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Picture starting to clear up in Champions League

Through four of the six matchdays that comprise of the group (and 2017) portion of the 2017-18 UEFA Champions’ League, the picture is starting to become fairly clear on which 16 teams will advance from the 32 entrants to the knockout stages in February.

None of the four team that were in last season’s semifinals look anywhere near as formidable as they did last season, and the England sides are all in strong positions to win their respective groups and be assigned one of the teams that finish in second place in the group stages.

Real Madrid is the notable disappointment thus far. The only team to ever win this event in back-to-back years might finally be showing some signs of fatigue. Incredibly, some in the English AND Spanish media reported that coach Zinedine Zidane could actually be in trouble. Amazing! But if Claudio Ranieri could lose his job at Leicester City earlier this year after winning the 2015-16 English Premier League while still guiding Leicester into the Champions League quarterfinals, then anything is possible.

Tottenham routed Real Madrid 3-1 at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday and put a stranglehold on first in that group. Both are likely to advance, with Real potentially getting Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea or Manchester United in the next round. Those four and Tottenham are in position to have five English Premier League teams in the top eight before the knockout stage draw; Real can’t draw Spurs because they met in group play.

Sergio Aguero scored his 178th goal with City in the impressive 3-2 win for the Citizens in Naples at Stadio San Paolo against host Napoli Wednesday. The Argentine striker broke the club record that has stood since 1939 and did it in just 264 matches since his debut with the club in 2011.

In Group A, ManU is in command and Benfica is out. CSKA Moscow shocking FC Basel in Switzerland earlier this week was a reverse from the result in the Russian capital and leaves those two teams level on points and fighting for second. Group B is controlled by Paris St. Germain for now, with Bayern Munich having all but secured second place with two wins against Celtic home and away on Matchdays 3 and 4.

Roma leads Chelsea after being the English champions on Matchday 4 and sit on eight points to top Group C. Chelsea are on 7, with Atletico Madrid on 3 after two straight draws against FK Qarabag. Barcelona are on 10 points in Group Dafter earning a win and a draw against last-place Olympiakos. Juventus sit second with seven points while Sporting Lisbon are third with four.

While Liverpool does lead Group E, it appears to be the one group where things might not be decided until Matchday 6. The Champions League standings show the Reds have eight points, while Sevilla are on seven and Spartak Moscow have five. City leads Group F with 12 points while Shakhtar Donetsk are on nine and perilously close to eliminating Napoli, which has just three.

Besitkas is unbeaten in four matches and sit on 10 points to pace Group G, with FC Porto sitting on six and RB Leipzig two more back with four points. Tottenham has clinched its spot in the knockout stages and lead Group H by three over Real Madrid. Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia played to two draws on Matchdays 3 and 4 and are all but eliminated.

The middle two matches are often the most interesting group stage fixtures because they pit the same two teams together at each team’s home ground 13 and 15 days apart, respectively. That is how the knockout rounds are conducted, so it’s a close simulation. Matchday 5 is on Nov. 21-22 and will provide even more clarity in trying to sort out who will still be playing next year, who will end up in the Europa League and who can focus on their domestic seasons and cup competitions, trying to qualify for the 2018-19 Champions League.

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