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.

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

Wenger says schedule congestion catching up to Arsenal

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Much like their 3-1 loss to Manchester United, Arsenal dominated the chances but couldn’t find the back of the net enough to get three points.

Unlike that Red Devils defeat, however, the Gunners were stout at the back against a lively West Ham United and picked up an away point from a nil-nil draw on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-0 Arsenal ]

Wenger was content enough with the result, as he continued to be in the chorus of managers who lament the congested Premier League schedule around the holidays. From the BBC:

“We had so much of the ball, but it was very frustrating because we could even have lost it at the end. They’re happy to defend, they did that against Chelsea and Manchester City, so we couldn’t find the opening and the few chances we had we missed.

“When you play every three days, you lose your sharpness.”

That’s true, and to his credit Wenger didn’t try to say West Ham had one day’s more rest (which they did). As Man City runs away with the league and Manchester United doesn’t look fit to drop back to the back, the race for the final two Top Four spots is as congested as the schedule. Arsenal needs to turn some of its shot-heavy performances into goal-heavy cruises sometime soon.

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

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Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.