Champions League: Blanc downplays Leverkusen’s poor performance, Ibrahimovic hails PSG’s fast start

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Bayer Leverkusen’s poor performance may limit our ability to read into Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-0 win in Germany, but for PSG head coach Laurent Blanc, their host’s struggles can’t overshadow the “really excellent” performance his team put in to open UEFA Champions League’s knockout road. With goals from Blaise Matuidi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (two), and Yohan Cabaye, the French champions took a commending lead in their round of 16 matchup, building a lead that’s never been reversed in Champions League.

“Some might point out weaknesses in Leverkusen’s game but our game was really excellent,” Blanc said after the match, as relayed by UEFA.com. “Spirits were really good and I congratulate those who started and those who came off the bench. I really can rely on everyone.”

[MORE: UEFA Champions League: Ibrahimovic brace helps PSG cruise 4-0 at Bayer Leverkusen]

Player-for-player, it truly was a stand to performance for PSG, with only goalkeeper Salvatore Sigiru’s lack of action preventing the team from accumulating above average marks across the board. While Bayer’s inept showing left the team with little opposition, the Parisians deserve credit for pushing from the opening kickoff, their third minute goal coming before Bayer had a sustained period on the ball.

“Our performance during the first half was crucial,” Bayer defender Ömar Toprak said, “but we played with fear and I really don’t know why. We played very, very poorly during the first 45 minutes.”

The second half wasn’t any better. After losing central defender Emir Saphic to a red card in the 59th minute, Bayer were unable to get the ball back from their guests. As the teams approached the end of regulation time, the hosts appeared exhausted, with PSG able to  charge through Bayer’s defense to set up Cabaye’s 88th minute goal.

[MORE: What we learned from Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League demolition of Bayer Leverkusen]

“We scored early and when you are in the lead it is much easier,” star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic said, having contributed to all four goals. “In addition the second and third goals came in the first period and in the second period we continued to play our game. This was a really good evening.”

At least, for one team it was a good evening. For Bayer, the result means having to play a perfunctory 90 minutes in France two weeks from now. They’ll be leaving the competition after this round, their place in knockout round confirmed as a function of a weak group.

“We didn’t win any duels and made life much too easy for them,” Toprak said. “In the second half we tried to fight a little bit more and sometimes it worked out, but in the end it was a very disappointing evening for us.”

Arsenal’s Wilshere sent-off after brawling in U-23 match vs. Man City

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Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere isn’t standing around waiting for his next team, he’s fighting.

Period.

Wilshere got into with several members of Manchester City’s U-23 side in a match on Monday, with the English midfielder taking exception to a hockey-style hip check from City’s Matthew Smith.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

Shoving the 17-year-old Smith, Wilshere saw the City man take a tumble and stay prone. Still riled up, Wilshere tangled with City’s Tyreke Wilson.

Wilshere and Wilson were sent off.

Given his injury history, we’re not surprised Wilshere took exception to a hard and needless foul in a U-23 match.

The Arsenal man has been linked with moves to Newcastle, West Ham, AC Milan, and Sampdoria, but Arsene Wenger wants to keep Wilshere at the Emirates Stadium.

Report: PSG to dodge FFP by signing Mbappe on loan, sending Moura to Monaco

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fight to win a UEFA Champions League will receive a major boost from its main Ligue 1 rivals.

Reigning champions AS Monaco have been frustrated by phenomenal and combative forward Kylian Mbappe seeking a move to join Neymar at PSG. Mbappe was reportedly kicked out of Monaco training this week.

That move is very difficult for PSG to pull off thanks to Financial Fair Play; Les Parisiens spent more than $260 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

The way around it? Sky Sports says Monaco will reportedly loan Mbappe to PSG with an agreement to sell the 18-year-old striker permanently after this season. PSG midfielder Lucas Moura would go the other way for this season.

If that rings a bit hollow to those who’d like to see FFP work against massive clubs stockpiling talent, it should; This is hardly any different from spending all the money in one window when considering that Mbappe would join Neymar and Edinson Cavani effective this season.

Incredibly, Sky also has the notion that PSG will bring Fabinho to the Parc des Princes (Yes, from Monaco).

If Mbappe ends up in Paris — forget Fabinho for a second — PSG would be favored to get past its UCL quarterfinals blockade (Les Parisiens were eliminated in the Round of 16 last season by Barcelona after four-straight quarterfinal ousters).

UEFA Champions League playoffs: Differing levels of comfort

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Only one of 20 playoff-contending clubs has a strong foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage with 10 second legs set for this week.

That’s Scottish champions Celtic, who took a 5-0 lead for manager Brendan Rodgers last week at Celtic Park and heads to the capital of Kazakhstan for a Tuesday date with Astana.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for the rest, there are varying levels of comfort. Napoli leads Nice 2-0 and didn’t concede an away goal to the French side, so the Serie A side has to feel pretty good. Liverpool edged Hoffenheim 2-1 in Germany and brings two goals home to Anfield. That, too, is confident footing.

Steaua Bucharest and Sporting CP are the only sides level, scoreless after a match in Portugal.

But Olympiacos is in Croatia and a goal away from being on the wrong foot after a 2-1 win at home to Rijeka, and Hapoel Be’er Sheva has the same situation in Slovenia against Maribor.

At risk? Three high-profile away trips and the same number of group stage home paydays. The losers drop into the Europa League group stage.

Tuesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Astana vs. Celtic (Celtic leads 5-0) — 11:30 a.m. ET
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1)
Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli leads 2-0)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel leads 2-1)

Wednesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Copenhagen vs. Qarabag (Qarabag leads 1-0)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA leads 1-0)
Slavia Prague vs. Apoel Nicosia (Apoel leads 2-0)
Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool leads 2-1)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting CP (First leg 0-0)

EFL Cup Tuesday preview: Seven Premier League sides enter

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Seven of the 13 Premier League teams to enter the 2017-18 EFL Cup second round will open tournament play Tuesday, while the remaining six wait until Wednesday.

West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Brighton and Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Swansea City, Leicester City, and Watford all begin their campaigns Tuesday.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

West Brom is one of two sides facing fourth-tier competition, and Tony Pulis‘ Baggies head to the Crown Ground for a match with Accrington Stanley.

Recently promoted Brighton and Hove Albion hosts its first Cup match as a Premier League side when Barnet comes to town. Ex-New York Red Bulls and New York Cosmos winger Ruben Bover is on the visitors side of the pitch.

Frank De Boer‘s Crystal Palace gets a tricky test from in-form Ipswich Town, as Mick McCarthy’s Tractor Boys are one of two Championship teams to start the season 4-0.

The seven PL sides competing in the Champions League or Europa League don’t join the fray until the third round.

Full slate of Tuesday’s second round matches
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Accrington Stanley vs. West Bromwich Albion
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Barnet
Bolton Wanderers vs. Sheffield Wednesday — 3 p.m. ET
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town — 2:30 p.m. ET
Doncaster Rovers vs. Hull City
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Milton Keynes Dons vs. Swansea City
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
Queens Park Rangers vs. Brentford
Reading vs. Millwall — 3 p.m. ET
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Watford vs. Bristol City