodo and his cut-back from the touchline drew a lethargic response from the City defence, allowing substitute Solomon to fire home from close-range only four minutes after coming on.
David Silva almost restored City’s lead seconds later, but the substitute’s shot was cleared off the line by Serhiy Kryvtsov.
Real Madrid qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League before taking to the field on Tuesday after Group A rivals Club Brugge drew 1-1 with Galatasaray in Istanbul.
The Belgian side needed to win in their early kick-off in Turkey to maintain any chance of qualifying ahead of Madrid, but they were on the back foot after Adem Buyuk gave Galatasaray an early lead.
The visitors did equalise in the second minute of added time via a fine individual effort by Krepin Diatta, but the draw still suited the 13-time European champions, with Brugge five points behind them while having just one game left to play.
Brugge finished the game with nine men, with Diatta shown a second yellow card after removing his shirt to celebrate the equaliser and Clinton Mata also being cautioned a second time after kicking down a corner flag in wild celebration.
Those celebrations were understandable, as the draw ensured that the Belgians stayed ahead of Galatasaray with one game remaining in the battle to finish third in the group and parachute into the knockout phase of the Europa League.
Real were hosting Paris Saint-Germain later at 2000 GMT at the Santiago Bernabeu needing to win to maintain a chance of beating the French side to top spot and thereby ensuring, in theory, an easier draw in the last 16.
In the other early kick-off on Tuesday, Bayer Leverkusen kept alive their chances of reaching the last 16 thanks to a 2-0 win away to Lokomotiv Moscow in Russia.
An unfortunate Rifat Zhemaletdinov own goal in the first half and then a fine Sven Bender volley in the 54th minute gave Leverkusen the victory.
The Bundesliga side are now just a point behind Atletico Madrid in Group D, but the Spaniards can seal qualification for the last 16 with a game to spare if they defeat Juventus in Turin later on Tuesday.
Juventus have already qualified but a win will allow them to guarantee progress as group winners.
Neymar has been left on the bench for Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League game away at Real Madrid on Tuesday.
The Brazilian played 65 minutes against Lille on Friday after spending six weeks out with a hamstring injury.
Neymar came close to a return to Spain last summer but neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid were able to agree a transfer with PSG.
The French champions have already qualified for the knockout stages and sit top of Group A, five points clear of Madrid, whom they beat 3-0 in Paris in September.