Diego Costa, Heinz Lindner

UEFA Champions League roundup: Atlético still perfect; Dortmund still elite; Chelsea exerts control (video)

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After three rounds in Champions League’s groups E through H, only one perfect team remains. Arsenal, Barcelona, and Schalke all came into the day’s games without a blemish, but each dropped points, Arsenal and Schalke doing so at home.

Atlético Madrid, however, is the competition’s first team to reach nine points, and given they’ve played two of their three games on the road, they’re in a particularly strong position on top of Group G. After their 3-0 win today in Vienna against Austria Wein, Diego Simeone’s team has a five-point lead over second place Zenit St. Petersburg, with their home match against Austria in two weeks giving the Colchoneros a chance to punch their ticket in the knockout round.

It was also a big day for former champions Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund, both of whom climbed back to the top of their groups. With their 3-0 win over Schalke, Chelsea are in back in control of Group E, while Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win in North London not only pulled them even with Arsenal, it reminded everybody that a small downturn in form isn’t enough to leave BVB vulnerable to most of Europe. Even in fourth gear, Dortmund were able to beat England’s leaders.

Here’s what else happened Tuesday in UEFA Champions League.

[MORE: Full-time snapshots – the numbers from today’s UCL action.]

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 0-3 Chelsea (England) [REACTION]

What happened: Fernando Torres’s fifth minute goal proved the game winner, even if Schalke spent a half looking set to pull it back. After intermission, however, Chelsea got a second from Torres and a match-sealing goal from Eden Hazard, giving the visitors a relatively easy three points.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In hindsight, we had no reason to believe this would go any other way, given the form the two teams carried into this match. Chelsea was thriving, having gone 5-0-1 in their last six, while Schalke had entered another minor swoon. Perhaps Chelsea’s loss to Basel left lingering questions, but after today’s performance, there’s no doubt the team has moved forward. They’re clearly this group’s best side.

Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1-1 Basel (Switzerland)

What happened: If it wasn’t for an Iasmin Latovlevici error, Steaua may have claimed their first win of the tournament, the left back’s errant pass setting up Marco Streller for Basel’s only score. A late goal from substitute Leandro Tatu, however, gave the hosts a well-deserved point, dealing Basel their second straight setback.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In the big picture, this is a good result for Basel, who got a point on the road at the champions of Romania. Within Group E’s dynamics, however, this is a setback, dropping points to a team that may end up swept by Chelsea and Schalke. That’s the tough life Steaua were drawn into, but it’s also the unfortunate reality of Basel’s knockout stage hopes.

Group F: Arsenal (England) 1-2 Borussia Dortmund (Germany) [REACTION]

What happened: From minutes 30 to 80, Arsenal were the better side, equalizing through Olivier Giroud and nearly going up through Santi Cazorla. At each end of the game, however, Dortmund found goals, taking advantage of Arsenal errors with scores from Henrikh Mkhitaryan (16′) and Robert Lewandowski (82′). Dortmund claims three huge points on the road.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: If Arsenal were a younger team, you’d chalk this up as a learning experience, but not only have these players accumulated a wealth of Champions League knowledge, they played Dortmund two years ago. Instead, this was a measuring stick for England’s leaders and perhaps another reminder to us. Being one of the Premier League’s best hasn’t told us much about Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal’s abilities to threaten in Europe.

Group F: Marseille (France) 1-2 Napoli (Italy)

What happened: A convincing if controlled performance from the visitors saw José Callejon break through before half, Duván Zapata finishing the job early in the second. André Ayew found consolation late, but without a point through three rounds, l’OM have little hope of being anything more than spoilers in this group.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Coming off their first league loss of the season, Napoli gave an encouraging, confident performance. Though it took them 42 minutes to go up, they looked the better team throughout. For Marseille, the loss was their fourth straight, the team winless since defeating Lorient on Sept. 28. Still fifth in France, the team would be wise to shift full attention to their league campaign.

Group G: Porto (Portugal) 0-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)

What happened: Porto midfielder Hector Herrera was carded in the fifth and sixth minutes, leaving the hosts down a man for the game’s final 84 minutes. For 79 of those, they not only survived but threatened, recording 22 shots. Five minutes from survival, however, a cross from former Porto star Hulk found substitute Alexander Kerzhakov for the game’s only goal, handing the Dragons their second home loss of the campaign.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Any match played 11-on-10 for 84 minutes is an aberration, but the consequences remain the same. Zenit, who failed to take advantage of a 10-man Austria Wein in round two, get three points that revitalize their knockout stage hopes. Porto, on the other hand, sit third in their group having yet to visit Madrid or St. Petersburg.

Group G: Austria Wein (Austria) 0-3 Atlético Madrid (Spain)

What happened: The day’s most lopsided match saw the Colchoneros go up early through Raul Garcia. Diego Costa, making his first appearance in this year’s tournament, added the other two goals, leaving Atlético perfect through three rounds.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Atleti are replicating last year’s performance from Málaga, where a Spanish team nobody cared about raced to an easy win in their group. After today’s results, Diego Simeone’s team is five points clear and could possibly clinch first in Group G in the next round.

Group H: Milan (Italy) 1-1 Barcelona (Spain)

What happened: A strong start from the hosts came good when Robinho beat Gerard Piqué, found Kaká before getting the ball back for the day’s first score, taking advantage of an error by Javier Mascherano. Transition off a Christian Zapata giveaway in the 24th minute led to Lionel Messi’s equalizer, the final goal of the match. Milan, who held only 28 percent of the ball, held out for the draw.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: A typical Barcelona game produced a not-so-surprising result, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives for Milan. The point helps consolidate their position as Group H’s team most likely to join Barcelona in the knockout round, while the performance was one of their most resilient of the season.

Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 2-1 Ajax (Netherlands)

What happened: A tough day for Ajax defender Stefano Denswil, who conceded the first half penalty that pushed Celtic in front before deflecting the Beram Kayal shot that beat Fraser Forster early in the second half. Nir Biton’s sending off and Lasse Schöne’s late consolation brought life to the match’s final moments, but Celtic still claimed the points they needed to move third.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Ajax look strong enough to reverse this one in Holland (where they’ll likely be healthier than they were today), but that result will only help Milan’s hold on second place. If there’s going to be a challenger to this group’s assumed top two, Celtic need to get a result next week – something that will make their final meeting with Milan that much more important.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

[ MORE: Follow League Cup scores live

Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

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Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.

Report: Chelsea, Man United to battle for Muller

Telekom Cup 2015 - "Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg"

Chelsea are set to join Manchester United in bidding for Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Muller, 26, has previously revealed he turned down a move to United but with Pep Guardiola’s future at Bayern unclear beyond the current season, the product of Bayern’s academy may feel now is the right time to move on even though he’s contracted to the German powerhouse until 2019.

If he does, Europe’s biggest teams will be lining up and according to a report in the Daily Mirror Chelsea want to sign Muller and will make an audacious move to make him their main striker as Jose Mourino and Diego Costa‘s fallout continued with the Spanish international left on the bench during the draw at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

With Costa sulking, Mourinho  has been linked with moves for a number of strikers in January and next summer with Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Antoine Griezmann all mentioned in the gossip columns.

[ MORE: City now valued at $3 billion ]

In the past Muller has said that he turned down “astronomical offers” to join foreign clubs and United were his main suitors. With the man who gave him his debut at Bayern, Louis Van Gaal, now in charge at United and the Red Devils continuing to spend big, Muller has been constantly linked with a switch to Old Trafford but many Bayern greats are urging him to remain at the Allianz Arena to become a Bayern legend, or at the very least join the all-conquering Barcelona rather than head to England.

Muller’s predatory finishing alongside Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian certainly seems like a good fit at Chelsea and you can understand why they would want to break the bank to get him, but offloading Costa and others first must be the priority which is why any such deal for Muller seems unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest.

If the man who has scored 141 goals in 325 games for Bayern is intent on leaving the Bundesliga after spending his entire career in Bavaria, then Chelsea and United will be falling over themselves to sign him.