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

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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?

Watch: USMNT midfielder Hyndman provides assist in Rangers debut win

United States midfielder Emerson Hyndman (8) gets past Cuba defender Adrian Arturo Diz Pe during the first half of a CONCACAF men's Olympic qualifying soccer match Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Well, it didn’t take long for Emerson Hyndman to make an impression at his new club.

[ MORE: Man City, Spurs finish level in Saturday’s PL action ]

The U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder provided the game-winning assist for Scottish side Rangers in Saturday’s 2-1 Scottish Cup win over Motherwell after picking out Kenny Miller for his second goal of the match.

[ MORE: Ghana books place in AFCON quarterfinals, Egypt edges Uganda ]

Hyndman, 20, joined the Scottish giants in January after coming over on loan from Premier League side Bournemouth. The rising USMNT attacker only made three appearances for the Cherries prior to completing the loan move to Rangers.

The former FC Dallas academy product has risen through the USMNT set up over recent years, appearing for the Under-17, U-20 and U-23 sides before Hyndman earning his first cap with the senior team in 2014.

Check out Hyndman’s game-winning assist below.

La Liga & Serie A: Valencia stuns Villareal, Napoli defeats AC Milan

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 10: Santi Mina of Valencia runs with the ball during the Copa del Rey Semi Final, second leg match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on February 10, 2016 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Villareal 0-2 Valencia

In a dramatic and purely unexpected result, Salvador González Marco’s side picked up a massive win over the sixth place Villareal in order to give Valencia some space above the bottom three. Valencia has now won two straight matches in league play, after goals from Carlos Soler and Santi Mina lifted the bottom half side.

Real Madrid 2-1 Malaga

Sergio Ramos scored twice in the first half for the hosts, and it turned out to be enough for Real to end its recent losing streak. The Madridistas got back on track Saturday with its victory over Malaga, opening up a four-point lead in La Liga over second place Sevilla. Malaga made the match interesting just beyond the hour mark when Juanpi pulled a goal back for the visitors, however, the 13th place side couldn’t muster up a second tally.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 3-1 Granada
Alaves 2-2 Leganes

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Sevilla (6 a.m. ET)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Atletico Madrid (10 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Sporting Gijon (12:30 a.m. ET)
Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo (12:30 a.m. ET)
Eibar vs. Barcelona (2:45 p.m. ET)


 

AC Milan 1-2 Napoli

A lousy start from the hosts couldn’t be overcome on Saturday. Early goals from Lorenzo Insigne and Jose Callejon inside of the opening 10 minutes helped give Napoli the lead, while Juraj Kucka scored the lone goal for AC Milan. The Rossoneri have fallen to fifth place in Serie A following Saturday’s defeat, leaving Milan eight points behind Juventus. Meanwhile, Napoli has ascended to within a single point of the league leaders.

Chievo 0-3 Fiorentina

The Viola were in firm control against their bottom half opposition, and Chievo simply couldn’t come up with an answer at the Stadio Marc`Antonio Bentegodi. Cristian Tello gave the visitors a 1-0 lead heading into the half before Khouma Babacar and Federico Chiesa tacked on two more finishes in the second stanza. Fiorentina currently sits eighth in Italy’s top flight while Chievo trails the Viola by eight points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna vs. Cagliari (6:30 a.m. ET)
Chievo vs. Lazio (9 a.m. ET)
Genoa vs. Fiorentina (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Torino (9 a.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (9 a.m. ET)
Pescara vs. Inter Milan (2:45 p.m. ET)

AFCON wrap: Ghana books place in quarterfinals, Egypt edges Uganda

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Asamoah Gyan of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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One Group D side has already sealed its fate in the final eight, while another squad moved on step closer to the African Cup of Nations knockout phase on Saturday.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Ghana 1-0 Mali

The Ghanaians ensured their place in the knockout round after Asamoah Gyan scored for the Black Stars.

Gyan, 31, nodded home a Jordan Ayew cross in the 21st minute, giving Ghana its second straight win in the competition.

Mali will need a victory in its final group stage match against Uganda in order to have a shot at advancing to the last eight.

Egypt 1-0 Uganda

Abdallah El Said played hero on Saturday for Egypt after scoring in the 89th minute to lift Héctor Cúper’s side past Uganda.

The Al Ahly forward finished off Mohamed Salah‘s cross in the game’s dying moments to give Egypt a strong shot at advancing out of Group D.

The Egyptians currently sit second in the group on four points, while Uganda has officially been eliminated from advancing.

Sunday’s AFCON schedule

Cameroon vs. Gabon — 2 p.m. ET
Guinea-Bissau vs. Burkina Faso — 2 p.m. ET

PL Saturday roundup: City, Spurs finish level; United drops points at Stoke

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City walks off after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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League leaders Chelsea weren’t in action on Saturday, but things couldn’t have possibly gone any better for the Blues.

With Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United all dropping points in their respective matches, Antonio Conte‘s men have the opportunity to widen the gap atop the Premier League on Sunday as Chelsea faces Hull City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Here, we take a look back at Saturday’s action from around England’s top flight.

Manchester City 2-2 Tottenham — RECAP

The Citizens will surely feel disappointed in referee Andre Mariner’s lack of a penalty decision, and more so both sides are feeling the affects after finishing level at the Etihad Stadium. Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris had a rough go of it early in the second stanza after two goals to Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne just four minutes apart. Luckily for the visitors, Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son each netted for Tottenham to give Mauricio Pochettino‘s side a share of the points.

Liverpool 2-3 Swansea City — RECAP

It was bound to end some time but Liverpool certainly wasn’t expecting a fight from the Swans on Saturday. Unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what they got. And more. Swansea picked up its first ever top-flight win at Anfield, and the victory couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Fernando Llorente netted twice for the visitors, while Gylfi Sigurdsson played hero on the day for the Swans. The loss for the Reds snapped a 25-match unbeaten streak at home, while also opening the door for Chelsea to extend its lead at the top of the PL.

Stoke City 1-1 Manchester United  — RECAP

Wayne Rooney was the star of the show, but the veteran attacker’s moment of achievement was overshadowed by his side’s failure to pick up three points. Rooney’s 250th goal was surely the day’s biggest talking point, but Juan Mata‘s earlier own goal ensured United that a draw was their fate on the day. The Red Devils currently sit 11 points out of the top spot in the PL, while the draw keeps Stoke in ninth.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Seamus Coleman of Everton (R) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Mason Holgate of Everton (L) during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Everton at Selhurst Park on January 21, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Everton 1-0 Crystal Palace — RECAP

The Toffees have found new life a recent string of victories but it’s Palace that has become the bigger story on Saturday after falling into the depths of the relegation zone. Seamus Coleman sealed the victory for Everton after Tom Davies picked out the veteran Toffee for the match’s lone finish. Outside of Crystal Palace’s FA Cup victory over Bolton, the Eagles have lost eight consecutive PL fixtures, prompting the team’s fall into 18th place.

West Brom 2-0 Sunderland — RECAP

Goals from Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt kept the Baggies on the top half of the table as Sunderland continues its relegation woes. The Black Cats now sit three points buried at the bottom of the PL following Saturday’s defeat.

West Ham 3-1 Middlesbrough — RECAP

The Hammers moved into the top half of the PL courtesy of goals from Andy Carroll and Jonathan Calleri, while the Boro couldn’t keep up with Slaven Bilic‘s surging side. West Ham has now moved up to 10th place after winning five of its last seven league matches. Christian Stuani managed Middlesbrough’s lone tally on the day, however, the club now sits just four points above the bottom three.

Bournemouth 2-2 Watford — RECAP

Four straight draws between the two sides have left very little between the mid table clubs but Saturday’s encounter surely had its share of entertaining moments. The Hornets led twice on the day with goals from Christian Kabasele and Troy Deeney, however, Bournemouth managed to fight back on both occasions to record the draw. The Cherries currently have a two-point advantage over Watford in the table, with the two clubs sitting 11th and 14th, respectively.