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Five things we learned from the Champions League this week | Amy Lawrence

Lionel Messi of Barcelona

Barcelona's Lionel Messi is a sight to behold as he continues to rewrite the record books.

Humble pie for Porto in Apoel crumble

Once upon a time, Apoel were on the receiving end of a 16-1 defeat in European competition. For the record, their persecutors were Sporting Lisbon, and the massacre took place in 1963. That was the time when minnows were more like fish food for the football establishment. But it just goes to prove how much the gaps have been narrowed that a club such as Apoel are not just holding their own in a tricky Champions League group, they are quite fantastically leading the pack.

There would not have even been many Cypriots who would have fancied their team to be top, and undefeated, after four games against the calibre of recent quarter-finalists Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk, plus the Russian champions, Zenit St Petersburg. "It is unbelievable and difficult to imagine we are in this position," said Aílton, the Brazilian goalscorer who has led their charge from the front this campaign. They may not be the most glamorous club in the competition, but if there was one place to be during this week's ties it was the GSP Stadium in Nicosia, whose fans experienced the kind of rare joy capable of fixing a silly grin on your face for days.

After Apoel had taken the lead against Porto, Hulk threatened to suck the wind from the home side's sails with an 89th-minute equaliser. But they thundered forward to seize a monumental victory in the last minute. "It is a great moment in our lives," enthused the match-winner Gustavo Manduca. "For our fans, our people, our team, our players, everybody." He confessed to having doubts about pushing forward for his goal because he felt pain in his adductor muscle and feared an injury. "But I took the chance, and that pass was a gift of God for me," he added. Can the force continue to be with them? Next up, away to Zenit and then home to Shakhtar.

Messi even makes penalties look beautiful

It is the luck of future generations that just about every match played by Lionel Messi will be preserved for those who were never fortunate enough to see him play. As more and more football obsessives are having to consult history books and catch whatever old footage is available to assess the likes of Ferenc Puskas, Pelé, George Best, Johan Cruyff et al, every shimmy and slalom and strike along the dazzling trail Messi leaves in his wake is there to marvel at. His brilliance is so frequent, so expected, people were just beginning to scratch their heads about little Leo when he hit a drought of not scoring in THREE consecutive games. He responded as pretty much only Messi can, with consecutive hat-tricks. His blast of goals to see off Plzen took him past the 200-goal mark in the colours of Barcelona.

"He has scored his 202nd goal at just 24 years of age which says it all really," said Pep Guardiola. "I am convinced he will beat César Rodríguez's club record [of 235] but I don't know if he'll do it this season. It depends on how we do in the rest of the campaign but you can't rule it out."

It took Rodríguez 13 seasons to reach his total. Messi is in his eighth season. Outside of Real Madrid, there cannot be a football lover in the world who doesn't want to watch him surpass Rodríguez's statistics as quickly as possible.

The fact that understandably plays second fiddle to Barcelona's attacking glories is that their defence is also in record-breaking mood. Since they opened their Champions League campaign against Milan, on 13 September, they have conceded in only one match out of 11 played. They are on a run of nine clean sheets. Good luck to whoever lands them in the knockout phase.

Where would Ronaldo be without Messi?

Congratulations are also due to the man who would expect to be the best around were it not for the other fella. As the television pundit Gary Neville pointed out after watching his old team-mate mark his own goals milestone, Cristiano Ronaldo dearly wants to be No1 in the world. His goal record since joining Real Madrid is compelling. Against Lyon, he won the game to send his club into the knockout phase and in the process reached 100 goals in 105 games. By anyone's standards that is worthy of superlatives. Well, anyone except for the downbeat José Mourinho. "For me, it's not important that Ronaldo reached 100 goals," said Real's manager. "I know players like these milestones but we are here to get results for the team." There's gratitude for you.

The predators are out in force

The old cliche for striking contentment was a goal every other game, but there are an unusually high number of frontmen who are in the goal-a-game or better bracket. As well as Ronaldo and Messi, Robin van Persie, Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are on terrific streaks.

Then there is Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez, who has 19 goals from 16 appearances this season. The tormentor of Manchester City at the Allianz Arena saw off Napoli with a hat-trick that demonstrated what an effective focal point he is for Jupp Heynckes's team. He very nearly scored a fourth, as in stoppage time a player high on confidence took aim from just outside his own penalty area as the entire Napoli team had come up in search of an equaliser. His remarkable effort travelled the distance of three quarters of the pitch, and was going in, only to be denied inches from the goalline thanks to an extraordinary sprint from the retreating goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis.

It was a strange game in the end. Bayern looked imperious, then almost chucked away a three-goal lead as they struggled to regroup when Bastian Schweinsteiger suffered a broken collarbone. Napoli were as gutsy as ever, and if they don't reach the knockout stage, they will be missed.

Recent winners are not entirely in tune

Despite the aura of dominance that surrounds Barcelona these days, four different teams have won the Champions League in the past five years. Although the group stage is not a particularly trustworthy barometer, nothing we have seen from Internazionale, Manchester United or Milan suggests they have the teams to make it to the finishing line again.

Inter, in keeping with their arduous season so far, made heavy weather of Lille at San Siro, in a game that threatened to expose Diego Milito to the kind of humiliation that barely seemed possible as his goals won the Champions League in 2010. As Gazzetta dello Sport put it: "Along with all of the problems Inter are having now, what they can't afford is an existential crisis. But the man behind their treble, Diego Milito, was tottering on the brink." His eyes widened horribly when he shanked a sitter high over the crossbar, looking every inch the goalscorer who had mislaid every morsel of his confidence. Inter put out the oldest team in Champions League history against Lille, and it was the veteran of veterans, Javier Zanetti, who rescued them, powering forward to produce a cross that even Milito couldn't miss.

Manchester United's back-to-back wins against Otelul Galati have hauled them to the top of their group, even if they lacked some pizzazz. Milan have already qualified, mainly because their group helpfully includes both Bate and Plzen, but they were a little sheepish to come back from Minsk with only a draw. Milan hoped to win to dedicate their performance to Antonio Cassano, who is in hospital recovering from cardiac surgery. After Zlatan's goal, Kevin-Prince Boateng celebrated by lifting his jersey to reveal another underneath bearing Cassano's name and No99. Get well soon, Antonio.