Ground vacated by Milan, Zenit – UEFA Champions League Group C preview

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With one matchday in the books, Group C has been turned on its head. Milan and Zenit, favorites to go through, are playing like the group’s weakest sides. Málaga, thought on the edge of turmoil, are now the favorites, with Anderlecht’s opening round point at the San Siro positioning the Belgians to profit if the big two don’t wake up.

Two weeks ago, Group C changed in one, two-hour blink of the eye. On Wednesday, it could happen again, even it the Russia start time means it’d be a five-hour blink.

Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) versus Milan (Italy)
Petrovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg, 12:00 p.m. Eastern

They were expected the best of Group C, but given how Zenit and Milan have started the tournament, Wednesday’s match comes with unexpectedly high stakes. Milan face the toughest trip of the group and the specter of being without a point and in last place by this time on Thursday. An after Zenit was surprisingly Isco’d in Andalusia, a home loss to a struggling Milan will only deepen the disillusionment that’s surrounding the club.

Zenit’s depression began in mid-August when the then 4-0-0 Russians embarked a 1-2-2 slump, falling to the middle of a Premier League table they’d dominated since the hire of Luciano Spalletti. Their 3-0 defeat at Málaga came in the middle of that downturn, a clear sign that the Hulk-Axel Witsel shopping spree was no red eye to Europe’s penthouse. With outsiders now questioning how Hulk’s settled in the team (the only issue is language, he says), Zenit’s spending spree seems more disruptive than helpful.

That can all turn around on Wednesday, and Zenit doesn’t even have to get their act together to make it happen. Milan’s been more adrift than Zenit, sitting 11th in Serie A after losing three of their first four. The Rossoneri have since rebounded, kind of. They beat last place Calgiari and drew a Parma team whose only win came against a Chievo side destined to battle relegation.

Most concerning about Milan is the morose attitude surrounding the team. Everybody is focusing on who left there rather than who stayed. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were huge losses, sold to Parsi Saint-Germain, but the rest of the losses (a ton of veteran players like Clarence Seedorf, Mark van Bommel, Gennaro Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta) were not irreplaceable, especially given their sketchy injury records. Max Allegri was left with a team that had the likes of Robinho, Alexandre Pato, Kevin Prince Boateng, Ricardo Montolivo, Antonio Nocerino and Nigel de Jong. They’re since added Giampaolo Pazzini and seen youngsters Stephan El Shaaraawy and Mattia De Sciglio get off to strong starts. In Serie A’s new world order, that’s enough to complete for Champions League, but because of the defeatist attitude engulfing the club, nobody has noticed.

Perhaps somewhere along the 1722-mile trip to northwest Russia Milan will snap out of their funk. But long road trips usually calcify ennui. A struggling Rossoneri side iss unlikely to see a chilly, rainy St. Petersburg motivating.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Anderlecht (Belgium) versus Málaga (Spain)
Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brussels, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

How cool would it be if Oguchi Onyewu got to play for Málaga? It’s unlikely to happen, the U.S. international yet to appear domestically for his new club, but if he did, we’d have an American on each side of the ball, with former Chivas USA midfielder Sacha Kljestan a probable starter for Anderlecht. While we won’t get to see it, the mere possibility reminds us that U.S. players are slowly creeping deeper and deeper into the European game. It’s only a matter of time before two Yanks are shaking hands before a Champions League kickoff.

In terms of what will happen on the field tomorrow …

The match gives Anderlecht a chance to show they’re more than a team that can hold out against an idea-less Milan. At the San Siro, they put only two shots on Christian Abbiati, and while a point at Milan is not something for the likes of Anderlecht to second guess, there was a feeling the Belgians could have done more. It was worth taking a chance against the Milan side still learning how to create goals in an Ibrahimovic/Antonio Cassano-less world.

At home against Málaga, Anderlecht are going to have to do more, yet the Andalusians will present a more difficult challenge. Manuel Pellegrini’s team is better than Milan’s, an undefeated start in Spain complemented by their 3-0 Champions League win over Zenit. As he’s done at every place he’s coached over the last decade, Pellegrini’s instilled an approach that may not be flashy but produces tight, cohesive teams with enough flexibility to both take advantage of opponents as well as incorporate players like Juan Román Riquelme and Robert Pires.

Now Pellegrini may have another gem, one that has offset the preseason loss of Santi Cazorla. Even before his two-goal Champions League debut, Isco was drawing the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Though he hasn’t been able to build on that performance, he still has the type of game-breaking talent that could give Anderlecht defenders Marcin Wasilewski and Cheikhou Kouyate trouble. More worrisome or Anderlecht, he could prove a thorn in the side of Lucas Biglia, Anderlecht’s best distributor.

That Isco, like his club, is still a relative unknown to the broader Champions League audience fuels the idea that Anderlecht can build on the Milan result. They very well might, but if they do so, it will be against a better team. Málaga may not have Milan’s brand, but they’ll pose a much bigger challenge.

Miss Tuesday’s Champions League coverage?

Man City sign Benjamin Mendy from Monaco for $68 million

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Manchester City continues to splash cash like it’s going out of fashion.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid

Left back Benjamin Mendy, 23, has arrived from AS Monaco for $68 million and he has linked up with his new team in Los Angeles as they continue their preseason tour of the U.S. with a game against Real Madrid.

If the reported fee for Mendy is correct, he is the most-expensive defender in history.

Pep Guardiola has now brought in five new players this summer with goalkeeper Ederson, right backs Kyle Walker and Danilo, playmaker Bernardo Silva and now Mendy costing over $267 million combined.

Here’s what the French international defender had to say after agreeing a five-year deal at City.

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining Manchester City,” Mendy said. “They are one of Europe’s leading clubs and in Pep Guardiola they have a manager committed to playing attacking football. I am sure that over the next few years we will be successful.”

City’s Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, said Mendy was “undoubtedly one of the world’s best full-backs” and their “number one target in this position.”

Mendy has burst onto the scene at Monaco over the past 12 months, helping them to win the French title last season and also reach the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.

The powerful left back makes surging runs forward and is as adept in attack as he is in defense. That’s obviously important in a Guardiola side as he expects his full backs to come inside, possess the ball and offer an attacking threat. Mendy ticks all the boxes.

City were knocked out of the UCL at the Round of 16 stage by Monaco with Mendy and fellow new signing Silva obviously impressing Guardiola, while Tiemoue Bakayoko has joined Chelsea for $55 million as a fine Monaco team has been broken up once again.

Monaco’s loss is the Premier League’s gain.

With Walker and Danilo at right back, plus Mendy at left back and Ederson in goal, City have strengthened their defense considerably this offseason. Ederson’s debut against Manchester United left plenty to be desired last week, but there’s no doubting City’s full back areas have been upgraded considerably.

Man United beat Real Madrid on PKs; injury update

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Manchester United beat Real Madrid 2-1 on penalty kicks after drawing with the reigning European champions 1-1 in normal time in Santa Clara, California.

[ VIDEO: Chelsea beat Arsenal in Beijing

Jose Mourinho’s men took the lead right on half time as Anthony Martial‘s fine run down the left flank ended with a perfect ball to Jesse Lingard who finished easily.

Real equalized through Casemiro’s penalty kick in the 69th minute which set up one of the worst penalty kick shootouts in memory with just three penalties scored from the 10 attempts in the International Champions Cup clash.

Take a look at the video highlights below as United continued their 100 percent record on their U.S. tour after wins over LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Manchester City and now Real.

Mourinho’s men will now play Barcelona in Washington D.C. on Wednesday on their way back to Manchester.


Mourinho also gave an update on Ander Herrera who came off injured just six minutes after coming on at Levi’s Stadium.

Herrera seemed to suffer a rib injury and Mourinho is hoping the latest knock (Juan Mata picked up an injury last week, with Matteo Darmian recovering from a slight injury, plus Ashley Young, Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo still recovering) for one of his players isn’t serious.

“It must at least be very painful because for Ander to come off, it has to be very painful,” Mourinho said. “I want to wait and see what it is. I always say to the players that you don’t risk anything in friendly matches. If you feel something is coming, even if it is a little injury, get off because the result is not important. It was very painful, it was in front of the bench, it was a bad contact. Maybe it is his ribs but I don’t know.”

The Spanish midfielder was influential in United’s midfield last season, winning their Player of the Year award after several dominant displays in the engine room.

With Mourinho said to be on the hunt for a new holding midfielder, it’s easy to see why with only Michael Carrick and the versatile Daley Blind able to slot in if Herrera is out for a while.

Jamaica upsets Mexico to reach Gold Cup final, face USMNT

AP Photo/Jae Hong
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For the second straight tournament, Jamaica are headed to the final of the Gold Cup after knocking off Mexico, the side which beat them in the 2015 final, in the 2017 semifinal on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence scored the game’s only goal in the 88th minute, making the most of Andre Blake’s man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance which spanned the entirety of 90 minutes.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Blake put forth a stellar display of goalkeeping in the game’s opening 45 minutes, facing three shots on target and denying El Tri’s attackers on each and every occasion.

The pick(s) of the litter came in the 12th minute, when the Philadelphia Union ‘keeper pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Jesus Dueñas and Erick Torres. Dueñas fired first, aided by a wicked deflection, but Blake pulled off the reflexive kick-save, followed by Torres’ powerful strike through traffic seconds later.

15 minutes later, Torres earned himself a yellow card for what was undoubtedly, unquestionably a red-card, lunging “challenge” against Damion Lowe.

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The second half consisted of much the same things as the first, as Blake continued his clinic in the 65th minute. Jesus Gallardo fired a free kick through the Raggae Boyz’ wall, a knuckling shot which Blake didn’t see until very late but managed the put two fists behind the ball and punch it anyway anyway.

Blake’s counterpart, Jesus Corona, joined the fun in the 78th minute. Lowe rose highest to get to Owayne Gordon’s free kick, heading it inside Corona’s right-hand post, but the Cruz Azul ‘keeper was quick to scramble across his goal and palm the ball away at full-stretch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Two minutes before full-time, Lawrence produced the game’s only piece of purge magic, a curling peach of a free kick from 24 yards out. Corona went one way, Lawrence went the other and Jamaica are headed to their second straight Gold Cup final.

Jamaica will take on the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

MLS: Rookie Ebobisse stars as Timbers win in Vancouver

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers, thanks to a standout performance in rookie striker Jeremy Ebobisse’s first MLS start, put to bed a six-game winless skid with a 2-1 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. The run of poor form stretched back to early June, and saw Caleb Porter’s side slip from contention for the Western Conference’s top spot, into the jumbled mess surrounding the playoff cut line (four teams separated by one point, either side of sixth place, coming into Sunday). Ebobisse scored the opening goal less than a quarter-hour into the game, and delivered the beautiful backheel assist to Sebastian Blanco to restore the Timbers’ lead four minutes into the second half, after watching it disappear just before halftime. The victory sees Portland leapfrog Vancouver to move into fourth place in the West, just four points off the top spot once again.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Ebobisse touches home his first MLS goal — Sometimes you don’t really have to do much beyond simply existing in the right place. Ebobisse existed in the right place.

45′ — Jacobson heads home before halftime — Update: Portland still have issues defending set pieces.

49′ — Blanco slots past Ousted for 2-1 — No one really stepped up to deny Blanco’s marathon dribble, and Ebobisse did so much more than simply existing on this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jeremy Ebobisse

Goalscorers: Ebobisse (14′), Jacobson (45′), Blanco (49′)