Manchester City FC v Real Madrid CF - UEFA Champions League

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

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

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Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.