Russia Soccer Champions League

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

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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]

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Manchester United back atop money table

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02:  Marcos Rojo of Manchester United slides in as Sergio Aguero of Manchester City and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United battle for the ball as during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester United can spend because Manchester United prints money.

Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but the Red Devils earned more than $632 million this year. That’s better than second-place Barcelona and third-place Real Madrid by $60-plus million.

It’s United’s first year atop the list since 2005. Here’s the full report.

[ FA CUP: Liverpool moves on ]

The UEFA Champions League heavy list sees eight Premier League sides: United (1), Man City (5), Arsenal (7), Chelsea (8), Liverpool (9), Tottenham Hotspur (12), West Ham United (18), Leicester City (20).

Serie A is second with four clubs, while La Liga and Bundesliga have three clubs on the list. Ligue 1 (Paris Saint-Germain) and the Russian Premier League (Zenit Saint Petersburg) complete the group of 20.

The Associated Press’ stalwart reporter Rob Harris has this handy chart:

Liverpool moves on: “Job done. Let’s go home”

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva, center, celebrates scoring against Plymouth Argyle during the English FA Cup, third round replay match at Home Park, Plymouth, England, Wednesday Jan. 18, 2017. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)
Andrew Matthews/PA via AP
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Even given two youth-heavy lineups, Liverpool won’t forget Plymouth Argyle any time soon.

The Reds were held 0-0 two weeks ago as Plymouth forced a home replay in the third round of the FA Cup, and Liverpool only managed a single goal on Wednesday in advancing to face Wolverhampton.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Jurgen Klopp admitted he was dreading extra time. The Reds nearly saw it when the League Two side hit a second-half post, but Lucas Leiva‘s first goal in seven years held up over 90 minutes.

Well, his first match goal in seven years.

“It’s that long? I scored last week in training,” Lucas said after the game.

Here’s what Klopp said, via the BBC:

“In the second half it was good, but then it became a bit static. We had a penalty, and 2-0, 3-0, 4-0 would have been OK, but 1-0 I’m fine with that. I was not too concerned for going through, but I thought ‘Oh my God another 30 minutes’, but it is all good, no extra-time, job done, let’s go home. As nice as it is here, we leave as early as possible, so all good.”

On a rare goal for Lucas Leiva, Klopp adds: “Every week in training we play old versus young and he is a top scorer for old, which is unbelievable.”

One thing to note: Liverpool has only scored multiple goals in one of its last six matches. Sure, two were young lineups, but they were also against League Two competitions (and one was a clean sheet).

Look for the Reds to break out soon, perhaps Saturday morning when Swansea City visits Anfield.