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Marquinhos, Lavezzi goals see PSG cruise into Champions League quarterfinals

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A mostly perfunctory match at the the Parc de Princes played out with the intensity of an early round cup match, something that didn’t prevent a Paris Saint-Germain team in cruise control producing its expected result. Entering today’s match with a 4-0 lead earned three weeks ago, Laurent Blanc’s team saw goals from Marquinhos and Ezequiel Lavezzi earn a 2-1 win, capping the French champions’ 6-1 aggregate victory over a hapless Bayer Leverkusen.

Six minutes into Wednesday’s second leg, Bayer looked anything but hapless, with Sidney Sam pulling back a goal early. It wasn’t long, though, until a corner kick was hammered home by Marquinhos, with the Brazilian defender restoring the Parisians’ four-goal advantage. In the second half, a ball from left back Lucas Digne allowed Lavezzi to score his first goal of the tie, giving PSG its final margin of victory.

The lopsided result moves Blanc’s team into their second straight quarterfinal, with the team setting its sites on avoiding last year’s narrow disappointment. Last spring, PSG was eliminated by Barcelona, who needed the away goals tiebreaker to reach the semifinals.

Despite hints he would rest many of this best players, Blanc started star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic in what was expected to be a relatively meaningless game. Midfielder Blaise Matuidi, holder Marco Verratti and right back Gregory van der Weil were not in the team, however, with fitness concerns vaulting Yohan Cabaye, Adrien Rabiot and Christophe Jallet into the starting lineup.

In the sixth minute, those changes looked capable of bringing Bayer back into the match, with a cross from right back Giolio Donati setting up Sam for the Germans’ first goal of the tie. Blasting his shot into the lower left hand corner, Sam pulled Bayer within three, giving the visitors to quick goal they needed to spark faint hopes.

Those hopes were dashed in the 13th minute thanks to Marquinhos. Off a corner from Cabaye,  the PSG defender headed into the right of goal, quickly restoring the hosts’ lead.

In the 28th minute, however, Bayer were on the cusp of a second score, with a shirt-pull from Jallet on Eren Derdiyok giving Simon Rolfes a chance from the spot. A poor attempt left the ball waist-high from Salvatore Sirigu, who needed only to jump slightly to his left to keep it 1-1.

Eight minutes into the second half, PSG claimed their first lead of the day, with Digne finding Lavezzi in the center of the area before the Argentine beat Bernd Leno to make is 2-1. Midway through the half, a second yellow card to midfielder Emre Can saw Bayer reduced to 10, allowing both sides to cruise through the match’s final 22 minutes.

For Bayer, the result represented progress on three weeks ago, though it continues a slide that’s put next year’s Champions League in doubt. Ahead of a visit to Bayern Munich on Saturday, Leverkusen’s slump leaves them only five points ahead of fifth place Wolfsburg. Though their trip to Paris could have build momentum for a league revival, the lack of intensity at the Parc de Princes renders Wednesday’s performance irrelevant.

If Laurent Blanc wishes to ascribe some meaning to the match — if he wants to make his team care about a game that saw him withdraw Ibrahimovic shortly after Can’s red card — he can point to a lackluster effort and admonish his team ahead of the quarterfinal round. Realistically, though, today’s 2-1 win was just as meaningless for the victors as it was for the vanquished.

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.