There was a goal rush in the Champions League on Tuesday and it was hardly a surprise to see Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah among the scorers.
By converting coolly taken penalties late in their games, Messi and Salah sealed 3-2 wins for Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool, respectively, on a chaotic night when 35 goals were scored across eight group matches — at an average of nearly 4.4 goals.
Real Madrid and Manchester City grabbed five goals each away from home. Ajax produced perhaps the best performance of the lot in overwhelming Borussia Dortmund 4-0, with Sebastien Haller — the competition’s surprise leading scorer — netting his sixth goal of the group stage in just three rounds of games.
Messi is saving his goals for the Champions League in his first season at PSG. The Argentina star rescued the French club in its 3-2 win over Leipzig, equalizing in the 67th and then producing a cheeky “Panenka” penalty down the middle to complete PSG’s comeback at the Parc des Princes and move onto 123 career goals in the Champions League — second only to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 137.
Messi, whose only other goal for PSG came in a Champions League win over Man City last month, even passed up the opportunity for a hat trick when PSG was awarded another penalty in stoppage time. Mbappe took it instead — and powered it over the crossbar.
Salah became the first player in Liverpool’s 129-year history to score in nine straight games in all competitions, netting an early deflected goal after a mazy dribble and then stroking in a 78th-minute penalty to clinch a 3-2 victory at Atletico Madrid.
There was more late penalty drama in that game, too, with Atletico — down to 10 men following the red card to Antoine Griezmann after his two goals — seeing a spot kick awarded and then overturned after a referee check on the pitchside monitor.
Liverpool and Ajax are the only teams on a maximum nine points, leaving them with a chance to advance with two games to spare.
A typically bold Leipzig team dominated PSG for long spells, only to be hurt by one of the game’s all-time greats. It was 34th time that Messi scored two or more goals in a Champions League game.
Mbappe broke clear to score an opening goal that was canceled out by Andre Silva before Nordi Mukiele volleyed home in the 57th.
Messi then stroked in a square ball from Mbappe after Leipzig lost possession while the same pair combined for the winner, with Mbappe adjudged to have been pushed for the penalty.
Mbappe pointed straight at Messi to tell him he could take the spot kick and the Argentina captain made no mistake to keep PSG in first place, a point above City.
Salah is in the form of his life and now has 12 goals in 11 matches in total this season after a double in the same stadium where he scored one of Liverpool’s goals in its Champions League final victory in 2019.
Naby Keita’s sensational volley added to Salah’s eighth-minute goal, only for Griezmann to score in the 20th and 34th minutes as Atletico mounted a comeback.
The France striker was handed a straight red card for lifting his boot into the face of Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino and another wild challenge, this time by Mario Hermoso on Diogo Jota, gave Salah the chance from the penalty spot. He sent Jan Oblak the wrong way.
Liverpool is five points clear of Atletico.
Two of world soccer’s best young players inspired the heavy wins for Madrid and Man City.
Vinicius Junior, a 21-year-old Brazilian, scored two goals — including one from a wonderful, slaloming solo run — and an assist in Madrid’s 5-0 win at Shakhtar Donetsk. Rodrygo and Karim Benzema, with his 73rd Champions League goal, completed the rout that started with an own-goal by Shakhtar captain Sergiy Kryvtsov in the 37th.
Phil Foden, another 21-year-old forward, might not have scored in City’s 5-1 win at Club Brugge, but he was behind much of the team’s best work, including a sumptuous pass from deep to set up Joao Cancelo for the opener.
Riyad Mahrez had two goals, including a penalty, Kyle Walker ran onto Kevin De Bruyne’s pass to score the fourth and 19-year-old substitute Cole Palmer added the fifth two minutes after coming on for his debut in the competition.
There were mixed fortunes for the Milan clubs.
Inter beat Moldovan upstart Sheriff 3-1 for its first win and goals of the group stage, lifting the Italian champions to within two points of the lead in Group D. Edin Džeko, Arturo Vidal and Stefan de Vrij scored for Inter at the San Siro.
As for its city rival, AC Milan might be unbeaten in Serie A but the team can’t find a way to win in the Champions League. A 1-0 loss at Porto means the Rossoneri has lost the first three matches in the group stage of the Champions League for the first time — a sad way to make a first group-phase appearance in eight years.
Luis Díaz scored from the edge of the area in the 65th minute as Porto joined Atletico on four points.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80