UEFA Champions League Wednesday Roundup: Goals galore see Bayern, Real Madrid thrive, Juventus stumble

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Last time Champions League’s first four groups (A through D) played, eight games combined to produce 30 goals. It’d be greedy to ask for a repeat of that outburst, so as those groups completed their second round of play on Wednesday, we were forced to content ourselves with a mere 28 goals. How ever will we cope?

Those aren’t exactly drought conditions. On Wednesday, there were no 0-0 results. Each match produced at least two goals. Five teams scored at least three times, and there were only three clean sheets. There may not be an obvious reason why these groups are producing so many goals, but you won’t hear many complain about it.

Manuel Pellegrini might have a qualm, though. His Manchester City side was on the wrong end of a 3-0 result. Jorge Jesus with Benfica? His team lost 4-0 in Paris. Stale Solbakken may have appreciated fewer than four goals being put in against his Copenhagen team in Madrid, while John van den Brom will wish his Anderlecht team to held Olympiacos to less than three in Brussels. And, of course, David Moyes (Manchester United), Antonio Conte (Juventus), and Jagoba Arrasate (Real Sociedad) will rue the late goals that cost their teams points.

[MORE: Full-time snapshot: The numbers from Wendesday’s Champions League matches.]

Here’s what else happened in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action:

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 1-1 Manchester United (England) [REACTION

Our Steve Davis, on today’s game:

It wasn’t exactly the ultimate sweep of brilliant relief Manchester United went looking for Wednesday in the Ukraine, but a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk qualifies as something of an essential pressure valve considering the state of things lately for the woozy English giants.

That state of things is the disappointing start United’s had in England. Today’s result, however, was one of their better performances since David Moyes took over, even if they were stressed to preserve it come full-time. Will people celebrate this as a strong point won? Probably not. Regardless, an early goal from Danny Welbeck held up, with Taison’s 76th minute score still allowing the hosts to claim second place in Group A.

[MORE: Manchester United makes Danny Welbeck’s early opener hold up.]

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 2-1 Real Sociedad (Spain)

Late goal in the first half (Simon Rolfes), late goal in the second half (Jens Hegeler), and Bayer Leverkusen had full points. If only it were that easy. Although Bayer was the more dangerous team throughout, they only held the lead for seven minutes, with Carlos Vela’s put-back of Bernd Leno’s 52nd minute penalty save initially bringing Sociedad even. It stoppage time, substitute Hegeler snared a deserved win, the loss leaving La Real at the bottom of Group B.

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 4-0 Copenhagen (Denmark)

In place of the injured Gareth Bale, Ángel Di María gets to prove his benching was foolish. A regular starter since being acquired from Benfica three years ago, the Argentina international out-shined Cristiano Ronaldo on a night the Portuguese had two goals. Di María had a double of his own, with the ball played off this ‘rabona’ assisting on Ronaldo’s second score:

source:

(Note: This image was floating around Twitter, and I couldn’t resist using it. If you know who should be credited, please get in touch in the comments or @richardfarley. I’d love to replace this note with some credit.)

Also of note: the younger players that got on the pitch for Real Madrid. Asier Illarramendi started in midfield. Álvaro Morata was first off the bench. Spanish U-level stand-out Jesé came on late. Even not-so-unproven Raphael Varane returned from injury, starting along side Pepe in central defense.

Group B: Juventus (Italy) 2-2 Galatasaray (Turkey) [REACTION]

From our recap:

It was a match where, despite their obvious quality, Juventus never saw profits from their control. In the 37th minute, an under-hit backpass for Leonardo Bonucci created the first goal, Drogba finishing into an open net Gianluigi Buffon was compelled to abandon. It was the 78th minute before Juve equalized, a contentious penalty call allowing Vidal to convert from the spot, while Quagliarella (brought on early for an injured Mirko Vucinic) headed home a Andrea Pirlo cross in the 86th minute, apparently giving Juventus a win in Roberto Mancini’s Gala debut.

But two minutes later, when Drogba headed down for Bulut, the script flipped …

It was Roberto Mancini’s Gala debut, and in a match against the club he supported as a boy, he produced a huge turnaround.

In their first Champions League match this season, Galatasaray lost 6-1. Today, they took a point from Turin. Not a bad start for il Mancho.

[MORE: Home draw with Galatasaray should raise concerns for Juventus.]

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 3-0 Benfica (Portugal) 

Paris Saint-Germain hasn’t always been able to convert Laurent Blanc’s coveted possession into goals, leading to speculation as to whether the tweaks he’s made to Carlo Ancelotti’s winning formula are worthwhile. Today, however, the possession game worked perfectly, keeping Benfica at arm’s length after PSG built a 3-0 lead before half. Maybe this is an example of Blanc’s endgame?

Of course, it helps when Zlatan Ibrahimovic is scoring goals. Coming into the game, Ibra’d been held to two goals in nine games. Today he scored twice in the first half hour.

Funny how everything seems to click when your best player’s scoring goals.

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 0-3 Olympiacos (Greece)

Which Olympiacos was going to show up? The one that outplayed PSG in the first half two weeks ago? Or the one that was dominated in the second?

Perhaps neither. Winning by three, Olympiacos obviously played well, but the level of opposition swung to the other end of the spectrum. Instead of facing a team that was in last year’s quarterfinals, they were matched up against a foe that may miss Europa League. A three-goal win on the road is impressive, regardless, but with Anderlect electing to start 16-year-old Youri Tielemans next to Sacha Kljestan at the base of midfield, the hosts may have rolled out the red carpet.

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 3-2 Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)

When it initially rolled it, CSKA’s third goal didn’t look like it would matter, but when Marek Bakos pulled Viktoria within one late, Matús Kozacik’s error came back to bite the Czech champions. Rather than taking a valuable draw out of St. Petersburg, Pavel Vrba’s team remains bottom of their group, with goals from Keisuke Honda and Zoran Tosic giving CSKA their first points of the tournament.

Group D: Manchester City (England) 1-3 Bayern Munich (Germany) [REACTION]

Remember yesterday, when we were touting Arsenal’s as the most-impressive performance of the tournament? Well, they held that title for one day, with Bayern putting in a performance reminiscent of their Barcelona demolitions in last year’s semifinals. Perhaps the scoreline wasn’t as lopsided, but the difference between the teams was.

On the flip side, Joe Hart gave the worst goalkeeping performance of the tournament. He was at fault on Frank Ribéry’s seventh minute opener, played a part in Thomas Müller’s second, and should have saved Arjen Robben’s third. Joe Hart was the anti-Bayern.

From our recap:

For some reason, Guardiola has decided to change that, and only against competition like CSKA or Manchester City have we seen the end game. Sacrificing the second deep midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for another player higher in a 4-1-4-1, Guardiola has dared to fuse the best of Bayern and Barcelona. He has the audacity to imagine Bayern’s oppression combined with Barcelona’s control.

The holders are the best team in Europe, and nothing we saw today tells us Manchester City will miss the knockout round (again). But we got a clear idea of the difference between these two sides. And it’s huge.

[MORE: Bayern Munich brilliance, Joe Hart follies see Manchester City fall.]

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.