FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-PSG-SOCHAUX

Zlatan takes Portugal, Eastern block dynamism – UEFA Champions League Group A preview

Leave a comment

What’s Zlatan doing this week?

It takes an incredible talent to makes one of the world’s free spending clubs and turn it into his own traveling show, but that’s what Paris Saint-Germain got when they brought in (one of) the world’s greatest center forward(s). Anytime they play, it’s all about what Zlatan Ibrahimovic does, and whenever they’re away from the Parc de Princes, the only question is where’s PSG taken The Zlatan Show this week?

On Wednesday, Cirque de Zlatan is in Portugal to take on Portguese champions Porto. In Group A’s other match, Dyanmo Kyiv hopes a new coach can help them recover from a matchday one thrashing when they host Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb.

Porto (Portugal) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Estádio do Dragão, Porto, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

For a team of PSG’s ambitions, Porto’s a perfect litmus test. The perpetual Portuguese champions have had trouble translating their domestic and Europe League successes into Champions League. Last year was a perfect example. Porto went 2-2-2 in a group that most picked them to win, relegated to Europa after finishing behind APOEL Nicosea and Zenit St. Petersburg. They’re a talented and accomplished team, but ever since taking away the title 2004, Porto’s Champions League success has been elusive.

It’s not hard to imagine Paris Saint-Germain entering a similar state, if only temporarily. When a eam experiences a long a break from the tournament, the first year back in Champions League can be trying. it can be difficult to create a squad and mindset to balance domestic priorities and the tournament’s mid-week intensity. As we saw last year with Borussia Dortmund, Lille and Manchester City, talent can not always offset inexperience. Or, as we’ve seen with Porto (or during Real Madrid’s long spell pre-Mourinho), even experience isn’t enough. The unique demands of Champions League make it hard to predict whether a team will succeed until they do, in fact, succeed.

That’s why Porto is such a great test. They are right at that edge. At some point, it’s going to click. Perhaps it’s continued emergence of Colombian dynamo James Rodríguez. Maybe a year’s experience will help coach Vitor Periera. Or perhaps the difference between Hulk and Jackson Martínez will add a missing dimension. This year, Porto may be able to scare a team in the knockout round, but until they do, they’re the perfect measuring stick. If you can handle this team, you’re probably dangerous. If you can’t, you probably belong in Europa League.

Early returns on PSG’s ability to meet this challenge are good. They opened their Champions League campaign with a 4-1 thumping of Dynamo Kiev. On the domestic front, they’ve rebounded from a goal-starved start to roll off four straight wins, their +9 goal difference best in Ligue 1. The improved results have come as coach Carlo Ancelotti has settled into a 4-3-1-2 formation, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jeremy Ménez on top of a midfield leld by Javier Pastore, anchored by 19-year-old Marco Verratti. Since the switch, PSG’s clicked.

No matter the formation, the key is Ibrahimovic, who is off to an incredible start with his new team. In seven all-competition appearances, Zlatan has eight goals. He’ll likely be too much for center halves Nicolas Otámendi and Maicon, who will need help from midfielders Joao Moutinho and Steven Defour as Ibrahimovic drops into space. That will only open up room for Pastore and Ménez as well as make it more difficult to pick up Blaise Matuidi and Mohamed Sissoko coming up from midfield.

Despite those advantages, it’s still a big task to go to win at the Dragão. The last team to do so in group stage was Chelsea in 2009, another hint that this is the perfect test for PSG. If the Parisians want to be world elites, they have to perform like world elites.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
Olimpiysky National Sports Complex, Kyiv, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

The must-wins come early in a six-game tournament. By the math, Dynamo Kyiv could lose on Wednesday and still get into the knockout round, but coming off a poor performance in Paris, failing to win at home against the group’s trailing pack would leave them with a lot of ground to make up on Porto, let alone Paris Saint-Germain.

Oleg Blokhin, now former Ukraine national team coach, will be the man tasked with making up that ground. The new coach was thought ready to keep both roles after recently being appointed to the role at Dynamo; however, Blokhin tendered a surprise resignation last Friday, allowing him to focus on getting Dynamo caught up Shakhtar Donestk on the domestic front, into the Champions League knockout rounds in Europe.

His first order of Champions League business: making the team forget about the 4-1 loss in Paris. From the club’s website:

“In the Champions League, Dynamo will fight for a way out of the group.

“The defeat by PSG with a score of 4-1 does not say anything. I remember a couple of years ago, the same happened when Shakhtar Donetsk lost in London, 5-1 to Arsenal.

“They then went into the play-offs with first place in the group.”

It’s a strange world where Dynamo is drawing inspiration from Shakhtar, but that’s the challenge Blokhin’s inherited. His team is a clear step behind their Ukrainian rivals, and advancing in Europe is seen more as a fancy than a goal. It’s Blokin’s job to change that view.

Miss Tuesday’s Champions League coverage?

U.S. U-20 midfield star leaves FC Dallas for a role with Schalke

schalke04.de/en
schalke04.de/en
Leave a comment

Another Yank youngster has landed in Germany.

Weston McKinnie, 18, has starred for the United States U-20 team as well as FC Dallas’ Academy, and has been in demand.

[ MORE: Americans Abroad news ]

The club is Schalke, a Bundesliga outfit which has had an exceptional offseason. McKinnie joins the U-19 side, and is billed by Schalke as a midfielder who “can be deployed as part of a two-man central midfield or in the number 10 role.”

From Schalkeo4.de/en:

“He’s a player who convinced us with his robustness and game awareness,” said academy director Oliver Ruhnert. “In the US he is one of the best footballers for his age. He is also a youth national team player and has also captained his team. He brings a lot of qualities with him, especially to the mental side of his game. We are therefore convinced that Weston is capable of becoming a professional footballer. The transfer therefore makes a lot of sense.”

McKinnie, if you haven’t read his name before, is absolutely one to remember. The Schalke man joins a club with a good track record for Americans. Chad Deering, Thomas Dooley, and David Wagner have also represented the United States for the Miners.

WATCH and LISTEN: Our Deadline Day show, and the 2 Robbies talk transfers

Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe, The 2 Robbies
@The2RobbiesNBC
Leave a comment

Deadline Day was kinda nuts, am I right?

There’s a lot to digest, and we’ve covered a lot of it in this space.

But in case you need more — and who doesn’t want a bit more Premier League? — we’ve got a stream of Wednesday’s TV show covering the deadline, and the 2 Robbies talking transfers.

LISTEN: The 2 Robbies Transfer Deadline Day podcast

REWATCH: Wednesday’s Deadline Day show

Now onto the business of the Premier League’s nascent season. Who was boosted by today’s moves? Who took a hit?

Report: USWNT legend Heather O’Reilly set to retire from soccer

BIRMINGHAM, AL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Heather O'Reilly #9 of the United States of America reacts after scoring a goal against Haiti during the US Women's 2015 World Cup victory tour match at Legion Field on September 20, 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

She has the seventh-most caps and the sixth-most assists in United States women’s national team history, and she’s also calling it a day.

Excelle Sports is reporting that Heather O’Reilly is retiring at the age of 31. The FC Kansas City player will likely play her final match in September, as the 2015 champs have all-but been eliminated from the playoffs.

[ MORE: Five big Deadline Day signings ]

O’Reilly had 230 caps, 46 goals, and 54 assists for the USWNT team. She’s one of only a few players to have more than 45 goals and 50 assists (Julie Foudy, Tiffeny Milbrett, Shannon MacMillan, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly).

One of many successful products of Anson Dorrance’s UNC program, “HAO” spent her club career with New Jersey Wildcats, Sky Blue FC, and Boston Breakers before joining FCKC.

O’Reilly was left off the Olympic roster this summer, named as an alternate. She could’ve been useful — of course hindsight is 20/20 — and it’ll be odd watching more USWNT matches without HAO.

International roundup: Schweinsteiger, Keane say goodbye; Denmark bags five

Germany's national team throws their captain Bastian Schweinsteiger into the air after he played his last match for the national team in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Germany won the friendly soccer match against Finland with 2-0. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Leave a comment

Two mainstays of the international game are done with that part of their career following shutout wins on Wednesday, just two of several friendlies early in this international break.

[ MORE: Five big Deadline Day signings ]

Germany 2-0 Finland

Max Meyer picked up from his remarkable Olympics by firing home, and Mesut Ozil also scored for the Germans in a match that was not about the winner. Bastian Schweinsteiger called it a day on his international career in the win, his 121st cap. The Manchester United man finishes his career with 24 goals, a World Cup title and a EURO runner-up finish. Not too shabby.

Ireland 4-0 Oman

ROI all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane fittingly ended his tenure as an international player with yet another goal, bringing his career tally to 68 goals in 146 caps. Stoke City’s Jon Walters scored twice for the Boys in Green, and Robbie Brady (Norwich) also netted in the win.

Denmark 5-0 Liechtenstein

It took the hosts a half-hour to break down the visitors, but a pair from Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jorgensen opened the floodgates and Andreas Cornelius, Viktor Fischer and Jens Stryger Larsen finished the scoring in a blowout at the CASA Arena in Horsens. It was Larsen’s first cap.

Elsewhere
Turkey 0-0 Russia
Albania 0-0 Morocco
Estonia 1-1 Malta
Norway 0-1 Belarus
Lebanon 1-1 Jordan