UEFA Champions League roundup: All hail Ibra as PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid stay perfect

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As we did after yesterday’s action, let’s take a moment to honor perfection, even if it’s going to take a little longer after today’s action. On Tuesday, Atlético Madrid was the only club that’d claimed full points through three rounds. After today’s action in Groups A through D, three other clubs joined the crowd.

Bayern Munich was most impressive, putting up numbers that we never see in Champions League. The 5-0 they posted on Viktoria Plzen was match by Paris Saint-Germain, but the underlying numbers were as one-sided as you’ll ever see at this level of competition (they had  21-1 edge in shots at halftime). This wasn’t David versus Goliath. This was Drago versus Apollo.

Real Madrid never seemed to hit top gear against Juventus, but thanks to some good fortune, they didn’t need it. Giorgio Chiellini had a bad day, allowing the Merengues to stay perfect. Cristiano Ronaldo’s double highlighted what was a pedestrian performance, but Real Madrid’s standards.

[MORE: No contest – Bayern dominates helpless Plzen.]

[MORE: Ronaldo double helps Real Madrid see off Juve.]

And then there’s Paris Saint-Germain, whose performance came down to one man. I suppose some credit goes to PSG for acquiring Zlatan Ibrahimovic, making him one of the best compensated players in the world, and being smart enough to build their team around him despite a wealth of other talents. Still, at some point you just have to acknowledge: Today was all about Zlatan. His four goals took PSG to 3-0-0.

[MORE: Another night to remember from Zlatan.]

[MORE: UEFA Champions League Tuesday roundup.]

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

Group A: Manchester United (England) 1-0 Real Sociedad (Spain) [REACTION]

What happened: Early United pressure forced a turnover high along their left flank, with a quick move producing an Iñigo Martínez own goal after Wayne Rooney rattled the right post. Better through most of the match, United failed to find their insurance, leaving the result in doubt until the final whistle.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors:  Rooney continues his post-Ferguson resurgence, but his teammates aren’t keeping up, something we wouldn’t be saying had they found another goal. But the point is they didn’t, allowing this performance to fall into a larger pattern. That they did so with a largely second-choice side is an important caveat; regardless, Group A’s leaders persist with their fledgling between eras.

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 4-0 Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)

What happened: Bayer absolutely exploded. Stefan Keißling in the 22nd. Simon Rolfes from the spot. Sidney Sam near the hour, then Kießling completing his double. A nightmare night for goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov saw Shakhtar embarrassed in Germany, with Bayer’s talented attack finally letting lose in Champions League.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: It’s hard to believe Bayer’s four goals better than Shakhtar, but on Wednesday they were. The lingering question is how much of this will translate to Donetsk two weeks from now. One view on today’s game may see it as the home side taking their chances and momentum  creating the lopsided result. Another view sees a Bayer’s talented, three-pronged attack as a bad matchup for a defense Sami Hyypiä identified as vulnerable pre-match.

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 2-1 Juventus (Italy) [REACTION]

What happened: An early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo left Juventus chasing, but the Bianconeri caught up after 22 minutes. Giorgio Chiellini’s penalty and subsequent dismissal left the Italian champions down a goal, down a man, and destined for third place in Group B.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Juventus’s performance gives them every reason to believe they’ll turn this around two weeks from now, though they will have to do so without the suspended Chiellini. If you’re Real Madrid, you look at this match and consider yourself slightly fortunate Chiellini’s fouls took Juventus out of the match. They’ll need some tweaks before touching down in Turin.

Group B: Galatasaray (Turkey) 3-1 Copenhagen (Denmark)

What happened: First half goals from Felipe Melo, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba killed this one off by halftime. Claudemir’s 88th minute consolation ruined Fernando Muslera’s clean sheet.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: The dominance Roberto Mancini’s team showed in the first half makes you believe they can replicate this result in Denmark. It’s not that they overwhelmed Copenhagen, per se. It’s more that the chances they created were so clear cut. Perhaps merely playing better will pull FCK even next week, but today, they looked overmatched.

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 0-5 Paris Saint-German (France) [REACTION]

What happened: Zlatan Ibrahimovic happened. Four goals in 62 minutes, three of the highlight reel variety. Edinson Cavani had PSG’s other goal.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Anderlecht obviously did their part allowing it to happen (though that third goal, whoa), but that performance from Zlatan wins most games. Maybe he doesn’t score four times, but he still decides that match. Today, he vaulted PSG to nine points through three games, leaving Anderlecht sputtering at the bottom of their group.

Group C: Benfica (Portugal) 1-1 Olympiacos (Greece)

What happened: Alejandro Dominguez gave the visitors a lead that held up until the 83rd minute, but one piece of set piece magic allowed Benfica to salvage a point. However, if it wasn’t for Roberto’s misread of Benfica’s late restart, Oscar Cardoza would have never had a chance to equalize for the hosts, the 1-1 allowing the Eagles to salvage a point in Estadio do Luz’s bog.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Olympiacos got their first half lead, tried to hold on, and it didn’t work out. That’s not to say today’s result wasn’t good; however, they could have really put Benfica in a bad place had they taken full points. Still, if they hold serve at home next week, they’ll consolidate their place as the team most likely to join PSG in the next round. Benfica, however, should have a better game plan in Piraeus.

Group D: Bayern Munich (Germany) 5-0 Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) [REACTION]

What happened: It’s been a while since we redressed Michel Platini’s desire to see more small league-winners in Champions League (mostly because we all seem to agree this is a good thing), but let’s consider today’s numbers. Total Shots: Bayern 35, Plzen 1. Shots on Goal: Bayern 18; Plzen 0. Possession: Bayern 77 percent. Bayern may be incredibly good and Plzen may be one a borderline team for this competition, but when those two elements meet, you get this type of result, something you can’t help think is bad for everybody involved.

Maybe it’s just randomness, or extremely colliding in a very unlikely way. Regardless, we don’t need to see this. At least, we don’t need to see it in Champions League.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: We’ll have another 90 minutes of this in two weeks. Hopefully we’ll see a little rotation from the Germans, because clearly they don’t need their first choice attackers to take down Plzen.

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1-2 Manchester City (England)

What happened: A leaky City defense saw Zoran Tosic give CSKA a mid-first half lead, a score that lead to an almost immediate response from Sergio Agüero. A second goal from Kün gave City the lead before halftime, a gap that held up through full-time, though Joe Hart was forced to come up big on Keisuke Honda in second half stoppage time.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: There’ll be qualms about how they went about it, but against a talented, experienced team, playing on a horrible, frozen pitch a continent away from home, City snared full points. At times, it didn’t look like they deserved it, so consider the outcome more resourceful than convincingly. Regardless, City went to the home of their chief competition and got three points. That’s a best-case scenario.

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.