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.
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.
|FC Schalke 04||2||2||0||0||4||0||4||1-0-0||1-0-0||6||+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.
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.
|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.
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.