The Malta Independent 21 January 2021, Thursday

Champions League: Real Madrid win 2-0 at 10-man Inter; Atalanta stun Liverpool

Associated Press Thursday, 26 November 2020, 07:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Real Madrid produced its most complete performance yet in this season’s Champions League to beat 10-man Inter Milan 2-0 on Wednesday.

Eden Hazard converted a penalty early in the first half and Rodrygo’s header deflected in off Inter defender Achraf Hakimi in the 59th minute as Madrid remained one point behind Group B leader Borussia Mönchengladbach, which eased to a 4-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk.

The only other win for 13-time champion Madrid was a 3-2 victory over Inter in Spain three weeks ago, after it opened with a stunning home loss to Shakhtar.

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Gladbach leads the group with eight points, Madrid has seven, Shakhtar has four and Inter two.

Before kickoff, the teams lined the center circle for a minute of silence in honor of soccer great Diego Maradona, who died Wednesday at 60. The San Siro was empty of fans due to the coronavirus.

Nicolò Barella was penalized for running into Nacho to set up Hazard’s penalty.

Madrid midfielder Lucas Vázquez then hit the post and Inter midfielder Arturo Vidal picked up his second yellow card after barely more than a half hour — apparently for protests.

Substitute Vázquez also provided the cross for Rodrygo’s header near the hour mark.

Eight months after his spectacular four-goal show in last season’s round of 16, Josip Iličić was back on the scoresheet in the Champions League for Atalanta and leading the Italian upstart to another memorable win in the competition.

Atalanta consigned Liverpool to a rare loss at Anfield on Wednesday, beating the six-time European champions 2-0 to revive its hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage for the second straight season.

Iličić set the visitors on their way to victory with a 60th-minute strike that was the Slovenia international’s first goal for Atalanta since March, when he netted four times in a 4-3 win at Valencia to secure his team a place in the quarterfinals against all the odds.

Since then, Iličić contracted the coronavirus during lockdown and reportedly became depressed, meaning he missed the rest of the season — including Atalanta’s loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League’s last eight — when soccer resumed in June.

He only started playing again for the first team last month, and showed his joy at getting back among the goals against Liverpool by letting out a roar and clenching his fists inside an empty Anfield.

Robin Gosens added a second goal in the 64th minute and Atalanta held on surprisingly comfortably to gain a measure of revenge for its 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool in the first match of their double-header three weeks ago.

With Ajax also winning on Wednesday, Atalanta joined the Dutch club in moving two points behind Liverpool in Group D with two games remaining. Liverpool hosts Ajax next week.

Needing a win to secure progress to the last 16, Liverpool’s players were strangely out of sorts. They didn’t manage a shot on target despite having star forward Mohamed Salah back in the team after recovering from contracting the coronavirus, while their injury problems in defense caught up with them.

“A deserved defeat in a difficult game,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said.

It was only Liverpool’s fourth loss at home in all competitions since the start of the 2017-18 season, which includes the extra-time defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League’s round of 16 last season.

Both of the goals came from deliveries from Atalanta’s left, with Iličić sliding in at far post to turn the ball home from Alejandro Gomez’s cross.

From another cross to the back post, Hans Hateboer headed the ball back into the middle for Gosens, Atalanta’s other wing back, to sidefoot in from eight meters.

Depleted amid injuries to center backs Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez as well as to right back Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool also chose to rest regular left back Andrew Robertson and its makeshift defense -- featuring youngsters Neco Williams and Rhys Williams -- looked exactly that at times.

Klopp looked frustrated after the final whistle, especially since he has to pick his players for another match in less than three days — at Brighton in the Premier League.

“You ask us to go Saturday at 12:30 p.m., which is nearly a crime,” Klopp said of the quick turnaround.

Robert Lewandowski scored again to help Bayern Munich reach the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 3-1 win over Salzburg on Wednesday, the defending champion’s record-extending 15th straight win in the competition.

Lewandowski gave Bayern the lead in the 43rd minute with his 71st Champions League goal, matching Spanish forward Raúl’s tally. Only Cristiano Ronaldo (131) and Lionel Messi (118) have more.

Bayern’s 20-year-old American defender Chris Richards started for his Champions League debut, taking the place of Lucas Hernández on the left. Richards switched to the right when Hernández, who picked up a knock in his previous game, came on in the 62nd.

Spanish midfielder Marc Roca also made his first European start for Bayern. But the former Espanyol midfielder, who had made only one Bundesliga appearance since joining in the offseason, was sent off in the 66th minute with his second yellow card for a late challenge on Zlatko Junuzović.

The game was preceded by a minute’s silence in the largely empty stadium for Argentina great Diego Maradona, who died earlier Wednesday. No fans were at the game due to coronavirus restrictions.

The Austrian champions took the game to their hosts but were unable to capitalize on the spaces and chances they created.

Dominik Szoboszlai could have scored on a counterattack in the 35th minute but fired well over when he only had goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to beat.

Salzburg was to rue its lack of efficiency when Lewandowski broke the deadlock. The Poland striker set up Thomas Müller with his heel, and was in the right place to fire in the rebound after Cican Stanković saved his teammate’s effort.

Bayern needed some luck for the second goal. Leon Goretzka did well to win the ball and Kingsley Coman cut past a defender before his shot was deflected in by Salzburg defender Maximilian Wöber in the 52nd.

Leroy Sané headed in Bayern’s third goal two minutes after Roca’s debut was cut short, but lost the ball to allow Rasmus Kristensen cross for Mergim Berisha’s consolation in the 73rd.

Luka Sučić missed another good chance for the visitors 10 minutes later.

Bayern has 12 points from four games in Group A, seven more than Atlético Madrid, which was held 0-0 by Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayern next visits Atlético on Dec. 1 before completing the group at home against Lokomotiv on Dec. 9.

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