Massimiliano Allegri

Winners, losers from Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

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The final scores tell us who the winners are, but there’s always subtext. There’s always context. There are always stories beyond the stories. Here are Wednesday’s – the winners and losers from the week’s second day of UEFA Champions League action.

WINNERS

1. Cristiano Ronaldo’s happiness  – Two weeks ago, Ronny was all sniffles. We were ready to cry with him, if only we could figure out the problem. Incredible rich working for popular club in the game? First world problems.

In fairness, Real Madrid was struggling, and he didn’t feel loved by the higher ups at the club. Now, the world’s second-best player has six goals in two games, with Los Merengues making last month’s downturn look like a teenage mood. Now with four Champions League goals this season, Ronaldo’s the tournament’s leading scorer, his team perfect through two matches.

2. Max Allegri – Milan had a lot of luck while winning 3-2 at Zenit. Two of their three goals were nothing short of good fortune, but Allegri’s part in the should not be overlooked.

Milan came out better prepared than Zenit, the Italians dominating the match’s first act with their superior energy. Deploying Stephan El Shaawary on the left proved prescient, allowing the 19-year-old to run at Aleksandr Anyukov. Late in the match, as Zenit pressed for a go-ahead goal, Allegri brought on midfielder Antonio Nocerino, changed his team’s shape, and regained control of the match.

And who knows. Maybe Milan turned over the right Tarot cards before the came, too. He did everything else right on Wednesday. Maybe he created the good fortune, too?

3. Greatest goalies in the world – Most of the time, English pundits labeling Joe Hart the world’s greatest goalkeeper comes off as a strange mix of defensiveness and jingoism. Or maybe they’re just trying to show us Yanks they can do sarcasm. Regardless, sometimes the case for Joe Hart gets laid on so thick, you want to plug your ears with an Iker Casillas kit.

Today, though, Joe Hart gave that argument actual live. Seven saves – seemingly all of the important variety – kept Manchester City within one when Borussia Dortmund should have blown them out. Mario Balotelli’s 89th minutes late conversion made Hart a deserved hero.

So maybe the pundits weren’t being sarcastic. For one day, at least, they were proved right.

4. Late match drama – Most of the time, seven-to-eight simultaneous kickoffs are a pain. Why can’t we stagger these? Are there people out there that are against showing more soccer?

When the late goals start pouring in, though, your favorite website’s scoreboard becomes more exciting than NFL Red Zone.  Today, late goals helped Milan and Porto claim full points, while Manchester City and Montpellier salvaged draws.

Of course there’s a flip side to that coin, one where the disappointment can be more acute than the elation. Zenit, in particular, should feel crestfallen after today’s result.

LOSERS

1. Roberto Mancini – For whatever reason, Mancini’s team didn’t look up for today’s game, a state highlighted by Dortmund’s energy in midfield. Why, after such a strong performance in Madrid two weeks ago, did City seem unprepared for today’s game? Perhaps it was just an aberration – a dip – but on the heals of last year’s performance in Champions League, it’s difficult to avoid recalling the criticisms that haunted Mancini at Inter Milan.

There, his inability to produce in Champions League contributed to his departure. Is City starting to experience the same problems? We’re eight games into Mancini’s Champions League life at City, and they’ve yet to play up to their talent.

2. Neven Subotic – Roman Weidenfeller saved Subotic in the first half when the Dortmund defender was beat for two chances on his keeper. While things got better for Subotic, the 23-year-old still played goat at the end. His handball gave Manchester City the penalty kick which tied the game. While his teammates where outplaying the defending Premier League champions, Subotic was having one of his tougher nights.

Post-match, Subotic claimed (after reviewing the call) that it was “never” a penalty. He conceded his hand was out and the ball hit it but appealed to a literal interpretation of the rules. He didn’t have time to move his arm, he claimed.

While that’s all right and true and dandy, it’s not practical. Defenders how the rules are interpreted, which is why you often see defenders hold their arms behind their back when defending crosses late. If you have your arm out and you block a shot headed toward goal, a referee might call it. If you’re deep in the penalty area – the only man between the shot and goal – you’re almost guarantee to hear a whistle.

If that right by the book? Maybe not. Is it right by how players know games are called? Absolutely.

3. Paris’s fast track – Paris Saint-Germain looked like world beaters two weeks ago, beating Dynamo Kyiv 4-1 on matchday one. Today, Porto reminded them of the obvious: European success won’t be so easy.

It’s not only that Porto won. They completely outplayed PSG, and if you buy into this match as a litmus test, the result came up the wrong color for the Parisians.

4. Zenit’s checkbook – Hulk scored a goal today. That’s progress, but the ultimate goal of Zenit’s September splurge is to have a better team. One month after bringing in the Brazilian and Axel Witsel, they’re worse.

Igor Denisov is still on strike, wanting more money. Rumors of dissent within the squad persist. It’s like the more money they come across, the more problems they see.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.