UEFA Champions League Roundup: Atlético, Arsenal shine; Chelsea rebound; Dortmund romps (Video)

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Freed from the pomp of round one, four teams that could make a huge impact in UEFA Champions League’s knockout round posted convincing results on Tuesday, the first day of group stage’s second round:

  • In North London, Arsenal gave one of the most convincing performances of the young tournament, their passing game and pressure smothering their Neopolitan guests.
  • In Bucharest, Chelsea resoundingly recovered from opening round failure, setting themselves up to re-claim their group’s lead next round.
  • In Dortmund, a Jurgen Klopp-less BVB saw no trouble from visiting Marseille, …
  • while Atlético continued their demonstrative start with another inspired road win, this time in Portugal.

Those were the big ones, but not every game was so definitive. In Glasglow, Barcelona got the result they couldn’t take last year, though they needed a Celtic player’s dismissal to get it. And in Switzerland, a subdued game saw a Schalke moment of magic keep the club top in Group E.

Then comes the big picture. While Group F — the tournament’s Group of Death — continues to be about holding serve at home and taking points from Marseille, the rest of Tuesday’s quartets have established clear leaders. As they are in Spain, Barcelona and Atlético remain perfect, while Schalke are defying league inconsistencies to take six points through two rounds.

Here’s what else happened as Tuesday’s action kicked off the second round of UEFA Champions League action.

Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0-4 Chelsea (England)

Chelsea’s quest to make amends for their opening round loss got off to a resounding start, their thrashing of Romanian champions Steaua leaving their hosts with a 0-2-0 record and -7 goal difference after two rounds. Dominant play from Andre Schurrle, Ashley Cole, and Oscar attacking Steaua’s right side led to two goals from Ramires and a clean-up tally from Frank Lampard. Claiming their first points of group stage, Chelsea also furthered the idea that full points against the Romanians could prove important in an increasingly convoluted group.

Group E: Basel (Switzerland) 0-1 Schalke (Germany)

This may have been the way Jens Keller would have orchestrated it before Schalke left for Switzerland: keep things tight; limit Basel’s chances; look for a set piece goal. And in the 54th minute, Schalke’s opportunity came off the most dangerous player in soccer – the second ball in off a corner kick. This time, that second ball was a shot from Julian Draxler, settling after a Basel clearance to blast the game’s only goal past Yann Sommer. Holding the Swiss champions to one shot on goal, Schalke stayed top of their group, now on six points through two rounds.

Group F: Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 3-0 Marseille (France)

When Marseille hosted BVB two years ago, they hung a 3-0 on their young visitors. This time, the Klopp-less hosts returned the favor, getting two goals from Robert Lewandowski and a free kick score from Marco Reus en rout to a lopsided win.

Though Dortmund were without four starters, Marseille’s style played into their hands, allowed last year’s finalists to play off the counter and try to pick off their possession-needy guests. The first instance came in the 19th minute, a counterattack that left Lewandowski with an easy tap-in.  In the second half, Reus was helped by Steve Mandanda on his free kick goal, while Lewandowski’s second goal came from the spot after a foul by Nicolas N’Koulou.

Group F: Arsenal (England) 2-0 Napoli (Italy)

In a game that played more lopsided than the score, Arsenal gave their most impressive performance of the season, riding early goals from Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud to an easy victory. A quick transition down Napoli’s left led to Özil’s eighth minute opener, the German international surgically finishing a ball from Aaron Ramsey, while a turnover in their over third from Napoli led to Olivier Giroud’s 15th minute score.

It was a disappointing performance from Napoli, but as long as that form can be left in London, the implications of the day’s result could be limited. The Emirates are not a place where the Partenopei would have expected to get a win before group play started, and while it would have wonders toward getting Napoli through a tough group, Rafa Benítez’s team is still in control of their knockout round fate.

[MORE: Dominance then control give Arsenal 2-1 win over Napoli.]

[MORE: Mesut Ozil signing just keeps getting sweeter for Arsenal.]

Group G: FC Porto (Portugal) 1-2 Atlético Madrid (Spain)

In today’s preview we talked about the difficulty of Porto’s task, mentioning the Dragons couldn’t count on an early goal that would allow them to tighten up their formation. But Porto did get an early goal, Jackson Martínez putting his team up in the 16th minute. Instead of recoiling, though, Porto persisted with newly-justified confidence, something that served them throughout Tuesday’s first half. In the second half, however, Atlético quickly pulled even through Diego Godín, with the Colchonero comeback completed in the 86th minute through Arda Turan.

[MORE: Atlético conquer the Dragão, take 2-1 win from Porto.]

Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 0-0 Austria Wien (Austria)

Zenit came into this match having scored 12 goals in their last three games, but although they controlled most of the ball in the first half, the favorites were unable to convert before going down a man. Just before halftime, midfielder Axel Whitsel was given a harsh, straight red card, reducing Zenits to 10 for the last 45 minutes. Austria Wien, content to play for a draw, got the point they would have wanted, leaving Zenit on a disappointing one point after the easiest match of their group stage schedule.

Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 0-1 Barcelona (Spain)

The first half for a Lionel Messi-less Barcelona was defined by close calls, 82 percent possession, and no goals. But just before the hour mark, Celtic captain Scott Brown saw straight red after a challenge on Neymar. Barcelona’s payoff came in the 76th minute, with substitute Alexis Sanchez creating the game’s only goal. When Cesc Fabregas headed the Chilean’s cross home, Barcelona had muted redemptions for last year’s loss in Glasgow.

Group H: Ajax (Netherlands) 1-1 AC Milan (Italy)

It was a game of two halves, each ending on even footing. Ajax dominated the first but were held to a scoreless going into half time. Though Milan were much better in the second, nil-nil looked like it would hold until a 90th minute corner was put home by Stefano Denswil, apparently giving the home team the win. But four minutes later, in what’s becoming typical Milan fashion, the Rossoneri salvaged a result, a late penalty conceded by Mike van der Hoorn setting up a 94th minute equalizer from Mario Balotelli.

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.