PFC CSKA Moscow v Manchester City FC - UEFA Champions League

Where They Stand: Groups A through D after three rounds of UEFA Champions League

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When we look back on today’s UEFA Champions League action, two results will stand out as most influential, neither of which involved contenders for this year’s title. Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid stayed perfect, but they were expected to do so. Had they slipped, they’d still be favorites to claim first in their groups. The more important results involved teams fighting for second place, with clubs able to claim valuable road points earning a distinct advantage.

If that reads like a bunch of nonsense, consider today’s result in Moscow. Manchester City and CSKA are battling in a group Bayern will claim, leaving duo to fight for the one remaining knockout round spot. Both came into the day on three points, but City was able to claim three road points, riding a Sergio Agüero double to a 2-1 victory. CSKA fell three points behind, essentially making match day four’s visit to Manchester a must-win.

In Group C, Olympiacos couldn’t hold on for full points in Lisbon, but they got a result against their chief rival for second behind PSG. Though they’re only one point ahead of Benfica, they deprived the Portuguese club of two points they would have expected. Two weeks from now, when the teams meet in Piraeus, the Greek champions will be favored to take full points and pull away from the Eagles.

Here’s where Groups A through D stand after Wednesday’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 A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Manchester United 3 2 1 0 6 3 +3 2-0-0 0-0-1 7 +1
Bayer Leverkusen 3 2 0 1 8 5 +3 2-0-0 0-1-0 6 +0
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 1 1 1 3 5 -2 0-0-1 1-1-0 4 +1
Real Sociedad 3 0 0 3 1 5 -3 0-1-0 0-2-0 0 -3

Shakhtar Donetsk’s result looks bad, losing 4-0 in Leverkusen, but in the bigger picture, they’re still ahead of the game. Their match day one victory at Real Sociedad remains the only road  win in the group – a result Bayer may not replicate. If Shakhtar can win at home against Bayer and get Sociedad to go their part, the disadvantage they put themselves at with a four-goal loss may become meaningless.

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Real Madrid 3 3 0 0 12 2 +10 2-0-0 1-0-0 9 +3
Galatasaray 3 1 1 1 6 9 -3 1-0-1 0-0-1 4 -2
Juventus 3 0 2 1 4 5 -1 0-0-1 0-1-1 2 -1
Copenhagen 3 0 1 2 2 8 -6 0-0-1 0-2-0 1 -2

We’ve been harping on this since Galatasaray left Turin, but it’s worth repeating: Things are not looking good for Juventus. Clearly, third place is a sub-optimal spot, but given the rest of their schedule includes a visit from Real Madrid and a trip to Istanbul, it’s no given they’ll make up the points needed to pass Gala. The Turkish champions still have a trip to the Bernabéu, but if they win in Copenhagen and hold serve against Juve, they’re going through at the Old Lady’s expense. If Gala win in Denmark, Juventus will need a result in Istanbul.

As for the group leaders, Real Madrid can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win at Juventus. If Copenhagen also gets a result against Gala, Real Madrid wins the group.

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Paris Saint-Germain 3 3 0 0 12 1 +11 1-0-0 2-0-0 9 +6
Olympiacos 3 1 1 1 5 5 0 0-1-0 1-0-1 4 +1
Benfica 3 1 1 1 3 4 -2 1-0-1 0-1-0 4 -2
Anderlecht 3 0 0 3 0 10 -10 0-2-0 0-1-0 0 -6

Paris Saint-Germain’s in a simliar situation to Real Madrid. Win at home against Anderlecht and they’re into the knockout round. If Olympiacos and Benfica also draw, PSG clinches Group C.

The big battle here’s between Olympiacos and Benfica, with the Greek champions holding a number of subtle edges. They’ve already claimed points at Benfica, have the Portuguese runners-up in Greece next round, have two games remaining at home, and host Anderlecht while Benfica visits Brussels. The Belgian champions are this group’s doormat, but if they’re going to claim any points this season, they’re more likely to do so at home than on the road.

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Bayern Munich 3 3 0 0 11 1 +10 2-0-0 1-0-0 9 +3
Manchester City 3 2 0 1 6 4 +2 0-1-0 2-0-0 6 +6
CSKA Moscow 3 1 0 2 4 7 -3 1-1-0 0-1-0 3 -3
Viktoria Plzen 3 0 0 3 2 11 -9 0-1-0 0-2-0 0 -3

Bayern can’t clinch anything next round without Manchester City’s help, but with a trip to Plzen on matchday four, the defending champions are likely to go to 12 points. If City gets a result against CSKA, that’ll be enough to clinch a knockout round spot.

Thanks to their win in Moscow, City doesn’t necessarily need a win against CSKA in Manchester. A draw means City stays three points ahead, clinches the tiebreaker between the teams, and has a path to 10 points via their remaining match with Plzen. CSKA, having another match with Bayern, are unlikely to get to 10 points without a victory in England.

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.