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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]

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.