Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at Juventus 1, Shakhtar Donetsk 1

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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.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday