Manchester City's manager Mancini listens to questions during a news conference at the club's Carrington training complex in Manchester

What’s at stake on UEFA Champions League Wednesday

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Porto head coach Vitor Pereira may believe “[t]here are no such things as favorites in [Champions League],” but there are certainly teams more likely to win games than others. Some might even call that a favorite. Pereira’s is team one, hence his dismissive, containing attitude ahead of the Dragons’ match with Dinamo Zagreb, even if Pereira’s right to be skeptical of frontrunners. Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Manchester City — all in action on Wednesday — have failed to find results commensurate with their talent.

Those teams may still be hoping for a turnaround, but time’s running out. Wednesday marks the end of group stage’s fifth of six rounds. Up to seven teams could be eliminated after the day’s matches, and unless Luciano Spalletti and Roberto Mancini (right) can find solutions to their teams’ Champions League travails, Zenit and City will be among them.

Group A

Porto (Portugal) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Estadio Dragão, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France), Olympic Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Porto 10 pts, PSG 9, Dynamo Kyiv 4, Dinamo Zagreb 0

Calling a side’s last performance “weak-willed and unfocused” while claiming there could be “major changes during the winter break” might seem like a dangerous, potentially mutiny-inspiring way to approach an important match, but Dynamo Kyiv’s poor run of form leaves Oleh Blokhin little choice. Instead of gloss over his team’s woes ahead of Ukraine’s winter break, Blokhin’s made it clear. Sitting third place in league and staring at a probable relegation to Europa League, the team could be in for a major shakeup.

If Dynamo beat PSG, they stay alive ahead of a matchday six meeting with Dinamo Zagreb, against whom a win could put them through to the knockout round. In order for that to happen, PSG would have to follow their upset in Ukraine with a home loss to Porto, a team who’d likely have a knockout round birth sewn up. Even if with the Parisians coming off an embarrassing Saturday loss, that’s a lot of planets that need to lineup for Dynamo to be playing Champions League soccer come January.

Group B

Schalke (Germany) vs. Olympiacos (Greece), Veltins-Arena, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Arsenal (England) vs. Montpellier (France), Emirates Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Schalke 8 pts, Arsenal 7, Olympiacos 6, Montpellier 1

After taking four points off Arsenal, Schalke’s control of this group goes beyond their one-point group lead on the Gunners. Hosting Greece’s champions before visiting struggling Montpellier (who somehow managed a point in Gelsenkirchen), Schalke’s facing the easiest run-in possible. If form holds, they’ll earn first place and the benefit of an easier Round of 16 matchup.

Coming off a weekend loss in the Bundesliga (where they’ve dropped two of three), Schalke may be vulnerable, though it’s unclear how much of a threat Olympiacos will pose. The Greek champions haven’t lost since Oct. 3, but that’s against a kind Champions League schedule (back-to-back with Montepellier) and a weakened Greek league.

Schalke wins this game if they play to their potential, but what happens if they have an off day, like they did this weekend at Leverkusen? Can they still get three from Olympiacos?

Group C

Zenit (Russia) vs. Málaga (Spain), Petrovsky Stadium, 12:00 p.m. Eastern
Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. Milan (Italy), Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Málaga 10 pts, Milan 5, Anderlecht 4, Zenit 3

Anderlecht “could be Alexandre Pato’s game,” insists Milan coach Max Allegri, who also talked up the improved form of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Robinho during his Tuesday press conference. Anybody who’s followed Milan’s season might be quick to accuse the embattled Rossoneri boss of burying the lead. These days, Milan is all about Stephan El-Shaarawy.

The 20-year-old Italian international scored twice this weekend in Naples, single-handedly helping Milan recover from a terrible first 30 minutes to claim a point at Napoli. With six goals in his last nine games (plus his goal for Italy against France last Wednesday), the former Genoa attacker is up to 11 all-competition goals this season. In a Milan season that’s been defined by disappointing results and the memory of sold stars, El-Shaaraway is doing his part to make up for the summer loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If El-Shaarawy stays hot and gets help from the rest of Milan’s talented attack, the Rossoneri may be in the knockout round by day’s end. They’ll need a result from Málaga in St. Petersburg, but given how the two teams’ have fared in this year’s competition, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Manuel Pellegrini take three points from Zenit.

Group D

Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Amsterdam ArenA, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Manchester City (England) vs. Real Madrid (Spain), Etihad Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Borussia Dortmund 8 pts, Real Madrid 7, Ajax 4, Manchester City 2

Sometimes you wonder if Prozac might help Roberto Mancini’s press conferences.

“We don’t have much chance to go through,” he conceded on Tuesday. “It was a difficult group from the start and now it’s very difficult because of the mistakes we made in the first two games.”

The last two games have been much more damaging. Against Ajax — a team that should have been a distant fourth of four in this group — Manchester City claimed a single point. Had they claimed all six, they would still be fighting for a spot in the knockout round.

Thanks to Real’s stumbles against Dortmund (taking only one point in two games), City still has a chance to advance. Unfortunately, for Mancini, that means beating Real Madrid boss José Mourinho. The two will forever be linked after Mourinho replaced Mancini at Inter Milan, taking the Nerazzurri to a European title.

“[I]t’s not Mourinho v. Mancini,” the City boss said, “it’s between the players, they are more important than we are.”

Contrast that with Mourinho’s attitude.

“I don’t think it is normal when you are out of the competition at a very early stage,” was a combative Mourinho’s blunt assessment of the job his rival’s done in Champions League. “I speak for myself, and if Real Madrid lost a final, or a semifinal, or even a quarterfinal, that’s football. But when you are out at the group stage it is more difficult to accept and to understand. Last season, they were out [at this stage] and this season I think they will be out again.”

Even if City pulls off an upset, they could still be in last place come Wednesday night. Conversely, if Dortmund gets a result in Amsterdam, the German champions clinch a spot in the next round.

Mauritania president stops Cup final out of boredom, sends it to PKs

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 06:  President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (2nd R) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens during a session on "Investing in Africa's Future" of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit August 6, 2014 at the State Department in Washington, DC. President Obama hosted the last day of the first-ever summit to strengthen ties between the United States and African nations.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
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Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has taken over a country by coup d’etat, seen his country taken from him by coup d’etat, and also been shot in a possible assassination attempt — one that was labeled an “accidental shooting” by a soldier — so he’s not much for boredom.

But apparently the Mauritania president wasn’t going to leave his country’s Super Cup final between FC Tevragh-Zeina and ACS Ksar without finding out who won.

[ MORE: Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016 for USMNT ]

Bored by a 1-1 match, Abdel Aziz decided the game didn’t need to be played anymore. The president called down to the field, and demand the match be immediately settled by penalty kicks.

The referee complied, and the match was immediately sent to a shootout.

Of course, this is now being hailed as a misunderstanding of sorts. From Gazetta World, via Deadspin:

“I deny in the strongest terms the intervention of the President of the Republic,” the federation’s president, Ahmed Ould Abderrahmane, wrote in a statement. “The decision was made due ​​to organisational issues in accordance with the presidents and the coaches of the two teams.”

Organizational issues… like the organizations decided that if the president didn’t want the game to go on any longer, the game shouldn’t go on any longer.

What I want to know is how rival fans break this down when arguing.

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “We won the Super Cup!”

ACS Ksar supporter:Yeah. Cause the President ordered it.”

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “Make your own breaks.”

I’ll stop with the jokes here, because I’ve turned to Google and have learned more about Mauritania in the last 20 minutes than I have in my entire life.

Leicester who? Unlikely Angers thriving, ends PSG’s long win streak

Ludovic Butelle - Angers
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Paris Saint-Germain’s only loss this year came at the hands of Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, and only three clubs in France have managed to even split the points with the Ligue 1 giants.

But Tuesday in Angers, the better story in France took hold of the headlines, as Angers became the third club to hold PSG in Ligue 1 play. Les Parisiens entered the 0-0 draw on a nine-match Ligue 1 win streak.

It’s not just the draw that’s impressive, though. While Angers supporters might’ve signed up for that before the season started. it’s par for the course right now (even if Laurent Blanc wasn’t impressed with Tuesday’s bus parking display).

[ MORE: Klopp not seeking an upgrade to Mignolet ]

The draw with the league leaders brought the newly-promoted club into third place, a point behind No. 2 Caen. And while no one’s pegging, well, anyone to overcome PSG’s 14-point lead at the table, Angers is competing for a place in Europe.

A big part of that is a well-traveled 32-year-old goalkeeper playing out of his gourd. Ludovic Butelle has now posted three-straight clean sheets to help Angers rebound from a three-match losing skid, and overcome scoring just 14 goals this season by conceding just nine.

Whether Les Scoïstes can stay ahead of the pack is one thing, but it looks fairly good that Angers can make it multiple top-flight seasons for the first time since 1981.

In another French note, former U.S. coach Bob Bradley earned his first win for Le Havre. The Ligue 2 side is now in fourth place in their promotion chase, six points out of first.


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Paris SG 16 13 3 0 37 8 29 6-1-0 7-2-0 42
Caen 15 9 1 5 18 15 3 5-1-2 4-0-3 28
Angers 16 7 6 3 14 9 5 3-5-1 4-1-2 27
Lyon 16 7 5 4 21 14 7 4-2-2 3-3-2 26
Nice 16 7 4 5 30 19 11 3-1-3 4-3-2 25
St. Etienne 15 8 1 6 20 19 1 5-1-2 3-0-4 25
Monaco 15 6 6 3 21 21 0 2-3-2 4-3-1 24
Lorient 16 5 7 4 24 21 3 4-3-2 1-4-2 22
Rennes 15 5 7 3 21 18 3 2-3-2 3-4-1 22
Nantes 16 6 3 7 12 15 -3 3-2-3 3-1-4 21
Marseille 15 5 4 6 23 17 6 2-3-3 3-1-3 19
Guingamp 15 5 4 6 15 20 -5 3-3-1 2-1-5 19
Montpellier 15 5 3 7 18 19 -1 4-0-4 1-3-3 18
Bordeaux 15 4 6 5 20 25 -5 4-2-2 0-4-3 18
Reims 15 4 4 7 15 19 -4 3-2-3 1-2-4 16
Gazelec Ajaccio 15 4 4 7 14 19 -5 2-3-2 2-1-5 16
SC Bastia 15 4 3 8 15 21 -6 4-0-3 0-3-5 15
Lille 15 2 8 5 8 11 -3 2-2-3 0-6-2 14
Toulouse 15 2 6 7 14 28 -14 2-4-1 0-2-6 12
Troyes 15 0 5 10 8 30 -22 0-4-4 0-1-6 5

Venezuela coach offers to quit if it helps players’ dispute

AP Photo/Juan Karita
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Venezuela coach Noel Sanvicente has offered to step down if it helps the national soccer team’s dispute with their federation.

Fifteen players in the national team are threatening to quit unless the entire board of directors of the Venezuela Football Federation resign.

The federation has yet to make any public reaction to the players, who made their statement on social media on Monday, but released a letter on Tuesday in which Sanvicente apologized to the players for unintended offense by his own previous lack of comment.

“If my departure contributes so that these differences are overcome, then I’ll step aside,” Sanvicente said.

The players accuse interim president Laureano Gonzalez of mistreatment and slander, following recent allegations that several players were conspiring to oust Sanvicente.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

“We accept criticism of our performances and, as a team, take responsibility for the results, but in no way do we accept that we were preparing a movement to get the national coach out,” the players said. “We are upset and disillusioned by the lack of support from the national team’s coaching staff over these accusations.

“Our integrity isn’t negotiable, and the damage done can only be repaired renewing the federation’s leadership. We can’t continue working in an environment damaged by these officials.”

The signatories included Genoa midfielder Tomas Rincon, and West Bromwich Albion striker Salomon Rondon.

Gonzalez took over as head of the federation after longtime president Rafael Esquivel was arrested in Switzerland in May as part of the U.S. and Swiss investigations into corruption at FIFA. In September, Switzerland agreed to extradite him to the United States.

Despite progress in recent years under former coach Cesar Farias, Venezuela has lost four straight matches in South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Mounting tensions in the national squad were evident following the recent loss to Ecuador when Sanvicente accused his players of a lack of commitment and a sense of entitlement.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?