Snap Judgments: Quick reaction to Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

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If Tuesday was defined by road success, Wednesday was about late goals. They turned matches in Gelsenkirchen, Manchester, Porto and St. Petersburg, and while we haven’t had time to catch up on all eight matches, we do have time for some snap judgments:

Group A

Porto 1-0 Paris Saint-Germain – James Rodriguez’s 83rd minute goal gives Porto a just result. Aside from a couple of moments of danger from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Portuguese champions were consistently the better side. Poor finishing let this match stay even until its final moments, but Porto’s Colombian dynamo made sure the hosts got three huge points. They sit on top of Group A perfect through two rounds.

Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb – New coach Oleg Blohkin’s Champions League debut with Dynamo saw his team up two after 33 minutes. Ultimately, the win is just holding serve. Dinamo’s expected to finish bottom of this group. Today, we saw why.

Group B

Arsenal 3-1 Olympiacos – As expected, Arsenal dominated the ball, but a goal from Kosta Mitroglou in first half stoppage time made this more interesting than Arsène Wenger would have liked. Lukas Podolski’s early second half winner (and Aaron Ramsey’s insurance tally) keeps the Gunners at the top of Group B ahead of their home-and-home with Schalke.

Schalke 2-2 Montpellier – Like Arsenal, Schalke made it more difficult than they would have liked, falling behind in the 13th minute. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s second half penalty conversion was set to put Schalke along side Arsenal with six points, but a 90th minute goal from Souleymane Camara grabbed a point for Montpellier. It’s a disappointing result for Schalke, but safely in second place (three points up on Montpellier), they’re still in a strong position to go advance.

Group C

Zenit St. Petersburg 2-3 Milan – Two very fortunate goals (in off Zenit players) get a struggling Milan full points in Russia. Zenit only played well for 30 minutes in the middle of the match. With no points through two rounds, they’ll rue not giving a better effort while going down two in the first 16 minutes.

Anderlecht 0-3 Málaga – We talked up Málaga as the better side, but a three-goal win is surprising. Anderlecht only put one shot on target as the Andalusians got another two-goal performance, this one from Eliseu. Málaga has six points, a +6 goal difference, and are going to be difficult to keep from the knockout rounds.

Group D

Manchester City 1-1 Borussia Dortmund – Borussia Dortmund were clearly the better side, but when Neven Subotic capped a poor day with a hand ball in the 89th minute, City had their route into the match. Mario Balotelli converted, City got their point, and left few who will remember how much the Germans’ superior play. We’ll drill down on this one later.

Ajax 1-4 Real Madrid – It took Real Madrid 42 minutes to break through, and when Ajax pulled back a goal early in the second, it looked like we might have a game. Ultimately, El Real got the result we expected. They’re perfect on top of Group D, and Cristiano has back-to-back hat tricks. We’ll assume he’s happy now.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.

LAFC confirms second DP signing with Uruguayan Diego Rossi

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It’s been a fast and furious few days for Los Angeles FC, and that continued on Thursday with the signing of the organization’s second Designated Player.

LAFC announced the addition of Penarol forward Diego Rossi, joining manager Bob Bradley and the club’s first DP — Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year ]

Rossi, 19, became the second-youngest DP signing in Major League Soccer history upon completing his move from Uruguay’s first division, with only former FC Dallas attacker Fabian Castillo younger (18).

“Diego is a young and exciting attacking player,” LAFC head coach Bob Bradley said. “His experiences at Peñarol and his ability fit perfectly with our vision of the team we are building at LAFC. We believe Diego will mature into a top-class player.”

The expansion side’s current roster is now up to eight players, following a busy few days of MLS’ offseason. Rossi will join Vela, Egyptian international Omar Gaber, as well as Walker Zimmerman, Laurent Ciman, Tyler Miller, Latif Blessing, and Marco Ureña.