Where They Stand: Groups E through H after three rounds of Champions League

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After three rounds of UEFA Champions League, every team has faced their group opponents once, giving us a good idea of the teams’ relative quality. We can see Atlético’s the best in their group. Chelsea’s overcome their early misstep. Barcelona’s going to take top spot in Group H. These things are pretty clear.

Other, closer races force you to remember: Teams have yet to face each other home-and-road, and no team has played an equal number of games away as they have in front of their own fans. If you’ve played two of your three on the road, you may have had a more difficult start than a team above you in the standings, something that needs to be remembered when you’re assessing your (and other teams’) chances of moving on.

Take Arsenal, for example. They’re at the top of their group, albeit in a three-way tie with Borussia Dortmund and Napoli. But they’ve also had two home games, whereas both their competitors have played twice on the road. The Gunners’ road trip was also their easiest one. Things are about to get much more difficult for Arsène Wenger’s troop, while their opponents’ slates get easier.

Then think about Atlético Madrid. They’re perfect through three rounds, but they’ve also played two games on the road, having won at the Estadio do Dragão – what was supposed to be their toughest game. They’re not only off to a flying start. They’ve done so without the help of their schedule.

Here’s where Groups E through H stand after Tuesday’s Champions League action:

* – To each of these standings we’ve added a column labeled +/-: a crude attempt to track how many points a team has dropped at home (minus) or picked up on the road (plus). It’s a very crude attempt to gauge the extent to which teams are holding serve.

Group E
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Chelsea 3 2 0 1 8 2 +6 0-1-0 2-0-0 6 +3
Schalke 3 2 0 1 4 3 +1 1-1-0 1-0-0 6 +0
Basel 3 1 1 1 3 3 +0 0-1-0 1-0-1 4 +1
Steaua Bucharest 3 0 1 2 1 8 -7 0-1-1 0-1-0 1 -5

In Groups E, F, and G, one team has been picked out as the weakest link, giving us something else to keep in mind beyond that +/- column. Dropping points to that last place team could be decisive. If the group’s other teams claim six from the also ran, you need to do that same; else, the points you drop could be the difference between moving on and going to Europa League.

Today, Basel essentially dropped points. Both Chelsea and Schalke had already defeated Steaua, but Basel couldn’t do the same, and while it’s perfectly understandable why Murat Yakin’s team would “stumble” in Bucharest, they need to make up those points. Schalke’s trip to Romania now becomes more important to Basel’s knockout round hopes, because although the Swiss champions will likely pass the Miners next round (Schalke visiting Chelsea while Basel host Steaua), they still have to make a trip to Gelsenkirchen.

Group F
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Arsenal 3 2 0 1 5 3 +2 1-1-0 1-0-0 6 +0
Borussia Dortmund 3 2 0 1 6 3 +3 1-0-0 1-1-0 6 +3
Napoli 3 2 0 1 4 4 +0 1-0-0 1-1-0 6 +3
Marseille 3 0 0 3 2 7 -5 0-2-0 0-1-0 0 -6

Three teams with six points, and only one’s truly ahead of the game, though you wouldn’t know if from the right column. With their win in Marseille, Napoli have picked up points on the road, but they’re points Arsenal have also claimed. Winning at the Velodrome has become obligatory, not progressing.

Dortmund, on the other hand, picked up three points at Arsenal,  a place where Napoli’s already lost. They also have yet to visit France while still having home games against their two co-leaders. They’re in good shape.

Arsenal, though, may have created trouble for themselves with today’s loss. They still have to go to Germany, which they’ll do next round, and they still have to visit Naples. The only reprieve in their group stage run-in is a visit from Marseille, but again: Beating l’OM has become obligatory, in this group.

If everybody wins at home and losses on the road (with the exception of games at Marseille), Dortmund and Napoli are through. Arsenal’s in Europa League.

Group G
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Atlético Madrid 3 3 0 0 8 2 +6 1-0-0 2-0-0 9 +6
Zenit St. Petersburg 3 1 1 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 1-1-0 4 +1
Porto 3 1 0 2 2 3 -1 0-2-0 1-0-0 3 -3
Austria Wien 3 0 1 2 0 4 -4 0-2-0 0-0-1 1 -5

A five-point lead after three of six rounds is huge, but it looks even bigger when you see Atlético’s played two games on the road. They’ve also already hosted and beaten the group’s second place team and have taken three points from what was supposed to have been their most difficult road opponent (Porto). A win next round clinches a knockout round spot, while a draw in St. Petersburg between Zenit and Porto allows that same win to give Atlético the group’s top seed. They’re winning this group.

Zenit’s got the inside track on the second seed considering the back half of their schedule gives them both tough games at home. That increases the importance of Porto’s trip to Zenit – the teams’ next match. Zenit can take a commanding lead with a win, but even a draw will keep the Russians in control. Whereas Porto still has to go to the Vicente Calderon, Zenit gets Atlético at home.

Group H
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Barcelona 3 2 1 0 6 1 5 1-0-0 1-0-1 7 +4
Milan 3 1 2 0 4 2 2 1-0-1 0-1-0 5 -1
Celtic 3 1 0 2 2 4 -2 1-1-0 0-1-0 3 -3
Ajax 3 0 1 2 2 7 -5 0-0-1 0-2-0 1 -2

This group’s sorting itself out as expected, with Barcelona and Milan drifting toward the group’s top  seeds. The big danger for Milan will be a Celtic win over Ajax next round. If that happens, Milan may need a result in Glasgow to go through.

That sounds more ominous that it is. The scenario would require Celtic to win in Amsterdam before defeating Milan, and while each result in isolation is certainly possible, both results together becomes much more unlikely. Not to get all high school math on you, but if Celtic have a 60 percent change of winning their home game and a 40 percent chance of winning on the road (numbers I’ve made up out of thin air), they’re going to do both fewer than one time in four. Milan’s still in good shape.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.

Roma-Chelsea reports could see Dzeko, Batshuayi… and Sturridge on the move

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Here’s a wild rumor out of Italy, as Gianluca Di Marzio has UEFA Champions League Round of 16 sides Chelsea and Roma working out a big transfer.

[ MORE: PST chats with Dzeko in July ]

Again, before we lay it out, we know that both clubs would not be able to use Cup-tied players in the UCL and that gives the rumor its unrealistic bent.

Chelsea reportedly is willing to send $62 million and striker Michy Batshuayi on loan to Roma in exchange for Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmeiri. Reports say Roma is holding out for another $20 million, potentially add-ons.

Dzeko isn’t producing at his otherworldly rate of last season, but is far and away i Lupi’s leading scorer and bagged a brace against Chelsea in the UCL. And Batshuayi scored in Chelsea’s first two matches of the tournament.

There is something to the rumor, at least in terms of Emerson. The London Evening Standard quotes the player’s agent as saying talks are ongoing and the move is a “dream” one for Emerson, who is behind Aleksandar Kolarov on the left back depth chart since returning from injury.

Roma would need a UCL-eligible center forward, as Czech youngster Patrik Schick has been unable to find his scoring boots since a summer move from Sampdoria. Football Italia says, sensationally, that Roma would use some of the money to pry Daniel Sturridge from Liverpool.

Maybe the Emerson move goes through, but the striker swap feels like a headscratcher for Dzeko and Chelsea.

Pardew the latest to scratch head at transfer fees

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West Bromwich Albion manager Alan Pardew is the latest to find himself baffled at the prices on the transfer market.

To be fair to the Englishman, 56, it doesn’t sound like he’s raving in ‘old man yelling at the sky’ fashion. Rather he thinks the numbers are hard for fans to gauge and perhaps it’s causing a disconnect.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

And for him, at least, it’s a challenge to sort out whether the prices he’s being quoted are reasonable relative to the market. That makes sense, considering that as Newcastle boss in 2012 he sold Fraser Forster to Celtic for about $3 million and PSG bought Yohan Cabaye — then 28 — from him for $26 million.

Both fees would be a little different right now, we think (from the BBC).

“It’s difficult with the prices now to gauge what’s good value,” Pardew said. “We live in a hyper-inflated world because of the TV money received by the football clubs. Therefore, transfers and wages are going way out of kilter with real life. I think we’re all losing the plot with the figures. It’s just becoming, ‘Oh okay,’ and not even reacting to things any more.”

Now, to play devil’s advocate, if Pardew is actually just old man yelling at the sky, he’d better get out of the manager’s box. The fees aren’t changing for top clubs, which is why Jonny Evans is at risk from a Man City bid but not Newcastle United or Crystal Palace. And the TV money he talks about is going to allow clubs like WBA to hold onto players by offering better wages if they choose that route.

But it’s a fair sentiment regarding how to gauge these numbers. While it’s usually a bit laughable when fans and writers estimate whether clubs have paid too much or sold for too little, managers and administrators risk looking foolish if they agree too low or too high a fee relative to other teams.