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.

Liverpool releases statement after Sevilla stadium supporter outcry

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Liverpool has proffered a strong and cautionary statement regarding its supporters’ treatment at Sevilla on Tuesday.

Claims of police punching a woman in the back and throwing her “political” flag at her, a Liverbird with the word “Defiance” on it, are just the tip of the iceberg.

[ REPORT: Palace to get new digs ]

Fans claim that many were either delayed or denied in entry to the stadium, with “police in riot gear not letting you get to your seat” in some cases.

The Reds have released a statement, from LiverpoolFC.com:

Following detailed and troubling accounts given by Liverpool supporters attending the match against Sevilla last night, the club is seeking to establish the facts regarding their treatment at the hands of the host stewards and local police force.
The safety and security of our supporters is our paramount concern and we intend to gather all the relevant information before responding further.

Supporter treatment away from home is deservedly a hot button issue, and especially at Liverpool given the horrible Hillsborough disaster that killed 96 and wounded almost 800 more in 1989.

As for the match, the Reds squandered a 3-0 lead at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, drawing 3-3.

Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones

Three things: Sounders cruise after (and before) early red

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The Seattle Sounders all but booked a return appearance in the 2017 MLS Cup final on Tuesday, doing so by beating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the first (away) leg of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday. The game wasn’t as close at the final score might appear to indicate.

[ RECAP: Sounders take 2-0 lead over Dynamo ]

We learned the following three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


The red card hurt Houston

No way, you’re kidding, right? Clearly a 28th-minute red card (shown to Jalil Anibaba for the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of a game. But, it really crippled Houston, given the way they play — having a numerical advantage in the center of midfield is so important to Wilmer Cabrera’s side, in the name of frantically winning the ball back after conceding half or even two-thirds of the field.

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When you have to haul off one of three central midfielders, in hopes of still being about to force-create chances on the rare occasion you recover the ball and move it forward, three things are bound to happen: 1) legs are going to get very heavy, very quickly; 2) the clock appears to be counting up in double-speed; 3) you begin to concede two-thirds and three-quarters of the field instead — every move Seattle worked during the second half came after a waltz in the final third before finally meeting resistance.

At right, you can see every Sounders pass originating in Houston’s half of the field — remember, Seattle are the away team here. Playoff games rarely, if ever, come much easier than that.


Addition by subtraction… again?

This one isn’t so much a lesson from Tuesday’s game, as much as it’s a trend played out over the course of an entire season: much like they wound up being in 2016 following Clint Dempsey‘s heart condition robbing him of the final four months of the season, the Sounders are once again, dare I say it, better without another indomitable figure: Osvaldo Alonso.

Here’s the numbers to back it up: without Alsono in the starting lineup this year, Seattle went 6W-2D-2L. In those 10 regular-season games, they scored 20 goals (2.0 per game, versus 1.3 with him in the lineup) and conceded 12 (1.1 per game, same when he played).

The central midfield pairing of Cristian Roldan (7) and Gustav Svensson (4) has proven a formidable foe for anyone and everyone during the second half of the season. On Tuesday — granted, against 10 men for more than an hour — they could do no wrong. (Passes attempted on the right; defensive actions on the left — green triangles are tackles won, orange are recoveries, blue are interceptions, purple are clearances, red are tackles lost.)

MLSsoccer.com

Alonso has been an unbelievable servant for nine MLS seasons, he’s an MLS Cup champions, a four-time U.S. Open Cup winner, a Supporters’ Shield winner and one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history. He’s also 32 years old with a growing history of lower-body injuries that seem to never fully heal, and he’s now clearly third in the pecking order behind Roldan and Svensson. It’s clearly an oversimplification to say that soccer is a young, mobile man’s game these days, but it’s certainly true of MLS, and the results are in near total agreement.


May I have some hope, please?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact if you’re a Dynamo fan: your team won one — singular — game on the road in 17 tries this season. Not a dark enough outlook? OK, have this: that lone away win came against D.C. United, who finished 21st out of 22 teams if you put MLS into a single table.

Maybe Seattle weren’t so good at home this year… I’m really just searching for anything at this point, you’re thinking. OK, it’s possible, I suppose. They lost once at home all season, to Toronto FC, the best regular-season team in MLS history, by the final score of 1-0, in the month of May.

We’ll see you in Toronto or Columbus for MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders.

Toronto FC holds Columbus on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

0′ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

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Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC