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

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.

Lamela needs hip surgery, out for rest of Spurs season

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Tottenham Hotspur won’t be getting an Erik Lamela boost any time soon.

The 25-year-old winger will undergo surgery on his ailing hip this Saturday, costing him availability for Spurs’ stretch run and Argentina duty.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

Lamela has been missing since Oct. 29, and left Spurs lineup with the team unbeaten in the Premier League (5W-4D).

He registered a goal and an assist in PL play, adding a goal and four helpers in the side’s first two rounds of the EFL Cup and two assists in three Champions League matches.

Real Salt Lake introduces Mike Petke as new head coach

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Mike Petke is getting a deserved next kick as an MLS coach.

The New York Red Bulls icon, 41, is taking over at Real Salt Lake, where he had been leading USL side Real Monarchs since December.

“They’re an animal waiting to be released from a cage,” Petke called RSL’s roster.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

Petke won better than 41 percent of his matches as RBNY boss, leading the club to the 2013 Supporters’ Shield. This came after 351 matches between Colorado, the Red Bulls/MetroStars, and DC United.

He leaves Real Monarchs with a perfect 1-0 record. Unbeaten!

“The vision that he laid out, along with Craig and Rob, was music to my ears,” Petek said. “They really showed me what was ahead for the RSL organization, and it was an easy thing to be a part of.”

Petke thanked the Monarchs for restoring some of his love for managing, something he said was “kicked out of me”. The Red Bulls shockingly parted ways with Petke in January 2015, moving onto Jesse Marsch.

This is a low risk hire for Real, who gains a respected coach and soccer mind. The optics aren’t great coming so early into the season and so soon after his hiring at Monarchs raised eyebrows.

The hiring comes four days after RSL drew the Red Bulls 0-0 at Red Bull Arena, which is the only disappointment of this whole ordeal: Not getting to see the response at his old home.