UEFA Champions League roundup: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain clinch knockout round spots

Leave a comment

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 0, Manchester United (England) 5

From today’s preview:

Between talent, form, venue, and opponent’s fitness, Bayer has everything going for them ahead of this match, and while the healthy talents United possesses are still capable of winning this match, they shouldn’t. If Bayer can avoid being frightened out of their game, they should go top of Group A.

Smash cut to the present, and Bayer’s again undermined our faith. From our recap, courtesy of Steve Davis:

A sluggish start to the David Moyes era at Manchester United keeps gaining speed. Another mighty puff of steam was acquired Wednesday as the fabled English club qualified in highest possible style for Champions League knockout stages, with a full match to spare …

Wayne Rooney assisted on Antonio Valencia’s early goal and then provided the stinging free kick that turned into an own goal and a 2-0 lead after just 30 minutes at the BayArena. Jonny EvansChris Smalling and Nani provided United’s second half goals in what must surely be the most impressive win yet under Moyes.

The Arsenal win was nice, as was United’s first win over Bayer Leverkusen. But today’s thrashing came out of nowhere. Who needs midfielders when you can have goals?

[MORE:  5-0 Stunner! Manchester United gallops impressively past Bayer Leverkusen, into Champions League knockout stage]

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 4, Real Sociedad (Spain) 0

The Ukranian champions’ most impressive performance of the tournament sets up a showdown for first place Dec. 10 in Manchester, Mircea Lucescu’s team staying within three of the Red Devils with a clinical effort Wednesday at the Donbass Arena. Luiz Adriano opened the scoring in the 47th minute, with fellow Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa tripling their lead by the 69-minute mark. A second for Costa just before the end of regulation time launched the hosts into second place, one point ahead of Bayer Leverkusen.

[MORE: Updated list of teams qualified for Champions League knockout stage]

Group B: Juventus (Italy) 3, FC Copenhagen (Denmark) 1

Winless in Champions League coming into today’s match, Juventus woke up, with a hat trick from Arturo Vidal lifting them to second in Group B. Penalty kicks on either side of halftime were complemented by a 63rd minute header, leaving the Chilean on five goals for the tournament.

From our recap:

Up two, Juventus clicked it into neutral, only giving up one more shot on target after [Olof] Mellberg’s goal. Finally putting in the type of performance most expected in their first four games, Juve claimed the Group B place they were supposed to occupy all along. Though they’ve won once in five matches, that may be all they need to advance to the round of 16. A draw at Galatasaray in two weeks will clinch second place and put them into the knockout round.

[MORE: Arturo Vidal hat trick gives Juventus first win of Champions League, vaults team second in Group B]

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 4, Galatasaray (Turkey) 1

Sergio Ramos saw red in the 26th minute, a dismissal that was irrelevant before Gareth Bale put the Merengues up eight minutes before half with a 30-yard free kick. Galatasaray answered a minute later through Umut Bulut but gave up second half goals to Álvaro Arbeloa, Angel di María, and Isco, finishing -8 in their two group stage matches against El Real.

From our recap:

El Real were without their best player, and 26 minutes into the match, arguably their best defender was given his marching orders. For a Galatasaray team that has designs on Group B’s second spot, this was a gift: their best chance to claim points at the Bernabeu. Yet after 64 minutes of playing against 10 men, the Turks were left with another embarrassing loss.

If they thought their 6-1 defeat to the Blancos in Istanbul was bad, think again. At least they were playing a full team last time around. This time, they may have been better off if Ramos had stayed on.

[MORE: Ronaldo-less Real Madrid overcome early red card, cruise past Galatasaray, 4-1]

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 2, Olympiacos (Greece) 1

Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke through after six minutes, but a 80th minute equalizer from Kostas Manolas left PSG in danger of being drawn from behind for the second straight Champions League match. Edinson Cavani, however, pushed the Parisians to 13 points and a guaranteed first place finish with his 90th minute goal, Olympiacos potentially needing three points against Anderlecht on Dec. 10 to go through.

[REVIEW: UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal leading Group F; Barcelona, Chelsea upset]

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 2, Benfica (Portugal) 3

A back-and-forth affair saw Chancel Mbemba’s opener pulled back by Benfica’s Nemanja Matic, the visitors taking their first lead in the 52nd minute through a Mbemba own goal. When Massimo Bruno brought the Belgian champions to the brink of their second point of the tournament, Benfica needed a stoppage time winner from Rodrigo to move to move even on points with Olympiacos.

[REVIEW: Untangling Champions League Group F: What Arsenal needs to advance]

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1, Bayern Munich (Germany) 3

In the day’s early match, the defending champions took a quick lead through Arjen Robben, with München doubling the margin shortly after halftime through Mario Götze. Swpaped penalty kicks just after the hour put Keisuke Honda and Thomas Müller on the scoresheet and left CSKA Moscow launching ill-fated shots from distance on Manuel Neuer. The FCB keeper managed to record seven saves without being truly bothered from open play, Bayern maintaining their perfect record through five games.

[REVIEW: Late Mohamed Salah goal gives Basel second straight win over Chelsea]

Group D: Manchester City (England) 4, Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 2

Goals from Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri, Álvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko saw Manchester City outlast a Viktoria side that put up an unexpectedly strong fight, with Stanislav Tecl’s second half score making it 2-2 after 68 minutes. City needed to bring Jesus Navas, Yaya Touré, and Negredo in to seal the game, with Navas assisting on two of the hosts’ three second half goals.

[REVIEW: Reus, Blaszczykowski, Aubamenyang goals see Borussia Dortmund down Napoli, move second in UEFA Champions League group]

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.

Moyes: West Ham “low in confidence,” encouraged by crowd

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment

David Moyes is just trying to buy himself a bit of time with the West Ham United fans, who were roundly unhappy at his appointment — and the board which hired him, of course — an undertaking toward which he made a small step on Friday.

[ RECAP: West Ham come back to earn a point vs. Leicester ]

Following the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Leicester, Moyes joined the Sky Sports broadcast crew field-side at the London Stadium. While acknowledging it’s still early days in his tenure, Moyes knows he’s got very little time to build momentum after being appointed manager of a bottom-three side mid-season.

“I thought [the players] worked great in the second half, I think that’s why the crowd reacted so well. I think they are low in confidence. The results haven’t gone [well] and they’ve lost a manager. When it’s like that, it’s difficult. You need some things to go for you now and again.”

As for the Hammers’ most mercurial player, Marko Arnautovic, Moyes has taken a rather hardline approach with the Austrian attacker, and he believes it’s already paying dividends:

“I thought he played really well for us on Sunday, without getting an awful lot of praise for it. Everybody’s said that he hasn’t run, so I said to him, ‘If you don’t run, I won’t play you.’ So, he’s running [now.]

“I don’t think you want to play against Arnautovic if you’re a fullback, because he’s got power, he’s got pace. He probably prefers to play on the left-hand side, but at the moment we’ve got people who want to do that role, so we’re happy to play him on the opposite side. We want him to be a big player, [the club] spent big money on him. We need him to score goals, make goals. He helped us tonight.”