Jens Keller

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.

Courses change for Schalke, Borussia Dortmund in Saturday’s Revierderby

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All this talk (I started) about Borussia Dortmund being the second-best team in Europe looked pretty foolish after 45 minutes in Gelsenkirchen. Schalke had scored two early goals in their Revierderby, and if it wasn’t for Mario Götze clearing a ball off the line, the game could have been out of reach by halftime. Instead, Schalke went to intermission looking like the early season version of themselves.

That was a team that went into Dortmund in October and earned a 2-1 victory. Then, Schalke looked destined for a top four spot and showed the potential to comete with the big two, but a mid-season fall thrust the Miners mid-table. A recent run of seven points in three games pulled them back to sixth, but with their wins coming against Fortuna Dusseldorf and Wolfsburg, there was almost no hint Jens Keller’s wildly inconsistent team would be ready for a side that routed Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.

But rivalries have a weird way of changing everything, and the Revierderby is one of the biggest in Germany. Sure, most of the time I think all the magic of derbies talk is a bunch of hooey, but today it proved true. Over the first 45 minutes, Schalke looked like Dortmund — controlling, fluid, clinical with their chances — and Dortmund looked like Schalke. They were passive, overwhelmed, and unable to match Schalke’s energy.

The second half started with both teams reverting to type, with Robert Lewandowski’s 59th minute score giving BVB the last half hour to find an equalizer. But that proved one of the few times Timo Hildebrand would be stressed. Dortmund had 61 percent of the possession, but they only put three shots on goal. Schalke forced Roman Weidenfeller into eight saves.

The 2-1 moved Schalke into fourth, a remarkable standing considering how bad they’ve been all winter. Frankfurt could knock the Royal Blues out of the top four tomorrow, but that’s almost beside the point. Schalke is in contention for a Champions League spot. Mid-week against Galatasaray, they’ll be favorites to move into the final eight of this year’s competition. Despite two or three embarrassing months, Schalke’s still in line for a very successful season.

And that season has seen them take six points from Dortmund, a team that’s already in the Champions League quarters – one that should finish in second place in Germany. Whether those upsets are the magic of derbies or the team’s bipolarity, who knows.

Regardless, you get the feeling Schalke wouldn’t mind being drawn with their rivals should they make the Champions League quarters.

Here are the highlights, with Schalke’s opening goal a particularly special piece of execution:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1b7yg10xSw]

Video: Goalfest marks Bundesliga return from winter break

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It was the type of game that could lead you to ironically claim “the Bundesliga is back,” Germany’s top division returning from its winter break with a shootout in Gelsenkirchen. But the league would have been back even if Schalke-Hannover finished 0-0 (a result that’s never happened in league between the two teams). That instead we got nine goals in our first Bundesliga match in 33 days prompts the irony:

The Bundesliga is back, baby!

For 43 minutes, that two clubs failed to match the output that’s produced 21 goals in their last six meetings. Then the explosion started. Just before halftime, Peruvian Jefferson Farfan (pictured) broke the deadlock, priming the teams for an eight-goal second half that left Jens Keller’s team 5-4 winners. Schalke got goals from future Spur Lewis Holtby and 19-year-old Julian Draxler while Hannover was pushed by a double from former Zenit attacker Szabolcs Huszti.

There is a minority of fans under the misconception that this result isn’t that uncommon in the Bundesliga. On the contrary, it’s rare enough to justify a “let’s stop and look at this” post. Nine goals to usher the league back in from break? It’s practically a declaration of intent.

Here are the highlights:

The result temporarily pushes Schalke fifth, on track to regain a Champions League spot after the downturn that cost Huub Stevens his job. For a Steve Cherundolo-less Hannover (out injured), the loss keeps them 11th, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. They’re only five back of Schalke.