UEFA Champions League recap: Barça, Chelsea, Dortmund claim groups; Arsenal through; Juve out

Leave a comment

Group B: Galatasaray (Turkey) 1, Juventus (Italy) 0

Consider the situation Juventus were in: Held over for an extra day after yesterday’s ice-out. While Galatasaray players went home, slept in their own beds, work up to their normal routines, Juve spent a day essentially held against their will. I want to make it seem like they were held hostage in Istanbul, but they certainly didn’t plan on being in Turkey come Wednesday morning. It’s not difficult to image a little discontent in the squad ahead of today’s match.

Thus, it’s understandable Juventus weren’t at their best, with their Champions League campaign coming to an end after Wesley Sneijder’s late goal at Turk Telekom Arena. If anything, today highlighted the failures of match days one through five, where a win and three draws left Juventus needing a result in Istanbul to advance.

Had the Old Lady performed better before Tuesday’s ice-out, they wouldn’t have left themselves subjected to Mother Nature’s whims. As is, they’re in Europa League.

[MORE: Snow’s over: Galatasaray finishes off Juventus in Champions League on Sneijder strike]

Group E: Chelsea 1 (England), Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0

The performance was more impressive than the scoreline, with Chelsea rarely allowing Mark Schwarzer to be threatened by the group’s cellar dwellers. With Demba Ba converting one of Chelsea’s 10 corner kicks in the first 27 minutes, the Blues locked up Group E, their fourth win in six games completing an uneasy group stage.

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

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 2, Basel (Switzerland) 0

How do you undermine a group stage campaign where your team took six points from Chelsea? By going winless in your other four games, a performance Basel confirmed with their loss today in Gelsenkirchen.

Goals from Julian Draxler (50′) and Joel Matip (57′) had the Miners up two before the hour, with Basel reduced to 10 men in the after Ivan Ivanov was judged to have denied a goal scoring chance. With the red, Basel paved their path to Europa League while Schalke were on to another knockout round.

Group F: Napoli (Italy) 2, Arsenal (England) 0

The Gunners would have won their group with a draw but were guaranteed a spot in the knockout round if they stayed within two, so even after José Callejon’s 93rd minute goal built on Gonzalo Higuaín’s 73rd minute opener, Arsenal had enough to go through. The only question remaining: Whether Napoli or Borussia Dortmund would join them, a quandary that was answered in Marseille.

[MORE: Arsenal advance in Champions League, but …]

Group F: Marseille (France) 1, Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 2

Robert Lewandowski’s goal four minutes in hinted BVB’s attack would have enough to overcome the plague of injuries suffered at the back. Souleymane Diawara’s 14th minute equalizer said otherwise, though when Dimitri Payet volunteered for his second yellow card in three minutes with a theatrical dive in the box, l’OM opened the door for last year’s finalists to claim first place.

Marseille, however, held out for 53 minutes before Kevin Großkreutz, one-timing a ball from Erik Durm just beyond the penalty area, beat Steve Mandanda for the game-winning goal. With one kick, BVB had gone from Europa League to group winners, sending Marseille to their sixth loss in as many group stage games.

Group G: Austria Wien (Austria) 4, Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1

In a result nobody saw coming (particularly after Alexander Kerzhakov had Zenit up after 35 minutes), Austria romped to their first ever Champions League victory, their four-goal onslaught denying the Russians’ chance to lock up second place in Group G. Two from Phliipp Hosiner were complemented by goals form Tomás Jun and Roman Kienast, leaving Zenit’s knockout round hopes at the mercy of Atlético-Porto.

Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 2, Porto (Portugal) 0

Two hit posts and a missed penalty saw Porto into halftime down 2-0, Raúl García and Diego Costa giving Atleti a lead despite having nothing to play for. Though the visitors would control the game through the final whistle, accumulating 70 perfect of the possession along the way, they were only able to put three shots on Daniel Aranzubia, the backup’s clean sheet sending the Dragons to Europa League (and Zenit through).

Group H: Barcelona (Spain) 6, Celtic (Scotland) 1

Well, that got out of hand. From our recap:

If the purchase of Neymar was supposed to alleviate Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi, the 21-year-old phenom finally put that plan into effect on Wednesday. Scoring three times and setting up a fourth, Neymar found his way onto a UEFA Champions League scoresheet for the first time in six games …

It was a refreshingly dominant performance for a Barcelona team that’d lost two of its last three games, their only victory coming against a lower division club in Spain’s Copa del Rey …

In the process, they showed why the team need not be so wary of their star’s absence. Whereas a spring injury to Messi derailed Barça’s 2012-13 Champions League campaign, this year they have insurance. If this is the Neymar was can expect going forward — one that’s shaken free of his transition phase to embrace his potential — Barcelona may ready to be more than Messi and friends.

[MORE: Neymar’s first three Champions League goals see Barcelona to 6-1 win, top of Group H]

Group H: Milan (Italy) 0, Ajax (Netherlands) 0

Riccardo Montolivo’s early red card set up a battle of old stereotypes. Could the Italian team, reduced to 10 and given license to defend, hold out for 90 minutes? And would the Dutch side, alleviated of doing that staid, defensive dirty work, break down their opponents and advance to the knockout round?

Well, you see the final score. The numbers? Ajax held 71 percent of the ball. They out-shot Milan 25-5 but only got five attempts on target, stats that tell you all you need to know about this game.

Once Montolivo went off (22nd minute), Milan held on for dear life, a life they’ll take into the knockout round.

Video: Ronaldo scores fourth goal, gives Portugal early lead

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

He has four goals in less than two matches, and Portugal is off to another flying start courtesy of their star forward.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Portuguese a 1-0 lead against Morocco in the fourth minute after brilliantly heading home a corner kick.

The Real Madrid star gave Portugal a similar spark at the beginning of their 3-3 draw against Spain in their first Group B match when Ronaldo drew, and scored a penalty kick inside of the opening three minutes.

Is there anything this man cannot do?

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Leave a comment

The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

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

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
Leave a comment

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.