Where they stand: Groups A through D after round one of UEFA Champions League

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A six-game season leaves very little margin for error. This can be easy to forget with Champions League because the group stage is so spread out, leaving too much time to fine solace in the two months teams have to recover. But if this were a league and one-sixth of the season (six or seven games) had done by, every headline about the team would include the word “panic.” The truth is surely somewhere in between.

A better, more nuanced way to look at it: There are certain matches you expect to win to get the points you need to advance. When that doesn’t happen, group stage becomes unforgiving. All of a sudden you’re staring at games you thought you could lose realizing you now need a result.

[MORE: Champions League Roundup: Upsets give way to goals.]

That’s where Real Sociedad is after today’s loss. Same with Galatasaray, Olympaicos, and Viktoria Plzen. Each team lost at home, meaning at some point (if they want to advance) they’ll need to go on the road to reclaim what they’ve lost.

Conversely, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Shakhtar Donetsk each created room for error. With road wins, they bought themselves one slip. Drop points at home later in the tournament, and they can lean on today’s result. In the case of Shakhtar, if you’re likely to be in a battle for a knockout round spot with the team you just beat, you’ve created a huge obstacle for your rival.

[MORE: European titans find from on Champions League’s first day.]

Beyond the standings, those are the scenarios you have to look at after match day one. It’s not so much where you sit right now. It’s more about whether you’ve taken points you shouldn’t have or dropped points you wanted.

Here’s where Groups A through D stand after day one of Champions League.

To each of these standings we’ve added a column labeled +/-: a crude attempt to track how many points a team has dropped at home (minus) or picked up on the road (plus). It’s a very crude attempt to gauge the extent to which teams are holding serve.

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Manchester United 1 1 0 0 4 2 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 0
Shakhtar Donetsk 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Bayer Leverkusen 1 0 0 1 2 4 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 0
Real Sociedad 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

Manchester United’s win was convincing, but they essentially held serve at home against Bayer. The Germans now know where they stand without dropping any significant points. Every team’s aware they could lose at Old Trafford.

Shakhtar, however, scored a huge win, particularly considering they were decidedly outplayed in the first half at San Sebastian.  After two second half goals, the Ukrainian champions snatched three road points against one of the teams they’ll compete with for (at least) second place. In the process, they dealt Real Sociedad a significant blow.

[MORE: Rooney’s double gives Moyes’s first Champions League win.]

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Real Madrid 1 1 0 0 6 1 5 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Juventus 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1 +1
FC Copenhagen 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1 -2
Galatasaray 1 0 0 1 1 6 -5 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

Gala’s plus-minus column reads -3, but they’re not the only team that’s going to lose at home to Real Madrid. There’s some chance that may even out over the course of the tournament.

Likewise, Juventus may be disappointed with their result, but the big picture’s more kind. They picked up a road point, and while they may have expected to get a win in Copenhagen, holding serve at home will likely get them into the knockout round.

[MORE: Ronaldo records hat trick in win at Gala.]

[MORE: Drogba injured, taken off in Istanbul.]

[MORE: Rib injury forces Casillas off early.]

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Paris Saint-Germain 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Benfica 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Anderlecht 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0
Olympiacos 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

This is what’s so crazy about PSG’s performance (and Shakhtar’s, for that matter). They were second best for 45 minutes but still even going into halftime, where they could have braced themselves to dig in and survive their road challenge. Instead, they go out and secure a multi-goal victory, turning a tolerable draw or loss into three road points.

On the other end of that is Olympiacos, whose loss isn’t as disastrous as Real Sociedad’s. PSG is the clear alpha in this group and could take points in their other road matches. If that happens, Olympiacos’s loss could turn out to like Anderlecht’s: Disappointing, but ultimately not a big deal.

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Bayern München 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Manchester City 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
CSKA Moscow 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 0
Viktoria Plzen 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

The problem for Plzen, who may be looking at Europa League (third place) as a viable goal, is not so much the loss today. It’s what happens when Manchester City goes to Russia. City could win there, to0, giving CSKA the same -3 road points Plzen were dealt today. But CSKA’s also capable of winning that game. Or at least drawing. Plzen may not have lost ground on City as much as they’ve potentially lost ground to CSKA.

For the Russians, today’s result was a rare loss from a team that’d gone undefeated through eight Russian rounds. But ultimately, this group isn’t going to be defined by results in Munich.

[MORE: Bayern dominant to open title defense.]

[MORE: Manchester City explodes for three quick second half goals.]

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.