Snap judgments: Quick reaction to UEFA Champions League Wednesday

Leave a comment

All that’s left is fine tuning, with Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action clarifying which eight teams from Groups A through D will advance to the tournament’s knockout round (even if we still don’t know who’ll claim first in Groups A and B). After five matchdays, only three spots in Champions League’s Round of 16 remain up for grabs.

Here’s the quick rundown of Wednesday’s results:

Group A

Porto 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb (20′ Gonzalez, 67′ Moutinho, 85′ Varela)
Dynamo Kyiv 0-2 Paris Saint-Germain (45′, 52′ Lavezzi)

I supposed I expected a little more drama in Ukraine, but the end result’s the same.

Dynamo coach Oleh Bolkhin gave his seem an implicit ultimatum, that if the team didn’t turn things around, it could be shaken up come January. That didn’t mean win. It just meant play better, and today they did not, proving how difficult it is to get apathetic players to start caring.

On a more positive note, Pocho Lavezzi’s a real thing. He moved to Paris from Naples under the assumption, but to this point, he’s been disappointing. Not so today. The Argentine international’s two goals helped Carlo Ancelotti’s side move on from their weekend malfeasance.

Standings: Porto 13 pts, PSG 12, Dynamo 4, Dinamo 0

Group B

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier (49′ Wilshere, 63′ Podolski)
Schalke 1-0 Olympiacos (75′ Fuchs)

Like Group A, Group B’s top two were settled on Wednesday, and like Group A, we still don’t know the order of the top two.

With their wins, Schalke and Arsenal are through to the knockout round, but they’re also through with each other, meaning we won’t see a final day showdown like we will between PSG and Porto.

Schalke almost gave up the group lead, though it wasn’t their fault. They battered Olympiacos for most of the match yet were nearly forced to settle for a 0-0 draw. After 61 percent passing ratio edge (a.k.a., Opta possession) and a 27-7 shots advantage, the only thing that separated the teams was a fluke. Olympiacos goalkeeper Roy Carroll was apparently shielded on a 30-yard shot from Christian Fuchs, the Schalke defender winning the game in the 75th minute.

Standings: Schalke 11, Arsenal 10, Olympiacos 6, Montpellier 1

Group C

Zenit 2-2 Málaga (8′ Buonanotte, 9′ Fernandez, 49′ Danny, 86′ Faizulin)
Anderlecht 1-3 Milan (47′ El-Shaarawy, 71′ Mexes, 78′ De Sutter, 90′ Pato)

Max Allegri was right to tip Pato to come through on Wednesday, but the bigger stories surround Milan’s other two goal scorers. El-Shaarawy continues his amazing season, scoring his 12th goal in all-competitions.

Philippe Mexes, however, stole the show. In the 78th minute, with his back to goal 18 yards out, Mexes trapped a ball with his chest before looping a bicycle kick over goalkeeper Silvio Proto’s head and into the right of Anderlecht’s goal.

In the day’s early game, Zenit got off to a horrible start then seemed to realize their tournament was on the line. They came back to draw a mostly second-choice Malaga side (who gave U.S. international Oguchi Onyewu a start), not enough to keep the rich Russians in the tournament.

Standings: Málaga 11, Milan 8, Zenit 4, Anderlecht 4

Group D

Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (10′ Benzema, 73′ Agüero)
Ajax 1-4 Borussia Dortmund (8′ Reus, 36′ Götze, 41′, 67′ Lewandowski, 86′ Hoesen)

Despite the draw, it was a bad day for Manchester City. Their loss means they’ll need to win at Dortmund just to qualify for Europa League. And in Amsterdam, BVB was embarrassing an Ajax team that took four points from the English champions. At least the Citizens took a point from Real Madrid, though they needed the official intervention (awarding a late penalty kick) to get that.

On a more positive note, look at Dortmund’s three scorers. Average age: 22.3 years old. The three helped BVB clinch first place.

Standings: Borussia Dortmund 11, Real Madrid 8, Ajax 4, Manchester City 3

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”

Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City’s quest for the historic quadruple is over after Pep Guardiola‘s 10-man side was shocked by League One side Wigan Athletic in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the DW Stadium on Monday.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Will Grigg scored the game’s only goal, a late winner after the home side had been thoroughly outplayed and out-possessed for 78 minutes. With 45 places currently standing between them in the English football pyramid — and Man City garnering “best of all time” consideration — “upset” doesn’t even begin to describe Monday’s result.

On the other hand, City represent the third Premier League side knocked out of this season’s FA Cup at the hands of Wigan: Bournemouth, in the third round; followed by West Ham United, in the fourth.

City were reduced to 10 men during first-half stoppage time, when Fabian Delph went flying in on Max Power as the two contested a 50-50 ball inside Wigan’s defensive third. Referee Anthony Taylor initially withdrew his yellow card from his pocket, but protests from the aggrieved party appeared to change Taylor’s mind, and Delph was off.

Prior to Deplh’s dismissal, Wigan had done well  enoughto hold their own against the runaway PL leaders. The Latics had a pair of half-chances, most notably through Grigg in the 12th minute, that could have easily gone their way. Much of the play, though, as is to be expected, was controlled by City (first-half possession: 82 percent), though Guardiola’s men were unable to break through before going a man down.

Still, the share of possession remain unchanged throughout the entirety of the second half, as City patiently probed and used possession as their best means of defense… until the 79th minute arrived.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

The ball was played back to Kyle Walker, into space; rather than receiving the ball at first opportunity, Walker let it run on as he prepared to play it back to Claudio Bravo; Grigg saw his opening and pounced quickly; his first touch used his body to shield Walker from the ball, and his second set up the shot; Grigg went for the far post, curling the ball around Bravo and nestling it just inside the post.

Wigan will now host another PL side, Southampton, in the quarterfinals.

Barry Bennell jailed 30 years for abusing young players

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) A former English youth soccer coach was jailed Monday for 30 years for abusing 12 young footballers after the judge called him the “devil incarnate.”

Barry Bennell, a former coach at Crewe and scout for Manchester City, was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of 50 child sexual offenses committed between 1979 and 1991.

“Your behavior towards these boys in grooming and seducing them before subjecting them to, in some cases, the most most serious, degrading and humiliating abuse was sheer evil,” Judge Clement Goldstone told the 64-year-old Bennell.

Bennell looked at the floor and nodded as the judge sentenced him. Some members of the public began to applaud as he was sent down, but were stopped by the judge.

Goldstone said Bennell had appeared to his victims as a God.

“In reality, you were the devil incarnate,” the judge added. “You stole their childhoods and their innocence to satisfy your own perversion.”

Goldstone said Bennell’s abuse had destroyed the enthusiasm his victims had for playing football and had led to them suffering problems including suicidal thoughts, alcoholism and depression.

Bennell has already served three jail terms, totaling 15 years, for similar offenses involving 16 other victims in England and the United States.

LIVE, FA Cup: Wigan host Manchester City

Getty Images
Leave a comment

All conquering Manchester City head to third-tier Wigan Athletic on Monday (Kick off, 2:55 p.m. ET) to keep their quest of a legendary quadruple alive.

[ LIVE: Follow Wigan v Man City here

Pep Guardiola‘s men are 16 points clear atop the Premier League summit, while they are virtually through to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League and are in the League Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley on Sunday.

Can anyone stop them?

Wigan stand in their way with the Latics promotion favorites from the third tier who have already beaten Premier League teams Bournemouth and West Ham United to reach the last 16.

The winner will host Southampton in the quarterfinal for a place in the semifinal at Wembley Stadium, and City’s fan will be feeling a little nervous heading into this game.

Why? They played Wigan in the FA Cup final in 2013 and lost 1-0 after a last-gasp header from Ben Watson sealed one of the greatest upsets of all time to hand the Latics their first-ever major trophy. Wigan also beat City in the FA Cup quarterfinals in 2015, the last time they met in this competition.

Surely Guardiola’s boys won’t be on the end of another upset this time, especially with this starting lineup…

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while we will have analysis and reaction from the final FA Cup fifth round clash right here at Pro Soccer Talk.