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France: Ranieri, Monaco get the result they want at Paris Saint-Germain

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He wouldn’t have admitted it before the match out fear of tipping his hand, but if you’d asked Claudio Ranieri before today’s kickoff at the Parc de Princes, he would have been happy with this result. In fact, part of him would have been playing for it, setting up his team to prioritize organization over endeavor as they tried to get a point out of Paris. And with Radamel Falcao’s 20th minute equalizer holding up after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s early opener, the AS Monaco coach got the result he’d have wanted. PSG were held to a 1-1 draw.

“I’m very satisfied with my players,” Ranieri told media after the match. “PSG have a lot of quality players and they have more experience than us. We have a lot of young players and we were up against a team with a lot of big champions.”

In short: They were the worse team. At least, on paper they were, something they’ll be able to say only one other time this season (when PSG visits them). Monaco may have came into the match at the top of the league (4-0-1), and they may have spent $230 million in transfer fees this summer, but player-for-player, they’re still not a match for PSG. Particularly at the Parc de Princes.

That’s why Laurent Blanc may have been particularly disappointed in the result, quick to lean on the tried-and-ture “deserved to win” line in the face of a result where his team dropped points.

“Given the amount of chances we had I think we deserved to win,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said. “It was a good match and there could have been more goals. What pleased me is that both coaches wanted to win the game.”

Perhaps in the academic sense both coaches wanted to win the game, but the teams only combined for six shots (four for Monaco). Monaco were clearly willing to wait for their chances to materialize, holding only 42 percent of the ball, so the extent to which Ranieri wanted to win, he wasn’t willing to open up his team to do so.

source: Getty Images
Laurent Blanc (left) has his PSG team second in France, 3-0-3 after six rounds. Claudio Ranieri (right) kept Monaco two points clear with Sunday’s draw in Paris. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Coincidentally, that seems to be Laurent Blanc’s M.O. Even with this hyper-talented PSG side, one that pulled away from the pack in Ligue 1 last year, he’s been reluctant to let his talent shine. Much like David Moyes with Manchester United, there is a concern that the tactics that made his Bordeaux teams successful will not translate to a more talented squad that will needs to be more creative offensively to pull apart bunkered defenses.

To this point, Blanc has been unable to do that, leaving last year’s champions with three draws through six games. Despite one of the most talented attacks in the world, PSG has yet to score more than two goals in a Ligue 1 match.

Like Moyes, Blanc is likely to figure things out in time, and to his credit, he is undefeated through six. But Monaco is also undefeated, hinting there may not be much margin for error in this year’s league. And after a draw where they were unable to parlay their huge talents into more than two shots on goal, PSG have dropped points to their principle title rivals.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eASDjrE5F80]

ELSEWHERE IN FRANCE

  • Marseille’s perfect start has faded, leaving them with only one point from their last three games. L’OM drew 0-0 Saturday at Bastia.
  • Saint-Étienne, second coming into the weekend, lost at home to Toulouse on Friday, giving up two second half goals and their 1-0 lead while suffering their second loss of the season.
  • Nice put up four goals in handing visiting Valenciennes their fifth-straight loss, with Dario Cvitanich, Eric Bautheach, Christian Bruls, and Alexy Bosetti getting on the scoresheet in les Aiglons’ third win of the season.
  • Fouad Kadir scored in the 13th and 15th minutes as Rennes extended their unbeaten streak to four, moving sixth with their 2-0 win over visiting Ajaccio.
  • Lyon gave up the first goal to Jordan Verevout at Stade Gerland but stormed back with goals from Bafétimbi Gomis, Clément Grenier, and Jimmy Briand in their 3-1 win over Nantes. OL’s 11 goals lead Ligue 1.
  • Lille got two first half goals from striker Nolan Roux in their 2-0 win at last place Sochaux.
  • Lorient and Bordeaux combined for six, with goals by Kévin Monnet-Paquet and Sadio Diallo bringing Christian Gourcuff’s team back from a 3-1 deficit to earn a draw.
  • Evian came back from two down to earn a 2-2 draw with visiting Montpellier, pulling back goals from Victor Hugo Montaño and Reemy Cabella.
  • And Reims overcame a fifth minute own goal from Anthony Weber with Nicolas de Preville’s second half strike, salvaging a 1-1 with visiting Guingamp.

WATCH: NBC to stream USWNT, every CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying game

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The CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Championships kick off on Wednesday and NBC Sports will be streaming all 15 games of the tournament over the next 11 days.

Every single game will be streamed live online or on the app via NBC Sports Live Extra, in addition to up to four matches airing on NBCSN.

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The eight-team tournament takes place from Feb. 10-21 in Houston and Frisco, Texas, with the top two teams advancing to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Below is a full schedule of the games.

2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship Schedule

Frisco, Texas – Toyota Stadium
Houston, Texas – BBVA Compass Stadium
Times U.S. Central (U.S. Eastern in parentheses)

FIRST ROUND
Group A: USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Costa Rica
Group B: Canada, Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana

Wednesday, Feb. 10 (Frisco)
Puerto Rico vs. Mexico                                   5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Costa Rica                                    7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Thursday, Feb. 11 (Houston)
Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago                  5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guyana                                           7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

Saturday, Feb. 13 (Frisco)
Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico                              12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
USA vs. Mexico                                                 3 p.m. (4 p.m.) NBCSN at 9:30 p.m. ET

Sunday, Feb. 14 (Houston)
Guyana vs. Guatemala                                     12:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m.)
Trinidad vs. Canada                                          3 p.m. (4 p.m.)

Monday, Feb. 15 (Frisco)
Mexico vs. Costa Rica                                       5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
USA vs. Puerto Rico                                          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) LIVE on NBCSN

Tuesday, Feb. 16 (Houston)
Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guyana                         5 p.m. (6 p.m.)
Canada vs. Guatemala                                      7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.)

SEMIFINALS

Friday, Feb. 19 (Houston)
Group B winner vs. Group A runner-up          4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m.) ***
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up          7:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.) ***

FINAL

Sunday, Feb. 21 (Houston)
Semifinal winners                                            4 p.m. (5 p.m.) NBCSN at 11 p.m.

***USA’s semifinal, should the USA advance, will air LIVE on NBCSN

Sunderland’s Adam Johnson admits child sex charge

BRADFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10:  Adam Johnson arrives with girlfriend Stacey Flounders at the Crown Court on February 10, 2016 in Bradford, England. The Sunderland FC midfielder, aged 28 and from Castle Eden, County Durham, is on trial having previously denied three counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of grooming. He has one daughter.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
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Premier League winger Adam Johnson has pleaded guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child, but the Sunderland player has denied two other charges.

Johnson, 28, appeared at Bradford Crown Court in Yorkshire, England on Wednesday and admitted the sex count and another count of grooming.

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The former Middlesbrough and Manchester City winger is an England international but has denied two other charges of having sex with a girl under the age of 16.

Up until Wednesday Johnson had pleaded not guilty but following legal talks he agreed to admit to two of the charges.

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal” ]

The trial over the charges Johnson has denied will be held this Friday and a jury has been sworn in. The initial trial date of Aug. 3, 2015 was adjourned.

Johnson was originally arrested in March 2015 over allegations he had sex with a 15-year-old girl.

He played eight times in the final months of last season after the allegations became public, plus he has made 20 appearances in all competitions for Sunderland this season.

Report: Mourinho tells friends he will be new Man United manager

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Numerous reports from the British tabloids claim former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has told close friends he will take charge of Manchester United this summer.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI? ]

Both the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror have plastered headlines such as “Mourinho: Takes it as red” and “United job is mine” across their backpages on Wednesday morning, while the Daily Mail say Mourinho believes it’s a “done deal” for him to take over at Old Trafford.

Mourinho, 53, was fired by Chelsea in December just seven months after leading the Blues to the Premier League title.

The Portuguese coach has won three PL trophies in five full seasons in England but Chelsea’s dramatic collapse this season saw them floundering towards the relegation zone rather than fighting to defend their crown.

[ MORE: Arsenal, Spurs to contend for PL title? ]

With Louis Van Gaal‘s long-time future at United in question — the veteran Dutch coach, 64, has a deal through the end of the 2016-17 season — and the Red Devils six points off the top four in the PL despite sepnding over $375 million on new players in the past 18 months, it is believed that United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is under pressure to appoint a manager capable of returning United back to title contenders and perennial challengers in Europe.

On Tuesday it was reported that United had reached out to reps of Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, and it certainly seems like they’re assessing their options before giving LVG even more money to spend this summer, if he’s still around.

If United decide to make a change, Mourinho fits the bill.

At least in terms of winning trophies and attracting the best players on the planet which will be increasingly necessary for United to stay in touch with crosstown rivals Manchester City who will be managed by one of Mourinho’s great managerial foes, Pep Guardiola, from next season. After winning the UEFA Champions League with FC Porto and Inter Milan, the eccentric yet brilliant coach has also won league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. Following the debacles on and off the pitch this season at Chelsea, Mourinho needs a chance to prove himself and be in charge of a rebuilding project. He wants to stay in England and after being fired by Chelsea twice in his career, you get the sense that United is the only other club befitting of his reputation that can offer him a job he deems up to his standards.

After Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, it is believed the United’s hierarchy turned down the chance to appoint Mourinho as they didn’t want the media circus and the antics which come from hiring Mourinho. Now, though, it’s all about winning and Mourinho will be United’s best chance of transitioning from the disappointing David Moyes era and the so far underwhelming spell since Van Gaal’s been in charge.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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