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.

Pep: “Celebrations weren’t too much”

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Pep Guardiola is staying as close-lipped as possible when it comes to the post-match derby dust-up between his Manchester City and Manchester United on Sunday.

Reports say United boss Mourinho charged into the visitors locker room to protest loud celebrations following City’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford. For his troubles, he allegedly got milk thrown at him and City assistant Mikel Arteta ended up with a cut face.

[ MORE: Klopp responds to interview hubbub ]

Guardiola said the celebrations were his idea, and he doesn’t want to say much more about United’s reactions.

“I am the guy who encouraged each other to celebrate. What happened, happened. We will make statement to the FA. I am not going to comment about that. Celebrations were’t too much.”

“Everybody fought hard to win. We could have scored more goals. After the game we celebrated with the fans and went to the changing room and celebrated the win.”

 

He’d only elaborate by saying, in essence, you celebrate when you win and don’t when you lose, and that other teams celebrate winning in similar rivalries in similar fashion.

Now we await Mourinho. He’s a wild card, but with legal entities involved we wouldn’t be surprised to get little to nothing.

Klopp says post-match interview not a big deal

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It wouldn’t be too wild to call Jurgen Klopp’s Sunday post-match interview the most circulated exchange in the soccer world, at least in recent memory.

Klopp was back behind a microphone on Tuesday as Liverpool prepares for West Bromwich Albion, and was asked about his testy exchange with a reporter following the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Everton in the Merseyside Derby.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 1-1 Everton ]

He says it’s in the past for him and pretty much everyone. From The Liverpool Echo:

“Now I’m completely relaxed, I wasn’t five minutes after the game. Sometimes you look into the eyes of journalists and you feel they aren’t too interested in what you have to say. I’m not an actor.”

“It was nothing, I didn’t use any words I have to take back. I don’t like it but I cannot change it because I felt like this at that moment. I cannot act differently, but I can keep myself calm. It’s just an interview. I don’t think anybody remembers it. It was just an interview, nothing else.”

We’ll say this about the 1-1 draw: it still feels hollow, as Everton executed one of the greatest thefts in the Premier League this season. Even the awarded PK — Dejan Lovren‘s two-handed shove to Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a silly play in a non-threatening spot — was one of those, “Well, sure, but…” calls.

Liverpool dominated the game, and didn’t get three points. Everton got a point, but will want most of its day back. Thank goodness we get another chance at an enjoyable Merseyside Derby in the FA Cup next month.

Wenger: Man City, United should look to sumo wrestlers

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Arsenal is readying for a visit to West Ham United, but Arsene Wenger‘s mind took a detour to Japan.

In a wide-ranging pre-match interview touching on Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud, and the Manchester Tunnel Fracas (TM), it was the last topic that had Wenger musing on the post-match actions of sumo wrestlers.

[ MORE: Premier League Tues. preview ]

For those who missed it, there was an alleged dust-up between Manchester City and Manchester United after Jose Mourinho and his men objected to boisterous City celebrations in the away locker room on Sunday.

Ever the politician, the rail thin manager called upon rather large athletes to make the point of what he’d like to see. From Sky Sports:

“It happened to us, it’s happened to them. It’s unfortunate. Ideally you would commit 100% on the pitch and be an angel after. It’s not always the case. You want to keep that passion on the pitch.

“It is difficult to take when you lose a game, to see the celebration. When I was in Japan, I liked sumo wrestling because you could never tell who had won. The winner never showed his happiness as there’s a deep respect for the opponent.”

Wenger’s last managerial stop came in 1996 with Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan.

There was plenty more from Wenger, who was asked about the statuses of Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil.

For the latter, it’s relatively straight-forward: There’s still no new contract between the playmaker and Arsenal, though no final offer has been made and Wenger remains optimistic about the hiring.

As for Giroud, who’s been tipped for a move away from Arsenal for some time, Wenger admits it’s tricky. The super sub would start on most teams but is quite valuable to Arsenal as the usual backup to Alexandre Lacazette.

And it’s not like Arsenal has hurt the Frenchman’s stock with one of the best international sides in the world.

“He’s a very important player and I have big respect for him. Look how many French caps he has got since he came here. He’s not wasted his time. I can understand his frustrations. He’s played many games, much more than many speak about. He’s played more than Lacazette for example. When you are at a big club with many strikers, you can’t guarantee.

“Personally I want him to stay at the club until the end of the season. Then we will see.”

If Wenger can massage the full season out of Giroud and then sell him, Arsenal will have to call it a win. But how different might the Gunners look next August, with Giroud, Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez all expected to be out the door?

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.