Where They Stand: Groups A through D after three rounds of UEFA Champions League

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When we look back on today’s UEFA Champions League action, two results will stand out as most influential, neither of which involved contenders for this year’s title. Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid stayed perfect, but they were expected to do so. Had they slipped, they’d still be favorites to claim first in their groups. The more important results involved teams fighting for second place, with clubs able to claim valuable road points earning a distinct advantage.

If that reads like a bunch of nonsense, consider today’s result in Moscow. Manchester City and CSKA are battling in a group Bayern will claim, leaving duo to fight for the one remaining knockout round spot. Both came into the day on three points, but City was able to claim three road points, riding a Sergio Agüero double to a 2-1 victory. CSKA fell three points behind, essentially making match day four’s visit to Manchester a must-win.

In Group C, Olympiacos couldn’t hold on for full points in Lisbon, but they got a result against their chief rival for second behind PSG. Though they’re only one point ahead of Benfica, they deprived the Portuguese club of two points they would have expected. Two weeks from now, when the teams meet in Piraeus, the Greek champions will be favored to take full points and pull away from the Eagles.

Here’s where Groups A through D stand after Wednesday’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 A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Manchester United 3 2 1 0 6 3 +3 2-0-0 0-0-1 7 +1
Bayer Leverkusen 3 2 0 1 8 5 +3 2-0-0 0-1-0 6 +0
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 1 1 1 3 5 -2 0-0-1 1-1-0 4 +1
Real Sociedad 3 0 0 3 1 5 -3 0-1-0 0-2-0 0 -3

Shakhtar Donetsk’s result looks bad, losing 4-0 in Leverkusen, but in the bigger picture, they’re still ahead of the game. Their match day one victory at Real Sociedad remains the only road  win in the group – a result Bayer may not replicate. If Shakhtar can win at home against Bayer and get Sociedad to go their part, the disadvantage they put themselves at with a four-goal loss may become meaningless.

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Real Madrid 3 3 0 0 12 2 +10 2-0-0 1-0-0 9 +3
Galatasaray 3 1 1 1 6 9 -3 1-0-1 0-0-1 4 -2
Juventus 3 0 2 1 4 5 -1 0-0-1 0-1-1 2 -1
Copenhagen 3 0 1 2 2 8 -6 0-0-1 0-2-0 1 -2

We’ve been harping on this since Galatasaray left Turin, but it’s worth repeating: Things are not looking good for Juventus. Clearly, third place is a sub-optimal spot, but given the rest of their schedule includes a visit from Real Madrid and a trip to Istanbul, it’s no given they’ll make up the points needed to pass Gala. The Turkish champions still have a trip to the Bernabéu, but if they win in Copenhagen and hold serve against Juve, they’re going through at the Old Lady’s expense. If Gala win in Denmark, Juventus will need a result in Istanbul.

As for the group leaders, Real Madrid can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win at Juventus. If Copenhagen also gets a result against Gala, Real Madrid wins the group.

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Paris Saint-Germain 3 3 0 0 12 1 +11 1-0-0 2-0-0 9 +6
Olympiacos 3 1 1 1 5 5 0 0-1-0 1-0-1 4 +1
Benfica 3 1 1 1 3 4 -2 1-0-1 0-1-0 4 -2
Anderlecht 3 0 0 3 0 10 -10 0-2-0 0-1-0 0 -6

Paris Saint-Germain’s in a simliar situation to Real Madrid. Win at home against Anderlecht and they’re into the knockout round. If Olympiacos and Benfica also draw, PSG clinches Group C.

The big battle here’s between Olympiacos and Benfica, with the Greek champions holding a number of subtle edges. They’ve already claimed points at Benfica, have the Portuguese runners-up in Greece next round, have two games remaining at home, and host Anderlecht while Benfica visits Brussels. The Belgian champions are this group’s doormat, but if they’re going to claim any points this season, they’re more likely to do so at home than on the road.

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-*
Bayern Munich 3 3 0 0 11 1 +10 2-0-0 1-0-0 9 +3
Manchester City 3 2 0 1 6 4 +2 0-1-0 2-0-0 6 +6
CSKA Moscow 3 1 0 2 4 7 -3 1-1-0 0-1-0 3 -3
Viktoria Plzen 3 0 0 3 2 11 -9 0-1-0 0-2-0 0 -3

Bayern can’t clinch anything next round without Manchester City’s help, but with a trip to Plzen on matchday four, the defending champions are likely to go to 12 points. If City gets a result against CSKA, that’ll be enough to clinch a knockout round spot.

Thanks to their win in Moscow, City doesn’t necessarily need a win against CSKA in Manchester. A draw means City stays three points ahead, clinches the tiebreaker between the teams, and has a path to 10 points via their remaining match with Plzen. CSKA, having another match with Bayern, are unlikely to get to 10 points without a victory in England.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.