Ronaldo brace, Jesé injury highlight Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Schalke

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In a game that had all of its drama sucked out three weeks ago, Real Madrid and Schalke gave the Bernabéu’s support and an impressive visiting contingent a look at each club’s future. Yet on a day when a huge part of that future was stretchered off early, the meaninglessness of Tuesday’s game took center stage. Real Madrid, entering the day’s festivities up 6-1, added a 3-1 to their total. After a game in which neither El Real nor Schalke cared too much about the day’s result, the Merengues are still through to UEFA Champions League’s quarterfinals.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the day’s scoring in the 21st minute when Gareth Bale, on in the eight minute for the injured Jesé, set up first goal of the night. Ten minutes later, a deflection from Sergio Ramos off Tim Hoogland’s long distance shot caught Iker Casillas wrong-footed, allowing Schalke to equalize.

In the 74th minute, Ronaldo added his second, blasting home a shot from beyond the penalty area to make it 2-1. One minute later, Álvaro Morata registered his first Champions League goal, with Bale picking up his second assist of the night.

It’s the fourth straight year Real Madrid has made the final eight, but with early news of a cruciate injury to Jesé circulating by match’s end, the day’s result took on a slightly different context. Though Cristiano Ronaldo ran his season’s goal total to 41, with 13 coming in seven Champions League appearances, the Merengues are left waiting for news on the extend of their 21-year-old’s injury.

The incident occurred early as Schalke challenged the aspiring Spanish international in the right corner. Though Jesé was eventually stretchered from the field, he initially returned and seemed able to continue. By the eighth minute, however, Bale’s number was being raised by the fourth official, signaling the start to worries about the young star’s knee.

It wasn’t long before Bale, originally scheduled to rest, made an impact. Running onto the end of a Morata through ball, Bale get behind the Schalke defense to the right of goal. His square ball into the six for an oncoming Ronaldo allowed the Portuguese star to convert his 12th goal of the competition.

Ten minutes later, Schalke had tied it up, with an unexpected source bringing them to 1-1. Tim Hoogland, allowed to carry the ball to within 26 yards from his right back position, let go of a speculative shot that caught the bottom of Sergio Ramos’s outstretched boot. The deflect gave Casillas no chance to stop Schalke’s second goal of the tie.

In the second half, Ralf Fährmann stops on Ronaldo and Isco gave the impression the Royal Blues could make it to full-time at 1-1. Then, a two-goal outburst just before the 76th minute mark put the game away for the hosts.

The first came from Ronaldo, whose drive from outside the penalty area caught Fährmann’s lower left corner to put Real Madrid in front. A minute later, Bale set up Morata in front of an open net to give the 21-year-old striker his first Champions League goal.

The outburst only added to what was already an embarrassing final score. Schalke, who had entered the day down five, carried no misconceptions about their fate. No matter what, they were going out of Champions League, part of the reason they pulled striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at half time.

But with their second half capitulation, the Miners leave Spain 9-2 (agg.) losers, with Real Madrid having further established themselves as the team most likely to keep Bayern Munich from a second straight title.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.