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.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.