2019/20 Champions League

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Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Tuesday Champions League preview: Chelsea v. Ajax, Liverpool v. Genk

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The Champions League group stage is halfway complete, and while the groups are taking shape, there’s still plenty to sort out as teams look for openings through to the knockout stage.

Two Premier League teams are in action – both at home – as Chelsea hosts Ajax at Stamford Bridge while Liverpool gets set to host Genk at Anfield.

[ MORE: Liverpool to rotate squad in Champions League? ]

The Reds will be watched closely as this could be a potential trap game for Liverpool, knowing the massive tilt against Manchester City looms over the weekend. Jurgen Klopp as refused to answer questions about Man City, saying he is “not in the mood” to talk about the weekend’s game knowing they still must traverse the 90 minutes against the Belgian side.

The match is a critical one for Liverpool, who sits second in Group E, a point behind leaders Napoli and three ahead of third-placed Red Bull Salzburg. Dropped points against Genk could see Liverpool placed in a perilous position, especially should Salzburg shock the Italian side in Naples. The Reds have looked vulnerable at times in Europe this season, losing at Napoli for the second straight season while staving off a Salzburg comeback at home in a wild 4-3 win. Klopp may rotate the squad with the Man City game looming, but he will almost surely not take this game for granted.

Napoli, meanwhile, hosts Salzburg in the other Group E fixture, with an opportunity to bounce back from the weekend’s loss to Roma in Serie A play. The Napoli defense, anchored by Kalidou Koulibaly, gave up 17 shots to the home side in the nation’s capital despite a 57% possessional advantage. That defense will now deal with a Red Bull Salzburg side that leads the Austrian Bundesliga table and has scored an astonishing 53 goals in 13 league matches.

Chelsea hosts a quality Ajax side in London with the two teams level on points atop Group H in a game that could put any winner on the brink of qualification should other results go their way. The Blues won the reverse fixture in the Netherlands two weeks ago thanks to a late Michy Batshuayi winner, but Chelsea is in even better form now than they were at that point.

American Christian Pulisic has risen to a contributing role at the club in Premier League play, and therefore could be rested should manager Frank Lampard wish to save him for the domestic match against Crystal Palace over the weekend, potentially giving Calum Hudson-Odoi a chance to shine. Should Pulisic find the field, he could once again match up with international teammate Sergino Dest, who recently committed to the United States long-term. He beat Dest to assist Batshuayi’s winner last time these teams matched up.

A fascinating match in Germany sees Borussia Dortmund host Inter Milan at Westfalenstadion with both teams in good form. Inter has lost just twice all year in all competitions – to Barcelona and Juventus – sitting second in the Serie A table. They also knocked off Dortmund at home in the reverse fixture behind bookend goals from Lautaro Martinez and Antonio Candreva, with the former in incredible form having scored in five of his seven October matches. Dortmund, meanwhile, has lost just once in league play and is on a seven-match unbeaten run, but only three of those produced wins and a poor result to Inter would leave them vulnerable in Group F, currently level with Inter on four points behind leaders Barcelona on seven.

Barcelona welcomes Slavia Prague to the Camp Nou looking to put the Catalan giants on the brink of qualification to the knockout stage. A win plus a Dortmund or Inter victory in Germany would mean the La Liga side’s magic number decreases to just one. The reverse fixture in the Czech Republic saw a 56th minute own-goal prove decisive in a 2-1 Barcelona win, but they were poor on the ball and gave up a whopping 24 shots – nine on target – on the road. A repeat of that performance could see Group F thrown into deepening chaos.

RB Leipzig travels to Zenit St. Petersburg in a matchup of the two top teams in Group G in a critical game for both sides as the group remains logjammed, with just three points separating top from bottom. The trailing two sides Lyon and Benfica meet in France as they both look to pounce on any potential slips of the aforementioned squads leading the pack. Finally, Valencia hosts Lille as the Spanish side hopes to capitalize on any potential Group H loser in London.

Juventus Champions League squad omits Mandzukic, Can

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Juventus released its 22-man squad for the upcoming Champions League group stages, and two names were surprising omissions.

Mario Mandzukic and Emre Can were both left off the squad and will be unable to participate in Champions League matches throughout the group stage. Juventus acquired loads of talent this summer, especially in midfield, and failed to secure adequate departures to balance the squad.

The 33-year-old Mandzukic has been with the club since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2015, and has made 162 appearances for the Italian side, by far the most of any club in his career. His surprising omission comes at the hands of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, with no other outright strikers in the group. Higuain returned to Juventus this summer after loan spells at AC Milan and Chelsea last season, costing Mandzukic his place in the squad.

Still just 25 years old, Emre Can was pushed out of his place in the Juventus midfield by the free transfer signings of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot this summer, with both included in the Champions League squad. Rabiot is slowly being integrated into the Juve squad, while Ramsey is currently shelved while recovering from a hamstring injury suffered back in the spring with Arsenal. Can also signed with Juve on a free the previous summer, and he was a regular starter for the side last season when not injured.

Can, however, has struggled with injuries throughout his career, a possible reason for leaving him off the Champions League roster. The German international has played just 30 minutes of Juve’s first two Serie A matches of the season, coming on as a substitute for the final half-hour of the crazy 4-3 win over Napoli last weekend. Fellow oft-injured midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Sami Khedira made the cut over Can, however, signaling a reckoning for the German.

Giorgio Chiellini was also left off the roster, although that was expected after the veteran defender suffered a torn ACL that will at the very least keep him out until the new year, and could potentially end the 35-year-old’s season. Young defenders Matthijs de Ligt and Merih Demiral both make the list in Chiellini’s absence.

With Mattia Perin injured until at least mid-November, Wojciech Szczesny and Gianluigi Buffon are the main goalkeepers while Carlo Pinsoglio serves as the emergency netminder.

This summer, Juventus brought in a wealth of talent, including Ramsey, Rabiot, Higuain, de Ligt, Demiral, Cristian Romero, Danilo, and Luca Pellegrini. They sold Moise Kean to Everton and Joao Cancelo to Manchester City, but the midfield especially remains far too clogged.