Snap judgments: Quick reactions to Wednesday’s Champions League action

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There may not have been many remarkable results in Wednesday’s Champions Legaue action (with the exception what happened in Glasgow), but fans can take recourse in one number: 35. That’s how many goals were scored over the day’s eight matches, and while the diehard soccer fan doesn’t need big scorelines to be drawn in, Champions League represents a rare opportunity to lure a casual consumer. Goals tend to do that.

Amid all those goals were a hat trick from a Turkish international, a Brazilian giving a London giant a glimpse of what they’re missing, and an awaken from an Italian titan rebounding from weekend disappointment.

Group E

Chelsea 3-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: The defending champions salvaged a victory they had little right to claim, but after Shakhtar gave them two first half goals from elementary mistakes, it’s hard to feel bad for the visiting side. Ukraine’s champions had a chance to lock down first on Group E (having a home game against Nordsjaelland still on their schedule), but thanks to a 94th minute goal by Victor Moses, Mircea Petrescu’s team will need a result in their upcoming match with Juventus.

MORE: Chelsea takes advantage of Shakhtar mistakes

Juventus 4-0 Nordsjaelland: The Old Lady finally gives the type Champions League performance pundits and fans have expected, scoring three times in the first 37 minutes, paving their way to their first win of the tournament. Nordsjaelland, who got a draw from Juve two weeks ago in Copenhagen, were held to one shot on goal.

Impact: With two home games remaining, Shakhtar is the slight favorite to win this group, particularly with Chelsea still facing a trip to Turin. That match at Juventus will likely decide who goes through with the Ukranians to the knockout round.

Standings: Chelsea 7 pts. (+4), Shakhtar 7 (+2), Juventus 6, Nordsjaelland 1.

Group F

Bayern Munich 6-1 Lille: Remember yesterday, when I called Zenit and Manchester City the most disappointing teams of the tournament. Obviously, Lille felt ignored, because they spend 90 minutes in Munich reminding the world they bare little relation to the team that finished first and third over the last two years in France.

Valencia 4-2 BATE Borisov: It’s not even midnight, and Cinderella’s already being shown out of the ball, though BATE did make it interesting. After falling down three shortly after half time, the Belarussians fought back to within one only to see Sofiane Feghouli put the game away in the 86th minute.

Impact: BATE, six points up on Lille for third, have a Europa League spot locked up. Bayern and Valencia will decide the group champion on Nov. 20 at the Mestalla.

Standings: Bayern 9 pts., Valencia 9, BATE 6, Lille 0

Group G

Celtic 2-1 Barcelona: Previewing the first matchday of this year’s tournament, I said Celtic might be the worst team in this tournament. Clearly, they’re not. An incredible night at Parkhead (and a gift second goal) gives Celtic a famous and deserved victory over Barcelona.

Benfica 2-0 Spartak Moscow: Jorge Jesus’s side gets their first win of the tournament thanks to a strong left flank of midfielder Ola John and left back Lorenzo Melgarejo. For the second time this tournament, Spartak finished a match on 10 after Nicolas Pareja saw red in the second half.

Impact: Barcelona is still going to win this group, but for a team with Celtic’s conservative style, being able to draw your way into the knockout stage is very reassuring.

Standings: Barcelona 9 pts., Celtic 7, Benfica 4, Spartak 3

Group H

Braga 1-3 Manchester United: The Red Devils never look good in group stage, do they? An uninspired performance gave Braga the opener after a Jonny Evans’ 49th minute foul allowed Alan to convert from the spot in the. United’s malaise persisted until the 80th minute when a Robin van Persie goal put the Red Devils on course to a 3-1 win. The final score looks impressive, but the performance was not.

CFR Cluj 1-3 Galatasaray – All the strides Cluj had made to get to second place through three rounds were cancelled out by a poor home performance against the Turkish Champions. Burak Yilmaz had his best day since joining the Istanbul club this summer, scoring three times as Gala vaulted to second in Group G.

Impact: Manchester United clinch first place and are likely to start second choice XIs in their final matches against Cluj and Galatasaray. Still, being done with United, Braga has to be favored to claim second place.

Standings: Manchester United 12 pts., Galatasaray 4, Cluj 4, Braga 3

 

Reports: Barcelona holding talks with Verratti’s agent

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Barcelona has their eyes set on a new Andres Iniesta.

Sure, projecting anyone to meet Ballon d’Or finalist standards is silly, but news that Barca has had multiple meetings with Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti does inspire comparison hunting.

[ MORE: Klopp explains Lovren extension ]

An influential and creative central midfielder, the 24-year-old Verratti is 8.5 years younger than Iniesta and wowed Barca in the first leg of PSG’s ill-fated UEFA Champions League tie with the Catalans.

Mundo Deportivo, amongst others, reports that Verratti feels life at PSG has gotten stale and that Barca is one of the few clubs that represents a significant jump up in class. He’s also been linked with Real Madrid and Manchester United in the past few transfer windows.

Verratti has a contract through 2020-21, so any purchase will not be cheap considering PSG’s desire to continue growing its status as a UCL contender. The Italian is 21 times capped by the Azzurri.

Klopp talks new Lovren deal, Top Four worries, Watford

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Liverpool announced a new contract for Dejan Lovren on Friday, complete with the requisite “I love my club” comments from the defender.

Then Jurgen Klopp got his hands on a microphone.

The outspoken manager explained that re-signing Lovren to a new “long-term” deal ensures that the Croatian spends the best years of his career with the Reds.

[ MORE: Top PL Storylines ]

He also spoke plainly about Lovren’s perceived struggles and successes since arriving at Anfield from Southampton in 2014.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“If Dejan played for another club you would want to sign him – and pay a lot of money. He is 27, the best time is still to come.”

“If you’d asked fans after the Dortmund game they would said give him a 20-year contract. After the Palace game fans would have said ‘can we find another team who will have him?’ Truth is somewhere in between.”

Turning to Monday’s trip to Watford, Klopp isn’t concerned about the chance that his Reds will open the day outside the Top Four if Man City and Manchester United both win at the weekend.

He also says the Reds could have Adam Lallana and Daniel Sturridge at Vicarge Road, though Jordan Henderson remains out.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth

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  • Sunderland won 2-1 on Nov. 5
  • Fourth meeting since 1990
  • Sunderland leads all-time 5W-3D-1L

Sunderland looks to keep its faint hopes of Premier League safety alive by managing a season sweep of Bournemouth when the two sides meet at the Stadium of Light on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Black Cats are a mess, having lost to Tees-Wear Derby rivals Middlesbrough on Wednesday and living 12 points back of 17th place Swansea City.

Bournemouth battered Middlesbrough 4-0 last weekend to move seven points clear of the drop zone, and can finish the day in the top half with a win up north.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss David Moyes on calls for him to quit“I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose. There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”

Bournemouth captain Simon Francis on Sunderland’s woes“It just show how things can happen when clubs are not run properly. If we do lose Sunderland from the Premier League it will be a real shame. They are an enormous club and playing at grounds like theirs is the pinnacle of anyone’s career.”

 

Prediction

The Black Cats haven’t quit, but manage two fewer points than they need, all but heading for the Championship after a 2-2 draw.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Hull City

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  • Hull won 2-1 on Nov. 6
  • Tigers two points clear of drop zone
  • Saints lead all-time 23W-20D-15L

After back-to-back losses to Man City and Chelsea, Saints meet a different kind of desperation when Hull City arrives at St. Mary’s (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

With a win, Hull can move five points clear of the final relegation spot and heap pressure on Swansea City, who plays Sunday. With a loss, Marco Silva’s men open the 17th place door for Swans.

[ MORE: JPW on Romeu the Destroyer ]

Since the start of the 2011-12 season in the Championship, Southampton has won six of seven matches against Hull. That seventh, however, was the match at the KCOM Stadium earlier this season, one that saw now-West Ham man Robert Snodgrass spur a Tigers comeback.

Saints open the day four points back of eighth place West Brom, and also hold a match-in-hand on the Baggies.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Claude Puel on slump busting“After two losses it’s important to move forward now and take points on Saturday in front of our own fans. We have to improve in the right areas and find a good balance of play, but also a good clinical edge in both penalty areas.”

Marco Silva on Hull’s away troubles““We have conceded goals on the counter-attack away from home in games when the result has been looking good for us – we cannot make it possible for our opponents to do this to us. The second goal we conceded at Stoke is an example of this – conceded at a time when we were in control of the game. Details like this are making the difference and these are things we must look to change. This is clear to me and I pass this on to my players.”

Prediction

Saints have more quality than Hull, but may not have as much fire in the belly. Still, home field means a lot here and Southampton should reverse the score line from November’s tilt. 2-1, with Manolo Gabbiadini and Dusan Tadic leading the way.