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Winners & Losers

Spanish inquisitions, English duels and Hart attacks: Champions League Winners and Losers as La Liga clubs struggle in Europe

11:30 SAST 2022/10/06
Champions League Winners and Losers GFX
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are staring group-stage exits in the face, while it was a good week for English right-backs and in-form Napoli

As Bon Jovi famously sang, "Woah, we're halfway there," and at the midpoint of this season's Champions League group stage, there are a number of giants who find themselves living on a prayer as their European fate hangs in the balance.

It was another week of eye-catching continental results and performances, with some teams now within touching distance of the knockout rounds, while others wonder if there is even a place in the Europa League in their future.

But who had the best week? And who needs to move on and forget it ever happened?

GOAL breaks down matchday three's Champions League winners and losers...

  • Alexander-Arnold James GFX

    WINNER: English right-backs

    The battle to be England's starting right-back at the World Cup is set to be one of the stories of the autumn around the Premier League clubs, and two of the prime candidates showed out on the European stage this week.

    There might still be question marks over Trent Alexander-Arnold's defensive capabilities, but there are very few players in the world - full-back or not - who can strike a dead ball like the Liverpool man can, as illustrated by his stunning free-kick goal against Rangers on Tuesday.

    Twenty-four hours later, it was Reece James' turn to showcase his credentials as he shone for Chelsea in their resounding win over AC Milan, getting himself on the scoresheet in the process.

    There was even an impressive European debut for Manchester City teenager Rico Lewis in their victory over FC Copenhagen, suggesting that the conveyor belt of talented English right-backs is not about to slow down.

    So with Kyle Walker facing a race against time to be fit for Qatar 2022, who are you starting against Iran on November 21 - Alexander-Arnold, James or someone else?

  • Raphinha Barcelona 2022-23

    LOSER: Spanish teams not named Real Madrid

    While defending champions Madrid are making serene progress through the group stages, winning three of three so far, the rest of the Spanish contingent in this season's competition are facing an uphill battle to reach the knockout stages.

    Barcelona have now suffered back-to-back defeats as they went down 1-0 to Inter at San Siro, meaning they have just three points from their opening three games.

    They do still have home matches against Inter and Bayern Munich to come, but anything less than four points from those two games could leave them vulnerable to a second successive group-stage exit.

    Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, have also lost consecutive games on the road as they followed up defeat at Bayer Leverkusen with an insipid display against Club Brugge on Tuesday.

    Sevilla are in an even worse position, having picked up just one point from their opening three matches, with Wednesday's 4-1 home loss against Borussia Dortmund the final straw as Julen Lopetegui was sacked just minutes after full-time, with Jorge Sampaoli waiting to take over the reins.

  • Giovanni Simeone Napoli 2022-23

    WINNER: Napoli

    Top of Serie A and with three wins from three in the Champions League, it is difficult to find a team having a better start to the season compared to what was expected of them than Napoli.

    Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly, Dries Mertens and Fabian Ruiz all left the club this summer, but they have bounced back from having their spine ripped out in incredible fashion, with Tuesday's 6-1 win away at Ajax the crowning moment of their campaign so far.

    Georgian superstar Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, AKA Kvaradona, might be getting all the headlines, but the likes of Victor Osimhen, Giacomo Raspadori, Piotr Zielinski and Giovanni Simeone are also thriving in attack for Luciano Spalletti's free-wheeling side.

    They now look odds-on to win their group and go into the knockout stages as a seeded side, and if they can maintain this form in the second half of the season, then a deep run in the knockout rounds is not beyond them.

  • Steven Bergwijn Ajax 2022-23

    LOSER: Ajax

    On the other side of the coin, Ajax's heaviest defeat in any competition since 1964 has sent shockwaves through Dutch football, with questions now being asked as to whether new manager Alfred Schreuder is the right coach to see them through their current transition.

    Like Napoli, the Dutch champions lost a host of star names over the summer, including Antony, Lisandro Martinez, Sebastien Haller and Ryan Gravenberch, as well as manager Erik ten Hag, and the decision to go for developmental replacements means falling back in Europe was perhaps inevitable.

    That said, the way in which they collapsed against Napoli was concerning, with some atrocious defending on display at the Johan Cruyff ArenA.

    All is not lost, though they will likely need to win away at Napoli or at home to Liverpool in their next two matches to have any hope of a top-two finish.

  • Kamal Sowah Club Brugge 2022-23

    WINNER: Surprise group leaders

    If the draw were to be made for the last 16 now, Club Brugge, Red Bull Salzburg and Sporting C.P. would be among the seeded teams, and there is a reason to believe that at least one of those clubs will remain top of their group through until matchday six.

    Brugge have won three from three, with their 2-0 victory over Atletico Madrid backing up their thumping away win over Porto a few weeks earlier.

    They now have a six-point cushion atop Group B, and one win from their final three games should be enough to secure top spot.

    Salzburg have much more work to do to emulate the Belgian champions, but after draws against AC Milan and Chelsea, they picked up the win they needed at home to Dinamo Zagreb to maintain a one-point advantage at the top of Group E heading into the reverse fixtures.

    Sporting did not have a great week, going down 4-1 to Marseille, but Tottenham's failure to win away at Eintracht Frankfurt means that top spot in Group D remains up for grabs.

  • Joe Hart Celtic 2022-23

    LOSER: Joe Hart

    Oh Joe! Just as Celtic's fans were revelling in RB Leipzig's misfortune following a disallowed goal for the German side, the goalkeeper showed exactly why Pep Guardiola did not believe he possessed the ability with his feet to be his Manchester City goalkeeper.

    Hart's attempted pass into defence was intercepted by Dominik Szoboszlai, who laid it on a plate for Andre Silva to score the go-ahead goal for the German side in their 3-1 win.

    It was the lifeline Leipzig needed after two defeats to start the competition, and leaves Celtic knowing that anything less than two wins from their upcoming back-to-back home matches will likely see them exit the competition at the first hurdle.