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

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One of the more lopsided match ups of UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 lived up to its muted expectations, with favorites Paris Saint-Germain offered no resistance during their knockout round’s first leg at Bayer Leverkusen. With the help of two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the reigning French champions took a 4-0 lead on Germany’s second place side, quickly eliminating any doubt the ambitious Parisians will make another trip to the competition’s quarterfinals.

The teams will resume their matchup two weeks from now in Paris, with a Leverkusen side that’s suffered three big defeats in this year’s competition unlikely to threaten for that spot in the final eight. In group stage, Bayer lost 4-2 and 5-0 to Manchester United, and while a first leg at home gave Sami Hyypia’s team a chance to set the tone in this 180-minute match, PSG’s superiority was evident from the opening whistle.

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

It only took three minutes for that edge to put Laurent Blanc’s team in front, with one of Europe’s most overlooked midfielders taking a momentary step out of the shadows. Intercepting a Simon Rolfes pass at the edge of Bayer’s defensive third, Blaise Matuidi played wide to  Ibrahimovic before sprinting into the Leverkusen penalty area. When he was found moments later by Marco Verratti through ball, the French international had an easy left-footed finish for the game’s opening goal.

By the middle of the half, Leverkusen were seeing more of the ball and were finally able to mount their first real forays toward the PSG penalty area. Come the end of the half, however, that improvement had gone for naught, with two goals from Ibrahimovic just before intermission giving the visitors a commanding halftime lead.

[MORE: FC Barcelona seizes control of Champions League series with 2-0 win over Manchester City]

The first came after a disputable penalty that saw Leverkusen defender Emir Saphic yellow carded after Ezequiel Lavezzi went down at the edge of the six-yard box. Blasting his attempt into the goal’s lower left hand corner, Ibrahimovic beat a diving Leno to double PSG’s lead in the 39th minute.

Three minutes later, when a ball in from the left for Matuidi drew Leverkusen’s defense toward the spot, Ibrahimovic hammered his teammate’s layoff into top of goal from 20 yards out. As if placing his shot into a pneumatic tube, “Ibra” sent the ball on a line to the right of the Bernd Leno, the force of his strike giving the Bayer keeper little chance to react before PSG’s third goal flew just under the cross-bar.

A second half own goal that would have put PSG up four was waved off, leaving the match’s final 45 minutes to be defined by restraint instead of reward. Dominating both chances and the ball, Blanc’s team played with the comfort of a side at home, particularly after  Saphic saw a second yellow. With Ibrahimovic spending the match’s last half hour in midfield, helping his team control the ball, PSG appeared to have grown tired of pushing for goals.

[MORE: What we learned in Barcelona’s Champions League win over Manchester City]

In the 88th minute, however, a clearly fatigued Bayer couldn’t help but conceded the fourth. With PSG building down the left, Ibrahimovic put an overlapping Maxwell behind the Leverkusen defense, where the left back crossed for Lucas Moura at the far post just before the ball rolled out of play. Moura’s layoff for Yohan Cabaye gave the recently purchase midfielder an easy finish into the upper right hand corner from 15 yards out, giving PSG a lead that’s never been reversed in Champions League.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.