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The standout moments of the Champions League group stage at the halfway point 

What a start. After a campaign devoid of spectators for the large part last time round, a Champions League season with packed terraces has burst back into life after just three enthralling matchdays. 

We’ve just about had the lot. Thrilling encounters, exquisite goals and an unpredictability which has been near-on impossible to turn your back on – which way will it twist next? 

As we reach the half-way stage of the group-phase, Sportsmail takes a look at the standout moments and performers and asks who is in real danger of not making it to the knockout-stages come the new year. 

Manchester United, and Cristiano Ronaldo, have been masters of the late show in recent weeks

The Champions League team of the season after three matchdays, provided by SofaScore

The Champions League team of the season after three matchdays, provided by SofaScore

BEST GAME

Atletico Madrid 2-3 Liverpool 

Straight away, there’s numerous contenders here. 

Manchester City’s nine-goal thriller against RB Leipzig on matchday one – which saw a hat-trick on the losing side – was captivating, while the Premier League champions’ loss at PSG, which included Lionel Messi’s first goal, was a masterclass in fluid attacking football on both sides. 

Elsewhere, Manchester United have been involved in three dramatic late twists, Ajax have surprised many again with three wins from three, and Sheriff Tiraspol’s win at Real Madrid was an upset for the ages – more on that later. 

However, marginally, Tuesday’s clash between Atletico Madrid and Liverpool takes the crown. It had everything: stunning goals, VAR controversy, a red card… even the lack of a handshake between Diego Simeone and Jurgen Klopp post-match. 

Long gone are the days of all big teams sitting back defensively in Europe in a game of cat and mouse. 

Mohamed Salah scored the winner in Liverpool's victory over Atletico Madrid in one of the standout matches in the competition so far

Mohamed Salah scored the winner in Liverpool’s victory over Atletico Madrid in one of the standout matches in the competition so far

BEST GOAL 

Lionel Messi vs Manchester City  

Again, this was a closely-fought race. 

Moldovan minnows Sheriff can again count themselves unlucky not to be No 1 here, with Adama Traore’s goal against Shakhtar and Sebastien Thill’s stunning winner against Real Madrid two goals which will go down in the club’s history. 

In addition, Jack Grealish’s first goal in European competition was a pearler against Leipzig, Vinicius Jr scored a mesmerising solo effort against Shakhtar on Tuesday night and Paulinho’s curling effort for Sporting Lisbon against Besiktas was inch-perfect. 

Yet the goal of the competition so far goes to… you know who. It had been a long time coming, but Lionel Messi’s first PSG goal was a work of art. A sumptuous one-two with Kylian Mbappe before a trademark finish into the top corner – a moment to remember. 

Lionel Messi's first PSG goal was a stunner against Manchester City on matchday two

Lionel Messi’s first PSG goal was a stunner against Manchester City on matchday two 

The Argentine superstar celebrated his first  goal for the Parisians since joining from Barcelona

The Argentine superstar celebrated his first  goal for the Parisians since joining from Barcelona

BIGGEST UPSET 

Real Madrid 1-2 Sheriff Tiraspol  

Here, there is only one candidate.

Playing in the Champions League for the first time, minnows Sheriff Tiraspol – from a breakaway region in Moldova called Transnistria – had stunned many by beating Shakhtar Donetsk for a debut victory. 

But this was another level. Facing 13-time winners Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Thill’s late winner triggered joyous scenes at full-time. It was scarcely believable and was one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s history.  

Sebastien Thill scored a late winner against Real Madrid - the biggest result in Sheriff's history

Sebastien Thill scored a late winner against Real Madrid – the biggest result in Sheriff’s history

The goal sparked joyous scenes at the Bernabeu after a gigantic Champions League shock

The goal sparked joyous scenes at the Bernabeu after a gigantic Champions League shock 

LATE DRAMA 

Manchester United 

What a rollercoaster ride it’s already been for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. 

First, matchday one. Down to 10 men away at group underdogs Young Boys, United looked liked they’d settled for a point until Jesse Lingard’s poor backpass gifted the Swiss side three points in stoppage time. 

Then, matchday two. United were staring down the barrel at home to Villarreal, their conquerors in last year’s Europa League final. But Alex Telles’ sweet volley and Cristiano Ronaldo’s last-minute strike sealed a thrilling comeback win. 

Cue a calm, efficient performance against Atalanta on matchday three, right? Wrong. 

This time the deficit was two goals at half-time before United came roaring back, with that man Ronaldo once again the matchwinner at the Stretford End. They’re now top of Group F, when they had looked likely to go bottom.  

Ronaldo scored a late, late winner against Villarreal at Old Trafford at the end of September

Ronaldo scored a late, late winner against Villarreal at Old Trafford at the end of September 

Manchester United's No 7 scored the winner again versus Atalanta on Wednesday evening

Manchester United’s No 7 scored the winner again versus Atalanta on Wednesday evening 

BIGGEST UNDERACHIEVERS 

AC Milan

Only four teams are on zero points so far: RB Lezipig, Besiktas, Malmo and AC Milan. 

Leipzig have undoubtedly underperformed, particularly with a home loss to Club Brugge, while Besiktas and Malmo look somewhat out of their depth in their respective groups. 

But AC Milan, back in the big time, are on the verge of being knocked out, courtesy of three defeats all by a one-goal margin. 

A late Jordan Henderson winner turned the tide at Anfield, while Atletico performed the late, late show at the San Siro and Porto scored a second-half winner on Tuesday – you get no points for near-misses though.   

AC Milan have let some leads slip and after three near-misses, they are still on zero points

AC Milan have let some leads slip and after three near-misses, they are still on zero points 

SURPRISE PACKAGE 

Ajax 

Both Sheriff and RB Salzburg are unlucky to miss out here, given they’re both top of their groups. 

Salzburg, in particular, have registered seven points from their three games though are arguably drawn in the kindest group, alongside Sevilla, Lille and Wolfsburg, 

But with a goal difference of +10 and a 100 per cent record so far, Ajax have been the standouts thus far. 

The highlight? A convincing 4-0 win over a Erling Haaland-led Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night, following a thrashing at Sporting on matchday one and a comfortable win over Besiktas two weeks later. 

Could the Dutch side recreate their memorable 2019 run?  

Ajax beat Borussia Dortmund 4-0 on Tuesday in arguably the best performance so far

Ajax beat Borussia Dortmund 4-0 on Tuesday in arguably the best performance so far 

STAR PLAYER 

Sebastien Haller 

An eyebrow or two was raised last January when Ajax parted way with £22m to sign the Ivory Coast forward, who had completely flopped at West Ham as the club’s record £45m signing. 

Yet not for the first time, the Dutch side have unearthed a gem. Haller is the competition’s top scorer so far: three games, six goals. 

After scoring four on matchday one, he has hit the target in the two games since too. With one foot already in the knockout phase

Don’t worry West Ham fans, you’re not the only ones looking on with bemusement.  

Former West ham man Sebastian Haller is the top scorer so far with six goals in three matches

Former West ham man Sebastian Haller is the top scorer so far with six goals in three matches 

WHO HAS ONE FOOT IN LAST-16?

Liverpool, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Juventus 

All of the above are on maximum points after three games and with 10 usually the magic number, they could qualify for the last 16 with two games to spare. 

Despite struggling in Serie A, Juve are on nine from nine after beating defending champions Chelsea on matchday two. Bayern, the 2020 winners, are cruising through their group too, after wins by scorelines of: 3-0, 5-0, 4-0. 

Liverpool, too, have secured impressive wins against Milan, Porto and Atletico so far, while Ajax’s impressive opening means Dortmund are far from assured of a knockout spot yet.  

Bayern Munich have cruised through their opening three matches and look formidable

Bayern Munich have cruised through their opening three matches and look formidable 

Juventus are also on nine from nine after beating Chelsea, Zenit St Petersburg and Malmo

Juventus are also on nine from nine after beating Chelsea, Zenit St Petersburg and Malmo

WHICH BIG TEAMS ARE IN TROUBLE? 

Barcelona, Inter Milan, AC Milan   

OK, let’s talk about Barcelona. 

Ronald Koeman is still in a job, for now. Yet a pair of 3-0 defeats – against Bayern and Benfica – mean Wednesday’s win against Dynamo Kiev was essential. 

Another victory in Ukraine in two weeks means it will be back in Barcelona’s hands. However, they will need results against Bayern and Benfica to stand a chance of progressing. 

Inter, meanwhile, are on four points from three games after their vital win against Sheriff this week. Positioned third in the table, Simone Inzaghi’s need a strong second half of the group-phase to leapfrog the Moldovans and Real Madrid above them.  

Barcelona were woeful in their opening two games, losing easily to Bayern Munich and Benfica

Inter secured a vital win against Sheriff on Tuesday, as they look to sneak into the last-16

Inter secured a vital win against Sheriff on Tuesday, as they look to sneak into the last-16 

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