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Champions League

Three talking points as Tottenham eased to victory over minnows APOEL Nicosia

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Tottenham made it five wins from a possible six in the Champions League group stage as Mauricio Pochettino’s experimental team cantered to a three-goal win over Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia.

With passage to the last 16 already secured ahead of the final round of fixtures, the Tottenham manager awarded rare starts to Juan Foyth, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and striker Fernando Llorente.

And it was the £12million deadline day signing from Swansea City that got the hosts off to the perfect start, collecting the ball inside the six-yard box before swivelling and finishing in one swift move.

Son Heung-min then got in on the act shortly before half-time when his curling effort from the edge of the area – finishing off a smart one-two with the impressive Llorente – left APOEL’s goalkeeper helpless.

The visitors needed at least a point to salvage any chance of a Europa League spot and although Praxitelis Vouros went close after the break when his deflected strike fizzed narrowly past the post it was Pochettino’s side who added a deserved third late on, with N’Koudou’s strike cannoning into the net.

Tottenham – who can claim the accolade of finishing the group stages with the most points of any team to qualify – will now turn their attention to Monday morning when the draw for the last 16 gets underway.

Youth given a chance as Pochettino rings the changes

With Tottenham already assured of their passage to the knock-out stages as Group H winners, and considering the minnow status of the opposition, it offered the chance for youth to be given a shot.

Juan Foyth – bought from Argentinian side Estudiantes during the summer transfer window – and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou were awarded the opportunity to impress by boss Mauricio Pochettino, whilst academy product and 19-year-old striker Kazaiah Sterling was introduced for his Spurs debut.

Whilst it wasn’t particularly the most testing 90 minutes of football that these young players will ever face in a Tottenham shirt it offered a glimpse of the future, with Foyth in particular impressing.

The 19-year-old defender slotted in nicely alongside the beastly figure of Davinson Sanchez, seeming comfortable when repelling any of APOEL’s endeavours in attack and dealing with problems in a composed manner, and Pochettino would have been pleased with the Argentine’s tidy performance.

And it was N’Koudou who added some deserved gloss to the score-line late on, wriggling his way into the penalty area before his deflected effort found its way in for his first ever Tottenham goal.

It’s unlikely that these players – nor Kyle Walker-Peters, a second-half substitute – will all of a sudden become first-team regulars overnight, but it was valuable first-team exposure nonetheless.

Llorente off the mark in a Tottenham shirt

The last few months have been something of a struggle for Fernando Llorente, overcoming an arm injury whilst trying to impress in the little first-team action he’s been awarded since moving to north London.

Due to the way that Pochettino sets his side up week-in, week-out, packing the midfield instead of utilising two strikers, and due to Harry Kane’s undroppable nature, it’s been tough going until now.

Yet with Kane given a rest for an essential ‘dead rubber’ final group stage match, Llorente was awarded his first start of the Champions League this season and certainly sent a message of intent to his manager.

The 32-year-old was a potent outlet throughout – with his height and strength causing no end of problems for a weak APOEL defence – and his goal inside the opening 20 minutes wasn’t one affiliated with a man devoid of confidence, smartly turning his man before firing into a gaping net.

It was a goal that got his Tottenham tally up and running after 17 appearances – and nearly seven hours of football – and it will no doubt feel like a huge weight has been lifted from off his shoulders.

His performance went from strength to strength after that early boost too, with his cushioned one-two putting the ball into Son’s path for the second, and he could – and arguably should – have doubled his efforts on the night when he completely mis-kicked a clear shot from just a few yards out.

As with the other fringe players on show on Wednesday night it is unlikely to ever see Llorente marching out ahead of Kane anytime soon but it showed he could be a key squad player as the season goes on.

Pochettino clears up Rose incident

Whilst Wednesday offered the chance for a lot of fringe players to get a taste of first-team football in Europe, it offered Danny Rose the chance to continue trying to stake a claim for his starting berth back.

Since returning from a long-term injury he has found it difficult to reach the heights of last season when he was named in the PFA team of the year, playing just two of Spurs’ last five league matches.

And he was certainly in the thick of the action at Wembley Stadium – albeit mainly for the wrong reasons – as he escaped with only a yellow after reacting rashly to a challenge before storming straight down the tunnel by himself after being hauled off by Pochettino with 20 minutes remaining.

At the time it seemed that he was frustrated at being taken off prematurely, although speaking shortly after full-time Pochettino cleared up the issue and said:

“Players are never happy when they are going out. He had a big cut and the doctors said he needed a stitch and it was impossible to play. Of course the player was frustrated because it was Champions League but nothing is wrong.”

It transpired that Rose needed five stitches to a cut above his eye as a result after falling on the wrong end of an APOEL challenge, with Pochettino left with no choice but to end his night early.

But in terms of his contribution on the pitch the England left-back did very little to convince the Tottenham boss that he merits a starting role ahead of Ben Davies, failing to impress once again.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Champions League

Ranking Liverpool’s possible Champions League semi-final opponents

The draw for the semi-final stage takes place on Friday 13th April.

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Liverpool
Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool shocked the footballing world with a 5-1 aggregate dismantling of Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals, earning themselves their first semifinal appearance in a decade.

The draw to determine who they will play in the last four occurs on Friday, and here are Liverpool’s possible opponents ranked in terms of difficulty.

1. Roma

Fresh off a superb 3-0 second leg win over Barcelona, the Serie A side are certainly high on confidence and feel as if they can beat any team in the world.

Nonetheless, the Reds will be hoping they are rewarded with a matchup against the Italian side, as they are the most inexperienced team left in the competition.

The farthest Roma have ever made it in the UEFA Champions League were back-to-back quarterfinal appearances in 2006/07 and 2007/08; the semifinals mark uncharted territory for the Italians in the modern era.

Roma are also in poor league form, having recently lost to Fiorentina and drawing with Bologna, and currently sit 21 points off the pace in Serie A.

Liverpool would love to play the only remaining Italian side in the semifinals, as it would pit them against an inexperienced European club.

(Photo by Christof Stache/Getty Images)

2. Bayern Munich

One of the world’s best clubs and boasting a superstar collection of top players, the Bundesliga champions are a team to fear.

They have cantered to their sixth-straight league title this spring, winning the title in customary fashion with over a month still to play.

But although it has been all smooth sailing at home, they have shown signs of imperfection in the Champions League. They failed to muster a goal in their second-leg 0-0 draw with Sevilla, and were also thrashed 3-0 by Paris Saint Germain in the group stage.

Although the Bavarian giants are still a force to be reckoned with, they have shown signs of cracking this year; a fact that Liverpool can take heart from.

(Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

3. Real Madrid

The back-to-back defending European champions would be the last club Liverpool want to face for a spot in the final.

Real Madrid possess the most dangerous player in Champions League history in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo, gifting Los Blancos the ability to win a match out of nowhere.

Ronaldo’s uncanny scoring skills were on display in the quarterfinal battle against Juventus, where he scored three goals, including an outrageous overhead kick and a stoppage-time penalty to send Real through.

Madrid simply don’t get knocked out in Europe; the Reds should be praying they avoid the Spanish side in the semifinal draw.

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Champions League

Cristiano Ronaldo provides spectacular reminder that he remains a dominant force in world football

The Portugal captain scored a sensational goal in Real Madrid’s midweek victory over Juventus.

Martyn Cooke

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Cristiano Ronaldo
Photo: Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo is no stranger to the spectacular.

The Portuguese superstar has been making headlines since he made his debut for Sporting Lisbon as a 17-year-old and he has since gone on to establish himself as one of, if not the, best player of his generation.

His record at both club and international level is remarkable, both in terms of scoring goals and winning titles, and there is little that the winger has not accomplished in a career that has spanned sixteen years and shows no sign of ending any time soon.

However, on Tuesday evening he produced a moment of magic that quite simply took the breath away.

Ronaldo had already put Real Madrid in control of their quarter-final tie in the Champions League against Juventus with an early close-range finish. It gave his side a vital away goal against Italy’s dominant club and also continued his own remarkable goalscoring record in the competition.

Then came one of the most spectacular goals in Champions League history.

Dani Carvajal clipped in a lofted cross into the Juventus eighteen-yard box and there seemed to be little danger as the ball floated towards the penalty spot.

Ronaldo dynamically leapt upwards, appearing to hang momentarily in the air, before producing a perfectly struck, acrobatic overhead kick. The ball flew beyond the astonished Gianluigi Buffon and into the far corner of the net.

(Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/Getty Images)

Spectacular. Astonishing. Jaw-dropping. It feels that words and superlatives can do no justice to the moment of skill produced.

The normally loud and raucous Juventus Stadium was stunned into silence. Zinedine Zidane, no stranger to creating magic on a football pitch himself, simply put a hand to his head and turned towards the bench.

And then applause broke out from the Juventus supporters – a demonstration of respect for one of the best players in the world.

The goal may have been a joy to behold, the perfect combination of technique and athletic ability, but it was also a fierce reminder that Ronald remains one of the dominant forces in world football.

At 33 years of age some onlookers have suggested that the Portuguese superstar’s powers may be beginning to wain and that his best years are behind him.

This was simply further evidence that such speculation is unfounded.

Ronaldo’s statistics this season are remarkable.

He has scored 23 goals in his last 12 games for Real Madrid and 39 goals in 36 appearances this campaign.

He has scored 43 goals in total for club and country this season.

He has scored in every Champions League tie this campaign, 14 in total, and is the first player to score in all six group games and in 10 consecutive ties.

(Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Furthermore, he is Real Madrid’s all-time leading goal scorer (446) and the all-time leading goal scorer in Champions League history (119).

You would struggle to replicate those figures if you were playing on a computer game.

There is absolutely no sign the Ronaldo’s prowess is in decline and, if anything, he looks more prominent now than ever.

In addition to this, the common accusation that he fails to produce in the ‘big games’ has firmly been dispelled this season.

In the Champions League alone, he has scored against Tottenham Hotspur (both ties), Borussia Dortmund (both ties), Paris Saint Germain (both ties) and Juventus.

Ronaldo truly is a modern genius on the football pitch and his remarkable goal on Tuesday night was a reminder that the 33-year-old intends to remain at the pinnacle of the game for a long time to come.

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Champions League

Liverpool fans rave after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s superb defensive performance

The teenager marshalled Leroy Sane brilliantly throughout the match.

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Photo: Getty Images

Liverpool delivered the shock result of the Champions League season tonight, demolishing Manchester City 3-0 at Anfield.

Goals from Mohamed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Sadio Mane sealed the deal for the Reds in the opening half hour, but perhaps the most impressive part of the match was the exceptional performance of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The young fullback had been targeted by City as a possible weak link, given his shaky starts in other big matches this year. Just weeks ago against Manchester United, the 19-year-old was torn to shreds by Marcus Rashford, looking out of place and overwhelmed.

(Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

And Pep Guardiola set up to isolate the English youngster and attacked down his wing with purpose. Diagonal balls in the direction of Leroy Sane were a constant fixture of Manchester City’s play, but Alexander-Arnold stood firm, contributing to Liverpool’s vital clean sheet.

To keep a clean sheet in the quarterfinals of the Champions League is impressive on its own, but to do it against the champions-elect, the top-scorers in the Premier League, and without one of your first choice centre-backs, is sensational.

Alexander-Arnold was at the heart of the Reds’ valiant defensive performance, and observers on Twitter rightly applauded him for his efforts.

Fans also commented on Alexander-Arnold’s tender age, a factor that made his performance even the more impressive.

The ever-popular back pocket joke also circulated on the Twittersphere, many supporters couldn’t resist the classic banter when describing Alexander-Arnold’s domination of Sane.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, take a bow son.

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