How things stand in UEFA Champions League after first legs of knockout games

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The half time whistle has blown in the first knockout round of this season’s UEFA Champions League.

Some teams take resounding leads into their second leg matchups, a few games are balanced delicately and plenty of sides have a mountain to climb to reach the last eight of Europe’s elite club competition.

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After two weeks and four matchdays, we now have a much clearer picture of which teams will make a deep run towards the UCL final in Lisbon on May 24.

Let’s see how these first legs played out and which teams have the upper-hand to advance to the quarterfinals.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Bayer Leverkusen

This tie is all but over, as PSG’s star-studded forwards tore Leverkusen apart. Zlatan Ibrahimovic banged in two goals, including an absolute scorcher, as Laurent Blanc’s side look set for a deep run in the UCL. Can they go one better than the quarterfinal stage they reached last season? You bet. Plucky Leverkusen have done well to get this far as Sami Hyppia’s side have had their defensive weaknesses badly exposed throughout the entire tournament. If they grab an early goal in Paris they may have a chance, but PSG look a real force to be reckoned with.

First Leg: Bayer Leverkusen 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain

Second Leg: March 12, Parc des Princes, Paris

FC Barcelona vs. Manchester City

Poor old Man City. Just when they were looking good after a solid first half at home against Barcelona, wham! Martin Demchelis threw a spanner of epic proportions in the works. A combination of his slack tracking and a great run from Lionel Messi saw Demichelis take him out, handed a red card but a penalty was harshly awarded as the foul looked to be outside the box. Dani Alves’ late goal sealed Barca’s 2-0 win, as City battled hard with 10-men but one lapse cost them. Manager Manuel Pellegrini reacted angrily to the defeat and the refereeing decisions but his side were outplayed in the end. City now have to win 3-0 at the Nou Camp in the second leg, a daunting task, but with Sergio Aguero back fit and Barca dropping more points in La Liga, it isn’t out of the question that City can push this thing into extratime. A tall order but City are certainly capable of banging in the goals.

First Leg: Manchester City 0-2 Barcelona

Second Leg: March 12, Camp Nou, Barcelona

Atletico Madrid vs. AC Milan

The first leg was tight and tense affair at the San Siro, as red-hot Diego Costa was the difference between the two sides after the Atletico striker scored late on to hand Madrid a vital 1-0 win. Neither teams forced the issue in a slightly timid affair, but with Diego Simeone’s Atletico fighting for the Spanish title and brimming with confidence, it’s hard to bet against them at home. Clarence Seedorf is slowly rebuilding his AC Milan side and they have nothing to lose in the second leg so they might as well go for it. Plus, they have Mario Balotteli so they have a chance. Will we see the famous “why always me?” shirt make a celebratory appearance at Vicente Calderon when Milan come to town? The Italian international is capable of the spectacular and that’s exactly what AC need to advance. Expect another tight game, with Milan not ready to buckle just yet. First goal is crucial in the second leg.

First Leg: AC Milan 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Second Leg: March 11, Vicente Calderon, Madrid

source: Reuters
Down and out? Arsenal’s luckless first leg vs. Bayern has Wenger’s men on the brink of elimination.

Bayern Munich vs. Arsenal

I was at the Emirates Stadium for this clash, and I’ve never heard this stadium so loud after Arsenal’s swashbuckling start against reigning European champions Bayern. A crescendo of noise flooded down from the terraces and the Gunners stormed forward again and again in the opening minutes. That attacking panache resulted in a penalty being awarded, which Mesut Ozil won after being fouled. But the Germain international missed the resulting PK and the Emirates was suddenly as flat as a pancake. Soon after things got even worse, as Arsenal ‘keeper Szczesny came flying out of his goal and brought down Arjen Robben. Red card. Penalty kick. Damn. Although David Alaba missed the spot kick, Bayern bagged a tremendous goal from Toni Kroos after 60 minutes and then a stoppage time clincher from Thomas Mueller made it 2-0. Arsenal deserved better but the breaks went against them. The Gunners went to Bayern and won 2-0 in the second leg of their last 16 match last season… they will have to do that again just to keep it alive. I fear for Arsene Wenger’s men at the Allianz Arena, Pep Guardiola’s Munich side look like a monumental machine ready to stroll to a repeat.

First Leg: Arsenal 0-2 Bayern Munich

Second Leg: March 11, Allianz Arena, Munich

Borussia Dortmund vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg

A topsy-turvy game in Russia saw the away side dispatch Zenit clinically. Borussia Dortmund, last season’s runners-up, were 2-0 up inside five minutes after being gifted two goals. Then Zenit fought back and made it 2-1 before Robert Lewandowski scored to make it 3-1, but then Zenit came back again to make it 3-2 before another lapse cost them dear as Lewnadowski made it 4-2 and advantage Dortmund. Zenit only gained six points in the UCL group stages but somehow made it through to the knockout stages, on this performance you could see why. If BVB are up to their best in front of their passionate fans at a hostile Westfalenstadion in March, this has the potential to get embarrassing for Zenit. Can Jurgen Klopp lead his injury-ravaged side to another Champions League final? I don’t think many teams would want to draw them in the quarters, assuming they get through….

First Leg: Zenit Saint Petersburg 2-4 Borussia Dortmund

Second Leg: March 19, BVB Stadion, Dortmund

source: Getty Images
David Moyes’ United side have a mountain to climb after being torn apart by Olympiakos.

Manchester United vs. Olympiakos

Okay, wasn’t this readjustment period supposed to be over by now? Manchester United lost to a Greek side in the UCL for the first-ever time as Olympiakos completed their first-ever win over the Red Devils. United looked afraid, lacking in confidence and unable to make possession count for any meaningful efforts on goal in a shocking display. David Moyes called it “their worst performance in Europe” and he hit the nail on the head. Puzzling team selections like bringing in Tom Cleverley and leaving out Adnan Januzaj have been scrutinized, but something you don’t need to debate is that Olympiakos deserved the victory. United can still turn this around at Old Trafford in what promises to be another enthralling night of European soccer at the “Theater of Dreams.” Olympiakos have lost all 11 games they’ve played away to English opposition, which bodes well. But if Moyes’ United don’t overturn this 2-0 deficit in two week’s time, Old Trafford will turn into the “Theater of Screams” and it could be adios, Mr. Moyes.

First Leg: Olympiakos 2-0 Manchester United

Second Leg: March 19, Old Trafford, Manchester

Chelsea vs. Galatasaray

Chelsea started the game well in the hostile atmosphere in Istanbul as Fernando Torres scored in the opening 10 minutes, and the Blues looked to be on their way to a superb away win. However in the second half Galatasaray rallied and an equalizer from Aurelien Chedjou saw the home side take the game to Chelsea and almost bag a winner. Chelsea will see this result as a good one away in Turkey, as the tie is evenly poised ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge. Jose Mourinho will be happy with the draw but also wary that Galatasaray’s stars and Mourinho’s former players, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, could come back to haunt him. This tie is not over by a long way but with Chelsea grabbing a vital away goal, they have a slight advantage.

First Leg: Galatasaray 1-1 Chelsea

Second Leg: March 18, Stamford Bridge, London

source: AP
Will Ronaldo win his first-ever Champions League title with Real Madrid this season?

Real Madrid vs. FC Schalke

Here we saw the team many are tipping to lift the Champions League crown in May, as Real obliterated Schalke 6-1 after Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo all scored two each. When you have three attackers of that quality in your team, there’s no way you aren’t going to punish teams for slack defending. That’s exactly what Real did and in the second leg at home this could get ugly for Bundesliga outfit Schalke. They did get a late consolation goal, and an absolute stunner at that, via former Real striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar but you fear for them at the Santiago Bernabeu. The dream final on everyone’s lips is Real Madrd vs. Bayern Munich. The former are one step closer to that, as they’re already through to the last eight… baring a miraculous comeback from Schalke.

First Leg: Schalke 1-6 Real Madrid

Second Leg: March 18, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP
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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.