Sports, Football

Barca return to Champions League last 16, Man City claim top spot

By Reuters
Published : 29 Nov 2023 09:13 PM

Barcelona manager Xavi said his side have shown a winning mentality in the Champions League after they sealed their return to the knockout stages of Europe's elite club competition for the first time in three seasons on Tuesday.

In Mabchester, Julian Alvarez scored in the 87th minute when Erling Haaland and Phil Foden also netted in the second period after, as Manchester City back from two goals down to beat RB Leipzig 3-2 and clinch top spot in Champions League Group G on Tuesday.       

One of City’s most underwhelming recent first-half performances to give Pep Guardiola's team 15 points after five games. Leipzig, who had also reached the last 16, have nine.

Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix scored in each half to earn Barcelona a 2-1 comeback win at home against Porto that took the Group H leaders to 12 points from five matches.

A draw against already-eliminated Antwerp in their final group fixture will be enough to seal top spot.

“We needed this after two years,” Xavi said. “We reacted well and displayed a winning mentality on several occasions.

“This was an important step in the right direction. It means a lot to the club.

“That’s the first of our targets achieved in the Champions League. It's has calmed us down and boosted our confidence, especially that of the players.”

Tuesday's win comes on the heels of a disappointing 1-1 draw at Rayo Vallecano in LaLiga, a result which saw them slip to fourth, four points behind arch-rivals Real Madrid.

 “The feeling is of happiness and of doing things well. We are progressing. But I don't feel liberated, I feel happy,” the Spaniard said.

“You never solve all the problems at Barcelona, but it's a day to congratulate the team and the club for advancing.

“There are many things to improve, of course. We have to be humble. We have done some things very well, others not so,” said Xavi, adding that he hoped the victory would be a turning point. 

“First half was the worst I’ve seen us,” midfielder Foden told TNT. “Courage and motivation changed it around. This team has great mentality and its so nice to see.”

Haaland added another record to his bulging resume, becoming the fastest player to 40 Champions League goals. The striker became the quickest to 50 Premier League goals on Saturday.

Lois Openda pounced on a pair of City defensive blunders for both Leipzig goals, sprinting onto a long ball from goalkeeper Janis Blaswich that bounced over a lackadaisical Manuel Akanji in the 13th minute. He struck again with seemingly similar ease in the 33rd, spinning around Ruben Dias en route to scoring.

"We had to be as relaxed as possible and we reacted really well," Guardiola told TNT. "We are first in the group and I am very satisfied for the reaction at the end. The team runs and fights and has spirit."

Haaland, who poured in five goals against Leipzig in a 7-0 rout in the Champions League last 16 in March, finally gave City fans something to cheer in the 54th minute when he ran onto a pass from Foden and struck a low left-foot shot into the net.