Offshore Drilling, UEFA Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain 2, at Valencia 1

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It’s rare that you see the word “escaped” applied to a 2-1 road victory, but by the end of Paris Saint-Garmain’s Tuesday trip to Valencia’s Mestalla, the Parisians would be right to feel like the final whistle cam at just the right moment. A late Adil Rami goal had halved their lead before a stunning late red card for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG were left to see out the match’s final moments packed into their own end before being awarded a valuable road victory, 2-1.

The win was the result of two isolated moments in a match that was otherwise controlled by Los Che. In the 10th minute, a one-two between Ezequiel Lavezzi and fellow Argentine Javier Pastore allowed the duo to crack the left side of Valencia’s defense, putting the Parisians up 1-0. Just before halftime, Pastore’s quick shot off a Lucas Moura cross beat Vicente Guaita between the legs, the goalkeeper’s left foot the last touch on what would prove the game-winning goal.

That early edge, along with stalwart defensive play from PSG’s midfield, allowed the visitors to give Valencia control of the game, something that nearly proved fruitless. Then a late foul from substitute Sylvain Armand allowed Tino Costa to drop a 90th minute restart behind the Parisian line. An unmarked Adil Rami gave Valencia their hope-restoring goal.

But the story coming out of today’s match will the Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s red card. After a good if unspectacular game, Ibrahimovic was dismissed after a stoppage time challenge on Andres Guardado saw the Swede go over the top of the ball and stomp on his opponent’s right foot. He’ll miss the return leg in Paris.

(MORE OFFSHORE: Juventus three up on Celtic.)

Man of the Match: PSG’s defensive effort was the difference in this match, and that effort was led by midfielder Blaise Matuidi, one of the team’s two best players this season. Because he exists in a world defined by Ibrahimovic, the French international doesn’t get the attention he deserves, but on Tuesday people saw why the 25-year-old has become crucial to his team’s success.

At the tip if a defense tasked with disrupting a team that held 65 percent of the game’s possession, Matuidi had a game-high five interceptions. His presence in the middle (along with Marco Veratti’s) helped take Ever Banega out of the match, while his forays forward to put pressure on Costa contributed to some of the Argentine’s early struggles.

Threesome of Knowledge: What We Learned

PSG is ready to compete for Champions League – Nobody’s going to confuse Valencia for title contenders, but getting results on the road in Champions League — particularly at this point in the competition — is difficult. Some teams don’t even try to win road matches, content to take stalemates into their home legs.

Not so for PSG. They scored early, took advantage of a breakdown before halftime, and despite a late wobble, took a win and two away goals out of Spain. In the process, they dispelled the notion that the group’s lack of Champions League experience would be a hinderance.

Sure, the team has individuals who’ve played in Champions League. Ibrahimovic is in this competition every year, and Thiago Silva came from Milan. But as a collective, this team has never tried to navigate these waters before.

One year after Borussia Dortmund, Lille, and Manchester City fell flat in Champions League, it was reasonable to ask whether PSG’s uptake would be as slow. Now, we can disregard that notion.

Ancelotti’s got his midfield working – Matuidi wasn’t the only PSG midfielder putting forth an effort. Marco Veratti has come a long way since the beginning of the season, his game-high seven tackles showing he no longer needs to be protected in the middle. Out wide, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore — two players known for their work in other facets of the game — proved they can fulfill wide midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-4-2.

Six months ago, none of those names projected as players who could provide this kind of defensive. A team with Valencia’s skill would have exploited them. But Carlo Ancelotti brought something new out of the trio. As a result, PSG looks a good bet to go through.

Tino Costa as a metaphor for the match – In the first half, when the game was in doubt, Valencia couldn’t take advantage of the possession they were given. They couldn’t even mount any meaningful chances on Salvatore Sirigu. PSG looked set to deflect Valencia’s attacks through full time and take a cleansheet back to Paris.

A big part of that was Tino Costa. The Valencia regista was off early on, spraying balls across the field that were more speculative than surgical. His short passing was being disrupted by Matuidi. Costa was not only undermining Valencia attacks, he was giving PSG opportunities to counter.

As Costa came into the match, Valencia became more effective. Near the 30 minute-mark, when the Argentine started improving, Valencia was finally able to threaten down the flanks. As Valencia drew more fouls, they were able to bring Costa’s dead ball service into play, service which eventually let to Los Che’s only goal.

With midfield partner Daniel Parejo a non-factor through most of the day’s match, Valencia’s output ended up reflecting what Costa was able to accomplish. When Costa came on late, his team was able to score. But until that point, they couldn’t crack PSG’s defense.

Packaged for takeaway

  • We’ll try to post Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s controversial tackle later. Suffice to say, not all of you will agree with Paolo Tagliabento’s decision.
  • (MORE: Did Ibrahimovic deserve his red card?)

  • Valencia originally set up in a 4-2-3-1 but switched at halftime, going to a 4-4-2 when Nelson Valdez and Sergio Canales came on for Banega and Jonas. The change had little effect.
  • PSG became the first French team to beat Valencia since 1980.
  • Thiagos Silva and Motta both missed today’s match, though it’s unclear how much either would have mattered. PSG’s defense was pretty well shielded, while Motta’s unlikely to have performed better than either starting central midfielder.
  • Mexican international Andres Guardado got another start at left back for Valencia, a position that’s become more common for him as his team has battled fitness concerns over the last month. It would be scary if Mexico started using the veteran in this role, a switch that would allow Chepo de la Torre to get yet another attacking threat on the field.

     

  • Last summer he was one of the best right backs at Euro 2012, but each time you watch Joao Perriera you’re reminded: The Portuguese international is a truly under-appreciated player. Because he lacks the athleticism we’ve come to look for in fullbacks, he doesn’t get brought up in many “Best of” conversations. Yet as he showed on Tuesday, there’s nothing he can’t do well.
  • Had his ninth minute shot gone in, Lucas Moura would have been clear Man of the Match. That early blast from well outside the box only rattled Vicente Guaita’s goal, but it was enough to elicit some gasps from the Valencia crowd. His work just before halftime also created Pastore’s goal.
  • No, David Beckham didn’t play.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.