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.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —