Snap Judgments: Quick reactions to Tuesday’s Champions League results

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While draws can often leave fans feeling empty-handed, today’s games in Gelsenkirchen, Madrid, and Manchester did their part to dissuade the notion an even scoreline at 90 minutes should cancel out the wonders that went into it. Those three draws, all 2-2 finals, made for one of the best nights of the Champions League season. In the process, two unexpected group leaders (Schalke, Borussia Dortmund) reinforced the notion that Germany’s Bundesliga is ready to make its long-awaited impact in European competition.

Elsewhere, Zlatan Ibrahimovic crafted another memorable night, one of his former teams (Milan) needed a late goal to salvage a home result, while Russia’s best hope to compete in this year’s competition continued to disappoint.

Group A

Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 Dinamo Zagreb – Dinamo held PSG dangerman Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoreless, but the big Swede assisted on all four Paris Saint-Germain goals, with Ligue 1’s leaders making predictably easy work of Dinamo. Carlo Ancelotti went back to an attacking trident for this one, giving the trio Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez a rare start.

Dynamo Kyiv 0-0 Porto – Dynamo continues to be an improved side under Oleg Blokhin, the former Ukraine national team coach who assumed Dynamo’s reins last month. Though the draw almost guaranteed their relegation to Europa League, Dynamo’s a much-improved team from the side that opened the tournament with a 4-1 loss in Paris.

Impact – Porto’s first blemish of the competition allows PSG to move within a point ahead of the teams’ round six meeting at the Parc de Princes. If form holds through the next matchday, that meeting will decide the group.

Standings – Porto 10 pts., PSG 8, Dynamo 4, Dinamo 0.

Group B

Schalke 2-2 Arsenal –Except for a 15-minute stretch of the first half (and the first moments after intermission), Schalke was the better side. Unfortunately for Huub Stevens, his team conceded twice during that quarter-hour spell. Still, after Schalke had come back, goalkeeper Lars Understall had to come up with a big, 94th minute save on Theo Walcott to preserve a draw.

Olympiakos 3-1 Montpellier – The Greek champions got the expected result, but it wasn’t easy. Left playing on the counter, Olympiakos opened the door for a draw by letting Younes Belhanda equalize from the spot in the 67th minute. Late goals from Leandro Greco and Kostas Mitroglou gave Olympiakos the win, all but assuring they’ll still be in Europe come the new year.

Impact – Two wins, and Schalke takes the group, while Arsenal face some danger with a matchday six trip to Piraeus. They’ll need a result to stay in Champions League.

Standings – Schalke 8 pts., Arsenal 7, Olympiakos 6, Montpellier 1

Group C

Milan 1-1 Málaga – Few will be surprised by the draw, an indication of the lowered expectations surrounding this Milan side. With an opening goal, Málaga was on track to close out the group, but an equalizer from Alexandre Pato salvaged a deserved draw for the Rossoneri.

Anderlecht 1-0 Zenit St. Petersburg – With the exception of Manchester City, Zenit has been the tournament’s biggest disappointment. The Russian champions were favored to come out of this group with Milan, but after losing to an Anderlecht side that had failed to score in their first three games, Zenit continues to undermine expectations.

Impact – Hosting Anderlecht to close group play, Málaga’s destined to win this group. The Milan-Zenit match on matchday six will likely determine who joins them in the knockout round, provided Milan doesn’t slip in Belgium.

Standings – Málaga 10 pts., Milan 5, Anderlecht 4, Zenit 3

Group D

Real Madrid 2-2 Borussia Dortmund – One of the best games of the tournament was very open throughout the first 45 minutes, Borussia Dortmund generating a number of chances while Real Madrid struggled to keep up. BVB may not have gotten a (arguably deserved) win, but in taking two leads at the Bernabeu while pushing Real to their limits, Jurgen Klopp’s side proved last round’s win was no fluke.

Manchester City 2-2 Ajax – Goals by Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero brought City back from two down, but fielding another team that played down to an inferior opponent, Roberto Mancini did himself no favors on Tuesday. Expect more talk about the Italian’s suitability for the City job.

Impact – Dortmund and Real Madrid are going through (eventually), and with their two matches with Real behind them, expect BVB to win the group. Real still has a trip to Manchester, but the game’s unlikely to make-or-break their knockout round hopes.

Standings – Borussia Dortmund 8 pts., Real Madrid 7, Ajax 4, Manchester City 2

Aguero left off Argentina starting XI to face Bolivia

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Sao Paolo striker Lucas Pratto will receive a fantastic opportunity on Tuesday when Argentina faces Bolivia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT travels to Panama in CONCACAF WCQ ]

It just so happens that Pratto’s gain is a major letdown for one of the Premier League’s top strikers. The 28-year-old is tied for second this qualifying campaign for Argentina with two goals.

La Albiceleste have announced their starting lineup ahead of tomorrow’s clash in Bolivia, which features mainstays Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Meanwhile, Aguero — who started in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile on Thursday — is the lone change from manager Edgardo Bauza.

The Copa America runners’ up are currently depleted with a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four players will miss Tuesday’s meeting in La Paz due to suspension, including Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas will each miss the match after sustaining respective hamstring and knee injuries.

Argentina currently sits third in the CONMEBOL table while Bolivia is in danger of elimination with a loss on Tuesday. La Verde have managed just seven points in the first 13 rounds of World Cup qualifying.

Three keys for USMNT against Panama

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Coming off of Friday night’s dominating effort against Honduras, the U.S. Men’s National Team looks for their second win in five nights when Bruce Arena and co. head to Panama.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT goes for second win in Hex on Tuesday ]

Strong performances from players like Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic have USMNT fans buzzing ahead of Tuesday’s clash in Panama City, but there are several questions that lie ahead for Arena as the U.S. goes for its second win in the Hexagonal.

How does Arena cope with injuries?

The only downside of the team’s 6-0 win over Panama on Friday was the aftereffects if the match. John Brooks, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Orozco and Jordan Morris are no longer with the USMNT after sustaining injuries/illnesses, leaving Arena shorthanded as the Stars and Stripes head into the Estadio Rommel Fernández.

While Clint Dempsey’s emphatic national team return will provide Arena with some assurances up front, along with the emergence of Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, there are some questions in the midfield and defense for the U.S.

Jermaine Jones is available to return from his one-match suspension and could potentially fill the void left by Sebastian Lletget after his injury on Friday. While, Alejandro Bedoya — who replaced Lletget in the Honduras match — will also be in line for a starting spot.

Defensively is where it gets a bit tricky though, as Arena has to make up for an already-depleted backline. There was no DeAndre Yedlin or Fabian Johnson coming into this round of qualifiers, and John Brooks’ release from camp leaves the defense even thinner. Tim Ream appears to be Arena’s next choice to start at centerback with Brooks unavailable, but will he stick with Omar Gonzalez in the center or slide Geoff Cameron back into the middle?

It seems like the latter choice, especially given Cameron’s experience in the central defense, but that would mean Arena has to slot somebody else into the right back position. Graham Zusi has had slight experience in that role as of late, but it could be a bit of a gamble for Arena in another high-stakes match.

Bradley must control the middle once again

Forget Michael Bradley’s superb goal, which lifted the U.S. lead to 2-0 on Friday, it was the captain’s overall performance that is exactly what should be expected from the center midfielder.

Bradley completions/MLSSoccer

In 90 minutes of play against Los Catrachos, Bradley only missed on six passes while also making several successful tackles and recoveries to limit the Honduras attack.

The loss of Lletget is definitely a significant one for the Americans, given his lively movement going both ways. However, LA Galaxy teammate will likely be in line to replace the vibrant midfielder on Tuesday as he returns from a one-match suspension.

In regards to Bradley though, the U.S. veteran is at his best when he is able to move freely throughout the midfield, but Jones’ inclusion could present more of a burden for the Toronto FC player.

Jones is still a very capable midfielder, but he simply doesn’t have the pace to match that of a Lletget, which leaves Bradley more liable for covering ground defensively in front of the backline.

On top of that, the back four will see more changes on Tuesday after Brooks’ exit from the USMNT, making Bradley’s role all the more critical when facing players like Luis Tejada and Gabriel Torres.

[ MORE: CONCACAF qualifiers resume Tuesday afternoon ]

Dempsey/Pulisic bond continues to evolve

It couldn’t have gone much better for the pair on Friday night as Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic were directly involved in five of the game’s six goals.

The budding relationship between the two key attackers though is an intriguing one, and will likely determine just how successful this USMNT can be down the road. At 34, Dempsey is certainly on the back end of his career, however, his effort against Honduras shows just how dangerous the Seattle Sounders man can be, even after missing significant time due to a heart problem.

Meanwhile, Pulisic continues to shine in European with giants Dortmund, appearing both in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. The two likely won’t be together on the international scene for long, perhaps only until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the partnership is something to monitor over the next year-plus.

Not only does the duo represent a dangerous one-two punch in the attack but also a changing of the guard. Dempsey has been one of the most talented USMNT players in the nation’s history, and many believe Pulisic has the talent to match or even surpass that of the 55-time goalscorer.

We’ve seen it before when Landon Donovan was phased out of the U.S. squad and Dempsey was essentially handed the reigns of the attack, and this time Pulisic will be doing so with much more time to make an impact. The 18-year-old already has four international goals in 12 appearances, and if he improves on that goalscoring pace the U.S. will be enjoying his presence for many years to come.

At long last, Butland returns to full training with Stoke

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Stoke City’s long-coming goalkeeping dilemma will come to a head soon, as Jack Butland is back in training.

A year ago today, the Potters confirmed that star backstop Butland would miss EURO 2016 with a broken ankle. He’d need multiple surgeries as recovery dragged on and on.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

That was more palatable thanks to the play of Lee Grant, who arrived on loan from Derby County but became a permanent Potter in January. Grant has been a key part of Stoke’s season.

Butland is contracted to Stoke through 2021, and he’ll ascend to the starting gig sooner rather than later. But Grant is in the catbird seat for now, and at least will have made himself attractive to other clubs seeking a keeper.

Report: Everton linked with $4 million swoop for Canada’s Larin

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The Sun only hits on a few of the many transfer rumors it tosses around, but this one bears a second look for fans of Everton, MLS, and Canada.

Everton is already eyeing replacements for Romelu Lukaku, according to the report, and is hunting for a bargain in Canadian national teamer Cyle Larin.

Larin, 21, was the first overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City SC after an electric career at UConn.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He’s since scored 35 goals in 63 matches for the Lions, picking up three in his first two matches of the 2017 season. The 6-foot-1 Ontario native has five goals for Canada in 19 caps.

The Sun says Larin would cost close to $4 million, a fraction of what the Toffees will get if they sell Lukaku.