UEFA Champions League roundup: Bayern Munich, Manchester City into the knockout round

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Tuesday was the first day teams could secure spots in UEFA Champions League’s knockout round, an opportunity that should have seen Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City into the round of 16. But Tuesday draws meant two sides missed their chance to lockdown places, and while it’s inevitable that each will not only go through but win their respective groups, only the two teams atop Group D can claim to be qualified for the next phase of the competition.

For Bayern Munich, that accomplishment comes with a European record, their ninth straight Champions League victory tying the defending champions with 2002-03’s Barcelona for longest streak in the competition. Though their 1-0 win at Viktoria Plzen proved closer than most expected, it was still enough to keep them perfect through four games.

Second in Group D is Manchester City, whose 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow leaves them on nine points, six ahead of the Russian champions. But with the head-to-head tiebreaker slid inside Manuel Pellegrini’s blazer, City have secure their first passage into the final 16, with a hat trick from Alvaro Negredo fueling the Citizens’ history-making win.

Real Madrid, drawn in Turin, and PSG, held at home, still lead their groups, but their perfect records went out the window with Tuesday stalemates.

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

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

Zzzzz. Though in fairness … Zzzzzzzzzz.

PST’s Steve Davis:

From the lineup selections to a wee lack of urgency from the UEFA Group A leaders, it all seemed a bit deflated as Manchester United and last place Real Sociedad exchanged a couple of bad misses, a few half chances and not much else. United will retain a Group A lead after the 0-0 draw, one where the second half did come to life a bit, at least, following a first 45 that could kindly be termed “sleepy.”

Thank you, David Moyes.

United stay on top of Group A, their eight points in four enough for a one-point lead on Bayer Leverkusen.

[MORE: Manchester United, Real Sociedad plod along to a 0-0 Champions League draw]

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

Shakhtar, needing a win to pull even with Bayer, seemed to throw everything at Bayer for 45 minutes, testing Bayer keeper Bernd Leno multiple times, albeit opening themselves up to counters while doing so. An open and exciting half saw the Ukranian champions dominate, though with no reward. In the second, Bayer came into the game and began to level play, doing enough to keep their three-point lead on Shakhtar through the final whistle.

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

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale scored in an eight-minute span of the second half pulling, the visitors in front of a Juventus side that had pinned Real in their own end throughout the first half. A Fernando Llorente goal equalized for the hosts, who were unable to find a winner over the match’s final 25 minutes.

From our recap:

The good news, however: [Juventus] still control their knockout round fate. Win both of their final group stage matches, and their nine points will see them through. But with a trip to Istanbul on the round’s last day, Juve still find themselves in a precarious position, one they could have avoided without eight terrible minutes on Tuesday.

[MORE: Eight-minute spell costs Juventus against Real Madrid, leaves Old Lady drawn, winless in Champions League]

Group B: Copenhagen (Denmark) 1-0 Galatasaray (Turkey)

Galatasaray could have taken control of the race for second with a win in Denmark, but one bad, sisth minute sequence from right back Emmanuel Eboué decided the match. The former Arsenal defender kept Daniel Braaten onside ahead of a Rurik Gislason cross, then failed to recover before the FCK attacker scored the match’s only goal. The teams are now tied on four points, six behind Real Madrid.

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 1-1 Anderlecht (Belgium)

Two weeks after losing 5-0 at home, Anderlecht earn their first point of the tournament, ruining PSG’s perfect record in the process. Sacha Kljestan’s second half run from deep midfield set up Demy de Zeeuw for a shock second half opener, a goal that was pulled back two minutes later by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Though Klejstan later saw a second yellow card, Anderlecht were able to hold on for a surprise draw in Paris.

Group C: Olympiacos (Greece) 1-0 Benfica (Portugal) 

Based on the game in Lisbon, this might have been the exact match we should have expected. Olympiacos, content to play on the back foot regardless, were given license to do so after going up early through defender Kostas Manolas. The plan, however, would have blown up in their faces had it not been for Roberto’s eight saves, preserving the result and Olympiacos’s path into the knockout round.

Group D: Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 0-1 Bayern Munich (Germany)

As opposed to the 5-0 in Munich two weeks ago, this was a much more typical Bayern game, with the holders’ dominance of possession not easily translated to the scoreboard. It wasn’t until Pep Guardiola sacrificed Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller at the hour that something happened, with substitute Mario Mandzukic beating Matús Kozácik six minutes later. Had it not been for Kozácik, though, the margin would have been much worse. The Viktoria keeper finished with eight saves.

Group D: Manchester City (England) 5-2 CSKA Moscow (Russia) [REACTION]

The Citizens secure their first knockout round spot thanks to five goals from their forward tandem, the first of which came from Sergio Agüero three minutes in. He’d complete his double within 20 minutes before Álvaro Negredo recorded a hat trick, with Seydou Doumbia’s goals on each side of half time CSKA’s only bright spots.

From our recap:

Coming off a 7-0 win in Premier League, Tuesday represented City’s second offensive explosion in four days, one which earned the club a bit of history. Though they remain three points behind Bayern Munich for first in Group D, their six-point edge on third-place CSKA ensures the team will be in Champions League come February. For the first time in club history, the team will take part in the competition’s knockout rounds, and while that’s a misleading factoid given City have only made three appearances in the competition, third and fourth place group stage finishes the last two years were seen as bitter disappointments – part of the season Manuel Pellegrini was brought in to replace Roberto Mancini.

[MORE: Álvaro Negredo hat trick helps Manchester City claim first Champions League knockout round spot]

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

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MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

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Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

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Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

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PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

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Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.