Where They Stand: Groups E through H after round one of UEFA Champions League

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On Tuesday, Shakhtar Donetsk had the day’s biggest win, taking three points on the road against a team (Real Sociedad) that’s set to rival them for a Champions League spot. While that exact scenario didn’t surface again on Wednesday, Basel’s victory at Stamford Bridge may prove more valuable. Though Chelsea are still likely to win Group G, the Swiss champions can now afford a home slip against Schalke (or Steaua) without falling behind in the group. Surprise points can make up for a lot of evils.

For Chelsea, the loss may not have been as detrimental to them as La Real’s was to Shakhtar. The Blues are better equipped than Sociedad to make up those points. Despite today’s result, Chelsea are likely to reverse this result when they go to Switzerland. The same can not be said for La Real’s visit to Donetsk.

There were two other home losses on Wednesday. For Austria Wien, Porto’s win was a setback but not an unexpected one. The way the group is shaking out, a more realistic goal for them is challenging Zenit for third place. They’ll have to see how Porto performs in St. Petersburg before knowing if they’ve lost ground.

Marseille’s loss at home to Arsenal was a setback, though, as things won’t get easier going forward. With Napoli and Borussia Dortmund rounding out Group F, it’s possible  l’OM have played their easiest Champions League game. We’ll have to wait to see if Arsenal sustains their current form, but given how today’s game played out, Marseille may find their Italian and German visitors even more troublesome.

[MORE: Where Groups A through D stand.]

[MORE: Tuesday’s Champions League roundup.]

Here’s where Groups E through H stand after the second day of Champions League action:

* – 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 E
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
FC Schalke 04 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
FC Basel 1 1 0 0 2 1 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Chelsea 1 0 0 1 1 2 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3
Steaua Bucuresti 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0

We discussed this earlier, but today’s big loser may not be Chelsea. It may be Schalke.

Stay with me.

Chelsea is going to be favored to win the rest of their group stage games, and if they can claim 10 points in those five, they’re probably through. If they play to their potential, today’s loss is a non-issue. If they don’t, today’s loss is the tip of the iceberg. Either way, the result will look a lot different in a couple of months.

Schalke, on the other hand, merely held serve. Their record looks good and that goal difference is nice, but look at that +/- column: +0. They’re right where they should be.

Now look at Basel – the team that’s supposed to fight them for second place: +3.

Yeah, this could turn out to be a bad day for Schalke.

Group F
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Arsenal 1 1 0 0 2 1 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Napoli 1 1 0 0 2 1 1 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Borussia Dortmund 1 0 0 1 1 2 -1 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0
Marseille 1 0 0 1 1 2 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

Borussia Dortmund may be upset about how things went down in Florence, but they shouldn’t be. First, Neven Subotic wouldn’t have been marking Gonzalo Higuaín on that goal, and that’s not the first (or last) time Mats Hummels has been beaten. Second, though, they can still get through this group without points in Naples. It just makes holding serve at home more important.

For Marseille, today was a reminder of their unfortunate reality. With as heated as the competition’s likely to be among the group’s big three, l’OM could become a whipping boy. A punching bag. A post-Harry QPR. After Arsenal won at the Velodrome today, Napoli and BVB can’t afford to drop points in France.

Nine or 10 points may not be enough to get through. At least, Arsène Wenger, Jurgen Klopp, and Rafa Benítez shouldn’t count on it. Getting that crucial 13th point (meaning you’ve swept at home, won in Marseille, and got another draw) should be each team’s goal.

[MORE: Napoli 2-1 Borussia Dortmund: Early goal, red card decisive.]

[MORE: Borussia Dortmund down a player, coach, goal going into halftime.]

Group G
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Atlético Madrid 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
FC Porto 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Austria Wien 1 0 0 1 0 1 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3
Zenit St. Petersburg 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0

Atlético Madrid’s performance made their case for being the group’s favorites (a case Diego Simeone might reject), but it was Porto who gained ground. Their possession-hungry win in Vienna makes the group’s top seed the first team to claim road points.

Perhaps Atlético should be expected to do the same, but road points in Champions League are never a given. Unlike Porto, Simeone’s team is not a squad that’s navigated these waters together before. Trips to new places could see them fail to grasp the stakes. Porto’s +3 could be Atlético’s +1.

Group H
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Barcelona 1 1 0 0 4 0 4 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
AC Milan 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Celtic 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0
Ajax 1 0 0 1 0 4 -4 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0

Move along. Nothing to see here. Home teams win. Road teams lose. Dogs and cats remain at war.


Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.