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.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone