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]

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.