Will United surge towards the top four with 14 games to go?

UEFA Champions League Preview: Talent not the issue for Manchester United against Olympiacos

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Between league, cups, and Europe, Manchester United has already lost 10 times since David Moyes took over, and while many of those defeats have come against teams more talented than the Red Devils’ Tuesday opponents, Olympiacos’s mere two loses force us to reconsider our assumptions. There’s supposed to be a huge divide between the quality needed to compete in the Premier League and a squad that can claim Greece’s Super League, but given United’s stumbling outside of England’s Champions League spots while Olympiacos has a 20-point lead in Greece, the contrast is not so clear. With the Greek champions’ only defeats during the 2013-14 campaign coming against French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, the assumed gap between United and their Tuesday hosts may not exist.

“United are a top-class team and I will not comment on their form,” Olympiacos head coach Michel said about the Red Devils’ stumbles under Moyes. The Spain-born boss eventually relented, conceded United’s league form is not completely irrelevant. “They cannot afford to make any errors given their position in the Premier League. We also can’t afford to give anything less than 100 percent.”

But what does 100 percent get Olympiacos, particularly given the club’s willingness let their most dangerous player, Kostas Mitroglou, leave for Fulham in the January window (albeit for $20 million)?  Young Costa Rican international Joel Campbell represents a point of danger up top, as does the recently acquired Nelson Valdez, who will be able to compensate for the absence of the injured Javier Saviola. But throughout the rest of the team, their lack the talent is still evident when compare to the considerable names at Moyes’ disposal.

[MORE: Premier League Playback: Rooney’s revolution at Manchester United, Everton slides, top teams accelerate]

Among those names is Wayne Rooney, who celebrated a new contract that pays him in excess of $25 million per year with a wonderfully volleyed goal at Crystal Palace. The England international is complemented by Dutch forward Robin Van Persie, with the likes of midfielder Michael Carrick and goalkeeper David de Gea adding to the list of enviable talents likely to feature in Moyes’ Wednesday XI. Position-for-position, whether we’re talking about Ashley Young (who will likely start in place of the cup-tied Juan Mata) or Darren Fletcher (a potential choice along side Carrick in the middle), Moyes will start 11 players who would start of Olympiacos, making the Red Devils decisive favorites if we were to judge this match up on talent alone.

But talent hasn’t been United’s problem. Results have. Though critics continue to (perhaps correctly) harp on a midfield that can’t match up against Europe’s elites, United still enter a vast majority of its games as the most talented team on the field. It’s Moyes’s inability to translate that talent into results has defined the campaign, one that’s likely to leave United outside Champions League for the first Premier League era.

[MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Zenit sees opportunity against Borussia Dortmund]

That’s where the teams’ 2013-14 records becomes particularly informative. Olympiacos may have an easy time of it in Greece, but in a Champions League group that also included Anderlecht, Benfica, and Paris Saint-Germain, they only lost to the high-powered Parisians, sending the favored Portuguese to Europa League. In that sense, Michel’s team’s transcending their talent, having reached the final 16 when few thought they’d get out of their group. Even before being drawn against United, Olympiacos showed they can transcend the names on the teamsheet.

In contrast, though they have been impressive against Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk in Champions League, Manchester United has spent the better part of the season playing down to their opponents’ level, as evidenced by their 10 losses. Though they are rightly considered favorites ahead of Tuesday’s kickoff, these new Red Devils have shown a new tendency to play beneath that role. Combine that pattern with a trip to face an Olympiacos team that’s not accustomed to losing, and it’s enough to wonder if a Mata-less United can carry over the form they exhibited this weekend against Crystal Palace.

WATCH: Pulisic sends cross to Schurrle to equalize with Madrid

Real Madrid's Luka Modric, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the Champions League group F soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Borussia Dortmund substitute and USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic subbed into Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League match versus Real Madrid and made a difference.

Given 17 minutes to work, Pulisic needed about 10. The 18-year-old American sent in a cross that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t volley but fell to another BVB player.

[ MORE: Big Sam canned ]

That was Andre Schurrle, and the ex-Wolfsburg and Chelsea man lashed a shot behind Navas to make it 2-2 at the Westfalenstadion.

Pulisic does well here, real well, and had a chance to make it 2-2 himself that was smothered by Navas.

England, Twitter reacts to Allardyce debacle: “Angry, sad, staggered”

COLCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Sam Allardyce manager of England looks during the European Under 21 Qualifier match between England U21 V Norway U21 at Colchester Community Stadium on September 6, 2016 in Colchester, England.  (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images
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A 67-day reign as a national team blown up by allegations of corruption? We’ve seen similar situations in world soccer, but certainly not at a high-profile, traditional headline-grabber like the England national team.

[ MORE: Big Sam canned ]

English legend Alan Shearer called the Three Lions a “laughing stock”, adding that, “I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m staggered at the misjudgement from a guy who admitted this was his dream job.”

 

AT HALF: Leicester leads, Spurs level, BVB-Real square at 1 (video)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 27:  Islam Slimani of Leicester City and Felipe of FC Porto watch the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Leicester City FC and FC Porto at The King Power Stadium on September 27, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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The UEFA Champions League’s group stage hits its second round of matches Tuesday, with two Premier League teams in play and a bevy of big names from outside England.

[ MORE: Dempsey out for 2016 ]

Leicester City 1-0 Porto

The chemistry between Algeria and now Leicester City teammates Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani is very real.

The former fed the latter for an opening goal on Tuesday in UEFA Champions League play at King Power Stadium, as the Foxes have opened up a 1-0 lead on Porto.

You can imagine the visitors aren’t too pleased with having to meet up with Slimani, who they just managed to see out of their league only to watch him arrive in their UCL group.

And how about the mad dabbing kid shown just after Slimani’s celebration? Wild nights in Leicester.

CSKA Moscow 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs are controlling the play, but have yet to find a goal in Russia.

Dinamo Zagreb 0-2 Juventus

Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic have the goals for The Old Lady.

Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo got on the scoresheet, though the hosts have been by far the more dangerous side. USMNT teenager Christian Pulisic is on the bench for BVB.

Thomas Tuchel’s side threatened to score through a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rocketed a shot just over the frame, and the Gabonese man made it 1-1 soon after when Keylor Navas punched Raphael Guerriero’s free kick off Raphael Varane. Aubameyang touched it over the line for an academic marker.

Here’s Ronaldo’s goal:

Elsewhere

Sevilla 0-0 Lyon
Monaco 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen 0-0 Club Brugge
Sporting CP 2-0 Legia Warsaw

Sounders, USMNT star Clint Dempsey ruled out for remainder of 2016

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 30:  Clint Dempsey #2 of the Seattle Sounders FC celebrates after scoring a goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the Western Conference Final at CenturyLink Field on November 30, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
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The Seattle Sounders may yet make a playoff appearance, but it will be without Clint Dempsey.

The USMNT star recently returned to training with the team after dealing with an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Big Sam canned ]

Sounders general manager Garth Lagerway made the announcement on Tuesday.

From SoundersFC.com:

“If we prioritize this now, hopefully we can get Dempsey back in 2017.”

That does not seem to bode well for his participation with the United States men’s national team, which has October friendlies with Cuba and New Zealand before the first two matches of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in November.

Fortunately for the Sounders, both Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro have their upped their games in his absence, and Andreas Ivanschitz has been decent as well.

Seattle is five points back of fifth place Sporting KC, and three back of sixth place Portland. The Sounders have played two less matches than both sides.