UEFA Champions League recap: Atlético clinch group; Arsenal, Barcelona, Chelsea stay top (video)

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One day after Bayern Munich and Manchester City secured passage into the knockout rounds, an unlikely contender joined them. At least, Atlético Madrid seem unlikely given what we knew at the beginning of this competition. Then, most thought the Colchoneros would be fighting Porto and Zenit to get out of Group G. Instead, after today’s 4-0 win over Austria Wien, Atlético are perfect through four rounds, their seven-point lead over Zenit already clinching first in their group.

[MORE: UEFA Champions League roundup: Bayern Munich, Manchester City into the knockout round]

Barcelona’s close to joining Atlético after Wednesday’s win over Milan, but a five-point lead over the Rossoneri means the Blaugrana will have to wait until their Nov. 26 trip to Amsterdam to confirm their place. One point in Holland will clinch allow them to join Atlético, with La Liga having established three contenders in this year’s competition.

The day’s other results saw English Premier League teams stay top of their groups. Chelsea’s 3-0 win at Stamford Bridge allowed them to pull away from Schalke, who had been even atop Group E coming into the day, while Arsenal’s surprise victory at Borussia Dortmund mean the Gunners stay tied atop Group F. With the surprise loss, BVB will likely need a win over Napoli on Nov. 26 to keep their knockout around hopes alive.

Here’s what else happened on Wednesday in Champions League:

Group E: Chelsea (England) 3-0 Schalke (Germany) [REACTION]

A bizarre opening goal saw Samuel Eto’o put the hosting Blues in front after Timo Hildebrand’s attempted long kick was blocked back into his own goal. Eto’o doubled Chelsea’s lead after halftime before giving way to Demba Ba, who completed the scoring by volleying home Frank Lampard’s short lob, vaulting José Mourinho’s side into sole possession of first place.

From our recap:

Coming off weekend disappointment against Newcastle, this was exactly the type of result José Mourinho would have wanted, though it’s difficult to ignore the nature of the opening goal. Eto’o deserves credit for the play, but it wasn’t one Chelsea would have expected from their game plan – a gift from Schalke more than a well-earned score.

If that goal doesn’t go in, does the game play out as it did over the first 30 minutes? With a lot of Blues possession leading to little on Schalke’s goal?

In that sense, the questions from this weekend may not be answered. Now, however, Chelsea gets to pursue solutions from a winning spot, and the top of their Champions League group.

[MORE: Two from Samuel Eto’o lead Chelsea past Schalke, to top of Champions League group]

Group E: Basel (Switzerland) 1-1 Steaua Bucharest (Romania)

Steaua midfielder Alexandru chipped over a high Basel line in the 17th minute, with Federico Piovaccari’s finish high into the left of Yann Sommer’s goal nearly enough to give the Romanian champions their first competition win since 2006. In the match’s last moments, however, substitute Giovanni Sio put home Valentin Stocker cross to salvage a result for the Swiss champions, who are 0-1-2 since wining in London to open the tournament.

Group F: Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 0-1 Arsenal (England) [REACTION]

On a day they were limited to four shots (only two on target), Arsenal found the game’s only goal, their 62nd minute opener holding up to keep the Gunners at the top of Group F. Beating Neven Subotic to a ball just outside the six-yard box, Aaron Ramsey scores his fifth European goal of the season, leaving last year’s finalists in third place after four games. Arsenal became the first English team to win at the Westfalenstadion.

From PST’s Steve Davis:

The goal seemed a terribly unlikely moment from Arsenal’s Ramsey, barging forward in his 200th club appearance and overturning an hour of dominance in the Group F encounter, one that leaves Wenger’s club tied at the top of the foursome.

An uncharacteristic sloppy touch near the back from Dortmund put the ball on Ozil’s foot. Olivier Giroud met his teammate’s cross, leaving a ball dangling for Ramsey to head bravely on the run near goal. It was his 25thstrike overall for the Gunners, who are also off to their best Premier League start in years.

[MORE: Aaron Ramsey’s latest big moment gives Arsenal a huge 1-0 Champions League win at Dortmund]

Group F: Napoli (Italy) 3-2 Marseille (France)

Rafa Benítez’s team nearly became the group’s first to concede points to Marseille, falling behind to a 10th, André Ayew minute opener and allowing Florian Thauvin an equalizer just after the hour. In between,  beautiful strikes two minutes apart for Gohkan Inler and Gonzalo Higuaín had given Napoli a lead, an advantage Higuaín restored in the 75th minute to keep Napoli tied atop Group F.

Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 4-0 Austria Wien (Austria)

Diego Simeone’s team joins Bayern Munich as the competition’s only perfect teams, clinching first in their group with a route of the Austrian champions. Miranda, Raúl Garcia and Felipe Luis each scored before halftime, with Diego Costa recording his third goal in two Champions League games after the break. For the first time since 2008-09, Atlético are into the competition’s second round, with a +10 goal difference hinting at the damage they’ll do.

Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1-1 Porto (Portugal)

Given Porto must still visit the Vicente Calderon, this was a much-needed game for the Portuguese champions, and after Lucho Gonzalez put them up early, they were well on their way. Former Dragon Hulk, however, almost immediately responded, the last goal of the match coming in the 28th minute. Despite creating plenty of opportunities, Porto conceded the best chance of the second half, with Helton coming coming up big Hulk’s 52nd minute try from the spot.

Group F: Barcelona (Spain) 3-1 Milan (Italy) [REACTION]

The teams’ fourth meeting this year played out in predictable fashion, with Barcelona’s dominance of possession eventually drawing a penalty on Ignazio Abate in the 30th minute. Lionel Messi scored, and Sergio Busquets followed with a goal six minutes later. An own goal from Gerard Piqué got Milan on the board before halftime, but Messi’s second in the 83rd minute iced the game, leaving Barcelona on 10 points atop Group F.

From our recap:

As characteristic of the teams’ three other meetings this year, Barcelona dictated the game, but whereas Milan often starts applying pressure at the edge of their defensive third, today they quickly regressed much deeper. With a defense setting up just inside the penalty box behind midfielders holding their ground at the arc, the visitors were providing little resistance for Barcelona’s midfield.

When they did create turnovers, Milan would quickly move down their left, through the place vacated by Dani Alves. The tactic would come good near halftime, but over the first 45 minutes, its main virtues were wasting time, giving their defense some rest, and allowing their lines to reset.

[MORE: Lionel Messi double leads Barcelona past Milan in UEFA Champions League]

Group H: Ajax (Netherlands) 1-0 Celtic (Scotland)

Celtic would have been able to lull this one to sleep if it wasn’t for Lasse Schöne, whose work off of Thulani Serero in the 51st minute produced the game’s only goal. Though Celtic pressed for an equalizer that would keep them in third place, full time came with the Scottish champions having only put two shots on goal, their 1-0 loss at the Amsterdam ArenA sending them to the bottom of the group.

Dani Alves fires back at Diego Forlan

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After Neymar and Edinson Cavani’s penalty drama that has blown up over the last few days and potentially led to Neymar’s exclusion from the PSG squad this weekend, Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan went on sports radio in his home country to not just back his former international teammate Cavani, but also throw a pair of Brazilians under the bus.

Forlan obviously denounced Neymar’s role in the dispute, but he also picked out Neymar’s club and country teammate Dani Alves for favoring his countrymate.

[ MORE: Goalkeeping howler sees Bayern blow lead in draw ]

“What doesn’t make any sense is what Alves does, he doesn’t give the ball to Cavani and then gives it to Neymar as if he were his [explitive]. Cavani deserves respect. He has been scoring goals for years, taking penalties. There has to be respect. Neymar would not have done that with [Lionel] Messi. He didn’t want Cavani to take the penalty. He was like a little boy annoying him.”

Well, as you can imagine, Alves did not take kindly to being sucked into the fray, and fired back as a result. “I don’t know what match you were watching,” Alves wrote on Twitter, “but for your information, I didn’t take the ball away from any of my teammates. It was just the opposite, it was taken from me!

“And also for your information, the last penalty kick for PSG was mine. So shut your trap and stop making drama in my name.”

This whole situation has blown up more than most penalty disputes (which happen relatively often) likely due to the international affiliations. With the decades-old bad blood between Brazil and Uruguay, it’s no surprise that people are taking sides. Forlan swept up another Brazilian in the mix, and understandably he did not appreciate the cheap shot.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Leicester City has won 2 straight home PL games vs Liverpool
  • Jamie Vardy has 5 goals in 3 PL games vs Liverpool
  • Liverpool leads the PL with 40 shots on target this season

Jamie Vardy is good to go for the Foxes as they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC or live online via NBCSports.com).

These two teams matched up midweek in League Cup play, with Leicester City winning 2-0, and they did so without Vardy who missed out with a groin strain. He’s since recovered, and will likely play a part. Christian Fuchs and Leonardo Ulloa are also ready to go, with Fuchs back after an eye injury in training, while Ulloa took a knock to the head midweek but is ready to go.

The Foxes need a win in the worst way, as a loss would leave them with their joint-worst point total through the first six matches of a top flight season since 1994/95, the year they were relegated.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

Liverpool, meanwhile, has issues of its own to sort out. They are winless in all competitions since August 27th, and on a larger scale, Jurgen Klopp is taking heat for having less points than Brendan Rodgers did through his first 73 league games of his Liverpool tenure.

The Reds are also facing a bit of injury trouble, with Dejan Lovren still out with back problems, while Joel Matip and Emre Can both suffered slight injuries in the midweek loss and are questionable for Saturday. Should all those miss out, the already leaky defense would prove even more porous.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool chasing the ball: “We come too close together in the situation where the first ball is going after a throw-in and it means for the second ball we don’t have a good formation. We need to get more natural in these things because it’s not that difficult to be honest but it happens too often. Now we have to work and then it will be even more difficult to create something against us.”

Craig Shakespeare on Jamie Vardy vs. Liverpool: “Is he a bogeyman? I am hoping so. Sometimes strikers will have good memories of playing against certain teams. Centre forwards go through these purple patches and everybody would like one who can get you 20 goals a season.”

Prediction

If anything is certain in a Liverpool match, it’s that the first goal doesn’t matter. Since the start of last season, the Reds are tops in the league with 20 points from losing positions. However, they’re also fifth in the league in that same timeframe with 20 points lost from winning positions. With that in mind, a wild game is likely in store, but with the inconsistent form for either side of late, it’s tough to pick a winner. A 2-2 draw is a likely result.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.