Snap judgments: Quick reaction to UEFA Champions League Wednesday

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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

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

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Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.

Bruce Arena must change tactics to win Gold Cup

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If last night’s 2-0 “win” over El Salvador proved anything to USMNT fans, it’s that Bruce Arena has plenty of work to do if the United States is to seriously challenge for the 2017 Gold Cup title.

Lowly El Salvador has beaten one CONCACAF opponent in its last 10 tries. That victory came over Curaçao. Nevertheless, the United States struggled to deal with the Central American nation, as El Salvador sported multiple stretches of good pressure, and the U.S. back line was unbelievably lucky to come out with a clean sheet they did not deserve.

Given the performance, Bruce Arena has only one option going forward. With the B Team he’s put together on the current 23-man roster, the USMNT manager cannot stick to his usual 4-4-2 formation. He must adapt.

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With a significantly worse defensive line than the U.S. is used to, Michael Bradley is unable to play by himself in a central defensive midfield role as he did against El Salvador. With just Bradley and Darlington Nagbe in the middle of the pitch, the United States sported a gaping hole down the center, begging their quarterfinal opponent to counter up the gut, which they did to great effect.

Arena knew the U.S. strength was down the flanks, and that’s where he chose to attack. You can see by the halftime touch map that the United States chose to move the ball up the edge, particularly the left with Justin Morrow and Gyasi Zardes.

Arena knew his midfield was thin, and attacked accordingly. Nevertheless, defensively it failed to hold up. Without the more superior John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, and DeAndre Yedlin behind them, a midfield pair of Bradley and Nagbe just isn’t enough to cut down the counter-attack.

So what is Bruce Arena to do? Change his tactics; it’s the only option. Instead of his favored 4-4-2, he must change to a 4-2-3-1. While that cuts down on room for more attacking players, it allows Bradley to partner with Kellyn Acosta in the midfield hole. In front of the pair can either be Clint Dempsey or Darlington Nagbe in the ACM role depending how Arena plans to attack. That leaves Jozy Altidore alone up front, and while that’s less than ideal for a striker who plays better with a partner, it’s the necessary sacrifice that must be made so the U.S. midfield isn’t carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the better attacking teams left in the Gold Cup.

Bruce Arena’s preferred tactics may work with better players on the first-choice USMNT roster, but with a significantly downgraded selection at his disposal, especially along the defensive line, the United States coach must adjust his tactics against Costa Rica and likely Mexico to even have a chance.

Villar appears before judge after arrest in corruption probe

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MADRID (AP) The president of the Spanish Football Federation, his son, and two other officials will appear before a judge on Thursday, two days after being arrested in an anti-corruption probe.

Federation president Angel Maria Villar, his son Gorka Villar, Juan Padron, the federation vice president of economic affairs who is also president of the Tenerife federation, and Ramon Hernandez, the Tenerife secretary, were arrested by Spain’s Guardia Civil on Tuesday.

National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz will question the four, who are accused of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption, and falsifying documents as part of an inquiry into the finances of the federations.

Judge Pedraz will also decide on Thursday whether the suspects remain in custody, a spokesman for the National Court told The Associated Press. The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in line with court policy.

Angel Maria Villar has been president of the Spanish federation for three decades. He is also the senior vice president of FIFA and a vice president of UEFA.

Police said on Tuesday they suspect the elder Villar of having arranged matches for Spain that led to business deals benefiting his son, a sports lawyer who has worked for CONMEBOL under three presidents who were all implicated in corruption cases.

Angel Maria Villar has spent the last two nights in a Guardia Civil jail on the outskirts of Madrid, not far from the Spanish federation offices which were raided by police on Tuesday along with private properties and regional federation offices.

AP writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this story.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aurier to Man United; Wilshere to West Ham

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The Independent is reporting that Manchester United is set to make a move for Serge Aurier with a deal for Monaco’s Fabinho taking too long to finalize.

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Aurier, 24, is a powerful defender who can play at right back or center back and he has excelled for Paris Saint-Germain in recent seasons despite issues off the field as he was fond guilty of assaulting a police officer in Paris and was also suspended by PSG for allegedly mocking teammate Angel di Maria and then manager Laurent Blanc in a periscope session.

The Ivory Coast international is said to be available for $31 million, with PSG and Real Madrid in the running for Fabinho as his price is now said to have rocketed to past $51.9 million.

Jose Mourinho has been speaking about the spiraling costs for “good players” and not “big players” as said he may now have to settle for three new signings than the four he targeted at the start of the summer. With Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof coming in for over $135 million combined, United were said to have been agonizingly close with a deal for winger Ivan Perisic and a move for Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic is also said to still be a possibility.

Quick, strong and an all-out defender, Aurier is a solid Mourinho player. Antonio Valencia had a fine 2016-17 season but he will soon be 32 years old, so United have to look for other options at right back with both Matteo Darmian and Timothy Fosu-Mensah not doing enough to usurp Valencia last season.

All in all, this seems like a sensible solution rather than breaking the back for Fabinho who can play at both right back and as a holding midfielder.


The Daily Star claim that Arsenal have told West Ham United they’ll have to pay $28 million for Jack Wilshere and insert a buy-back clause in any deal.

Wilshere, 25, spent last season on loan at Bournemouth and although he impressed in spells he ended the season with yet another injury after suffering a left leg fracture against Tottenham Hotspur in April.

The academy product has 12 months left on his current contract and his future at Arsenal remains uncertain with Serie A side Sampdoria also said to be interested in his services, but is now the time for Wilshere to move on permanently?

Once the greatest hope of the English national team, Wilshere’s career has been ravaged by injuries and although Arsene Wenger rates him highly (hence the buy-back clause report) the Gunners have Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny in central midfield.

With Arsenal having a Europa League campaign this season perhaps Wilshere will get plenty more games with the Gunners under his belt to try and impress, but surely he wants to be playing week in, week out in the Premier League.

His England teammate Joe Hart just signed for West Ham and with the Hammers’ rivalry with Arsenal not as intense as other London neighbors Spurs and Chelsea, this deal may work. If not permanently then on a season-long loan, but Wenger was very specific about Wilshere joining Bournemouth for the style of soccer Eddie Howe‘s men play. Under Slaven Bilic West Ham aren’t a free-flowing side but at this point Wilshere’s options in the PL seem limited.

The next 12 months are critical in shaping the rest of his career. We’ve said that many times before, but it feels like now or never for the talented central midfielder.