Real Madrid, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur all qualified for the last 16 of the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. While all three clubs had obvious reasons to celebrate, individual representatives from each team were under the spotlight for different reasons.
Zinedine Zidane lifted this trophy three seasons running during his first tenure at Real, but the Frenchman isn't convincing anybody he can replicate the same magic this time. Zidane saw his latest iteration of Real squander a 2-0 lead at home to a Paris Saint-Germain side already through from Group A.
A draw was also good enough for City to progress from Group C, but the Citizens will be worried by how Gabriel Jesus misfired during the 1-1 stalemate at home to Shakhtar Donetsk. Jesus is being tasked with carrying the attacking load for a while in relief of the injured Sergio Aguero, but the responsibility already looks like being too much for the Brazilian.
By contrast, Dele Alli has accepted the responsibility of resuming his role as the creative talisman of Tottenham Hotspur since Jose Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino in the dugout. The attacking midfielder produced his second standout display in as many matches on Mourinho's watch to help the Lilywhites come back from 2-0 down to see off Olympiacos in Group B.
Alli is rediscovering top form, but Robert Lewandowski never lost it. The prolific striker netted four goals to inspire Bayern Munich to a 6-0 demolition of Red Star Belgrade and cement his status as one of the deadliest marksmen on the continent.
UEFA Champions League @ChampionsLeague
⏰ RESULTS ⏰ ℹ️ Paris Group A winners, Real Madrid through ⚪ Tottenham qualify with comeback win 🔵 Manchester City top Group C after draw ⚫️ Juventus secure pole position in Group D 🔴 Lewandowski claims fastest 4-goal haul in competition history 😎 Best game tonight? #UCL
Winner: Dele Alli
Alli had already responded well to Mourinho's arrival by turning on the style during Saturday's 3-2 win over West Ham United in the Premier League. He collected his first assist of the season against the Hammers and doubled down on the performance with a creative masterclass against Olympiacos.
The star turn involved Alli getting Spurs back into the game with a fine finish in first-half stoppage time. It was a much-needed intervention after Youssef El-Arabi and Ruben Semedo had stunned the home faithful with early goals.
Fortunately for Mourinho, Alli didn't let up after the break, and the new manager's reclamation project effortlessly pulled the strings and exploited gaps in the final third.
By the end Alli had proved he's all the way back from his early season slump:
On this form, the 23-year-old can be the catalyst for not only getting Spurs' season back on track but also for repairing Mourinho's reputation after the latter's dismissals from Chelsea and Manchester United.
Loser: Gabriel Jesus
Pep Guardiola said City are set to miss Aguero "for a few games," per BBC Sport. Guardiola also said Aguero, who injured his thigh during the 2-1 win over Chelsea on Saturday, would "need a miracle" to be back fit for the derby against Manchester United on December 7.
Those predictions looked ominous at the time, but they are bleaker still in the wake of Jesus failing to fill Aguero's shoes against Shakhtar. The 22-year-old looked lost at times against a team prepared to defend deep and in numbers.
As MailOnline's Jack Gaughan pointed out, City's No. 9 is better suited to facing a different strategy:
"Shakhtar Donetsk are the sort of opposition Jesus does not particularly thrive against, the sort of squeezed low block that Aguero – watching on from the posh seats - would relish. The emphasis is on tiny movements, bouncing off markers to create the smallest space.
Jesus would far rather grass to run into and it does not feel coincidental that all five of his goals this term have come away from the Etihad Stadium.
Unfortunately for him, you could probably count the number of opposing teams willing to play expansively on one hand. That side of his game, the drifting into pockets and ghosting around the back, probably needs some attention."
Regardless of what Skahkhtar did, Jesus' inability to find a solution or offer a consistent focal point for team-mates to aim for should concern Guardiola. City's No. 9 has now gone eight matches without finding the net, hardly the strongest indicator Guardiola's team won't suffer with him leading the line.
It would help if Raheem Sterling, also quiet of late, tapped into his form from earlier in the campaign. Either way, Guardiola may need to refresh things up top to make life easier for Jesus.
Moving Sterling central and having the South American come in from the left could free up both players. Additionally, it's beyond time for the wizardry and genius of Riyad Mahrez to be given a regular place in the starting XI.
Jesus needs help if he's going to keep City relevant in the hunt for major trophies, both domestically and in Europe.
Winner: Robert Lewandowski
Seeing his stand-in striker struggle ought to have made Guardiola yearn for the days he oversaw Lewandowski's ruthless efficiency at Bayern. The Poland international is 31, but he still has coolness and quality most forwards at this level can only dream of.
Red Star became Lewandowski's latest victims when he exploded for a quartet of goals in just over 14 second-half minutes. There was a touch of the familiar about the former Borussia Dortmund man's record-setting exploits:
Bayern aren't being talked about much as potential winners of this season's competition. The sacking Of Niko Kovac and subsequent promotion of Hans Flick into the hot seat have probably soured many on Die Roten's chances.
Yet this is still a squad loaded with marquee talent in attacking areas, talent headlined by a striker in the form of his life:
Lewandowski is at his peak and strong enough to take Bayern all the way.
Loser: Zinedine Zidane
Zidane's first foray into the top job at Real was the stuff dreams are made of. He collected a trio of Champions League trophies and also won La Liga.
However, does anybody truly believe his second spell in charge will bear even a fraction of the same fruit? The evidence says otherwise, despite Real being level on points with Barcelona in Spain's top flight and through to the last 16 here.
Look beyond the performances, though, and you'll see a team dependant on individual inspiration to mask core deficiencies. Karim Benzema is the lone beacon of hope, but even his latest brace wasn't enough to beat a PSG team having little incentive to win and initially sans Neymar, who started on the bench.
The vulnerability of an ageing defence still underpinned by 33-year-old Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, 31, was ruthlessly exposed once PSG decided to take things up a gear. Goals from Kylian Mbappe and Pablo Sarabia were just rewards but also showed why Zidane can't afford to ditch the old guard.
The harsh reality is goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and centre-back Raphael Varane haven't been good enough to become the new leaders at the back and convince Real the time is right for a necessary refresh elsewhere.
It's a similar story in attack, where Eden Hazard can't get a run of games to truly prove his worth. The wing wizard took a knock on the ankle, and his absence would only make things tougher on Zidane.
There isn't much the Frenchman can do to change a squad still reliant on a familiar cast of veterans arguably past their best. Zidane will squeeze a few more performances from his key players this season, but it won't be enough to make this a successful, silverware-laden campaign.