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.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.