Ibrahimovic's Champions League hopes take a curtain call as AC Milan fade out against Liverpool

MILAN — Champions League glory has always eluded Zlatan Ibrahimovic, despite a glittering CV that has seen him play for Europe’s biggest clubs for 20 remarkable years. And now, following AC Milan‘s 2-1 defeat against Liverpool in San Siro, the 40-year-old might just have played his last game in the competition.

Milan may be on the road back to success, but time has caught up with Ibrahimovic. Yet another Mohamed Salah goal — the Egypt international has now scored in seven successive Champions League away games — and a Divock Origi header sealed Liverpool’s win following Fikayo Tomori‘s 29th minute opener and ensured they finished on top of Group B with a 100% record.

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But this was a night when Milan needed to summon the spirit of their great teams — peerless Champions League-winning sides — and they needed Ibrahimovic to roll back the years and inspire them to victory.

In the end, the former Ajax Amsterdam, Juventus, Internazionale, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United forward looked like a fading star with nothing left to offer and with his flickering dream of Champions League success finally extinguished.

“That is football,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said. “We try to organise a team to stop him [Ibrahimovic] getting the ball he wants. We defended exceptionally well.”

Milan, the leaders of Serie A, had gone into the game with an outside chance of reaching the Champions League knock-out stages for the first time since the 2013-14 season, but Stefano Pioli’s team needed to win and hope that FC Porto failed to beat Atletico Madrid in Estadio do Dragao.

The second part of the equation came to fruition with Atleti winning 3-1 in Portugal, but Milan couldn’t take care of their own business, despite going ahead through Tomori and the defeat against Jurgen Klopp’s team left them bottom of the group, without even a Europa League campaign in the second half of the season to look forward to.

That Milan were even in the position of being able to qualify was an achievement in itself having lost their first three games before drawing the fourth. But it was a false hope for the seven-time European champions.

Even though Klopp had made eight changes from the side which won at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League at the weekend, Liverpool were still far too strong for the Rossoneri who lacked pace and invention.

And while Milan had the passionate backing of a noisy Curva Sud inside the San Siro, and aside from glimpses of flair from midfielder Sandro Tonali, Milan were distinctly second-best. The Milan Ultras, understanding that Pioli’s team is at the start of its journey rather than approaching its end, stayed with their side and refused to turn negative. They know that some kind of good times are returning and that a first Scudetto since 2011 is a genuine prospect this season.

But with his contract due to expire next June — four months short of his 41st birthday — Ibrahimovic won’t be around if Milan become a European force again in the near future. It is always a dangerous game to write Ibrahimovic off and suggest that he has faced the final curtain, but it is a safe bet that he has now signed off from the Champions League with 49 goals in 128 appearances.

He is not even close to the incredible Champions League goalscoring tallies of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and would dearly love to have won just one of the nine European Cups those two icons have won between them and add to the 31 honours he has accumulated during his career. For many years, Ibrahimovic was third — a distant one, all the same — in world football’s superstar hierarchy behind Ronaldo and Messi and his legacy will be one of remarkable consistency and supreme fitness.

But against Liverpool, he was a shadow of his old self. Ibrahimovic struggled to win physical battles against Ibrahima Konate and Nathaniel Phillips and his lack of movement saw him stick firmly the central third of the pitch. No player who completed the 90 minutes made fewer touches than Ibrahimovic’s 31. There was one flash of the old Zlatan, in the 84th minute, when he attempted an overhead kick from Franck Kessie‘s cross, but it was a mistimed connection and Liverpool’s goal wasn’t threatened.

It was at the other end of the pitch where the stars really shone, with Salah and Sadio Mane constantly hurting Milan with the pace and movement that Ibrahimovic can no longer provide. Salah and Mane, of course, already have a Champions League winners’ medal in their collection following Liverpool’s success in 2019. Klopp’s team could win the competition again this season and nobody will want to face them between now and the final in Saint Petersburg next May.

Ibrahimovic may have a Serie A winners’ medal by that stage — potentially his fifth Italian title — but the Champions League isn’t happening. Zlatan isn’t getting his Last Dance.

Liverpool lead race for Bellingham, Ten Hag in high demand – Paper Round

Liverpool leap to front of Bellingham queue

Liverpool believe they have jumped to the front of the queue to sign Jude Bellingham because rival clubs are focusing all their attention on his Borussia Dortmund teammate Erling Haaland. The Mirror report that Jurgen Klopp is keen on adding Bellingham to bolster his midfield options and the Reds are not even put off by the teenager’s £90-million asking price. Haaland is wanted by Premier League giants Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea and Spanish duo Real Madrid and Barcelona, which means Liverpool believe they will have a free run at Bellingham next summer.

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Paper Round’s view: Targeting Bellingham while every other club chases Haaland could be a stroke of genius, but why would Dortmund let two of their star prospects leave in the same summer? The Bundesliga side rejected any advances for Haaland last summer after allowing Jadon Sancho to leave, so we should probably expect the same this summer if Haaland were to leave. Bellingham is only 18 years old so has plenty of time to continue his development before moving to the Premier League. However, Liverpool would probably be the ideal destination for the youngster when he does eventually decide to return to England.

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Erik ten Hag: A manager in demand

The Telegraph reveal that Ajax manager Erik ten Hag is wanted by some of the biggest clubs in Europe. The 51-year-old admitted that he will be “ready to coach abroad” at the end of the current campaign after five years in Amsterdam. Ten Hag was previously approached by Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, but he reaffirmed his desire to remain at Ajax. He is now being looked at by Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain ahead of a potential summer move and is even said to be on the shortlist to replace Pep Guardiola when he eventually leaves Manchester City.

Paper Round’s view: Ten Hag caught the attention of Europe’s top clubs after Ajax went on an incredible run in the Champions League back in 2019. The Dutch club were merely minutes away from reaching the final before facing heartbreak against Tottenham. Ten Hag has continued to impress during the constant rebuild in Amsterdam and it is expected that he will move on at the end of the season. Manchester United could be a decent move for him, but PSG might be a disaster. There is far too much pressure to win the Champions League in Paris and there are a few too many egos, which would be a drastic change from his team in Ajax.

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Klopp: Salah contract talks are ‘normal’

Ajax eye Henderson loan

Ajax are exploring the possibility of signing Manchester United stopper Dean Henderson on loan in the winter transfer window, according to the Telegraph. The Dutch club are in the hunt for a new goalkeeper, with regular number one Andre Onana expected to leave in January. Ajax have been following Henderson for over a year and there is specific interest from the club chief executive and former Red Devils keeper Edwin van der Sar. The 24-year-old may push to leave Old Trafford due to his pursuit of first-team football and his desire to be part of the England squad for next year’s World Cup.

Paper Round’s view: Henderson can’t keep waiting around for De Gea to slip up and get his chance. He obviously backed himself to take the number one jersey when he decided to sign a lengthy contract extension, but it just has not worked out. A move away would be a good decision for Henderson – especially if he wants to reclaim his spot in the England squad. Ajax would be interesting and would allow him to develop his game on the European stage. A permanent move to a club like West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur or Newcastle United in the summer could be a decent option to explore if he wants to stay in the Premier League on a permanent basis.

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West Ham want Ake to provide defensive depth

West Ham United will look to Mancheter City centre-back Nathan Ake after suffering another injury blow on Saturday. Kurt Zouma may face months on the sideline after limping off with a hamstring injury during the Hammers’ 3-2 victory over Chelsea. Additionally, the east London club’s other first-choice centre-back Angelo Ogbonna has been ruled out of the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Ake has found himself down the pecking order at Manchester City and the Sun reveal that West Ham will attempt to sign the Dutch defender on loan in the winter transfer window by offering him first-team football.

Paper Round’s view: David Moyes’ side are enjoying another brilliant season. West Ham sit in fourth in the Premier League table, they recently knocked out holders Manchester City to reach the Carabao Cup quarter-finals and are dominating their Europa League group. A long-term injury to Ogbonna wasn’t ideal, but Craig Dawson is a decent back-up option. However, Zouma’s injury could be a disaster. Ake would be a solid replacement and if Manchester City are happy to loan him to a potential top-four rival, it would be a great piece of business for West Ham.

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Opinion: Origi unique skillset makes him Liverpool's Solskjaer

Divock Origi doesn’t exactly fit the image of a Liverpool striker in the Jurgen Klopp era. While the Reds’ first-choice frontline of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are renowned for their fluidity, their Belgian teammate can sometimes look cumbersome and clumsy in the way he plays the game.

And yet Origi has more than earned his place as an important member of Klopp’s squad, underlined by his winner in Tuesday’s Champions League victory over AC Milan. He might not be the archetypal Liverpool forward, but that’s why he has been able to make an impact on so many different occasions.

Origi has delivered a winner in a Merseyside derby, two goals in the famous Champions League semi-final comeback against Barcelona and the goal that put the finishing touches on Liverpool’s win over Tottenham Hotspur in the final. More recently, there was the stoppage time winner against Wolves on Saturday just days before the Belgian made his mark at the San Siro.

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The role Origi performs for Liverpool is similar to the one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer performed for Manchester United during the club’s glory years. Much like the legendary Norwegian, Origi’s game is focused purely on putting the ball in the back of the net, even if the method leaves much to be desired.

“It’s one special thing in his skillset,” Klopp recently said of Origi’s ability to make an instant impact.

It’s not the only thing – it’s not that he can only come on and play well. He had brilliant games for us from the start. In one of the biggest games in our history – against Barcelona [in 2019], for example – he started, played an incredible game and scored the goals in the right moments.

“He can shoot with his right and left; his technical level is incredible; he’s really, really, really quick; he is in the air – how we all know – a monster as well. He is a really interesting package. But, that doesn’t mean that you are a constant starter for Liverpool FC because of the quality we have. That’s how it is. That’s how life is.”

Liverpool would be a poorer team without Origi. While the 26-year-old isn’t good enough to be a regular first-team figure for the Anfield outfit, he gives Klopp a different option. Opposition defenders don’t like facing Origi because of the way he forces them to think about something different.

Even when Origi doesn’t score an important goal, he creates space for others around him. Opposition defenders are drawn to him and so even when the ball doesn’t fall for him, there’s a good chance that it’ll fall to Firmino or Mane or Salah or someone else in red who has more time and space due to Origi’s presence on the pitch.

It would be understandable if at some point in the near future Origi sought a move to a club where he would be guaranteed more game-time, but just as Liverpool mustn’t take the Belgian for granted, the player himself must recognise what he has at Anfield and the status he has on Merseyside. Not every player is cherished by a fanbase like he is by the Liverpool support.

Players like Firmino, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk do a better job of encapsulating the essence of Klopp’s Liverpool, but Origi offers another edge. Even the best teams need someone that forces them to ask different questions of themselves in order to ask different questions of their opponents. Origi does that and more.

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Manolo Lama: “¿Será uno de los grandes candidatos al título?”

El colaborador de MARCA y periodista de la Cadena COPE analizó el triunfo

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Pep Guardiola hopes Kyle Walker learns from 'unnecessary' red card

Man City boss Pep Guardiola has criticised Kyle Walker’s “unnecessary” red card in the Champions League defeat to RB Leipzig on Tuesday evening.

Having already secured top spot in Group A, City slipped to a 2-1 defeat in Saxony courtesy of strikes from Dominik Szoboszlai and André Silva. Riyad Mahrez had pulled a goal back for the visitors in the 76th minute, but Walker’s dismissal six minutes later did not help their cause in searching for a leveller.

The England international – one of the most experienced players in the Man City squad – was shown a straight red card for a blatant and rash kick out at Silva’s ankle as the striker looked to protect the ball on the left flank.

Guardiola will now be without his first-choice right-back for the first leg of the Citizens’ last 16 tie in the new year, and his one-match ban could be extended should UEFA deem the foul play to have been serious enough.

Speaking in his post-match press conference, it was clear that the Catalan was less than impressed with Walker‘s decision-making.

“It’s a red card definitely,” he said. “The red card hurts us, especially for the round of 16. Kyle Walker is an important player for us and it unnecessary to lose him like this.

“I hope he learns from this.”

In his assessment of the overall performance, Guardiola continued: “We played better in the second half, [we were] more aggressive, we played to win the game and we lost it so congrats to Leipzig.

“First half we lacked rhythm, we had problems to contact, and they had a really good team, we knew it before the group stage, but the second half was much better.

“But, unfortunately, we were punished with one or two mistakes.

“We made an incredible group stage. We qualified with a game left in a top group, so we are more than satisfied with the performance in every single game.

“In February hopefully we can arrive in the best condition possible.”

Maldini: “Al Madrid de Ancelotti le sale todo” I MARCA

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Chelsea vs Juventus – UWCL: TV channel, live stream, team news & prediction

Chelsea lifted the Women’s FA Cup at Wembley on Sunday to finally complete last season’s domestic treble. But the action doesn’t stop for Emma Hayes as Juventus are the visitors on matchday five of the Women’s Champions League group stage.

These two clubs are currently on course to progress to the quarter-finals, but neither is guaranteed a place in the last eight draw just yet as two-time Champions League winners and three-time runners-up Wolfsburg are still within touching distance behind.

That makes points important for both Chelsea and Juventus here to put as little pressure on matchday six next week as possible.

This is everything you need to know about the game…

When is kick off? Wednesday 8 December, 20:00 (GMT)
Where is the match being played? Kingsmeadow
TV channel/live stream? DAZN UEFA Women’s Champions League YouTube channel
Highlights? DAZN UEFA Women’s Champions League YouTube channel
Referee? Sara Persson (SWE)

Lauren James isn't going to be involvedLauren James isn't going to be involved

Lauren James isn’t going to be involved / Naomi Baker/GettyImages

Chelsea have no new injury concerns following the FA Cup final, but Maren Mjelde and Lauren James are still working on their fitness and won’t feature.

Pernille Harder made her return from injury off the bench at Wembley and fans will hope to see more of her this week, especially because she made the difference in the reverse fixture.

Valentina Cernoia has stayed at home in TurinValentina Cernoia has stayed at home in Turin

Valentina Cernoia has stayed at home in Turin / Giuseppe Cottini/GettyImages

Juventus have travelled to London without influential midfielder Valentna Cernoia and experienced Sweden defender Linda Sembrant.

Arianna Caruso is back with the squad after previously having to isolate due to COVID-19.

Chelsea: Berger; Bright, Carter, Eriksson; Fleming, Ji, Leupolz, Reiten; Kirby, Kerr, Harder

Juventus: Peyraud-Magnin; Lenzini, Gama, Salvai, Boattin; Rosucci, Pedersen, Zamanian; Bonansea, Girelli, Hurtig

Pernille Harder scored the winning goal in Turin in OctoberPernille Harder scored the winning goal in Turin in October

Pernille Harder scored the winning goal in Turin in October / Valerio Pennicino/GettyImages

Knocked out immediately in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21, Juventus are still relative newcomers to this elite level of women’s football. As such, the reverse fixture in Turin earlier this season is the only time these clubs have met in a competitive setting.

Chelsea ran out 2-1 winners on that occasion, with Pernille Harder scoring a second-half winner after Erin Cuthbert’s opener had been cancelled out by Barbara Bonansea.

Emma Hayes faces a familiar foe in Juve boss Joe Montemurro following his time in charge at Arsenal. But playing at home, having won in Turin, and high off the back of a trophy win only a few days ago, Chelsea are favourites to claim the three points here.

Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Juventus

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Selbstkritischer Reus: “Nicht zu viel quatschen”

Mit dem höchsten Sieg seiner Champions-League-Geschichte verabschiedete sich Borussia Dortmund aus der Königklasse 2021/22 – und befand sich anschließend ein wenig zwischen Wehmut und Aufbruchstimmung. 

Elegant: Marco Reus (Mi.) schiebt zum 3:0 gegen Besiktas ein. 

Elegant: Marco Reus (Mi.) schiebt zum 3:0 gegen Besiktas ein. 

imago images

“Für uns war das Spiel wichtig für den Rhythmus und die Automatismen. Das Gegenpressing in der ersten Halbzeit war überragend, so hatten wir uns das vorgestellt”, freute sich Marco Reus nach dem 5:0-Erfolg gegen Besiktas bei “Amazon Prime Video”. Ähnlich sah es sein Coach, der sein Team “gut gegen den Ball, ordentlich mit dem Ball” sowie mit “sehr guter Reaktion auf Ballverluste” gesehen hatte. Insgesamt habe sich seine Mannschaft “gut aus der Champions League verabschiedet”, sagte Marco Rose. 

Seine eigene Leistung beurteilte Doppeltorschütze Reus dagegen gewohnt kritisch. So bemängelte er selbst bei seinem sehr sehenswerten und elegant erzielten Tor zum zwischenzeitlichen 3:0 gegen den türkischen Double-Gewinner seinen Abschluss, der “nicht so gut” gewesen sei. Auch in der Entstehung, als er einen Gegenspieler tunnelte, habe er “ein bisschen Glück gehabt, weil er die Beine aufmacht”.   

Reus und das Vorbild Bayern

Ohnehin war den Dortmundern trotz des historisch hohen Champions-League-Siegs anzumerken, wie sehr das Ausscheiden – mit immerhin neun Punkten gleichauf mit dem Zweiten Sporting, gegen den der direkte Vergleich verloren gegangen war (1:0, 1:3) – schmerzte: “Bis auf Lissabon hatten wir die letzten Spiele ordentlich gespielt. Wir sind mit zwei Siegen gestartet, dann kamen die zwei Ajax-Spiele. In Amsterdam waren wir sehr schlecht, dann sind wir zu Hause lange in Unterzahl, gehen in Führung und machen es gut, aber am Ende fehlt die Kraft. In Lissabon dann das Endspiel, wo wir durch einen individuellen Fehler in Rückstand gehen. Es ist nicht ganz glücklich gelaufen”, analysierte Rose. 

Man hat es nicht verdient, wenn man drei Spiele hintereinander verliert.

Marco Reus

Ähnlich sah es Reus, der in Sachen Konstanz auch nach München blickte: “Natürlich tut es immer noch weh, weil diese Mannschaft die Klasse für die Champions League hat, aber man hat es nicht verdient, wenn man drei Spiele hintereinander verliert. Es war ein bisschen schwankend dieses Jahr, wir reden viel drüber.” Diese “eine Mannschaft in Deutschland”, der FC Bayern, habe die Konstanz dagegen immer, das müsse man neidlos anerkennen. “Nicht zu viel quatschen, einfach auf den Platz bringen”, laute daher fortan das Motto für den BVB, so der Dortmunder Kapitän.  

Hoffnung auf ein “gutes Gefühl”

Zumal die Borussia ungeachtet des Ausscheidens in der Königsklasse durchaus noch Ziele habe. “Jetzt spielen wir Europa League, haben die Bundesliga und sind im Pokal dabei. Vielleicht war es ein Schritt weiter heute”, hofft Rose.

Reus bekräftigt derweil die Bedeutung der noch ausstehenden zwei Wochen vor der kurzen Winterpause, in denen es für die Borussia am Samstag (15.30 Uhr) nach Bochum geht, dann zu Hause gegen Schlusslicht Fürth (Mittwoch, 20.30 Uhr) und zum Abschluss 2021 noch zu Hertha BSC (18. Dezember, 18.30 Uhr): “Die nächste drei Spiele sind wichtig, um an Bayern dranzubleiben und mit einem gutem Gefühl in die Winterpause zu gehen.” 

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Boban Nikolov scored a last-gasp equaliser for Sheriff Tiraspol as they drew 1-1 with Shakhtar Donetsk to reach the knockout stages of the Europa League.

Fernando had given Shakhtar the lead in the 42nd minute, but Nikolov stabbed in after a goalmouth scramble in the final seconds to ensure the Moldovan club’s European adventure continues.

In Group C where there was nothing to play for, Ajax thrashed Sporting Lisbon 4-2 to maintain their 100 per cent win record in the group stages.

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Sebastien Haller opened the scoring in the eighth minute before Nuno Santos pulled a goal back for the visitors in the 22nd minute. Antony (42′) restored Ajax’s lead before David Neres (58′) and Steven Berghuis (62′) all added to the hosts’ tally. Tabata scored a consolation for the visitors in the 78th minute.

Donyell Malen scored first for Dortmund (29′) and the goals kept pouring in, Marco Reus scored from the spot (45+2′) after Wellington was shown a red card for upending Mahmoud Dahoud. Reus got his second in the 53rd minute before Haaland made his mark with two goals of his own in the 68th and 80th minute.

Antoine Griezmann gave the hosts the lead (56′) before the match descended into chaos with Yannick Carrasco, Wendell and Agustin Marchesin – who was off the pitch – all received red cards for their involvements in two separate on-the-pitch fracases.

Atletico wrapped up the win in added time thanks to goals from Angel Correa (90′) and Rodrigo De Paul (90+2′).

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