Where They Stand: Groups E through H after two rounds of UEFA Champions League

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In a competition where early progress is measured by snaring or avoiding unexpected results, it’s easy to pick out the day’s big winners: See which teams won on the road. It all extends from the idea that if you take care of business at home, scrape together a few points away, you’re likely through to the second round.

But that doesn’t mean all road wins are created equal. When Chelsea’s routing Steaua and Barcelona’s squeaking by Celtic, they’re snaring points other teams in their groups could claim. Schalke’s result at Basel? That one’s more meaningful, as those two clubs are likely to compete for second place in Group E.

And Atlético Madrid’s 2-1 win at FC Porto? That was the day’s most important result. Atleti took four points from the most-difficult fixture on their group stage slate, firmly grasping control of their Group G destiny.

At the other end of the spectrum, Napoli’s may have had the day’s most disappointing performance, with a previously unbeaten Partenopei providing little resistance in North London, but the most influential outcome happened in Basel. Yes, Porto suffered a huge loss, but they still have a viable rout to the knockout round (second place can be a beautiful thing). For Basel, however, a home loss to the team they’re likely to battle for second in their group practically gives back the points they took at Stamford Bridge.

[MORE: Champions League Tuesday Roundup: Atlético, Arsenal thrive, Chelsea rebound.]

Here’s where Groups E through H stand after Tuesday’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 E
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
FC Schalke 04 2 2 0 0 4 0 4 1-0-0 1-0-0 6 +3
Chelsea 2 1 0 1 5 2 3 0-0-1 1-0-0 3 +0
Basel 2 1 0 1 2 2 0 0-0-1 1-0-0 3 +0
Steaua Bucharest 2 0 0 2 0 7 -7 0-0-1 0-0-1 0 -3

The long-term effect of Schalke’s win, if you assume Chelsea will take points from the Miners and Basel over the next three rounds, sees the Swiss champions needing to win in Gelsenkirchen on the last day of group play. Schalke’s going to take points in Romania, maybe one or three against Chelsea, while Basel’s should take advantage of their home-and-home withe Romanian champions to make up group. Sure, upsets can happen, but this is what the cards say right now.

Given Basel’s already won in London, winning in Gelsenkirchen certainly possible, but when it comes Schalke, who knows what kind of team Jens Keller will have come December 11. If evil Schalke show, Basel could go through. If good Schalke stays, they’ll certainly be capable of claiming the draw they’ll need to get through.

The other factor to consider after Tuesday’s action: The unexpected weakness of Steaua. They were safe bets to finish bottom of this group when it was drawn, but with minus-seven goal difference after two games, they’ve have been unexpectedly poor. How many points Schalke and Basel drop to Steaua could also end up deciding who goes through.

[MORE: Full-time snapshot: Chelsea’s first Mourinho-esque performance; Barcelona ball hogs.]

Group F
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Arsenal 2 2 0 0 4 1 3 1-0-0 1-0-0 6 +3
Borussia Dortmund 2 1 0 1 4 2 2 1-0-0 0-0-1 3 +0
Napoli 2 1 0 1 2 3 -1 1-0-0 0-0-1 3 +0
Marseille 2 0 0 2 1 5 -4 0-0-1 0-0-1 0 -3

Tuesday’s was a big win for the Gunners, but ultimately, they merely held serve. They should take a lot of confidence from the match, and Napoli should wonder why they were so much worse than their hosts, but in terms of group dynamics, Arsenal’s 2-0 win doesn’t change much.

Nor does Borussia Dortmund’s 3-0 win over Marseille, another example of the home team holding serve. But as is the case with Steaua in Group E, Marseille’s developed into the team from which you must take full points. Drawing or losing to l’OM, even on the road, could find you in Europa League, particularly considering Arsenal’s already claimed full points at Stade Velodrome.

[MORE: Dominance then control see Arsenal cruise past Napoli.]

Group G
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Atlético Madrid 2 2 0 0 5 2 3 1-0-0 1-0-0 6 +3
Porto 2 1 0 1 2 2 0 0-0-1 1-0-0 3 +0
Austria Wien 2 0 1 1 0 1 -1 0-0-1 0-1-0 1 -2
Zenit St. Petersburg 2 0 1 1 1 3 -2 0-1-0 0-0-1 1 -2

Porto was this group’s “seeded” team (drawn from the first pot), but with Tuesday’s win, Atlético has established itself as the clear favorites. Claiming three points from their toughest group game, the Colchoneros are in the best position possible after two rounds. The only way their state could be better is if Porto had drawn in round one, something that was out of their control.

From Porto’s point of view, Atlético’s rise makes today’s loss easier to take. Having already claimed road points, the Dragons can look at Zenit’s home draw and still consider themselves ahead of the game. If they hold serve at home against Zenit and Austria Wien, they may not need a result in Madrid or St. Petersburg to reach the Round of 16.

As for Zenit, one of the teams that was expected to compete for the knockout round, today’s result was a huge setback. It was the easiest match on their schedule, and they dropped points, meaning they’ll likely need to make them up at the Dragão or when Atlético visits if they’re to avoid Europa League.

Group H
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Barcelona 2 2 0 0 5 0 5 1-0-0 1-0-0 6 +3
Milan 2 1 1 0 3 1 2 1-0-0 0-1-0 4 +1
Ajax 2 0 1 1 1 5 -4 0-1-0 0-0-1 1 -2
Celtic 2 0 0 2 0 3 -3 0-0-1 0-0-1 0 -3

Milan has not looked good, but thanks to their late match dramatics, they’re still ahead of the game. Particularly given a home-and-home with Barcelona on the horizon, keeping Ajax from getting full points was huge. Had Ajax held their 1-0 lead then taken four or six points from Celtic over the next two rounds, Milan might need help to get back to the knockout round.

Now, thanks to that point, one of Ajax or Celtic will likely need to sweep their home-and-home to put a scare into the Italians. Without that, the worst Milan can be after round four will be one point behind Ajax (if Ajax earn four points). Should Milan beat the Dutch champions in round six, they’d make up that ground.

Emery on Mesut Ozil: “The key is in his hands”

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Mesut Ozil’s continued absence at Arsenal has baffled many and it is quite clear Unai Emery doesn’t see the German playmaker fitting into his plans.

But the Gunners boss has challenged Ozil to grab the bull by the horns, in as many words, and wants the 30-year-old (the highest-paid player in Arsenal’s history) to get back to full fitness as soon as possible.

Ahead of Arsenal’s UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg against BATE Borisov on Thursday (Arsenal trail 1-0 from the first leg in Belarus), Emery gave an update on Ozil’s progress.

“The key is in his hands and he is working very well this week, ” Emery said. “He needs to be consistent in training and for matches, without injury or being sick. Without that we can see the best Mesut with us.”

Ozil last played for Arsenal against Cardiff City on Jan. 29 and before that he went a month without playing from late December until late January. He’s been out with a combination of small injuries and illnesses, while Emery has also chosen not to select him at all in some matchday squads.

Do Arsenal miss him? The stats suggest the Gunners are a better team without Ozil and you can argue that they are better balanced without him. This season they’ve only won 56 percent of the 18 games Ozil has played in compared to 65 percent of 20 games without him.

Emery’s strong stance on Ozil not fitting into his philosophy seems to have focused the rest of the squad, but now seems like a good time to try and find a spot for the mercurial talent in the lineup.

The likes of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have been used in wide attacking roles by Emery in recent weeks but with Ozil now having a full week of training under his belt, surely he will be used against BATE, Southampton, Bournemouth and Tottenham in Arsenal’s next four games.

Having a fit and focused Ozil back in the team will be like having a new signing for Arsenal, but it is still unclear exactly where he will slot in. In Emery’s 3-4-3 formation, his role as a central playmaker has disappeared and the best chance he has of playing a pivotal role this season is if Emery changes to a 3-4-2-1 formation with Lacazette and Ozil underneath Aubameyang in attack.

Tottenham’s Harry Kane returns early from injury

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That sound you can hear is Tottenham fans yelping in delight. Oh, and PL Fantasy players too…

Harry Kane is back.

Spurs’ top goalscorer has returned to training two weeks earlier than expected, as Kane could feature against Burnley on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in the Premier League.

Kane injured his ankle ligaments right at the end of Tottenham’s 1-0 defeat at Wembley to Manchester United on Jan. 13 and has been out since.

However, after a warm-weather trip the Caribbean and popping in to see his beloved New England Patriots win the Super Bowl in Atlanta on his way back to England, Kane’s speedy recovery is delightful news for his manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Not that Kane’s teammates have been struggling in his absence, might we add.

Heung-Min Son, Fernando Llorente and Christian Eriksen have all scored key goals as Spurs have ground out crucial late wins to keep them in the Premier League title race and put one foot into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

Yes, they lost on penalty kicks to Chelsea in the League Cup semifinals and to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, but Pochettino’s side have won four-straight games in the PL and can move just two points off the top if they beat Burnley on Saturday.

With Kane back in training he will likely be fit for an appearance off the bench at Burnley, then eased back into things with a further substitute appearance against Chelsea next Wednesday and be prepared for a start against bitter rivals Arsenal on Mar. 2.

Dele Alli is also pushing to return to training and with Kane back and Spurs flying in the PL and UCL, this is a huge boost for everyone at the club.

Tottenham still have to travel to Liverpool and Man City between now and the end of the season so if they keep those teams within reach, they actually have a shot at winning the Premier League title. They have an even better shot with Kane back fit, refreshed and hungry to make up for lost time.

Maurizio Sarri discusses his future at Chelsea

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Maurizio Sarri‘s future at Chelsea is increasingly on thin ice but the Italian coach is adamant that it is business as usual for the Blues despite their alarming slump.

Chelsea were dumped out of the FA Cup by Manchester United on Monday and have now lost five of their last 10 games in all competitions. Fans are booing Sarri’s decisions with substitutes and many are calling for him to be fired as he persists with his “Sarri-ball” philosophy on the pitch.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg against Malmo at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, Sarri reaffirmed his stance that he’s in it for the long haul.

“I have to think that I will be the manager of Chelsea for a long time, otherwise I cannot work. I am not sure (if I will be here for a long time), but I have to think this. I have to work and I want to work with a long-range target,” Sarri said. “Of course in this moment it’s very difficult to think we’re able to win three, four matches in a row. As you know very well in football everything can change in one day. I think we need first of all a good performance, a good result and with more confidence we are able to do anything.”

Sarri added that he hasn’t held meetings with owner Roman Abramovich or director Marina Granovskaia this week about his future, and he is fully focused on turning things around after a desperate run of results and performances.

Ahead of the League Cup final against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday — Sarri’s men are the heavy underdogs after their 6-0 thrashing at the hands of City 10 days ago — he revealed that Pedro has a stomach ache, Davide Zappacosta has a fever and goalkeeper Kepa has a hamstring issue which could keep him out of the game.

Bigger picture, Sarri’s struggles come at a real crossroads for Chelsea as a club.

Do they fire Sarri and bring in another big name coach to try and get the best out of these players in the short-term? Or do they back him and look to the example of Man City under Pep Guardiola after his struggles in the PL in the first season?

History suggests Sarri will be fired extremely soon but Chelsea’s problems are more about the ageing and powerful playing squad they have than any coach. A huge overhaul is needed in terms of new players being brought in, but Abramovich seems just about as disinterested as he ever has during his 16 years as Chelsea’s owner.

There are many things Sarri can be accused of getting wrong tactically (N'Golo Kante being played out of position, the importance placed on Jorginho etc.) but the one thing which must change at the club if they’re going to progress in the next few years is clear: the players.

Chelsea must decide right now if they stick with Sarri and back him in the transfer market, or if they cut him loose now and continue on the boom-bust cycle which they’ve fared well with under Abramovich’s brutal reign.

Female players in Colombia denounce discrimination

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Two players for the Colombian women’s national team are speaking out on social media about what they say are substandard conditions and discriminatory treatment by the federation.

Isabella Echeverri and Melissa Ortiz say they hope to raise awareness in Colombia and improve the national team for future generations.

“We feel threatened. The do not pay us,” they said in a video posted to Instagram. “There’s no international flights. The uniforms are old. The federation has cut off players for speaking up.”

They added: “We’re not afraid anymore. We’re here to speak up.”

The federation did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the accusations. Colombia’s national team did not make the field for the Women’s World Cup this year.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Ortiz said she and Echeverri realize that the consequences of speaking out mean they likely won’t rejoin the national team in the future.

“I think all of us have always wanted to say something. Personally I have, and Isabella, too. But we’ve always been scared because God forbid you say something, you’re going to be crossed off the World Cup or Olympic roster,” Ortiz said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t say anything when we had the platform and the attention on us, like when we were in the World Cup. But it came to a point with us where it was, `If not us, who?’ and `If not now, when?”‘

Ortiz, 28, played her last match for the national team in 2016 and she was an alternate for the team at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. She essentially walked away from the team last year.

Ortiz and Echeverri want to reduce the long periods between each season and be paid enough to live off their wages. Ortiz said that the team went without matches or training camp for over 700 days following the 2012 London Olympics, and more than 400 days following the Rio Games.

Ortiz said the team also cut off payments for players in camp and no longer paid for the flights to get the players to and from training in Colombia. Players previously made the equivalent of $20 a day in camp.

After the team fared poorly in a tournament last summer, the two players explored taking action. And now, a few months away from the Pan American Games, the team has no coach, Ortiz said.

“We have been inspired by a whole bunch of different things that had a snowball effect and made us want to speak out,” Ortiz told the AP.

She said the two chose social media because of its reach.

“This is just a small example of how other national teams that are fighting the same fight but can’t find their voice, this is a way we want to show there is a way to have a voice,” she said. “But you have to be very brave in making the decision to do it.”

Some advances in women’s soccer have been attempted by Colombia in recent years. The nation has even expressed interest in hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

In 2017, the federation and professional league Dimayor started a women’s pro league in Colombia that is set to play its third season this year.

Millonarios and Sergio Arboleda University are starting a women’s team next season. The players who join the new club will have stipends, but wages will still be low.

But there have also been setbacks.

Last month the owner of Deportes Tolima, Gabriel Camargo, said women’s soccer in Colombia is a “breeding ground for lesbianism” and accused female players of not behaving professionally and drinking too much alcohol.

Camargo later apologized.

“I told (Ortiz) that things can get even worse,” Echeverri said, “and that it’s time that somebody stood up and told the truth about the women’s national team in Colombia.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports