Champions League last-16 draw: tie-by-tie analysis | Champions League

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Last month, Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, advocating for a Super League, lamented that his club have faced Liverpool in just nine competitive games. His wish for more has been granted sooner than he expected and perhaps would have liked. Real beat Liverpool reasonably comfortably in last season’s final and had few issues topping a relatively straightforward group, while Liverpool have suffered a miserable start to the season. With Mohamed Salah returning to form, though, Jürgen Klopp’s side may have improved by February and, out of the title race, can afford to focus on Europe. Aurélien Tchouaméni has joined Real and Eduardo Camavinga was beginning to make an impact last season, but the sense remains that the post-Casemiro midfield is yet to be really tested.

Winners Liverpool.

RB Leipzig's André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season
RB Leipzig’s André Silva is congratulated after scoring against Manchester City last season. Photograph: Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images

RB Leipzig v Manchester City

These teams met in last season’s group stage, City winning 6-3 at the Etihad before a 2-1 defeat in Germany, with qualification long since secured. In the first of those games, Leipzig were managed by Jesse Marsch; in the second by the caretaker Achim Beierlorzer. Since then Domenico Tedesco has come and gone and now, under Marco Rose, there has been a significant upturn. Saturday’s 3-0 win at Hoffenheim extended Leipzig’s unbeaten run to 11 games and they have been prolific in that time. The front four of André Silva, Dominik Szoboszlai, Christian Nkunku and Timo Werner, who should be back from his ankle injury by February, will test City on the counter.

Winners Manchester City.

Club Brugge v Benfica

Club Brugge were the great surprise of the group stage, winning their first three games without conceding a goal. They secured progress with a 0-0 draw at Atlético Madrid, but the heavy home defeat to Porto that ultimately cost them top spot perhaps gave a truer impression of their abilities: no pushovers, well-organised, but essentially limited. Benfica, meanwhile, ended the group stage in joyous form, with Rafa Silva and João Mario playing probably the best football of their careers. There may be defensive concerns but, even more than the 6-1 win at Maccabi Haifa that meant they topped the group, the 4-3 win over Juventus, when they should have won far more convincingly, demonstrated just how dangerous Roger Schmidt’s side can be.

Winners Benfica.

Milan v Tottenham

Tottenham have not lost to Milan in their four previous meetings, a Peter Crouch goal giving them a 1-0 win at San Siro in their last tie in 2010-11, but how good they are at the moment is anyone’s guess. Hampered by injuries to forwards, with a weird inability to play in the first half (particularly when Dejan Kulusevski is absent) and a dislocation between the midfield and the forward line, their results have been rather better than performances so far this season. The Italian champions have suffered only two defeats in Serie A and have in Rafael Leão one of the more exciting forwards in Europe, but they were desperately poor in losing twice to Chelsea during the group stages, with injuries offer only some excuse.

Winners Tottenham.

André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa celebrates scoring Napoli’s second goal in their 4-1 win against Liverpool in September. Photograph: Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Eintracht Frankfurt v Napoli

Top of Serie A, unbeaten domestically and hugely impressive in the group stage, Napoli may be the most serious Italian challengers since Juventus decided five league titles in five seasons just wasn’t good enough and got rid of Max Allegri. They are playing fast, dynamic football under Luciano Spalletti and, after the failure of Italy, Nigeria and Georgia to qualify for the World Cup, have an unusual number of players who should be refreshed by a winter break. But unfancied as they may be under Oliver Glasner, Eintracht Frankfurt have become masters of the European away leg. Their Europa League success last season featured victories at Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham, and this season they won on the road against Marseille and, when they absolutely needed it, Sporting.

Winners Napoli.

Borussia Dortmund v Chelsea

After a shaky start, progress from the group ended up being straightforward for Chelsea, but this is a club still undergoing transition as the recent league defeats to Brighton and Arsenal have shown. There were problems to be addressed in the squad even before the complications of sanctions, and recent injuries have exposed the imbalances that Graham Potter will need to resolve. With Sevilla in miserable form, Borussia Dortmund qualified for the last 16 easily enough, thanks in no small part to a 4-1 win in Spain, a game that highlighted just how important Jude Bellingham has become to Alen Terzic’s side. He may be only 19 but only he, Julian Brandt and Nico Schlotterback have played all 13 league games this season.

Winners Chelsea.

Internazionale v Porto

Porto trail Benfica by eight points domestically but they showed admirable resolve to bounce back from successive defeats at the start of the group stage to qualify with four wins in a row. After suffering a knee injury a month ago, Pepe is a doubt for the World Cup but Porto should have his experience back at the heart of the defence for the last 16. This has not been an easy season domestically for Internazionale and they were twice well-beaten by Bayern Munich, but two fine counterattacking performances against Barcelona ensured progress to the knockout phase for only the second time in the past decade. If Romelu Lukaku can rediscover his form and fitness, his partnership with Lautaro Martínez represents a major threat.

Winners Porto.

PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman
PSG’s Keylor Navas concedes the only goal of the 2020 Champions League final to Bayern Munich’s Kingsley Coman (second right). Photograph: Miguel A Lopes/AP

Paris Saint-Germain v Bayern Munich

For most of the group stage Paris Saint-Germain seemed to be cruising to top spot, but they were undone at the last by Benfica’s flurry away to Maccabi Haifa and are punished with a repeat of the 2020 final. In a sense they fell into a trap they had dug themselves by drawing at home against Benfica the day after stories broke of Kylian Mbappé’s supposed unhappiness at the club. The competing egos will always be the biggest challenge for a PSG coach. Bayern are top of the Bundesliga again, but four draws and a defeat at Augsburg have led to a certain amount of chuntering about Julian Nagelsmann, despite six wins out of six in the Champions League. His record in big European games is not brilliant.

Winners Bayern Munich.

European roundup: Union Berlin fail to retake top spot as Leverkusen run riot | European club football

Union Berlin’s punishing schedule finally took its toll on Sunday with a 5-0 defeat after a disastrous second half at Bayer Leverkusen to leave Bayern Munich top of the Bundesliga.

Moussa Diaby scored twice and Adam Hlozek and Mitchel Bakker aalso found the net after former Union midfielder Robert Andrich had opened the scoring.

It was Union’s heaviest defeat of the season having previouslyconceded only nine goals in 12 games.

Union’s third defeat left Bayern two points clear with two rounds remaining before the league’s extended winter break to accommodate the World Cup in Qatar.

Both teams cancelled each other out in a lacklustre first half with few highlights. Then Andrich broke the deadlock right after the break with a low shot after a corner.

The next goal was a gift from goalkeeper Lennart Grill – who is on loan from Leverkusen – when he failed to control a backpass and the ball fell to Diaby, who finished off a post.

The French forward grabbed his second two minutes later, rounding off a counterattack started by Bakker as Union had pushed for a response.

Nadim Amiri crossed for Hlozek to score his first Bundesliga goal with his heel in the 68th, then Hlozek set up Bakker for the fifth in the 76th.

The win was only Leverkusen’s third of the season in the league and lifted them out of the relegation zone.

Danilo Pereira sees his header on its way into the net for PSG’s winner
Danilo Pereira (right) sees his header on its way into the net for PSG’s winner. Photograph: Stéphane Mahé/Reuters

Paris Saint-Germain needed a late goal from defender Danilo Pereira to scrape a 2-1 win at Lorient and restore a five-point lead at the top of Ligue 1.

Pereira headed home Neymar’s corner in the 81st minute as unbeaten PSG maintained their comfortable gap over second-place Lens.

Lionel Messi was rested because of some inflammation in his achilles tendon. The Argentina star, who will look to win the World Cup for the first time this winter, is expected to resume training next week.

Messi was replaced in attack by 20-year-old Hugo Ekitiké, who set up Neymar’s opening goal after nine minutes. Neymar’s 11th league goal moved him level with teammate Kylian Mbappé at the top of the scoring charts.

Fourth-place Lorient equalized in the 53rd through Terem Moffi’s ninth goal of the campaign. Enzo Le Fée sent the Nigeria striker running clear and Moffi fired past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Moffi hit the crossbar shortly after as Lorient got on top, but then failed to pick up Pereira from Neymar’s corner.

In La Liga, Atlético Madrid’s fans expressed their disapproval after a 1-1 home draw against 10-man Espanyol, a result that extended their winless streak to four matches in all competitions.

João Félix came off the bench to salvage the draw with a 78th-minute equalizer after the visitors had opened the scoring through Sergi Darder in the 62nd. Espanyol played a man down from the 28th after defender Leandro Cabrera was shown a straight red card for a foul on Álvaro Morata.

Atlético pressed until the end but could not find a winner, prompting jeers after the final whistle.

“The reaction from the fans is understandable, no one is happy,” Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “Until we start doing well on the field again, things won’t get better.”

This story will be updated

Lionel Messi is peaking at the right time for PSG and the World Cup | Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi’s first season in Ligue 1 would have been considered a success for most players. He scored 11 goals and provided 15 assists in 34 games for PSG, contributing directly to a goal every 110 minutes he was on the pitch. However, given his previous numbers – he had not dropped below one goal or assist per game since the 2006-07 season – it looked like the Argentinian was past his world-beating zenith. It turns out people have been too quick to write him off.

Messi’s form last season was affected by injuries, Covid and settling into new surroundings. His campaign was defined by his worst displays, rather than his best. His missed penalty and erratic display against Real Madrid in the last-16 stage of the Champions League stood out. He also struggled to adapt to Ligue 1, a pragmatic, physical league that is filled with teams who are well practised in deploying compact low-blocks.

As the season wore on, his influence grew as he moulded his style to fit his surroundings. Nevertheless, having won last year’s Ballon d’Or, Messi was still omitted from this year’s 30-man long list after making the top five every year since 2006. That was despite having a better goals and assists per 90 minutes ratio than Harry Kane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Phil Foden, Bernardo Silva, Sébastien Haller, Luis Díaz and Rafael Leão, all of whom play in similar positions yet made the list. Criticism of the decision to award Messi a somewhat generous seventh prize in 2021 may have had an impact.

Supporting Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, Messi became more of a deep-lying playmaker at PSG and he still led the league for assists per 90 minutes as well as progressive passes, through balls and passes into the area. However, despite scoring some crucial goals that carried PSG through a tricky Champions League group, he was far less decisive than he had been in Spain. French sports daily L’Équipe awarded him four or below in their match ratings on 10 occasions in Ligue 1 last season as Mauricio Pochettino’s stale PSG side eased to the title almost by default as a group of evenly matched chasing teams took too many points from each other for one challenger to emerge.

He performed better than some reports suggest, but he was passive, seemingly on autopilot, and the 2021-22 season goes down as a career low point. That decline, however, has been reversed since the summer. Messi has already scored more goals this season than he managed last term. He has contributed directly to 25 goals, a figure only Erling Haaland and Neymar can match in Europe’s top five leagues.

More importantly, his swagger has returned. Last season, the classic burst of pace and change of direction that Messi employs to beat defenders and break lines seemed to have disappeared. However, even at 35, his intensity and willingness to take on defenders has gloriously resurfaced this season.

Messi’s iconic deadweight passes that so often split defences and found teammates in crowded penalty boxes initially failed to travel with him to Ligue 1. This season has been different, though, with many of his 13 assists being perfectly timed through balls. As Maccabi Haifa found out in the Champions League last week during a 7-2 thrashing, his ability to manufacture an inch of space around the penalty area thanks to a shimmy or an exchange of passes before firing a bending snapshot into the net is also returning to devastating effect.

Perhaps most importantly, Messi’s emotions have resurfaced. Although famously low-key and shy off the pitch, the sullen demeanour and blank expression that persisted last season have been replaced by exchanges of broad smiles with celebrating teammates and a fire in his eyes, as shown by the way he celebrated after scoring a long-range thunderbolt in PSG’s 4-3 win over Troyes this weekend. Messi seems to be enjoying himself again. Reports suggest he has now settled in Paris and is enjoying life in France, with the possibility of a third, or even fourth, year at PSG already being discussed.

Messi clearly sees this is a pivotal season. He says the World Cup in Qatar next month will be his last and he has timed his peak perfectly. He has struggled with tiredness during previous tournaments at the end of long club campaigns but the early World Cup may suit him perfectly. Messi knows that a triumph for Argentina in Qatar would cement his place as perhaps the greatest player of all time. This may also be his last season playing alongside Mbappé and Neymar for PSG, giving him his best chance of winning another Champions League title, seven years after his last.

Despite exaggerated reports of his demise, Messi has proven his best may not be behind him just yet. With the chance of winning his first World Cup and PSG’s first Champions League on the horizon, this could be the season of his life.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Auxerre 1-0 Ajaccio

Brest 0-0 Reims

Monaco 2-0 Angers

Nantes 1-1 Clermont

Rennes 3-0 Montpellier

Lorient 1-2 Nice

Lyon 1-0 Lille

PSG 4-3 Troyes

Strasbourg 2-2 Marseille

Lens 3-0 Toulouse 

Thank you for your feedback.

Talking points

Kasper Schmeichel was outstanding for Nice as they beat Lorient.
Kasper Schmeichel was outstanding for Nice as they beat Lorient. Photograph: Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

Ligue 1’s surprise side of the season so far, Lorient, are now winless in three games after a 2-1 home defeat to struggling Nice. Having kept pace with PSG for much of the campaign, they have dropped to a still-remarkable fourth after 13 games. Dynamic rookie coach Régis Le Bris need not worry, however, as his team are still playing well. They tore Nice apart for the first hour, but failed to score a crucial second goal thanks to a string of sharp stops from Nice goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. A moment of brilliance from Youcef Atal and a deflected effort from Gaëtan Laborde gave Nice a flattering win. Lorient were also unfortunate in their 2-2 draw at Troyes last week. They are here to stay.

Promoted Toulouse have become one of Ligue 1’s most exciting and progressive teams this season, led by the delightful passing of midfielder Branco van den Boomen, a number of quick and skilful forwards, and a smattering of young talent. However, Philippe Montanier’s team were beaten 3-0 by Lens on Friday night. Loïs Openda came off the bench and scored a hat-trick for Lens, who were dominant throughout. Franck Haise’s team are up to second in the table and a Champions League spot seems to be theirs for the taking.

Ligue 1 table

Champions League roundup: Benfica eliminate Juventus as PSG run riot | Champions League

Benfica’s Rafa Silva scored twice as the Portuguese side defeated Juventus 4-3 in a thriller at the Estádio da Luz to seal a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League and end the Italian club’s chances in this year’s competition.

Benfica have 11 points from five games, the same as the Group H leaders Paris Saint-Germain, who defeated Maccabi Haifa 7-2 in an equally stunning game at the Parc des Princes. Juve’s three points, meanwhile, leaves them to focus on winning a place in the Europa League, something they can secure on the final matchday when they host PSG.

Benfica are now unbeaten in 20 games in all competitions this season and it was easy to see why on Tuesday night. They were inventive with the ball and might have been out of sight at half-time before a late Juve rally meant a nervous finish. As it was, it is the first time in the Italian giant’s history they have conceded three first-half goals in the Champions League, and the first time since 2013-14 they have failed to get out of their group.

The teenager Antonio Silva scored his first Benfica goal to give the home side the lead after 17 minutes before Juventus drew level when Moise Kean bundled the ball home four minutes later. Benfica were back in front thanks to a controversial penalty that was converted by João Mario before Rafa Silva appeared to make the points safe with two sublime finishes either side of the break.

The visitors pulled a goal back late on through Arkadiusz Milik after he was set up by the young English winger Samuel Iling, and the latter was key in creating a chance for Weston McKennie to score Juve’s third. That led to a tense finish on a night when Benfica looked as though they would humiliate their visitors but had to hold on as Rafa Silva missed out on a hat-trick by hitting the post.

“It’s really a pity and difficult to find the words,” the Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli said.

Paris Saint-Germain’s Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé both scored twice, with Neymar also on target, as the French club’s fearsome attack tore apart Maccabi Haifa in a 7-2 win to send them into the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring in the thrashing of Maccabi Haifa
Lionel Messi celebrates scoring in the thrashing of Maccabi Haifa Photograph: Catherine Steenkeste/Getty Images

The irrepressible trio were simply too much for Maccabi to handle although the Israeli side showed plenty of spirit in the Group H clash, with Abdoulaye Seck scoring twice. PSG’s romp means with one game remaining against Juventus they top the standings on goal difference from Benfica.

Despite their heavy defeat, Maccabi remain level on three points with Juve and will go into their last game at home against Benfica still hopeful of sealing a Europa League spot.

Christophe Galtier’s side took a while to find their attacking rhythm but once they clicked they were devastating as they threatened to surpass their 7-1 rout of Celtic in 2017.

“The 4-3-3 system meant the front three could be a little higher up the pitch and they had a little more freedom in their movements thanks to the work of the midfield,” Galtier said. “It’s a privilege to have those players and to see them play like that, for each other.”

Messi started things off in the 19th minute with a sumptuous opening goal scored with the outside of his left foot after being played in by Mbappé on the left side of the area. Mbappé’s opener was just as silky, the French forward bending a right-footer in the 32nd minute past goalkeeper Joshua Cohen who could not be faulted for any of PSG’s goals.

It began to turn ugly for Maccabi three minutes later when Mbappé and Messi combined to play in Neymar and the Brazilian’s shot went in on off the post. PSG switched off defensively to allow an unmarked Seck to head in from Omer Atzili’s free-kick but Messi then swapped passes with Neymar before dropping his shoulder and belting a left-footed shot low into the corner to make it 4-1 at half-time.

It took Messi’s Champions League total to 129, 12 behind the record of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Maccabi actually controlled the opening 10 minutes of the second half and when PSG made a hash of clearing a corner, Seck looped a header over Gianluigi Donnarumma and into the net. The visiting fans celebrated joyously but PSG then moved through the gears to run riot.

In the 64th minute Mbappé was picked out by a diagonal pass from Achraf Hakimi and he took a deft touch before picking out the far corner. As Maccabi finally lost heart Neymar’s dribble and low cross ended with Sean Goldberg netting an own goal.

Messi, who was denied a record ninth Champions League hat-trick by the crossbar, then set up Carlos Soler to wrap up the scoring with a low shot.

“We caught Paris on a good day. The smallest slip in concentration against players like that and they can score or have a big chance,” Maccabi defender Dylan Batubinsika said.”

RB Leipzig took a big step towards the Champions League knockout stage with a 3-2 home win against the holders Real Madrid.

With Real having already qualified for the last 16 their manager, Carlo Ancelotti, rested several regular starters and his side were dominated early on by a young Leipzig team. The hosts took the lead on 13 minutes with Josko Gvardiol scoring on the rebound from a Thibaut Courtois save after a bullet header by André Silva.

With the European champions still recovering from that blow, Leipzig extended their advantage five minutes later when David Raum tried to pass into the box but the ball deflected off a defender into the path of Christopher Nkunku who was quick to react and rifled the ball in off the crossbar.

Leipzig had two more great chances but Courtois saved Amadou Haidara’s strike from the edge of the box and Nkuku put a close-range shot wide after beating the onrushing Real goalkeeper to the ball but ending up with a tight angle trying to find the empty net.

“I think we came out very distracted in the beginning of the game and were caught sleeping against a team that is very aggressive,” Courtois said.

Leipzig are second in Group F on nine points, one behind the leaders Real and three ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk, who they face in their final group game next week in need of a draw to guarantee a top-two spot.

Milan revived their hopes of reaching the last 16 with a 4-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb. Back-to-back defeats by Chelsea in their two previous matches had left the Serie A champions with plenty to do to qualify for the knockout stages, but Matteo Gabbia’s first-half header set them on their way to a crucial victory in Croatia.

Rafael Leão’s solo run and finish early in the second half put the game beyond the home side before Olivier Giroud made sure of the three points with a penalty just before the hour mark. A late own goal put the seal on the second win of Milan’s European campaign and one that moves them up to second place in Group E on seven points. If they avoid defeat next week against Salzburg they will reach the last 16.

“I think it is clear that our growth continues with qualification,” the Milan head coach, Stefano Pioli, said.

Sevilla kept alive their slim hopes of reaching the last 16 after second-half goals from Youssef En-Nesyri, Isco and Gonzalo Montiel secured a convincing 3-0 home win against 10-man FC Copenhagen in Group G.

Barcelona fans take legal action over Lionel Messi’s transfer to PSG | Lionel Messi

A small group of Barcelona fans have quietly begun a process that could bring about seismic change in European football, after they went to court over the transfer of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain.

On Tuesday lawyers appeared before a senior judge at the European court of justice to argue that Messi’s move from Catalonia to Paris broke European laws on state aid, and call for the European Commission to investigate the transfer.

The session in Luxembourg lasted three hours in front of Judge Marc Jaeger, a former president of the court. The hearing was effectively an appeal, after an original claim against the European Commission was rejected. A verdict is expected within two months.

Messi joined PSG last summer in perhaps the most high-profile transfer of modern times. The eight-times Ballon d’Or winner left on a free transfer and agreed a contract reported to be worth £94m over three years. Last month Uefa found PSG to have been in breach of its financial fair play (FFP) regulations during this time and demanded €65m by way of financial settlement.

The supporters’ case argues that the French football authorities should never have allowed the Messi transfer to go through and that it distorted the competitive environment in continental football. But in calling for an investigation into the deal by the European Commission, they are also hoping to bring the world of football finance away from the game’s governing bodies and into the scope of Europe’s lawmakers for the first time.

According to notes provided by the European Court, the full claim by the fan group would see the original decision by the court overturned and the commission instructed to “order the French Football Federation (FFF) to immediately cease any … distortion of competition and to bring itself into compliance with Uefa club licensing and financial fair play regulations”. It also calls on the commission to instigate proceedings against the French government, for “illegal state aid to PSG and the French football clubs in national and European competitions”.

A fan sits on a chair with a Barcelona shirt draped over the back at the European court of justice
A fan sits on a chair with a Barcelona shirt draped over the back at the European court of justice. Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA

The case was heard against the backdrop of a dispute over the future of European football. Despite the collapse of the Super League last year, there is constant tension between clubs, competitions and their governing bodies. The three remaining ‘super league’ clubs – Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid – have taken Uefa to court claiming the governing body acts as a monopoly.

PSG have insisted the signing of Messi did not breach FFP regulations and on Tuesday a source said: “There is nothing to comment on – PSG isn’t even a party to the case.” The Ligue de Football Professionnel, which runs France’s major leagues and operates under the authority of the FFF, was approached for comment.

Sacking season hits Ligue 1 as four managers lose their jobs in a week | Ligue 1

Lyon’s decision to sack Peter Bosz has generated the most headlines in France, but three other Ligue 1 clubs have changed managers in the last week. The merry-go-round is in full swing, but none of the four clubs enjoyed much of a new-manager bounce at the weekend.

Granted, Laurent Blanc’s debut as Lyon manager, away to Rennes, was never going to be easy and it became more difficult when Corentin Tolisso picked up an injury in the first half that will likely keep him out until after the World Cup. Blanc’s rejigged 3-4-1-2 formation looked solid going forward, but the team struggled at the back, with Sinaly Diomandé and Jérôme Boateng looking far from match fit, the German playing his first match in five months. Houssem Aouar also returned to the team, having been an afterthought for Bosz.

The hope for Lyon is that, given their individual talent and the chance they have to refocus during the World Cup – only Cameroon forward Karl Toko Ekambi and Argentina full-back Nicolás Tagliafico are likely to be away – they will be back in the mix for a European place sooner rather than later.

Michel der Zakarian was the next to go, losing his job at Brest after a run of just one win in 10 games left them bottom of the table. Der Zakarian had been hamstrung by injuries to Steve Mounié and Jérémy Le Douaron, and a lack of form from Franck Honorat, but his dismissal made sense. His team at Montpellier had played some fantastic football, but he did not achieve the same at Brest this season.

Brest finished 11th last season and did not lose any major players in the summer yet they looked dour this season, like his Nantes sides of last decade, with Islam Slimani a lumbering targetman. Their only win was against Angers, who were down to 10 men and may be the only team in the league who have shown less quality than Brest this season. Der Zakarian had to go, especially given the small margin for error this season with four teams facing the drop.

Bruno Grougi, a club legend with more than 300 appearances, has taken over. His first match ended in a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of a Nantes side who have hardly been at the races themselves. Honorat spoke after the match about feeling liberated and more comfortable in a 4-3-3, but Brest now have the worst goal difference in the league and are still four points from safety. Grougi’s inexperience makes him a big gamble, even if he seems to be far more of a players’ manager than the steely Der Zakarian.

Auxerre parted ways with Jean-Marc Furlan after a run of six games without a win. They did little in the summer transfer window and still look like a Ligue 2 side, especially in defence. Their goalkeeper, Benoît Costil, has been their best player this season, which tells the story of their campaign. Furlan hardly helped his cause by showing the middle finger to rival fans after he was sent off during Auxerre’s defeat to Clermont last weekend. More importantly, his style of play – while efficient in the second tier last season – was simply beyond the players at his disposal in the top flight, something that became more apparent with each passing week.

Nuno Da Costa celebrates after scoring for Auxerre in the 1-1 draw with Nice.
Nuno Da Costa celebrates after scoring for Auxerre in the 1-1 draw with Nice. Photograph: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

Auxerre also made an interesting choice of manager, bringing in Michel Padovani. A long-time assistant at clubs such as Troyes and Bastia, he knows his team will need to adopt a hammer-and-tongs style to progress up the table. That was on full display when Nice visited on Sunday, the return of Julien Jeanvier helping the hosts to earn a deserved 1-1 draw. Sterner challenges will come, but Padovani seems to know how to get the best from this limited squad.

Finally, a word for Óscar Garcia, who was sacked by Reims last week. He struggled with a raft of injuries (Thomas Foket, Azor Matuswia), his goalkeeper Patrick Pentz looking like a fish out of water following his summer arrival, and also unimaginably poor discipline, with six red cards. Another two followed on Sunday against Lorient, as Reims earned a vital point, but it remains to be seen if Garcia’s replacement, the young Belgian manager William Still, has anything approaching his tactical nous.

The Spaniard’s attempt to play possession-based football at Saint-Étienne fell flat, but his system made sense for Reims, allowing the team to remain solid defensively with Junya Ito and Folarin Balogun looking dangerous on the counter. The outlay on Ito was a serious statement of intent from the board and their desire for better performances on the back of a club-record arrival is understandable. But Garcia’s sacking could look the worst of the four come the end of the season.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Toulouse 3-2 Angers

Auxerre 1-1 Nice

Nantes 4-1 Brest

Rennes 3-2 Lyon

Troyes 1-1 Ajaccio

Monaco 1-1 Clermont

PSG 1-0 Marseille

Lorient 0-0 Reims

Lens 1-0 Montpellier

Strasbourg 0-3 Lille 

Thank you for your feedback.

Talking points

PSG beat Marseille 1-0 on Sunday to go three points clear at the top of Ligue 1.
PSG beat Marseille 1-0 on Sunday to go three points clear at the top of Ligue 1. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Another Classique, another PSG win. Their 1-0 victory at the Parc des Princes on Sunday night was their 10th in 12 matches against Marseille. Since the start of the QSI era, PSG have lost just twice to their southern counterparts. Igor Tudor has done far better than expected this season, both domestically and in Europe, but the gap in finances between PSG and the rest of the league remains as wide as ever.

That being said, the competition below PSG looks mouth-watering. Second-placed Lorient will be gutted to have only drawn against 10-man Reims. Lens took full advantage by beating Montpellier and are now up to third, a point above Marseille, with in-form Rennes hot on their heels. A sustained title race looks unlikely, but there is still plenty of intrigue and quality football in France this season.

Some of that quality was on display as Rennes beat Lyon 3-2 on Sunday afternoon thanks to a goal from Amine Gouiri and a brace from Martin Terrier. It was a disappointing result for Laurent Blanc in his first game as Lyon manager. Rennes have struggled at times to avoid the nearly men label, especially given their largesse when compared to much of the rest of the league. But even with Warmed Omari and Baptiste Santamaria missing, they once again seem to be clicking into gear, with the departure of Gaëtan Laborde now balanced tactically with Arnaud Kalimuendo fit.

Laurent Blanc will need all of his defensive nous to succeed at Lyon | Ligue 1

Despite being known as a stoic and intelligent centre-back, Laurent Blanc is Montpellier’s all-time top goalscorer. After graduating from the club’s youth system as a midfielder, Blanc scored 84 goals for the club between 1983 and 1991. Blanc retreated into defence as his career progressed, winning trophies for Auxerre, Barcelona, Manchester United and the France national team.

Now Blanc the coach has been appointed by Lyon to bring about a defensive revolution at the club. Blanc’s task is to add solidity to an attacking approach that was haphazardly installed by Peter Bosz, the man he replaces. Blanc is a calming influence, but repeating the defensive transition he achieved during his playing days will be a difficult task.

Bosz’s style never truly fit Lyon, or Ligue 1. His previous successes with Ajax and, briefly, Bayer Leverkusen were achieved in more entropic divisions. Despite a recent tactical revolution, Ligue 1 remains a physical league full of powerful, well drilled defences and Lyon’s attacking approach under Bosz was easily exposed by more results-oriented teams.

Finding the right balance was a constant concern. Bosz tended to stick to his principles stubbornly, which gave the team a soft centre. There were gaps in midfield; the team often lacked a true holding player; and their defensive lines were eagerly exploited by less talented teams who were able to counter swiftly. Although Ligue 1 is moving away from the slow, defensive attitudes that were popular a decade ago, compact teams still know how to defend against stronger foes and Lyon regularly struggled to overwhelm opponents.

Lyon scored an impressive 66 goals last season – only Rennes and PSG scored more – however they also conceded 51, more than any other team in the top half of the table, slumping to a borderline-disastrous eighth-place finish, meaning no European football. Bosz was lucky to keep his job in the summer but was helped by a positive end to the season. There were signs that his ideas were finally starting to coalesce, but their 3-0 win at an off-colour Marseille and an intense 2-0 victory over Nice proved to be unrepresentative.

Lyon began the season brightly, winning four of their first five league games. However, they were exposed once they faced the league’s tougher opponents and quickly went on a four-game losing streak. This season’s surprise package, Lorient, embarrassed Lyon 3-1 in early September before PSG and Lens edged to 1-0 wins either side of a defeat to Monaco. Their 1-1 draw at home to newly promoted Toulouse on Friday night was Bosz’s final game.

Rarely did Bosz’s philosophy and Lyon’s performances match. After the Lorient defeat, the frustrated manager complained: “We defended very badly and played very badly with the ball. At half-time, I would have liked to change eight players.” A poor first half against Troyes prompted him to complain: “We can’t go on like this. We were late every time, badly placed on the pitch, we lost balls too easily.”

The players were not always clear about what their manager wanted. Alexandre Lacazette, the captain, reportedly confronted Bosz earlier this year about the team’s tactics as he and his teammates supposedly struggled to understand the Dutchman’s approach.

Whereas Bosz’s reign felt experimental, Blanc’s appointment is a traditional Lyon move under president Jean-Michel Aulas, in that he’s French (Bosz was only Lyon’s third foreign coach) and, in theory, a safe pair of hands. The situation mirrors what happened three years ago at the club, when Lyon appointed Rudi Garcia after the decision to appoint the untested Sylvinho – who was brought in by sporting director and fellow Brazilian Juninho – backfired.

Garcia took over in October 2019 and was charged with stabilising the club and taking them back into Europe. Lyon initially improved under Garcia, who led them to a Champions League semi-final but was moved on when the club only finished fourth in the 2020-21 season, despite playing the best football in France for much of the campaign.

Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Laurent Blanc hold the World Cup in 1998
Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly and Laurent Blanc hold the World Cup in 1998. Photograph: Michel Euler/AP

Blanc has had a mixed managerial career. Having memorably won Ligue 1 with Bordeaux in 2009, his two years in charge of the France team only offered an underwhelming Euro 2012 quarter-final exit to Spain. However, his three-year reign PSG has improved in hindsight, especially compared to the Unai Emery and Mauricio Pochettino eras. Both had less success with stronger squads and played less attractive football than Blanc, who won Ligue 1 and the Coupe de la Ligue in all three of his seasons, and twice lifted the Coupe de France.

Stylistically, Blanc is a typical 21st-century French coach: pragmatic and adaptable but with a hint of finesse. His peers include Garcia, Christophe Galtier (who is now coaching PSG), René Girard (who led Montpellier to the 2012 title) and Didier Deschamps, who succeeded him as coach of the national team. However, the recent tactical revolution in Ligue 1 – led by young, dynamic coaches such as Franck Haise, who continues to challenge for Europe at Lens; Régis Le Bris, whose Lorient side sit just a point behind PSG; and Julien Stéphan, who led Strasbourg to sixth last season after winning the Cup at Rennes – has changed much.

Four years out of the game and two coaching Al-Rayyan in Qatar will have done little to prepare Blanc for this new Ligue 1, which is producing an average of 3.09 goals per game, the joint-most of Europe’s top five leagues. Teams that once played pragmatically and parked the bus now press and break lines, employing a more vertical style. In Blanc’s last season at PSG, there were just 2.53 goals per game in Ligue 1, the least in the big five leagues.

Although French football may have moved on, Blanc has much to work with at Lyon. Only PSG and Monaco boast more impressive squads. The returns of Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso are major coups and the club’s academy remains as prolific as ever. Mobile midfielder Maxence Caqueret, graceful centre-back Castello Lukeba, and Malo Gusto, a Trent Alexander-Arnold-esque right-back, are all leading young players in their positions. Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, left-back Nicolás Tagliafico, and forwards Moussa Dembélé and Karl Toko-Ekambi are all reliable performers who ought to be playing in the Champions League.

Blanc will quickly rein in Bosz’s naivety, solidify the midfield and, with a strong squad unburdened by Europe, challenge for the top three in the league. But realising the club’s longer-term aims of winning trophies while being competitive in Europe every season – which Aulas is desperate to see at his beloved Lyon – will be tricky. The club could end up simply replicating Garcia’s reign.

Blanc’s transition towards his own goal during his playing days catapulted him into European football’s elite, but he may not be able to achieve the same shift at Lyon in the long term and in a much-changed French footballing landscape.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Montpellier 0-2 Monaco

Angers 2-3 Strasbourg

Brest 1-2 Lorient

Clermont 2-1 Auxerre
Nice 3-2 Troyes

Rennes 3-0 Nantes
Lille 1-0 Lens

Marseille 1-2 Ajaccio

Reims 0-0 PSG

Lyon 1-1 Toulouse 

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Talking points

Lorient players celebrate after beating Brest
Lorient players celebrate after beating Brest. Photograph: Loïc Venance/AFP/Getty Images

After Marseille’s shock 2-1 defeat at home to struggling Ajaccio, Lorient are now PSG’s closest challengers at the top of the table. Lorient have already accrued 69% of last season’s points tally in just 10 games. They were tipped for relegation, but rookie coach Régis Le Bris has re-energised powerful striker Terem Moffi – who scored twice in Sunday’s win at Brest – got the best from the talented but slight creator Enzo Le Fée, and helped 20-year-old winger Dango Ouattara become Ligue 1’s breakout young player. After six wins in a row, beating Lyon, Lille and Rennes already, Lorient show no signs of slowing down.

PSG are undefeated this season but, after successive draws with Benfica and Reims, Galtier is reportedly concerned about his team’s form and the effectiveness of the 3-4-3 set-up instigated by sporting director Luís Campos. Despite some riotous early season form, especially from Neymar and more recently Lionel Messi, PSG look less fluid now that opponents have learned how to combat the new system. Galtier is concerned that moving to a 4-3-3 would destabilise his attackers, who are thriving individually in a narrower set-up, by demanding more from them defensively. However, if their results do not improve, his hand may be forced.

Champions League: Sevilla sack Lopetegui after Bellingham’s brilliance | Champions League

Borussia Dortmund struck three times in the first half to beat their hosts Sevilla 4-1 in Champions League Group G on Wednesday and stay firmly on course for the last 16. Sevilla’s manager, Julen Lopetegui, was later sacked with reports in Spain saying the Argentinian Jorge Sampaoli could be his replacement.

Raphaël Guerreiro put the German side in front with a powerful strike before the 19-year-old Jude Bellingham angled a shot into the far corner after a superb run into the box, to become the youngest captain to score in a Champions League match. The England international is also the first teenage midfielder to score in three consecutive Champions League games.

Karim Adeyemi made it 3-0 on the rebound two minutes from half-time although Sevilla’s Youssef En-Nesyri cut the deficit six minutes after the restart before Julian Brandt’s glancing header made sure of the points 15 minutes from time.

As Dortmund players celebrated their win, Lopetegui left the pitch waving to fans who were chanting his name.

Dortmund, who host Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga on Saturday, are second in the group on six points, three behind the leaders Manchester City.

The defending champions, Real Madrid, were forced to ride their luck to extend their 100% start at the top of Group F with a 2-1 win against Shakhtar Donetsk at the Santiago Bernabéu.

The hosts looked poised to coast to victory after Rodrygo fired a long-range opener then Vinícius Junior doubled their advantage with less than half an hour on the clock. But Shakhtar replied through a thunderous volley from Oleksandr Zubkov before the break and the visitors continued to threaten to snatch an equaliser on the counter-attack.

Lionel Messi has Benfica players backing off.
Lionel Messi has Benfica players backing off. He scored a brilliant goal but PSG drew 1-1 at Benfica Photograph: DeFodi Images/Getty Images

A brilliant strike from Lionel Messi was not enough for Paris Saint-Germain to preserve their perfect start in Group H as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Benfica. Messi curled a 22nd-minute opener past the home goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos but his effort was cancelled out by a 41st-minute own goal by Danilo Pereira which keeps the hosts level at the top of the group.

Two goals from Adrien Rabiot got Juventus up and running at the third time of asking as they swept to a 3-1 win against Maccabi Haifa in Turin.

Starting pointless after their first two games, Rabiot grabbed a 35th-minute opener before Dusan Vlahovic doubled Juve’s lead early in the second half. Dean David set up a nervy finish for the hosts when he reduced the deficit in the 75th minute but Rabiot’s second seven minutes from time wrapped up an overdue victory.

A second-half penalty from Noah Okafor proved enough for Salzburg to beat Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 and take over at the top of the Group E with five points from their first three games.

Wissam Ben Yedder’s hat-trick shows Didier Deschamps what he is missing | Ligue 1

Wissam Ben Yedder’s hat-trick for Monaco against Nantes on Sunday evening at the Stade-Louis II was a brilliant repudiation of Didier Deschamps’ decision to drop him from the France squad last month. A regular for two years, the diminutive Ben Yedder has won 19 caps under Deschamps and, while he’s only scored three goals for his country, his imperious form in Ligue 1 and the fact that he offers France a different type of attacking option made him a likely member of the World Cup squad.

This season, though, Ben Yedder’s form had drifted. He failed to find the net in his first five league games and did not break that duck until the weekend before the international break, when he scored late on against Reims. His form mirrored his club’s. After a brilliant win at Strasbourg on the opening day, Monaco did not win any of their next four league matches. Their 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes was a decent result, as was their gritty stalemate when down to 10 men against Rennes, but their losses to Troyes and Lens were worrying, particularly as Lyon and Marseille made flying starts.

The departure of Aurélien Tchouaméni had a big impact on the team’s ability to play with the dynamism they showed last season. However, the absence through injury of Myron Boadu and Kevin Volland (who came off the bench on Sunday), along with an inconsistent start for Takumi Minamino, meant that – despite the work done by the impressive Breel Embolo – Ben Yedder’s scoring was most keenly missed, doubly so given his role as captain. Being asked to play as a lone striker at times did not make things any easier but, with just one goal in more than five hours of league football, he was hardly making his case to Deschamps.

With his club form drifting, Ben Yedder was left out of the France squad for their Nations League matches against Austria and Denmark, with Christopher Nkunku and Randal Kolo Muani drafted in and Olivier Giroud also picked.

The riposte from the famously taciturn Ben Yedder – who scored 32 times for Monaco last season – started early against Nantes, with his elegant sixth-minute chip, following an inventive header from Embolo, extending the hosts’ lead to 2-0 . The pair have taken some time to acclimatise to each other, but manager Philippe Clement was effusive in his praise for them after the match, saying: “It’s important to create complementarity between two players, and this was the case today.”

Aleksandr Golovin set up Ben Yedder’s second goal just before the half-hour mark, the striker doing what he does best and finding the top corner with his first touch. He then added a third from the penalty spot midway through the second half, sealing the result for Clement’s men, with a late own goal the only blemish on Monaco’s 4-1 win.

Monaco are still only fifth, though, so have work to do. The four sides above them in the table – PSG, Marseille, Lorient and Lens – all won this weekend. But Monaco have a kind run of fixtures before the World Cup, including matches against a leaky Montpellier side, Clermont and Angers; their game against Marseille in mid-November is the only one that looks dangerous.

It’s not all been smooth sailing for Monaco, but in the last few matches they – and their captain – have looked far more like the team we wrote about earlier in the season. What has turned into a surprisingly challenging Europa League group will offer no respite but, with Volland and defender Guillermo Maripán both fit again, Monaco look as well equipped as any team in France to finish in the top three.

Quick Guide

Ligue 1 results


Lorient 2-1 Lille
Ajaccio 1-3 Clermont
Auxerre 1-1 Brest
Toulouse 4-2 Montpellier
Troyes 2-2 Reims
Monaco 4-1 Nantes
Lens 1-0 Lyon
Strasbourg 1-3 Rennes
PSG 2-1 Nice
Angers 0-3 Marseille 

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Talking points

Kylian Mbappé came off the bench and scored PSG’s winner against Nice.
Kylian Mbappé came off the bench and scored PSG’s winner against Nice. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

For a few moments on Saturday evening, it looked as if PSG would drop points for just the second time this season. Nice were not expected to hold them to a draw but Gaëtan Laborde’s equaliser early in the second half was shaping up to be a momentous goal, especially as Les Aiglons badly needed a result given their recent form. It wasn’t to be, however, Kylian Mbappé coming off the bench to slot home the winner five minutes from time. In his first match without his vaunted attacking trio available from the start, this wobble will have been unnerving for Christophe Galtier but the result is what matters. Mbappé once again proved to be PSG’s trump card and the decision to leave him out of the starting XI means he is rested before the trip to Benfica in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Incredibly, had PSG not won, they would have shared top spot with Marseille. Yes, Marseille came second last season and were expected to tussle for a European place, but with key defenders Luan Peres, William Saliba and Boubacar Kamara all leaving in the summer, Igor Tudor’s side looked a shambles in pre-season. They have been anything but since, though, with their squad showing impressive balance and depth. They dispatched Angers easily on Friday without really breaking a sweat. The season is long and the Champions League looks (again) to be a stumbling block, but on the evidence so far, Tudor deserves a rather hearty mea culpa from his doubters.

Finally, a word for Rennes. After a couple of early season defeats to Lens and Lorient, Bruno Génésio’s team has now gone seven games unbeaten across all competitions. With summer signing Arnaud Kalimuendo fit and scoring again at the weekend, they look sharper by the week. Add a defence that’s the fourth-best in the league, and the departures of Laborde and Nayef Aguerd this summer look increasingly like irrelevances. The Breton side are poised for another tilt at the European places.

Ligue 1 table