UEFA Consider Introducing VAR for 2018/19 Champions League Knockout Stages

The ?Video Assistant Referee system (VAR) could be fast-tracked into the knockout stages of this season’s Champions League, with UEFA set to make a decision next month.

European football’s governing body said in September that VAR would be introduced from the 2019/20 season onwards, but discussions have been ongoing for weeks about bringing it in sooner than expected.


According to ?BBC Sport, UEFA’s fear of game-changing referee errors and the success of VAR at the 2018 World Cup have convinced leading officials to have a rethink.

VAR is a hot-button issue at the moment after ?Manchester City were awarded a penalty on Wednesday after Raheem Sterling accidentally kicked the ground when through on goal.

Training and workshops for referees are continuing throughout Europe but UEFA believes that there are now enough officials who are well-versed in VAR for it to be introduced in time for the last 16.

Ten European referees officiated games with VAR at the World Cup and all of them have been appointed to Champions League matches so far this season.

The Premier League is the only one of the ‘big five’ European leagues yet to implement VAR. The Bundesliga and Serie A introduced it before the 2017/18 season, with Ligue 1 and La Liga following suit 12 months later.

Manchester City v FC Shakhtar Donetsk - UEFA Champions League Group F

UEFA’s executive committee will make its decision when it meets in December. The first knockout stage matches are scheduled to take place on 12 February.


Bayern Munich 2-0 AEK Athens: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Lewandowski Brace Helps Die Roten to Win

?Robert Lewandowski’s 48th and 49th goal in the Champions League helped secure a 2-0 win for Bayern Munich against AEK Athens in Group E. 

Bayern were given an early scare inside the opening five minutes, as Vasilios Lampropoulos could only head wide from a corner after finding himself in a great position, while Leon Goretzka’s header needed tipping over by Vasilios Barkas at the other end moments later. 

Die Roten appeared to be toiling in the first half, before they were given the chance to take the lead from the spot in the 31st minute, as the officials penalised Uros Cosic for hauling down Robert Lewandowski during a corner, with the striker stepping up to slot the subsequent penalty home to give the hosts a slender advantage at half-time. 

FC Bayern Muenchen v AEK Athens - UEFA Champions League Group E

The second half started similarly to the first, as Goretzka produced another smart save from Barkas after the German midfielder timed his run into the box well to meet Joshua Kimmich’s cross on the volley, before the AEK Athens goalkeeper was well placed to deny Lewandowski on the hour. 

Bayern however did manage to score once again, courtesy of Lewandowski’s second of the game in the 71st minute, as the Polish marksman was afforded too much space at the far post to convert from a corner to add some gloss to the scoreline. 

It could’ve been more for the Bundesliga side, as Serge Gnabry was denied by Barkas, before the keeper’s punch rebounded off his own player to loop onto his own bar, but Lewandowski’s brace proved to be enough for the win at the Allianz Arena.

?Key Talking Point

Although Bayern Munich made it three wins from their opening four games in Group E with a win against AEK Athens, it was far from a convincing win for the Bavarian club, as the pressure continues to mount on Niko Kovac.

Prior to Robert Lewandowski’s penalty in the 31st minute, Bayern looked sluggish both in and out of possession, as passes went astray far too often, while they produced very little by means of chances.

FC Bayern Muenchen v AEK Athens - UEFA Champions League Group E

Things did improve in the second half, as Bayern upped the tempo which produced more opportunities, resulting in Lewandowski’s second of the game, yet questions will be asked ahead of Der Klassiker this weekend. 

Player Ratings

Starting XI: Neuer (6); Kimmich (8), Boateng (6), Hummels (6), Alaba (6); Muller (7), Martinez (6), Goretzka (7); Gnabry (6), Lewandowski (7), Ribery (6). 

Substitutes: Rafinha (N/A), Sanches (N/A), Wagner (N/A). 

While it wasn’t a vintage display from Niko Kovac’s side, Joshua Kimmich impressed down the right side for Bayern Munich, with his crossing causing their Greek opponents all sorts of problems.

FC Bayern Muenchen v AEK Athens - UEFA Champions League Group E

Delivering with pace, the 23-year-old twice set up Leon Goretzka in each half, forcing a smart save from Vasilios Barkas on both occasions, while it was his corner that caused problems for the visitors, which was eventually converted by Robert Lewandowski at the far post for the second of the game. 


FC Bayern Muenchen v AEK Athens - UEFA Champions League Group E

No player for Bayern truly stood out as having a poor game, however Jerome Boateng had a couple of nervy moments in the first half, as the 30-year-old doesn’t quite look the same defender that won the Champions League in 2013 and World Cup the following year. 


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Barkas (7); Bakakis (5), Lampropoulos (5), Chigrynskiy (6), Cosic (4), Hult (5); Galanopoulos (5), Andre Simoes (4), Alef (5); Ponce (5), Mantalos (5). 

Substitutes: Moran (5), Galo (5), Boye (N/A). 

Looking Ahead

Next for Bayern Munich is the small matter of a game against Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga this weekend, while their next game in the Champions League is at home to SL Benfica at the end of the month. 

AEK Athens host Atronitos this weekend, with their next Champions League game also coming at home as they host Ajax. 


90min Exclusive: Michael Ballack Calls Dortmund ‘Perfect’ for Sancho & Talks Bayern’s Poor Start

?Former Bundesliga winner Michael Ballack has called Bayern Munich’s poor start to the season good for the Bundesliga, while heralding Germany’s top flight as a great place for young talent like English star Jadon Sancho to thrive and gain invaluable experience.

Ballack, who spoke exclusively to 90min in conjunction with Enterprise, ?has tipped his former team Chelsea to challenge in the Premier League this season. However, while a rejuvenated Blues side under Maurizio Sarri are just two points off Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, another of Ballack’s old clubs are considered to be in a mini-crisis as they sit in fourth in the Bundesliga, four points behind pace-setters Dortmund.

Bayern – where Ballack spent four seasons, winning three league titles between 2003 and 2006 – have lost twice and drawn twice in the Bundesliga in 2018/19 under Niko Kovac, with reports suggesting that not all the players are behind the new manager.

Bayern Muenchen Training Session

Ballack admitted that the change of teams at the summit of Germany’s top flight is good for the league, but he insisted no-one at ?Bayern is panicking just yet.

“Yes of course it’s good for the ??Bundesliga because it’s exciting,” he told 90min. “I don’t think the [Bayern] supporters need to panic. I mean they were quite spoiled in the last years, especially in the Bundesliga!

“It’s more an internal matter for the club, you know, which wants to also to win the Champions League. They have to sort out issues with the squad, with the new coach and the new management. These are all themes they are discussing in the media, but it’s an internal problem more than an external one.”

Michael Ballack

Ballack also suggested that Bayern’s reluctance to spend big in the summer transfer market has cost them a little in the early stages of the season due to injuries (with Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman and Thiago all currently out of action), and suggested that January could be the occasion to strengthen. 

“I think it’s become an issue a little bit because of some injuries, which you never know before they happen and they happened a little bit after the transfer window closed,” Ballack continued.

“Of course they made a decision not to invest in a ‘big’ player, because there was this general question with [Arjen] Robben and [Franck] Ribery because of their age.

“They were fantastic players in the past – they are still really good players – but of course with age time will come and it’s already started where you lose a percentage and also you have to bring in the next generation with Coman, [Serge] Gnabry players that are playing in that position and maybe add a new one.

Eintracht Frankfurt v Bayern Muenchen - DFL Supercup 2018

“That was the big discussion they had before the season and they decided not to do it. They didn’t say why, they just did not do it and after if things are not going well of course you have to answer the questions, you don’t have to, but you have to answer the questions internally.

“If they look at the squad, the strength of the squad, they will come to a decision ‘is it good enough, or do we do something in January?'”

Ballack also spoke about the recent wave of young British players seeking success over in Germany, with Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson the poster boys for the benefits of moving abroad for game time.

The former midfielder, who also spoke about Chelsea and England star Ruben Loftus-Cheek, compared the two leagues and the opportunities for younger players.

“I don’t think they are particularly watching England for English players. I think they are good players. I think that’s why the scouts picked them,” he said of Sancho and Nelson.

“Young English players are choosing the Bundesliga to get experience at the highest level and maybe not sitting on the bench at a Premier League club.

“I think it’s really important, if you’re young, to play and if they see the chance in Germany, even better for Germany. I think it’s a really good league to get experience in.

Bayern Munich v FC Kaiserslautern

“From my perspective it’s tougher to play in the Premier League because it’s quicker, it’s stronger, the referee blows differently. So for young players maybe you don’t have the body and the physical ability at the highest level immediately to perform there. It’s a good choice then to go into a really good league, but where the tempo is not as high, but still a really good level and tactically a good level.”

Ballack added that in particular ?Dortmund’s near-unique standing makes it the perfect petri dish for young talent like 18-year-old Sancho – who has four goals and six assists in 10 appearances this season – to develop.

“For him it’s perfect to play for a club like Borussia Dortmund which is playing in the Champions League, which has the pressure to win the league – it is a big club with ambitions. There is another club who always has more pressure,” Ballack claimed, before comparing it to his own formative years at one of Germany’s next best clubs.

“If I compare for me at my time it’s like Bayer Leverkusen. It’s not Bayern Munich, but it was the second strongest club at the time. 

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“It’s a perfect environment for a young player to be around good players, playing Champions League and getting time on the pitch.”

Michael Ballack is working with UEFA Europa League partner Enterprise Rent-A-Car on their legendary Journeys campaign. To discover more and to enjoy special rates across Europe, visit www.enterprise.co.uk


8 of the Greatest Escapes in UEFA Champions League History

Tottenham face an unenviable battle to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages through Group B.

Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over PSG was the north London side’s first win in this season’s group phase after four games. A slow start has left Mauricio Pochettino’s side three points behind second placed Inter and six adrift of group leaders Barcelona.

Spurs face each of the two sides who currently lead them in their remaining two matches of the group phase, knowing that qualification is still possible, but at the same time extremely difficult.

Tottenham need to beat Inter in their next game and then match Inter’s result in the final group game, which happens to be in Catalonia. 

Numerous sides of the past have come back from the dead to progress in the most unlikely circumstances in Europe. Here’s eight teams who overcame the odds to make a great escape in Europe’s elite competition…

8. Arsenal (Group Stage, 2003/04)

Arsenal began their Champions League group stage in the 2003/04 campaign with great difficulty. Arsene Wenger’s side lost 3-0 at home to Inter on matchday one. Two tough away games saw the Gunners held 0-0 at Lokomotiv Moscow and beaten 2-1 by Dynamo Kyiv.

Things looked bleak for Spurs’ north London rivals, with Arsenal bottom of the group and appearing dead and buried, before a winning streak saw the Gunners claim three points in each of their remaining three matches.

A 5-1 win over Inter at the San Siro was the pick of the bunch as a resurgent Arsenal side fought back to claim an unlikely place in the the Champions League knockout stages.

7. Liverpool (Group Stage, 2004/05)

Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages in the 2004/05 season appeared to be a tall order to say the least, with the Reds requiring a win by two clear goals on the final matchday of their group campaign.

Rafa Benitez’s side took on Greek side Olympiacos in the showdown encounter, having lost 1-0 to Monaco in their previous European outing to make Liverpool’s situation all the more difficult.

However, the Reds were in no mood to lie down and accept their likely fate at Anfield, as Florent Sinama-Pongolle cancelled out a first half Rivaldo strike for Olympiacos, before Neil Mellor struck to give the home side the lead.

Liverpool were still in need of one more to secure the required margin, and up stepped captain Steven Gerrard to duly oblige in some style, hammering in a long-range wonder goal to send Anfield into raptures.

6. Deportivo La Coruna (Quarter Finals, 2003/04)

Having been comprehensively beaten 4-1 at the San Siro in the first leg, Deportivo were on course for a widely expected defeat to AC Milan in the quarter finals of the 2003/04 campaign.

Few besides the Deportivo coach Javier Irureta held out much hope – if any – for a second leg comeback from the Spanish side, but the Spanish outfit stepped up to upset the odds in devastating fashion.

A stunning second leg comeback saw Deportivo overturn Milan’s commanding first leg lead in the most unlikely of fight backs, as strikes from Walter Pandiani, Juan Carlos Valeron and Alberto Luque fired the hosts into a shock 3-0 lead at half time.

One more goal was still required for the Spaniards to complete the comeback on aggregate, and substitute Fran Gonzalez entered the fray to complete the turnaround.

5. Barcelona (Quarter Finals, 1999/2000)

Chelsea appeared well on course for a dream triumph over Barcelona in the last eight of the competition during the 1999/2000 campaign, after the Blues secured an impressive 3-1 first leg advantage over the Catalan giants.

However, the Catalan side flexed their muscles at Camp Nou in the second leg, as Barca produced a thumping comeback display to thrash the Blues 5-1.  

Brazil icon Rivaldo hauled Barcelona back into contention with a first half opener before Luis Figo drew the sides level at 3-3 on aggregate with Barca’s second in the game. However, Tore Andre Flo hit a timely reply on the hour mark to return Chelsea on course for the semi finals.

Barcelona continued the fightback there after, as Dani drew the sides level once more. A missed penalty from Rivaldo threatened to turn the tide once more, sending the tie into extra time. The Brazilian converted from the spot at the second time of asking, though, before Patrick Kluivert settled the tie with a decisive strike to seal a 6-4 aggregate win for Barcelona.

4. Newcastle United (Group Stage, 2002/03)

Newcastle United endured a dismal start to their group stage campaign in the 2002/03 season, losing all of their first three matches in the group – a run which no side had previously recovered from to progress in the competition.

The Magpies were in the mood to make history, however, as Newcastle secured a highly unexpected win at home to Juventus in their fourth outing in the group. A second successive win at St. James’ Park in the competition against Dynamo Kyiv steered Sir Bobby Robson’s side back on course for what had previously seemed unlikely qualification with a 2-1 win.

It all came down to the final match of the group phase to decide the Toon’s fate in the Champions League, as Newcastle travelled to face Feyenoord away, requiring a win whilst needing Kyiv to fail to beat Juventus.

Juventus kept their end of the bargain, overcoming Kyiv 2-1, though Newcastle were struggling to capitalise after surrendering a two goal lead in Rotterdam. However, Craig Bellamy stepped up to restore Newcastle’s lead in injury time to send the Magpies through to the knockout stages in dramatic and unprecedented fashion.

3. Bayern Munich (Group Stage, 2009/10)

Bayern Munich began their group stage campaign in uncharacteristically difficult fashion during the 2009/10 campaign, with just four points obtained from the Bavarians’ first four games in the group phase.

The Bundesliga giants had lost home and away to French side Bordeaux, leaving Bayern in third and trailing the Ligue 1 side and Juventus as the top two in the group, with four points between them and the qualification places with just two games remaining.

A narrow 1-0 win over bottom side Maccabi Haifa kept Bayern’s hopes of progress to the knockout stages alive, as Juventus also helped the Bavarians by failing to secure a win over Bordeaux which would have sent Bayern crashing out.

In the all-important final encounter of the group phase, Bayern faced Juventus in Turin knowing  that only a win would do. David Trezeguet fired the Italians ahead before a remarkable fightback from the visitors, lead by a goal from goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt, guided Bayern to a 4-1 win to secure their unlikely comeback win and progress to the knockout stages.

2. Roma (Quarter Finals, 2017/18)

Barcelona looked to be conducting business as usual in the Champions League when they strolled to a 4-1 win over Roma at the Camp Nou in the first leg of their 2017/18 quarter final clash with the Italians.

However, the stage was set at the Stadio Olimpico for a second leg fightback from the Serie A giants which few could have anticipated being on the cards. Prolific marksman Edin Dzeko set up the grandstand with the opener just six minutes into a pulsating encounter.

Daniele De Rossi blew the tie wide open as the Roma icon converted a penalty to put Barcelona well and truly on the back foot, before a stunning late header from Kostas Manolas sent Barca crashing out.

1. Barcelona (Round of 16, 2016/17)

Barcelona were on the right end of what is perhaps the most spectacular comeback win in recent Champions League memory, as they overcame a first leg drubbing to stun Ligue 1 giants PSG.

The Parisians looked to be finally delivering on their plans to conquer Europe as Unai Emery’s side dismantled Barcelona with a tactical masterclass, thumping their Catalan visitors with a 4-0 first leg win at the Parc des Princes.

Barcelona were in no mood to be outdone by the emerging force from Ligue 1, however, as the Catalans dipped into the greatest depths of their vast European experience to produce a stunning 6-1 triumph over PSG in the second leg at the Camp Nou.

Now-PSG star Neymar inspired Barcelona to an attacking rout with a brace, adding to goals from Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, a Layvin Kurzawa own goal and a stunning last-gasp winner from Sergi Roberto to make Barca the first side in history to overcome a four goal deficit to win a Champions League tie.


Lille Winger Admits Flattery Over Transfer Links With Arsenal and Bundesliga Duo

Lille’s Ivory Coast International winger Nicolas Pepe has welcomed transfer speculation linking him with Arsenal as well as a host of top European clubs.

The Ivorian has been in scintillating form this season and has contributed eight goals and five assists in 13 Ligue 1 games, second only to ?Kylian Mbappe who has combined total of 15?. 

The winger has inevitably drawn attention for his performances, with ?Arsenal believed to have scouted the player. ?Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are among those who are also said to be interested.

When asked about the rumours, Pepe told Telefoot as quoted by the Evening Standard: “A preference between ?Dortmund?Bayern or ?ArsenalThey’re all big clubs, I was not aware of these rumours, although it’s nice.”

However, he admitted he did not want to make a hasty decision, insisting he hadn’t put much thought into the rumours. He added: “Leave Lille at the end of the season? We do not even know what I’ll be doing tomorrow!”

It is believed Unai Emery is interested in bringing in another attacking option, with Pepe offering more natural width than central strikers ?Alexandre Lacazette and ?Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal FC - Premier League

Arsenal have lacked natural wide players following the departures of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott to Liverpool and Everton respectively in recent seasons, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi often cutting inside from the wings.

The Gunners are in good form of late, drawing with Liverpool 1-1 on Saturday, and take on Sporting CP in their next Europa League tie on Thursday.