Demba Ba’s goal enough to give Chelsea 1-0 Champions League win, first place in Group E

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One way to solve your team’s problems in defense: Never concede the ball. And for much of today’s UEFA Champions League game at Stamford Bridge, that’s exactly what Chelsea did. It was only toward the end of Wednesday’s match that the Blues’ possession number dipped below 70 percent (69), but by that time, Chelsea were well on their way to protecting Demba Ba’s 10th minute goal, the team’s 1-0 win over visiting Steaua Bucharest giving them first place in Group E.

The Blues came into today’s game having allowed six goals in their last two Premier League games, but against a Steaua Bucharest side that failed to win a game in group play, Ba’s early goal was enough. With David Luiz returning to the team and Steaua unable to get the ball of their hosts, Mark Schwarzer was only tested twice, Petr Cech’s replacement keeping Chelsea’s first clean sheet in four games.

As a result, Chelsea finish group play with four wins in six, taking the group by two points over Schalke. Their two losses to Basel made for an uneven campaign, but after six games, José Mourinho’s team still ended up in the group winner’s pile for Dec. 16’s draw. They will be drawn against the tournament’s group runners-up (minus Schalke and fellow English sides Arsenal and Manchester City) for the Round of 16, with knockout round play set to start on Feb. 18.

Despite the close scoreline, Chelsea left little room for doubt on Wednesday, dominating the game from its opening moments. By the half-hour mark, the Blues had already forced 10 corner kicks, the sixth of which had the hosts on the scoresheet before the clock hit double digits.

From the right, Willian drilled his cross to one of the team’s least likely targets, Oscar having gotten open well outside the post. The Brazilian flicked his header perfectly toward the far upright, where Ba had beaten right back Daniel Georgievski. Originally credited as an own goal, the Senegalese striker was eventually put on the scoresheet for Chelsea’s early opener.

The Blues looked good for at least one more goal, Branislav Ivanovic going close in the 27th off a cross from Eden Hazard and Ba criminally missing from inside the six in the second half off a beautiful curling pass from Willian. But by the middle of the second half, Chelsea’s possession had become benign, with Hazard’s continued excellent form at the center of the Blues’ evermore sporadic threats.

If Chelsea’s threats were becoming less frequent, at least they had some. Steaua, playing with the urgency of a team that had nothing to gain , came close in the 13th minute when isolated John Terry was unable to track down Gabriel Iancu after a through ball. Schwarzer, however, rushed the midfielder into a shot just inside the penalty area, Steaua’s best chance of the day pushed wide of the right post.

Had that gone in, just three minutes after Ba’s goal, Chelsea may have become more ruthless. However, left to enjoy their one-goal margin, the Blues played out a predictable win, one that crystalized their spot atop Champions League’s Group E.


Goals

Chelsea: Demba Ba 10

Lineups

Chelsea: Mark Schwarzer; Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, John Terry, Ashley Cole; Frank Lampard, John Obi Mikel (Ramires 74); Willian (Kevin De Bruyne 80), Oscar (Andre Schürrle 67), Eden Hazard; Demba Ba

Unused Substitutes: Juan Mata, Petr Cech, Fernando Torres, Gary Cahill

Steaua Bucharest: Ciprian Tatarusanu; Daniel Georgievski, Lukasz Szukala, Florina Gardos, Iasmin Latovievici; Mihai Pintilii (Leandro Tatu 64); Alexandru Chipciu, Gabriel Iancu, Nicolae Stanciu (Andrei Prepelita 61), Paul Parvulescu; Pantelis Kapetanos (Federico Piovaccari 71)

Unused Substitutes: Florin Nita, Fernando Varela, Ionut Neagu, Adrian Cristea

“Proud” hat trick hero Kane raves at shorthanded Spurs win

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This could’ve gone much worse for Spurs.

Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen were suspended, and Christian Eriksen was sick.

[ RECAP: APOEL 0-3 Spurs ]

Never mind all that: Harry Kane was healthy, and scored three goals as Spurs kept pace with group mates Real Madrid in filing a 3-0 win at APOEL Nicosia in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

Kane said he was very proud of the side’s performance, as youngster Anthony Georgiou and seldom-used Georges-Kevin N’Koudou put in shifts in the win. From the BBC:

“We weren’t pleased with the first-half and a couple of chances could have gone the other way. We were more clinical and in the Champions League that is what you have got to be.

“We are missing a few players but the lads who stepped in were fantastic. We have a solid squad and you have to be ready. 3-0 away in the Champions League no matter who you play is a good result.”

Kane has 11 goals in September between club and country, and has six hat tricks in 2017. There may not be a finer big striker firing in Europe right now, and both England and Spurs will hope to ride him well into 2018.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Liverpool: Frustrated Reds come back for point

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A point from far from home is not the end of the world, but Liverpool will rue its missed chances in a 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

Goalkeeper Artyom Rebrov had a stellar day for Spartak before being injured and then replaced by Aleksandr Selikhov, who was also strong for the Russians.

Fernando (not that one) scored a free kick for Spartak, while Philippe Coutinho bagged the equalizer that keeps the Reds ahead of Spartak on goal difference. Both sides are three points behind Sevilla.

Liverpool visits Maribor on Oct. 17, while Spartak will host Sevilla.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

Roberto Firmino saw a promising header saved, and Brazilian attack partner Philippe Coutinho cleared a launch pad for countryman Fernando with a needless foul minutes later.

The 25-year-old ex-Sampdoria man that curled a free kick over the wall, and not too near to a post. Loris Karius was too slow to move, and the ball found its way to the back of the net. 1-0.

Sadio Mane was lively as usual, and let fly with a low drive for Spartak backstop Rebrov to collect inside the six.

Coutinho made amends with a solidly struck equalizer just after the half-hour mark, working a 1-2 with Mane and lacing a shot beyond the hopes of Rebrov.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spartak wasn’t sleeping to start the second half, and both Karius and his Russian counterpart Rebrov had work to do early.

Rebrov needed to be substituted following a collision with Mohamed Salah and long delay. A Man of the Match candidate, would the goalkeeper swap tilt the scales?

Manchester City 2-0 Shakhtar Donetsk: KDB pulls the strings

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A Man of the Match performance from Kevin De Bruyne was just enough to send Man City past plucky Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

David Silva assisted De Bruyne’s second half goal, and Bernardo Silva set up Raheem Sterling for the second just before time.

Alone in first, City will host Napoli on Oct. 17 while Shakhtar is off to Feyenoord.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

Kevin De Bruyne set Sergio Aguero up for a chance that was well-covered by Shakhtar backstop Andriy Pyatov.

De Bruyne had the best chance of the first half, working himself into a “Surely” position only to miss his mark with a shot and leave the match scoreless.

At the other end, Ederson made an excellent save on Marlos.

Fittingly, De Bruyne helped set himself up for the opener, winning the ball and working a 1-2 with David Silva to finish with style.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Leroy Sane won a penalty for City, but Sergio Aguero’s tame effort was saved. At the other end, John Stones was directing traffic when a ball hit his arm. No call from the officials.

APOEL Nicosia 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur: Kane nets hat trick

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Cyprus has been kind to Harry Kane.

The English striker scored thrice for Spurs, who join group mates Real Madrid on six points after a 3-0 win at APOEL Nicosia in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

The Bernabeu is next for Spurs, an Oct. 17 date with 2-0 Real Madrid, while APOEL will host Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

Hugo Lloris flubbed an early clearance and was fortunate to see the back-bounding ball dribble wide of his left post.

Carlao could’ve given APOEL a surprise lead close to halftime but headed wide of the net from within 10 yards.

Kane nearly added an assist to his ledger at the start of the second half, but Son Heung-min just missed his effort wide of the frame.

He scored another goal anyway, and another one. Moussa Sissoko set Kane up for the second of the night, a relatively simple finish for the striker, and Kane completed his trio of goals when he headed Kieran Trippier‘s cross home.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]