Man of the Match: There weren’t very many candidates from a match where everybody played well but few stood out (in a good or bad way). The biggest difference-maker may have been Shakhtar Donetsk’s Alex Teixeira, who got a surprise start ahead of countryman Ilsinho. Coach Mirsea Lucescu seemed to want the faster player to match up against Juventus’s defense, and it worked. Teixeira helped the Ukrainain outfit control the match’s first stanza, eventually scoring the game’s first goal.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Most eyes may have been cast on Cluj, Copenhagen and Lisbon, but Turin hosted Tuesday’s best match: The Italian champions versus an uncommonly strong offering from Ukraine.
- Shakhtar was dominant at the start, Juventus able to bring few solutions to bear on an attack that saw success playing outside to wingers Willian and Alex Teixiera before cutting back toward goal.
- That advantage may have been a product of the formation matchup we talked about in the preview. Shakhtar was able to find space behind and around the Juventus wingbacks, stretching out the Juve midfield as they played the ball horizontally. It took Juventus a while to adjust.
- Teixiera was a surprise starter, but he proved to be a prescient inclusion. Going forward, he proved more dangerous coming in from his right wing position. Tracking back, he was able to bolster the Shakhtar midfield, often getting back as Claudio Marchisio was coming forward for Juventus.
- In the 23rd minute, Teixiera’s inclusion really paid off. His defending created a turnover that sprung Shakhtar on the counter, and with Juventus’s midfield slow getting back, the Ukranians were able to set up their attack before Juve got back. That allowed Shakhtar to move the ball from the right, to Razvan Rat and Tomad Hübschman on the opposite flank, and eventually in to forward Luiz Adriano. Donetsk’s number nine laid it off for Willian who found Teixiera to the right of goal for an easy opener.
- It didn’t take Juventus long to respond, and in typical fashion, it took only the slightest opening. Nice play from Mirko Vucinic (good take on a long ball, nice pass into the right of Shakhtar’s area) created a corner. On the restart, Andrea Pirlo rolled a ball to 15 yards out, where Leonardo Bonucci had curled back away from the defensive line for an open one-timer. The Juve defender rocketed a ball into the upper-right corner, evening the score.
- For the next 30 minutes, the match was even. The game starter to luck like a typical Juventus affair, one which they would eventually snatch in the second half. That’s how it usually works with Juve: Once they’ve figured out what you’re trying to do, they can get busy implementing a plan to beat you.
- Things changed as the match neared the hour mark. The intensity went up a notch, and the match became more open.
- The changes left Shakhtar controlling much of the possession but Juventus generating the better chances.
- In the 80th minute, that almost changed. Fernandinho picked up a loose ball in his half and started a break through Willian. Luiz Adriano eventually laid a ball off to Henrikh Mkhitarayan, who had the ball poked away from him by Giorgio Chiellini. Willian ran onto the ball and fired a 20-yard shot just to the right of Gianluigi Buffon’s goal.
- And what about Mkhitarayan, who came into this match with 15 goals this season? Aside from an early chance, he was quiet going forward, though he put in good work pressing Juventus’s back line. He also was seen tracking Pirlo occasionally, though Shakhtar declined to give the Juventus regista the same attention Oscar provided two weeks ago.
- As time ticked away, the match was screaming for one team to make a big adjustment. But that never happened. Juventus swapped out their forwards in like-for-like moves. Lucescu brought on Ilsinho, his own like-for-like. Neither coach was willing to risk a big change and get burnt.
- As a result, Shakhtar got a valuable road point while demurring on their chance to really shake up the group. Juventus saved face while dropping points. Only two rounds into the stage, both teams may have made the right choice. Their fans, however, should wonder what could have been.
- With the win, Shakhtar is even on points at the top of the group. Juventus sits two back. Set to close the group with matches versus Chelsea and at Shakhtar, Juventus needs to take full advantage of their impending back-to-back with Nordsjaelland.
The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.
[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]
Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.
[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]
In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).
Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule
D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET
Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.
He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.
According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.
[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]
“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”
During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.
It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.
Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.
Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.
Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”
Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”
Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.
[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]
Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?
The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.
Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.
However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.
David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.
If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.
It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.
Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.
It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.