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.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

[ MORE: LA Galaxy send Van Damme back to Belgium ]

But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.