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LIVE, UCL: Amid tense encounters, Ajax battle for group stage

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The second legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round take center stage on Wednesday, as Ajax, Club Brugge and Slavia Prague all host ties which are in the balance.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

All three games will be tight and tense occasions as the winners will get the final three spots in the UCL group stage for the 2019-20 season.

Ajax, who reached the semifinals of the UCL last season, drew 0-0 away at APOEL Nicosia last time out and were pretty lucky to get that result. They are expected to advance in Amsterdam but their young team has to improve as the Cypriot champions looked dangerous on set pieces and counter attacks in the first leg.

Club Brugge and Slavia Prague both have slender advantages heading into the second legs, with Brugge winning 1-0 against Linz ASK in Austria and Slavia winning by the same scoreline in Romania against Cluj in the first leg. With so much on the line financially for all of these clubs, Wednesday’s clashes will be nail-bitters.

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s games, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while we will have you covered with a roundup of the action right here on Pro Soccer Talk.


Wednesday
Ajax v. APOEL Nicosia (0-0)
Slavia Prague v. CFR Cluj (1-0)
Club Brugge v. LASK (1-0)

Live, UCL: Ajax in action as playoff round begins

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The first legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round kick off on Tuesday, as Ajax, Club Brugge and Slavia Prague all head on road trips as they hope to clear the final hurdle and reach the group stage.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

It is rather outrageous that Ajax, the reigning Dutch champions who reached the semifinal of the UCL last season, have to qualify for this tournament, but here they are. Dusan Tadic (fresh from signing a new seven-year contract) is once again leading the charge for this young Dutch side who have lost Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt over the summer, and edged past PAOK 5-4 on aggregate in the last round. Ajax head to APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus in the first leg and hope to have a healthy advantage to take back with them to Amsterdam for the second leg next week.

Club Brugge head to LASK Linz from Austria as USMNT goalkeeper Evan Horvath now faces real competition for his starting spot as Belgian national team and former Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet arrived over the summer. LASK shocked FC Basel in the third qualifying round

As for the other game on Tuesday, CFR Cluj host Slavia Prague in Romania in a clash between two teams who have been making waves in Europe over the past few years. Cluj knocked Celtic out in the last round and it will be quite the occasion in Transylvania, as Slavia’s star man is Romanian international Nicolae Stanciu.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET. Three more UCL playoff games take place on Wednesday.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while we will have you covered with a roundup of the action right here on Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday
APOEL Nicosia v. Ajax
CFR Cluj v. Slavia Prague
LASK v. Club Brugge

Snap Judgments: Quick reactions to UEFA Champions League Tuesday

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Coming into the day, only Manchester United had clinched a Round of 16 spot from UEFA Champions League groups E through H. After Tuesday’s action, four more clubs had locked up places in the knockout round, with 2010-11 champions Barcelona joining the Red Devils as group winners.

The other side of that coin: Three teams confirmed they’ll be out of Europe come January, locking up last place spots in their groups.

We’ll spend the rest of the night getting caught up on the action. For now, here are our Snap Judgments.

Group E

Juventus 3-0 Chelsea – There’d be more irony to Chelsea missing the knockout round if a Champions League title didn’t so thoroughly overshadow the Blues’ subsequent slip ups, yet the growing chatter about Roberto Di Matteo’s job (most of which is probably unfounded) will only increase if the defending European champions end up in Europa League. After last year’s first and second place Premier League finishers where relegated to UEFA’s other club tournament, this possibility is more unexpected than shocking.

MORE: Juve rolls over the defending champions.

Nordsjaelland 2-5 Shakhtar Donetsk – Three goals from Luiz Adriano is the footnote to the Brazilian’s foray into amoral pragmatism. After his teammates tried to concede possession to the Danes after a first half drop kick, Adriano collected a long ball, rounded Nordsjaelland’s keeper, and scored into an empty net. When Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu tried to get his team to concede an offsetting goal, this players tackled Nordsjaelland’s attacker. Good thing the game wasn’t closer.

Impact – Shakhtar is through to the second round, sitting on 10 points and holding the tiebreaker advantage over Chelsea (seven points, third). Juventus needs a win or draw in Donetsk on matchday six to send Chelsea to Europa.

Group F

Valencia 1-1 Bayern Munich – Antonio Barragan, a reserve defender getting the start at right back, collected two cards in 33 minutes to handcuff Los Che. Valencia did eventually take the lead, Sofiance Feghouli opening the scoring int he 77th minute, but when Thomas Müller responded five minutes later, Bayern got the result they needed. The draw in Spain gives Bayern the tiebreaker, assuring they’ll take Group F with a matchday six win over visiting BATE.

BATE 0-2 Lille – LOSC’s first points of the tournament came on a barely visible field in Borisov, their two goals through the fog within the first 31 minutes allowed Lille to survive Djibril Sidibe’s late sending off. This was the BATE we expected to see at the tournament’s outset when they were picked to finish last in the group. That’s where the Belarussians may finish, now that Lille holds the tiebreaker between the teams.

Impact – Bayern and Valencia sit tied at 10 points on top of the group. Lille, three points behind BATE for third, can still qualify for Europa League with a win over Valencia and a BATE loss.

Group G

Spartak Moscow 0-3 Barcelona – In a tournament where little has been easy for Barcelona, Spartak Moscow gave the Catalans a day off. If Unai Emery’s side took any inspiration from Celtic’s upset of Barça, it didn’t show. The Russians saw themselves out of Europe.

MORE: Drilling down on Barcelona’s Moscow success.

Benfica 2-1 Celtic – In another match where Celtic took playing without the ball to an extreme, Benfica eventually found a winner, Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay sending his team to second place with a 71st minute goal. Benfica outshot Celtic 30-9, though the shots on target numbers (8-5, Benfica) better approximate the teams’ threats.

Impact – Benfica’s win means Barcelona locks up first in their group. It’s fortunate news for the Eagles, who need a matchday six win over Barça to ensure they advance. Celtic needs to out-point Benfica to advance.

Group H

Galatasaray 1-0 Manchester United – The Red Devils started one first-choice player, and Michael Carrick was in defensive, not midfield. Gala found a second half goal through Burak Yilmaz, the least they could have done against a League Cup-quality team.

CFR Cluj 3-1 Sporting Braga – Rui Pedro, a Portuguese forward who’d accumulated 0 Champions League goals before today, scored three times in 33 minutes to keep Cluj within sight of the knockout round. A 45th minute red card to defender Douglão tossed away what little chance Braga had of coming back for a result.

Impact – Galatasaray and Cluj are tied for second with seven points (and no chance to catch Manchester United). Gala holds the tiebreaker and has a December visit to Braga to close out group play. Cluj visits a Manchester United team that’s unlikely to be stronger than the team of second-choice players Alex Ferguson took to Istanbul.

Snap judgments: Quick reactions to Wednesday’s Champions League action

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There may not have been many remarkable results in Wednesday’s Champions Legaue action (with the exception what happened in Glasgow), but fans can take recourse in one number: 35. That’s how many goals were scored over the day’s eight matches, and while the diehard soccer fan doesn’t need big scorelines to be drawn in, Champions League represents a rare opportunity to lure a casual consumer. Goals tend to do that.

Amid all those goals were a hat trick from a Turkish international, a Brazilian giving a London giant a glimpse of what they’re missing, and an awaken from an Italian titan rebounding from weekend disappointment.

Group E

Chelsea 3-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: The defending champions salvaged a victory they had little right to claim, but after Shakhtar gave them two first half goals from elementary mistakes, it’s hard to feel bad for the visiting side. Ukraine’s champions had a chance to lock down first on Group E (having a home game against Nordsjaelland still on their schedule), but thanks to a 94th minute goal by Victor Moses, Mircea Petrescu’s team will need a result in their upcoming match with Juventus.

MORE: Chelsea takes advantage of Shakhtar mistakes

Juventus 4-0 Nordsjaelland: The Old Lady finally gives the type Champions League performance pundits and fans have expected, scoring three times in the first 37 minutes, paving their way to their first win of the tournament. Nordsjaelland, who got a draw from Juve two weeks ago in Copenhagen, were held to one shot on goal.

Impact: With two home games remaining, Shakhtar is the slight favorite to win this group, particularly with Chelsea still facing a trip to Turin. That match at Juventus will likely decide who goes through with the Ukranians to the knockout round.

Standings: Chelsea 7 pts. (+4), Shakhtar 7 (+2), Juventus 6, Nordsjaelland 1.

Group F

Bayern Munich 6-1 Lille: Remember yesterday, when I called Zenit and Manchester City the most disappointing teams of the tournament. Obviously, Lille felt ignored, because they spend 90 minutes in Munich reminding the world they bare little relation to the team that finished first and third over the last two years in France.

Valencia 4-2 BATE Borisov: It’s not even midnight, and Cinderella’s already being shown out of the ball, though BATE did make it interesting. After falling down three shortly after half time, the Belarussians fought back to within one only to see Sofiane Feghouli put the game away in the 86th minute.

Impact: BATE, six points up on Lille for third, have a Europa League spot locked up. Bayern and Valencia will decide the group champion on Nov. 20 at the Mestalla.

Standings: Bayern 9 pts., Valencia 9, BATE 6, Lille 0

Group G

Celtic 2-1 Barcelona: Previewing the first matchday of this year’s tournament, I said Celtic might be the worst team in this tournament. Clearly, they’re not. An incredible night at Parkhead (and a gift second goal) gives Celtic a famous and deserved victory over Barcelona.

Benfica 2-0 Spartak Moscow: Jorge Jesus’s side gets their first win of the tournament thanks to a strong left flank of midfielder Ola John and left back Lorenzo Melgarejo. For the second time this tournament, Spartak finished a match on 10 after Nicolas Pareja saw red in the second half.

Impact: Barcelona is still going to win this group, but for a team with Celtic’s conservative style, being able to draw your way into the knockout stage is very reassuring.

Standings: Barcelona 9 pts., Celtic 7, Benfica 4, Spartak 3

Group H

Braga 1-3 Manchester United: The Red Devils never look good in group stage, do they? An uninspired performance gave Braga the opener after a Jonny Evans’ 49th minute foul allowed Alan to convert from the spot in the. United’s malaise persisted until the 80th minute when a Robin van Persie goal put the Red Devils on course to a 3-1 win. The final score looks impressive, but the performance was not.

CFR Cluj 1-3 Galatasaray – All the strides Cluj had made to get to second place through three rounds were cancelled out by a poor home performance against the Turkish Champions. Burak Yilmaz had his best day since joining the Istanbul club this summer, scoring three times as Gala vaulted to second in Group G.

Impact: Manchester United clinch first place and are likely to start second choice XIs in their final matches against Cluj and Galatasaray. Still, being done with United, Braga has to be favored to claim second place.

Standings: Manchester United 12 pts., Galatasaray 4, Cluj 4, Braga 3

 

Snap Judgments: Initial reactions to Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League results

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What once looked like a day for the underdog saw a series of reality checks put Tuesday’s Champions League action back in check. By the time final whistles blew on the 2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoffs, the scoreboard looked like any other matchday’s. You would have never known major upsets were brewing in Copenhagen, Manchester and Barcelona.

Here are PST’s Snap Judgments on a nearly-remarkable UEFA Champions League Tuesday:

Group E

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Chelsea – 3-1 would have probably been a better reflection of how the game was played, but it all looks the same in the points column. Shakhtar now have a viable route to winning this group, especially if they can take a point from Stamford Bridge next round.

MORE: Breaking down Shakhtar’s big night

Nordsjaelland 1-1 Juventus – The Old Lady needed a late goal from substitute Mirko Vucinic to avoid an upset that would have rivaled last round’s Bayern Munich loss at BATE Borisov.

This game might be a rare match where a team scored too soon. Nordsjaelland kept Juventus at arm’s length before their 50th minute goal, after which Juve started their pursuit. You can’t pick and choose where you score, but if you could, the Danes would have wanted Mikkel Beckmann’s goal to come a little later.

Impact: Shakhtar has control of the group, for now. With only three points through as many rounds, Juventus is in bad shape. They close the phase with Chelsea at home before visiting Donetsk.

Group F

Manchester United 3-2 Sporting Braga – This performance would be disturbing if it wasn’t so Manchester United. The Red Devils were down two within 20 minutes thanks to Alan Silva, but thanks to two goals from Javier Hernández (retrieved from the lost and found, you’d assume), United stayed perfect.

Galatasaray 1-1 CFR Cluj – For Cluj, it’s a good result, if a mixed one. Galatasaray carried a four-match home losing streak in UEFA competition into this game, and with an early 1-0 lead, Cluj had a chance to extend it.

Ultimately, Gala got a deserved result. A still-hobbled Burak Yilmaz had to come on late to claim an equalizer, but that was after an own goal and a missed spot kick from Felipe Melo.

Impact: Cluj now has four road points and should be able to complete an improbable knockout round run with home results against Gala and Braga.

Group G

Lille 0-1 Bayern Munich – For the second straight year, Lille looks destined to crash out of Europe after group stage. No knockout round. No Europa League. Just some television money and bruised egos. Today, they failed to get a shot on target, losing the match on a 20th minute spot kick from Thomas Müller.

BATE Borisov 0-3 Valencia – Los Che learned the lesson Bayern and Lille did not, with a Roberto Soldado hat trick giving BATE their first loss of the tournament. BATE’s early upsets may have had the unfortunate consequence of eliminating their element of surprise.

Impact: Three teams are tied with six points at the top of the group, though after today’s results, it looks like the fifth round meeting between Valencia and Bayern will determine the order of the top two.

Group G

Barcelona 2-1 Celtic – Barcelona again conceded the first goal at home, with Georgios Samaras staking Celtic to a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute. From there, it was all Barça, who finished the game with 82 percent of the possession. Still, they needed a stoppage time goal from Jodi Alba to avoid what would have been a shocking result.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Benfica – Unai Emery called it a crucial match, and his team responded, holding onto a lead given to them by Jardel’s 43rd minute own goal. The path out of group is still tricky for Spartak, a team that likely needs results in Lisbon and Glasgow. Today’s win got them off life support.

Impact: Barcelona’s perfect and going to win the group. Celtic’s in a second with four points and has two of their final three matches at home. Give Neil Lennon credit: He’s got his team in position to make it to the final 16.