Champions League: Vinícius and Benzema rescue Real Madrid

Karim Benzema scored Real Madrid’s 1,000th and 1,001st European Cup goals, both from Vinícius Júnior passes (the second was a lovely piece of play), and Los Blancos earned three points that leave them top of the group. That’s where the good news ends. It was a performance to forget by Madrid. The fans grew impatient and even jeered, despite the win, because they weren’t impressed with the team’s sluggish display. Madrid lacked focus at both ends of the pitch - with the obvious exception of Benzema and Vinícius, particularly the latter, who looked quick and dangerous every time he got on the ball. Santiago Bernabéu, the club’s legendary former president, set great store by having players who could get the fans out of their seats. Vinícius is that kind of player.

Real Madrid needed Courtois saves and good fortune to win

Lucas Vázquez wasn’t bad, either. He played ahead of the idle duo of Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio, and it doesn’t surprise me. But the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos set too slow a tempo, one that is starting to seriously contrast with some of the football out there these days in other stadiums across Europe. And the defence wasn’t on its mettle or nearly forceful enough, something which is beginning to become chronic, so to get through the game Madrid needed a couple of excellent saves by Thibaut Courtois, the help of the woodwork, and match officials who obligingly let a tug in the area by Ferland Mendy slide. There are wins that leave you worried, and this was one of them.

Atlético caught cold at Anfield

It’s always worse to lose, of course, as happened to Atlético Madrid at Liverpool. They started slowly and at Anfield you can’t do that. In the blink of an eye, they found themselves two behind and, not much later, down to 10 men after Felipe was sent off for hacking down Sadio Mané from behind. A slightly harsh red, but by no means an inexplicable one. Against that backdrop, it’s an achievement the damage wasn’t worse. And it had seemed like it might well be, because Liverpool came flying out of the traps in the second half, as if determined to settle some old scores. Atlético weathered the storm, however, and kept the scoreline respectable. Porto had drawn with AC Milan, thankfully, but Los Rojiblancos are in a battle to qualify.