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.

At the half: Lacazette finish has Gunners ahead against West Brom

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Alexandre Lacazette is looking like the real deal thus far for Arsenal, and the French striker continued his contributions for the Gunners during the first half.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho escapes ban after sending off ]

While it was Alexis Sanchez that was narrowly denied a stunning free-kick finish seconds earlier, Lacazette was there to finish off the chance for his third goal of the season.

The Gunners sat on the front foot for much of the opening stanza, but West Bromwich Albion did have a bit of reason to be frustrated in the ninth minute.

Baggies forward Jay Rodriguez looked to be taken down by Shkodran Mustafi as the former tried to cut back towards the top of the Arsenal penalty area, however, referee Bobby Madley was having nothing of it.

Rodriguez had a second big opportunity to give the Baggies a goal in the 38th minute as Nacho Monreal cleared his header off the goal line.

Villareal sacks manager Escriba, hires reserve coach Javi Calleja

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Sunday was the final straw for Villareal, although the club’s subsequent coaching change was a bit surprising.

[ MORE: Mourinho escapes ban after sending off ]

Following the club’s 4-0 defeat at Getafe, Villareal announced that the team has sacked manager Fran Escriba. The 52-year-old managed the Spanish side from August 2016 until Sunday’s match, recording 26 wins during that span.

“Villarreal have decided to end the contract of Fran Escriba as coach of the first team,” read a statement from the club.

“The club would like to thank the coach for his work and dedication.”

Villareal has promoted reserve team boss Javi Calleja to interim manager, with the 39-year-old a former player at the club from 1999 to 2006. Since retiring from soccer in 2012, Calleja has managed several youth teams at Villareal, and most recently, Villareal B.

[ MORE: Injury updates for five PL clubs in Champions League ]

The Yellow Submarine currently sits on seven points through its opening six matches, which leaves the club in ninth place in La Liga.

Stream Live: Arsenal host West Brom

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Arsenal welcome West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Gunners aim to close the gap on the top four.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Wenger will be hoping his side can build on their good performance at Chelsea last time out as they drew 0-0 but had the better of the play, while Tony Pulis‘ men were also involved in a hard-fought goalless draw against West Ham in their last encounter.

In team news Arsenal bring Alexis Sanchez back into the starting lineup but Mesut Ozil is only on the bench, while West Brom start Gareth Barry, who is making his record-breaking 633rd Premier League appearance, and make the former Aston Villa, Man City and Everton midfielder captain.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Elneny, Kolasinac; Ramsey, Sanchez; Lacazette. Subs: Opsina, Mertesacker, Wilshere, Walcott, Matiland-Niles, Ozil, Giroud,

West Brom: Foster; Evans, Dawson, Hegazi; Nyom, Livermore, Barry, Krychowiak, Gibbs; Robson-Kanu, Rodriguez. Subs: Myhill, Yacob, Morrison, Rondon, Phillips, Brunt, McClean

PL Playback: Who is the most complete striker?

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STYLISH STRIKERS

Tall ones. Small ones. Fast ones. Strong ones. Everywhere you look in the Premier League there are different types of strikers ripping it up.

Romelu Lukaku has six goals in six games. So does Alvaro Morata for Chelsea and Sergio Aguero for Manchester City. Harry Kane has six goals in his last four games for Tottenham in all competitions.

The sheer variety of world-class strikers now on show week in, week out in the Premier League is sumptuous. It’s as diverse a finishing school as you’ll ever see.

Morata took most of the headlines in Week 6 and rightly so as he scored a hat trick at Stoke City in Chelsea’s 4-0 win. The Spaniard, 24, has taken a little while to adapt to life in England but he is showing that with elegance and quickness of thought he can be just as destructive as Diego Costa who finally departed for Atletico Madrid last week.

Yet it is Harry Kane who oozes class in everything he does.

In Tottenham’s derby win at West Ham on Saturday he scored twice in the first half, linked play up and hit both posts in the second half. That performance left Kane’s manager, Mauricio Pochettino, professing his love for Kane at the London Stadium.

“For me Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world. It is too hard to find the word to describe him. In the last three seasons I am telling you how he is. I am in love, like the fans are in love, like the teammates are in love, not only because he scores goals,” Pochettino explained. “He is professional, humble and he is a very good example in football today that is a big business. He keeps all the values that managers like me appreciate a lot. That is why I say to you I am in love with him for many different reasons.”

Yes, the “I’m in love” part of Poch’s response will get the biggest play but the second part, for me, is the most important. Kane does everything well. He holds the ball up, he battles for every ball, he finds others with crisp passes and he leads from the front with his incessant work rate.

Morata is majestic, a finely tuned ballerina who can turn and accelerate in the blink of an eye before dinking a whirling-dervish of a finish home just like he did for his second goal on Saturday. Lukaku can power past defenders and his persistence saw him grab the winner, at the second attempt, in a gritty United display at Southampton on Saturday. And Aguero is always on hand to snap up the final ball of a flowing City move with his darting, speedy runs.

But Kane, well, Kane has all of that and more. He is the most complete striker in a Premier League which has a vast array of world-class strikers who all score goals in different ways. We haven’t even mentioned Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez, Javier Hernandez or Sadio Mane in terms of their goal-getting ability.

Kane was announced as a nominee for the FIFPro World 11 (only Lukaku of the three aforementioned strikers joined him) last week and the Englishman once again proved why he is considered not only one of the best strikers in the Premier League, but also one of the best on the planet.


LIVERPOOL WILL NOT CHANGE UNDER KLOPP

Life is never dull under Jurgen Klopp. Ever.

Since he took charge of Liverpool in October 2015, no PL club has been involved in more games which have seen five or more goals scored. On 17 occasions Liverpool fans have seen five goals scored in games involving their team and, most worryingly, all too often they’ve been against them.

[ MORE: Joel Matip speaks to Pro Soccer Talk ]

Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Leicester City on Saturday summed up everything which should concern the Reds.

They led 2-0 early on and looked to be on their way to a routine win. Then, right on half time, came a mistake from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to make it 2-1. At 3-2 he then gave away a penalty kick but saved it as the maddening world of watching Liverpool was encapsulated in a nutshell.

Last week I sat down with Liverpool’s center back Joel Matip who told me why he believes the Reds should not change the way they play.

“Both parts only work together. I cannot stand at the back and our attackers go forward and there is so much big space. We all have to fit together. It is not always easy but this is our way of play but I think that is a good way of playing,” Matip said. “Everything has its positive and negative sides but I have no doubt about our way of playing.”

Plenty of Liverpool’s fans, pundits and neutrals doubt their defensive solidity and even though it is fun to watch Liverpool rip open opposition defenses with Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho, their inability to defend simple set pieces situations will cost them any chance of challenging for major trophies.

Klopp’s style of play is only one part of this. Simply put: he has to invest in better defenders and goalkeepers if his time at Liverpool is to be considered a success.

If he doesn’t do that the German coach will soon come under pressure from some fans even though his team entertains and delivers plenty of drama. Liverpool had enough drama under Brendan Rodgers. The majority of the fanbase want silverware and Klopp’s current defensive unit will cost them that.


RELEGATION DARK HORSES

Crystal Palace is in a dark, dark place heading into Week 7 with no points and no goals to their name so far this season. Roy Hodgson knows he has a big task to turn the Eagles around but perhaps he feels like it is doable as plenty of perennial midtable teams look like they will struggle this season.

Newly-promoted teams Newcastle United, Brighton and Huddersfield have had very good starts and all three have won at least twice in their opening six games but that bubble could burst soon and its very rare that the three new boys all survive or at least push away from the drop zone in their debut campaign in the PL.

Add to that the likes of Bournemouth, Stoke City, Swansea City and West Ham United all looking a bit of a mess right now and there are plenty of early-season contenders for those three relegation spots.

Bournemouth have lost five of their opening six games and the worrying thing for Eddie Howe‘s side is that they don’t seem to be learning from their mistakes. They led against Manchester City but lost 2-1. They led against Everton but lost 2-1. With more experienced campaigners on board this season you’d expected less naivety from the Cherries. Their next four games are against Leicester City, Tottenham Stoke and Chelsea. All of a sudden the man with seemingly the safest job in the PL could be under serious pressure.

Stoke have been hit, very hard, by injuries, especially in defense as Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross and Kevin Wimmer were all out for the 4-0 hammering to Chelsea at the weekend and then Bruno Martins Indi was injured late on. Mark Hughes‘ men have one win from their first six games and even though they are usually slow starters, recent displays have been worrying.

Swansea are struggling to put away chances as Paul Clement‘s men have lost all three games at home so far and Watford won late at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday after the Swans dragged themselves back into the game. Like Stoke it is perhaps a little too early to worry but Clement will be far from impressed with the start.

West Ham United are in a real mess and their creaky defense looks like shipping goals galore. Slaven Bilic‘s situation is unsettling the entire club with the Croatian only contracted until the end of the current season and his players appear to have plenty of fight and spirit to drag themselves back into games late on, yet whether or not they’re fighting for themselves or Bilic remains to be seen. With four points from their opening six games the Hammers are in trouble.

With the PL’s top six, plus Everton, spending big and seeming to be head and shoulders above the rest, the scramble to stay out of the bottom three may be the best (or most nerve-wracking, depending on who you support) in recent memory. If Crystal Palace can somehow recover from the worst start in league history they will drag a heck of a lot of teams into the relegation mire.


CHICHARITO MISUSED?

After West Ham’s spirited, yet deeply flawed, 3-2 defeat against Tottenham in a big London derby on Saturday, I asked Hammers boss Slaven Bilic if getting the best out of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in the right areas was a big challenge.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Spurs v West Ham ]

His answers was just as confusing as why Chicharito isn’t been played in his natural position.

“I spoke to him after West Brom game and today he started as a center forward and then he had to change the position because we wanted to stay in the same system as it was working well. Even then, he was in good areas so you can’t say he was out wide,” Bilic explained. “Against top teams everyone has to defend and he was in a position where he would have been if we were playing two strikers. When we were attacking he was not playing on the wing, he was a striker. It’s not very easy to play with him, Andy, Antonio and Arnautovic and play with three center backs.”

Hernandez headed home to make it 3-1 with 25 minutes to go and had another chance to make it 3-2 which was well saved by Hugo Lloris but he was unable to impact the game from wide positions as Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer cut a frustrated figure at the final whistle.

He was involved in a large scuffle near the end of the game and he carried on his spat with Fernando Llorente after the final whistle too. Bilic has to find a way of playing Chicharito in his best position, which is through the middle, because early on it was working very well for the Hammers.

It is easy to see why Hernandez is frustrated. After three goals in six games he is still being shunted out wide by Bilic and when Michail Antonio was injured early in the loss to Spurs, Andy Carroll came off the bench to take his central role and Hernandez was told to play out on the right.

With Andre Ayew on the bench, did it not make more sense to put him out wide and leave Hernandez up top to stick to the same game plan which had actually caused Spurs plenty of problems?

That’s what Hernandez will be asking himself and it would be legitimate for Hammers fans to ask themselves exactly why they signed the former Manchester United striker if he’s going to be played out wide.


USMNT UPDATE

DeAndre Yedlin was at the center of controversy in Newcastle United’s 1-0 defeat at Brighton on Sunday.

The right back was involved in a coming together with Tomer Hemed and the big Israeli striker, who scored the winner for Brighton, appeared to stamp on Yedlin’s calf as the former Seattle Sounders star led on the ground. The FA is said to be reviewing the images and could hand Hemed a ban for his stamp. It certainly looked deliberate as Yedlin had a tough afternoon trying to lock down Solly March on Brighton’s left flank.

In other USMNT news both Geoff Cameron and Danny Williams are out injured. Cameron remains missing with a hamstring injury he suffered against Manchester United two weeks ago, while Williams has suffered an injury to his foot.

Pro Soccer Talk understand Williams has not broken a small bone in his foot, as his manager David Wagner first feared, but he is still expected to be out for two to three weeks. That is incredibly frustrating as the German-American had just worked his way into the starting lineup and played well in the Terriers’ 1-1 draw against Leicester City and many were calling for him to be recalled for the USMNT for the key 2018 World Cup qualifiers next month.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here