Oct 23, 2013, 1:39 AM EDT
After three rounds of UEFA Champions League, every team has faced their group opponents once, giving us a good idea of the teams’ relative quality. We can see Atlético’s the best in their group. Chelsea’s overcome their early misstep. Barcelona’s going to take top spot in Group H. These things are pretty clear.
Other, closer races force you to remember: Teams have yet to face each other home-and-road, and no team has played an equal number of games away as they have in front of their own fans. If you’ve played two of your three on the road, you may have had a more difficult start than a team above you in the standings, something that needs to be remembered when you’re assessing your (and other teams’) chances of moving on.
Take Arsenal, for example. They’re at the top of their group, albeit in a three-way tie with Borussia Dortmund and Napoli. But they’ve also had two home games, whereas both their competitors have played twice on the road. The Gunners’ road trip was also their easiest one. Things are about to get much more difficult for Arsène Wenger’s troop, while their opponents’ slates get easier.
Then think about Atlético Madrid. They’re perfect through three rounds, but they’ve also played two games on the road, having won at the Estadio do Dragão – what was supposed to be their toughest game. They’re not only off to a flying start. They’ve done so without the help of their schedule.
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.
In Groups E, F, and G, one team has been picked out as the weakest link, giving us something else to keep in mind beyond that +/- column. Dropping points to that last place team could be decisive. If the group’s other teams claim six from the also ran, you need to do that same; else, the points you drop could be the difference between moving on and going to Europa League.
Today, Basel essentially dropped points. Both Chelsea and Schalke had already defeated Steaua, but Basel couldn’t do the same, and while it’s perfectly understandable why Murat Yakin’s team would “stumble” in Bucharest, they need to make up those points. Schalke’s trip to Romania now becomes more important to Basel’s knockout round hopes, because although the Swiss champions will likely pass the Miners next round (Schalke visiting Chelsea while Basel host Steaua), they still have to make a trip to Gelsenkirchen.
Three teams with six points, and only one’s truly ahead of the game, though you wouldn’t know if from the right column. With their win in Marseille, Napoli have picked up points on the road, but they’re points Arsenal have also claimed. Winning at the Velodrome has become obligatory, not progressing.
Dortmund, on the other hand, picked up three points at Arsenal, a place where Napoli’s already lost. They also have yet to visit France while still having home games against their two co-leaders. They’re in good shape.
Arsenal, though, may have created trouble for themselves with today’s loss. They still have to go to Germany, which they’ll do next round, and they still have to visit Naples. The only reprieve in their group stage run-in is a visit from Marseille, but again: Beating l’OM has become obligatory, in this group.
If everybody wins at home and losses on the road (with the exception of games at Marseille), Dortmund and Napoli are through. Arsenal’s in Europa League.
|Zenit St. Petersburg||3||1||1||1||2||3||-1||0-0-1||1-1-0||4||+1|
A five-point lead after three of six rounds is huge, but it looks even bigger when you see Atlético’s played two games on the road. They’ve also already hosted and beaten the group’s second place team and have taken three points from what was supposed to have been their most difficult road opponent (Porto). A win next round clinches a knockout round spot, while a draw in St. Petersburg between Zenit and Porto allows that same win to give Atlético the group’s top seed. They’re winning this group.
Zenit’s got the inside track on the second seed considering the back half of their schedule gives them both tough games at home. That increases the importance of Porto’s trip to Zenit – the teams’ next match. Zenit can take a commanding lead with a win, but even a draw will keep the Russians in control. Whereas Porto still has to go to the Vicente Calderon, Zenit gets Atlético at home.
This group’s sorting itself out as expected, with Barcelona and Milan drifting toward the group’s top seeds. The big danger for Milan will be a Celtic win over Ajax next round. If that happens, Milan may need a result in Glasgow to go through.
That sounds more ominous that it is. The scenario would require Celtic to win in Amsterdam before defeating Milan, and while each result in isolation is certainly possible, both results together becomes much more unlikely. Not to get all high school math on you, but if Celtic have a 60 percent change of winning their home game and a 40 percent chance of winning on the road (numbers I’ve made up out of thin air), they’re going to do both fewer than one time in four. Milan’s still in good shape.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
Manager remains insistent the Spanish international will stay at Stamford Bridge.
Jul 31, 2014, 9:03 PM EDT
Successful procedure marks the end of John’s 2014 hopes.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:12 PM EDT
De Laurentiis confirms the partenopei’s interest in the afro-laden star.
Jul 31, 2014, 7:22 PM EDT
Toe injury to sideline the U.S. international for an estimated 10 games.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:31 PM EDT
No. 1: Eddie Johnson. No. 2: These new-fangled rules.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:02 PM EDT
Young Americans set to blaze trail in La Liga academies.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
San Lorenzo is in Copa’s finals, but Piatti is unlikely to join them.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:14 PM EDT
Two players who spent plenty of time on the sidelines last season are pushing to be integral parts of Manuel Pellegrini’s plans.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:42 PM EDT
29-year-old Argentina arrives from Tigre, becoming the club’s third Designated Player of all-time.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT
Everton’s frugality gave way to necessity. Is Lukaku worth it the serious cash they splashed?
Jul 31, 2014, 3:21 PM EDT
Remember when Marco Reus, Dries Mertens and Leighton Baines solidified Manchester United’s status in Europe? Us neither.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:56 PM EDT
Cristiano Ronaldo and Christopher Renzi are looking horns over the CR7 trademark.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:25 PM EDT
Guillermo Ochoa starred in the 2014 World Cup for Mexico, and now will try to fill Willy Caballero’s shoes at Malaga.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:08 PM EDT
As deadly virus continues to spread, the Seychelles refuse to let Sierra Leone travel for qualifier.
Jul 31, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Seydou Keita has left Barcelona, but being in a different league has not stopped the animosity between the AS Roma midfielder and Real Madrid’s Pepe.
Jul 31, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT
Gerrard: “With all due respect to them, I said to Suarez that he was too good for Arsenal.”
Jul 31, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT
Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said several Premier League teams had interest in 19-year-old American striker Julian Green.
Jul 31, 2014, 12:26 PM EDT
Ching said his former USMNT teammate needs incentive-laden contracts to thrive, while Johnson claims Ching is jealous.
Jul 31, 2014, 11:42 AM EDT
Jermaine Jones is not the only US midfielder rumored to come home, while two Red Devils are tipped for Madrid.
Jul 31, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
An altercation between a player and referee in a men’s league game left the official dead. What followed has been anything but pretty.
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