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UEFA Women’s Champions League: Pros, cons of saying goodbye to Lyon (Part 2 of 2)

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It’s the stuff Malcolm Gladwell writes books about: tournament favorite Lyon’s early exit from UEFA Women’s Champions League. Or rather, Gladwell would write a book why we perceived OL to be the Goliath. Then he’d go on The Daily Show and explain why out-of-control bias overlooked the fact Turbine Potsdam should have been favorites all long. Because if there’s one thing John Stewart’s always wanted on the show, it’s a hard-hitting segment on the future of Champions League.

Five years of soccer tells us otherwise. Lyon’s dominance isn’t a psychological phenomenon. They were the real deal. Four straight finals with demolition runs to the last two left little doubt. Lyon (pictured, above, ahead of last year’s final) were the world’s best, making this week’s Round of 16 ouster all the more confusing. While it wasn’t unfathomable that a team like Turbine could oust Lyon, a quarterfinal without the acknowledged best team in the world feels incomplete, like an unsolved crime. We need method, we need motive, but we also need to know how to move forward. We need closure.

So let’s break out the whiteboard and deploy the most reliable tool in the anal retentive nerd arsenal: The pro-con list. Let’s go through the good, sift through the bad, and let’s do so in writing. Because anything this important needs 1,800 superfluous words.

Ultimately, let’s try to figure out if a Women’s Champions League without Olympique Lyonnais is a good thing, or a bad thing:

PROS

Teams are either catching up or figuring it out – Lyon didn’t just win back-to-back titles. In 2011-12, they rolled, outscoring their opponents 37-5 in route to their second straight Champions League. Before losing last year’s final 1-0, they had outscored their opposition 40-2, leaving people who called their loss in London with plenty of evidence in support. What are you more inclined to believe: 77-7 over 17 games, or 1-0 in a final?

The way Turbine replicated Wolfsburg’s achievement makes it hard to say the Lyon era’s done. At least, it’s hard to be conclusive about it. After all, it took a hand ball and the away goals rules to leave us in this state.

There is, however, an aura of vulnerability that didn’t exist seven months ago. As Turbine showed, Lyon can be outworked, pushed around a little, and yes, beaten. Kryptonite’s been found.

For some, the competition becomes more legitimate – For years, the complaint about Lyon’s league was that there was no competition, and with Paris Saint-Germain still building their project, it remains a one-team race (even if spots two through four have become so much more interesting). England faced similar complaints about Arsenal’s dominance until Liverpool swiped their title this year.

source: Getty Images
Lyon’s French midfielder Louisa Necib (R) vies with Wolfsburg’s German midfielder Anna Blasse (L) during last year’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Erroneously, people started assuming the same about Champions League. Why watch if you know Lyon’s going to win? Perhaps for the competition’s other 31 teams, though people looking for excuses not to watch will always find something. For them, Lyon’s loss won’t be convincing.

For others, a new, more competitive Champions League will be seen as a more legitimate competition. Whether that’s the right conclusion is almost irrelevant. At least some fans be more likely to follow, which leads us to …

It may be the only way to grow – Whatever it takes to get more people interested in Champions League, right? Those that came for Lyon’s dominance – the majesty of watching the best club team ever (who played some damn good soccer) – aren’t leaving now. But those that were over Lyon and stayed away? They may be more likely to tune in. That Swedish or English soccer fan that didn’t want to look beyond their league before might tune-in mid-week to see if Arsenal, Birmingham City, or Tyresö will claim the crown.

This competition’s still taking baby steps, no matter how quickly some teams went to speed up the clock. Perhaps this phase of the competition’s growth could use the variety. Then, when a new group of people come on board, it might be time for another Lyon to capture other imaginations.

People who hate big spenders: “Throw your pennies in the air/If you’re a true hater”In the men’s world, Lyon’s a huge club. That they’re one of the few from that money-laden realm to strive for excellence on the women’s side put them at a huge advantage. OL’s roster is full of high-priced talents thanks to their cherry picking the rest of France’s talent and their increased forays into the global market (Lotta Schelin, Lara Dickemann, Saki Kumagai, Megan Rapinoe among their foreign stars).

That they went out at the boots of a German team, albeit one that has players from nine different countries, will have symbolic value. While the Frauen Bundesliga brand doesn’t carry the quite same financial connotations as its male counterpart, some will still see the German club as doing it things the “right” way while Lyon’s broken out the check book.

CONS

Competition loses a focal point – Diehards like more diversity in their story lines, but favorites are a great way to draw in casuals. It was that way with the Lakers and Celtics in the 1908s. It was that way with the Yankees (at various points in baseball’s history), and with a competition that’s still well short of its stride, it was that way with Lyonnais. It’s always difficult to replace a headline act.

Another team could prove their equal, but that’s probably not going to happen. It took more than one result for periodic viewers to remember Lyon. We’ll need a few more headlines from one club before was see a line of succession.

Odds are the days of hegemony are probably over. People may have to come for the soccer, not the dominance.

Lyon’s gone all France-y, really shouldn’t be losing these games – Since 2011, the French national team has been the most disappointing side in international soccer, their combination of skill, compelling talents, and attractive play unable to generate a true threat at the last three major tournaments. From dark horses at World Cup 2011 to favorites at Euro 2013, Les Bleues have been repeat offenders in the disappointment department, their results falling short of their potential.

All during that run, France’s contributors have been predominantly Lyon players, yet those stars had managed to contain their on-field disappointments to the international realm. Not so anymore. Not only have Lyon lost the last two Champions Leagues from  a favorite’s position, they’ve used their national team’s trademarked “how did they let that happen?!?” approach. Leaving few explanations for their failure, Lyon’s gone all France-y on us.

source: Getty Images
Lotta Schelin, pictured here playing for Sweden, has 33 goals in 30 games in 2013 for club and country. Despite leading Euro 2013 scoring, Schelin’s FIFA World Player of the Year candidacy will likely be hurt by Lyon’s early Champions League exit. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Lotta Schelin will be under-appreciated – Schelin is the best player in the world. Others’ mileage may vary (that’s what comment sections are for), but for me, the debate isn’t even that compelling right now. While the distance between her and the next level isn’t big, a gap exists. There’s a precision Schelin brings to the striker position that’s unparalleled in the world game. Nobody can match it: not Abby Wambach; not Christine Sinclair; not Alex Morgan.

Unfortunately, she’s becoming a victim of her own success, and that victimization is going to cost her FIFA World Player of the Year. Like Lionel Messi in years’ past, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or Cristiano Ronaldo, people are starting to complain that she doesn’t score in big games, and while that’s true (she didn’t score against Potsdam, in Sweden’s Euro 2013 eliminator, or in any of the Champions League finals), the reason is obvious. You give talented, well-organized teams one thing to do — like stop one player — they’ll usually find a way. As we saw in the buildup to this week’s Portugal-Sweden playoff, we usually greatly exaggerate the potential effect stars can have on a match.

Go ahead and bring up examples of Pele, Maradona, and the new Messi, but they’re exceptions to the rule. Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, or almost any other player in the history of the world’s game can be stopped. As can Messi. It’s up to their teammates to make the opposition pay.

I use mens’ players with the hopes of making the point as accessible as possible. No matter how many times world soccer’s provided evidence to undermine the idea that everybody can be Maradona, people are still unconvinced. It’s not enough to be a superstar. Every player needs to be a Super, Mega Star or they’re torn down.

Maybe Lotta Schelin isn’t a Super, Mega Star, but she’s still the best player in the world. If Abby Wambach or Nadine Angerer win FIFA Player of the Year simply because Schelin didn’t go full Michelle Akers on the world, that’s just wrong. But it would also be par for the course for that award.

The draw methodology is pretty seriously messed up – On this, we can all agree. There’s no way Lyon should be facing Turbine Potsdam this early in the competition. There’s no way Paris Saint-Germain and Tyresö should have met in the round of 32, either. And Wolfsburg shouldn’t have forced to eliminate Malmö this early. We don’t need Champions League final-caliber matchups in November.

The system needs to be changed. Right now, 16 of the competition’s 32 teams get seeded, drawn out of one bag against teams from the other – a process that changes come the Round of 16. In the interest of having the best matchups come during the later, more marketable times of the tournament, the “seeded” teams need to be protected deeper into the tournament.

A group stage is out of the question. There’s not enough money in this competition to support that right now, leaving two options (which, admittedly, me and three Twitter friends thought up):

  • Tennis/NCAA-style seeding and bracket, where the top X teams get seeds. Instead of a redraw at the end of each round, the bracket remains constant from the beginning. Or,
  • You reseed after each round until a certain point in the tournament; say, the semifinals. At the Round of 32, you have 16 seeds. At the Round of 16, you have eight. You do something to keep Lyon and Turbine from meeting so soon.

There is another problem, though, and that’s the seeding itself. With the landscape of women’s soccer in flux (thanks to the money coming into the game), it’s difficult for any rating system to stabilize. UEFA coefficients are much more effective on the men’s side than the women’s. You still have a situation where a team like Glasgow City is seeded while Tyresö is not.

Until that reaches the type of equilibrium we see on the men’s side, all seedings are going to be flawed.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Pardew saves his job, says Palace owners “don’t know a lot about football”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Alan Pardew, Manager of Crystal Palace thumbs up prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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While some may advise that keeping a low profile would best suit Alan Pardew right now, Crystal Palace’s embattled manager is of a totally different mindset.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Southampton, in which Pardew’s side saved his job (for the time being), the 55-year-old Eagles boss and former player chose the first bright moment, Palace’s first Premier League win since Sept. 24, to hit out at the club’s new American owners with a scathing assessment of the footballing prowess, or perhaps lack thereof — quotes from the Guardian:

“The chairman got a bit edgy this week, as you’d expect. We have a lot of serious investors at the club who perhaps don’t know a lot about football so the chairman has been defending me.

“I always think as a manager at any level, particularly in the modern era, expect the sack. Just expect it; it’s coming at some stage, so just do your job as best you can. Every week, that’s what I try to do.

“Sometimes it’s hard to dress up six defeats when you’re the owner of the club and you have investors. Obviously there are things he’s got no control over but he’s tried to offer me all the assistance that he could. He’s been brilliant for me and I just want to say thank you to him really.”

With various reports linking Sam Allardyce and Roberto Mancini to a job which he still holds, it’s understandable that Pardew would be slightly on edge, quick to thump his chest and restake his claim as the right man for the job, but perhaps alienating and borderline embarrassing the new investors, who are now responsible for signing your paychecks, wouldn’t have been my go-to move.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

On the other hand, as Pardew rightly stated in the above quotes, his day of reckoning will eventually arrive, so what’s he really got to lose?

Serie A: Roma triumph in Rome derby, still level with AC Milan in 2nd

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 04:  Daniele De Rossi (C) with his teammates of AS Roma celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico on December 4, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images
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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Lazio 0-2 Roma

A win would have put Lazio two points clear of their capital rivals and right into the thick of the race for second. Instead, they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the Olympic Stadium. Kevin Strootman put the “visitors” ahead in the 64th minute with a simple finish following Wallace‘s disastrous giveaway atop Lazio’s 18-yard box. The Dutch midfielder then proceeded to pathetically writhe around in pain after Danilo Cataldi tugged on the back of his jersey, which was allegedly instigated by Strootman spraying water on the substitute as he made his way back to midfield for the restart.

Radja Nainggolan finished off the Biancocelesti with Roma’s second goal of the game in the 77th minute, a pinpoint, bouncing effort from 30 yards out with which Federico Marchetti couldn’t cope. The Belgian broke free in the middle of the field, dribbled past a defender, and fired from distance to make it 2-0. The victory sees the Giallorossi remain just four points back of Juventus in the league table, level on points with AC Milan in the race for second.

AC Milan 2-1 Crotone

Speaking of the Rossoneri, Vincenzo Montella’s side came back from a goal down in the first half to defeat bottom-of-the-league Cronto at the San Siro Stadium. The victory keeps Milan level with Roma for that second and final automatic UEFA Champions League spot.

Crotone went 1-0 up in the 26th minute, but 21-year-old Mario Pasalic equalized four minutes before halftime with a tap-in from three yards out, followed by Gianluca Lapadula’s winner in the 86th minute, a scrappy finish following a failed clearance of a free kick, which prevented one of the most embarrassing results of the still-young season thus far.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Fiorentina 2-1 Palermo
Pescara 1-1 Cagliari
Sampdoria 2-0 Torino
Sassuolo 3-0 Empoli

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Juventus 15 12 0 3 32 13 19 8-0-0 4-0-3 36
 Roma 15 10 2 3 35 16 19 7-0-0 3-2-3 32
 AC Milan 15 10 2 3 27 19 8 6-1-1 4-1-2 32
 Napoli 15 8 4 3 27 15 12 5-2-1 3-2-2 28
 Lazio 15 8 4 3 27 16 11 5-1-2 3-3-1 28

La Liga scoreboard

Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Eibar
Real Betis 3-3 Celta Vigo
Alaves 3-1 Las Palmas
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Osasuna
Valencia 2-2 Malaga

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 14 10 4 0 37 12 25 5-2-0 5-2-0 34
 Barcelona 14 8 4 2 34 15 19 3-3-1 5-1-1 28
 Sevilla 14 8 3 3 25 20 5 6-0-1 2-3-2 27
 Atlético Madrid 14 7 4 3 28 11 17 4-2-1 3-2-2 25
 Villarreal 14 6 5 3 19 10 9 5-1-1 1-4-2 23
 Real Sociedad 13 7 2 4 22 14 8 4-2-1 3-0-3 23
 Athletic 14 7 2 5 20 17 3 5-1-1 2-1-4 23

Amid leaked docs, Ronaldo’s agent publishes tax document in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Crsitiano Ronaldo (R) speaks with his agent Jorge Mendes (R) after his signing contract renewal For Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on September 15, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent has released a document that allegedly shows the player is in compliance with Spain’s tax authority.

The document published by company Gestifute, ran by Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes, allegedly shows that Spanish fiscal authorities certify that the player is “up to date on his obligations.”

The document’s release comes a day after European media outlets released what it claimed were details of apparent tax arrangements made by top soccer players and coaches, including Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and Mesut Ozil.

Gestifute said Saturday, “Ronaldo has always acted in good faith in this matter, as the fact that he has never been involved in any conflict with tax authorities from any country where he has lived clearly shows.”

Gestifute also published a similar document in Mourinho’s name on Friday.