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.

“Amazing Game” – Pep’s Man City reinforces UCL, PL bid with Napoli win

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If it hasn’t already, Manchester City is one win away from making a Premier League-UEFA Champions League double a very real goal.

The hosts had to scrap to hold onto all three points against visiting and Serie A leading Napoli on Tuesday, giving away two penalty kicks after building a 2-0 lead at the Etihad Stadium.

[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Napoli ]

But Ederson stopped Dries Mertens effort, and opened the door to further dreaming for supporters of Pep Guardiola‘s dreamy deep squad.

It wasn’t 7-2, or even 4-0, but Guardiola was gushing after a mutually adventurous football match between two electric squads.

“It was an amazing game. Outstanding. Both wanted to play against high pressing. Napoli are one of the best teams I have faced in my career. If you are not aggressive without the ball you have no chance to survive.”

There’s still a very tricky match week in the fourth round at Napoli, and we wonder whether Guardiola will prioritize the Premier League visit from Arsenal later that week. And, even better, it may not be a necessity to prefer either: The Gunners will have one less day’s rest thanks to Europa League play, aren’t exactly inspiring this season, and playing stars twice in four days isn’t the end of the world with an international break following the Arsenal tilt.

City’s status on the precipice of the UCL knockout rounds means it can focus on the Premier League, as well as a kind draw that should put them within three rounds of a League Cup title. While Burnley has been quite good this season, no one’s debating that City could pile up points for their table lead as 2017 nears its conclusion with an away Manchester Derby on Dec. 9:

Sunday – vs. Burnley (PL)
Oct. 24 – vs. Wolves (League Cup)
Oct. 28 – at West Brom (PL)
Nov. 1 – at Napoli (UCL)
Nov. 5 – vs. Arsenal (PL)
Nov. 18 – at Leicester City (PL)
Nov. 21 – vs. Feyenoord (UCL)
Nov. 26 – at Huddersfield Town (PL)
Nov. 29 – vs. Southampton (PL)
Dec. 2 – vs. West Ham (PL)
Dec. 6 – at Shakhtar Donetsk (UCL)
Dec. 9 – at Manchester United (PL)

Consider that United will be finishing an 8-day stretch which includes Dec. 2 at Arsenal, Dec. 5 vs. CSKA Moscow, and the derby. That makes Wednesday’s United trip to Benfica an even bigger affair. If both sides have already sewn up the knockout rounds, the derby will be especially better.

That’s neither to say City’s two-point lead atop the table and win at Chelsea weren’t impressive enough, nor that it couldn’t have overcome a slower start to both the PL and UCL campaigns. And City did start last season red-hot, too.

But it’s already foolhardy to bet against Pep’s men given the path ahead. Given Real Madrid’s relative struggles, and Barcelona’s uncertain status, it feels like City has as good a claim to UCL favorite status as anyone outside of Paris Saint-Germain.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below.

Spurs’ Kane: Draw at Real “shows how far we’ve come”

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After pressuring Raphael Varane into an own goal, Spurs striker Harry Kane saw Keylor Navas make an outstanding late stop to ensure a 1-1 draw between Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

“I thought I did everything right, I opened my body, I put the ball where I wanted to and he made a very good save,” Kane said.

[ RECAP: Real 1-1 Spurs ]

While the red-hot Kane sure would’ve liked to find the match-winner, he knows what Spurs just achieved in Spain against the back-to-back UEFA Champions League winners.

And that, he says, is pleasing. From the BBC:

“We are happy. Of course they are going to have chances but we played well and made it tough for them. A point at Bernabeu, you would take that every day of the week. It shows how far we have come as a team.”

Kane is right, this Spurs side looks far more self-assured than its predecessor. It shows the process of learning to compete in the UCL.

The return date at Wembley Stadium is Nov. 1, where a point would all but seal Spurs’ spot in the knockout rounds thanks to Borussia Dortmund’s stunning 1-1 draw at APOEL Nicosia.

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Lovely Lloris!

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An error from each time in its own box and outstanding goalkeeping gave Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid a 1-1 draw in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday at the Bernabeu. (video)

Raphael Varane recorded a 28th minute own goal, but Serge Aurier gave away a penalty as Cristiano Ronaldo equalized for Real Madrid at home in the 43rd minute.

Hugo Lloris and Keylor Navas were the stars of the show, with Lloris making the lion’s share of saves.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Both teams are well-positioned to advance, with seven points. Spurs have the tiebreaker advantage, but both Tottenham and Real are six points clear of Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia after a surprising draw in Cyprus.

Early nerves were apparent for Mauricio Pochettino‘s men, but Tottenham grew into the game and took an early lead.

Concerned with the presence of Harry Kane, Real defender Raphael Varane saw a cross move off his pegs and behind Keylor Navas to put Spurs ahead.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The lead was short-lived, however, as Spurs back Serge Aurier cut short Toni Kroos’ rare foray into the 18, and Ronaldo buried the ensuing penalty kick.

Lloris made an outstanding save on a point-blank Karim Benzema header in the 54th minute.

A moment later, offside Ronaldo flashed a sitter over the goal before the whistle alerted viewers to his offense.

Ronaldo had another chance stymied by Lloris as Real really began to pile on pressure past the hour mark.

Kane had a 71st minute chance against the run of play off a gorgeous pass from Fernando Llorente, but Navas got low quickly to redirect Kane’s point-blank shot wide of the far post.

Navas made another save when Llorente cued up Christian Eriksen for a chance, and the Dane then sent in a corner that led to a Davinson Sanchez’s header wide of goal.

Llorente was quite good in the second half in this surprise two-striker move from Mauricio Pochettino, and the Spurs boss also deployed Danny Rose for a season debut off the bench.

Man City 2-1 Napoli: Early goals stand up

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Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored early, and Ederson stopped one of two penalty kicks as Manchester City held off Napoli 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

Amadou Diawara converted Napoli’s second PK after Dries Mertens saw his effort saved.

Napoli is six points back of Group F leading City, and three behind Shakhtar Donetsk.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Raheem Sterling was near the spot to blast an open rebound past Pepe Reina in the ninth minute.

Then Kevin De Bruyne swept an incisive pass into the six for Gabriel Jesus to slot home, giving Man City a 2-0 lead in the 13th minute.

Kyle Walker saw yellow after giving a penalty kick in the 37th minute, and Napoli star Dries Mertens had his chance to pull one back denied by Ederson.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

John Stones‘ impressive growth at City continued when he slid to stop Marek Hamsik from testing Ederson in the second half.

Fernando took down Faouzi Ghoulam to give Napoli a second penalty kick, and this time it was converted thanks not to Mertens, but Diawara.