Champions League Preview: Mourinho, Chelsea stand in the way of PSG’s semifinal goal

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Implicit in Paris Saint-Germain’s quick ascent (and French soccer’s willingness to go along with it) is the idea that what’s good for PSG is good for Ligue 1. This doesn’t goes as far as clubs wanting the Parisians to win at their own expense, but if the aspiring super club is going to be one of the world’s big spenders, best they do as much as damage as possible in Europe while doing so.

More success in Champions League leads to more exposure, which leads to more commercial power for the French league – something that will helps the whole circuit in the long run. As PSG grows and can buy up players like Blaise Matuidi, Lucas Digne, and the since departed Kevin Gameiro, the money can trickle down. If Ligue 1 is every going to close the gap between itself and Europe’s biggest leagues, it would have to be on the back of PSG.

“It’s very exciting for a manager to be involved in this kind of project – just as it is for any player,” PSG head coach Laurent Blanc said on Tuesday, the day before the first-year boss hosts Chelsea in UEFA Champions League’s quarterfinals. “Everything about our development is going very fast …”

(MORE, how PSG got here: Rout in Leverkusen | Close out in Paris)

That rapid rise helps explain France’s fixation on the Champions League semifinals. Since the season’s onset, French soccer has had that landmark in mind. After the Parisians forced away goals to be used to see them out of the quarterfinals last season, progress for the PSG project — and, by extension, French soccer — means making the final four. With PSG winning every other competition, Europe is now the only measuring stick.

“[I]n European competition we are among the least experienced clubs remaining,” Blanc cautions. “We will need time to be a regular player at the top level.”

But having drawn Chelsea (and not Bayern Munich, and to a certain extent Real Madrid), the Parisians are being expected to take the next step now, even if people like Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pictured) are also being cautious. But in light of last year’s result, the measured tones of PSG’s stars and staff can’t temper expectations. Whereas last year the French champions were within inches of knocking out Barcelona, this year a stronger team faces a Blues squad that’s perceived to be an easier challenge. With players like Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos, and Yohan Cabaye added to a squad already build around Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and Batuidi, why shouldn’t people expect the semifinals?

(MORE, Chelsea’s path: Draw in Istanbul | Cruise in London)

The most common answer to that question: José Mourinho. The Champions League winning coach with Porto and Inter Milan has also made the semifinals with Chelsea (during this first stint) and Real Madrid. His teams are not used to exiting the competition this early, and while that’s largely because Mourinho tends to have one the tournament’s most talented teams, the manager’s part can’t be overlooked. Each time Mourinho’s won Champions League, he did so with a team that wasn’t the tournament’s most talented.

source: AP“Paris has a team full of fantastic attacking players, not to mention the other ones,” Mourinho (right) explained. “I could speak for hours about Thiago [Motta]. The offensive players are what really make the difference at this level.”

In this matchup, there may be little question which team has more talent. Chelsea, certainly one of the most gifted teams in England, don’t have the depth of stars that PSG possesses. While they can claim Eden Hazard among the world’s elite, the Parisians have Ibrahimovic, Silva, and Edinson Cavani. A player like Matuidi would walk into Chelsea’s Wednesday XI, particularly considering winter signing Nemanja Matic is cup-tied. Throughout the rest of Laurent Blanc’s squad, Mourinho might also find the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Motta of use. Whereas Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea would have never met a French team that could outclass his talent, his return to Stamford Bridge comes within a much-changed Champions League world.

But to the extent there even is one, the talent gap isn’t so big that Mourinho couldn’t traverse it, particularly given the experience Chelsea’s core carries from their 2011-12 Champions League-winning campaign. Against a Paris Saint-Germain team likely to have a big possession advantage, those veterans can stay in their more comfortable, counter attacking posture, relying on the likes of Hazard, Óscar, and Willian to execute in transition against the PSG defense.

(MORE: Real Madrid looks to restore confidence against decimated Dortmund)

“I watch a lot of Paris matches, and Laurent Blanc has a clear philosophy,” Mourinho explained. “They keep the same philosophy, even when they change three midfielders, like against Bayer Leverkusen in the [round of 16] second leg. Same goes for us; we have a philosophy and we won’t change it. And we have faith in what we do.”

“Chelsea and Paris have very different styles of play,” Blanc agreed, “they’re more inclined to counterattack while we like to keep possession. Which is more effective? We’ll see after the two legs, but we’ll stay true to our beliefs.”

Particularly on the road, in leg one, Mourinho will have his team embrace that less expansive approach, remaining conservative while looking for a quick but crucial away goal. The question is whether Blanc, making his second trip to this level of the competition, can identify his own team’s weaknesses and protect them against that Blues’ assault.

Mauritania president stops Cup final out of boredom, sends it to PKs

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 06:  President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (2nd R) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens during a session on "Investing in Africa's Future" of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit August 6, 2014 at the State Department in Washington, DC. President Obama hosted the last day of the first-ever summit to strengthen ties between the United States and African nations.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
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Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has taken over a country by coup d’etat, seen his country taken from him by coup d’etat, and also been shot in a possible assassination attempt — one that was labeled an “accidental shooting” by a soldier — so he’s not much for boredom.

But apparently the Mauritania president wasn’t going to leave his country’s Super Cup final between FC Tevragh-Zeina and ACS Ksar without finding out who won.

[ MORE: Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016 for USMNT ]

Bored by a 1-1 match, Abdel Aziz decided the game didn’t need to be played anymore. The president called down to the field, and demand the match be immediately settled by penalty kicks.

The referee complied, and the match was immediately sent to a shootout.

Of course, this is now being hailed as a misunderstanding of sorts. From Gazetta World, via Deadspin:

“I deny in the strongest terms the intervention of the President of the Republic,” the federation’s president, Ahmed Ould Abderrahmane, wrote in a statement. “The decision was made due ​​to organisational issues in accordance with the presidents and the coaches of the two teams.”

Organizational issues… like the organizations decided that if the president didn’t want the game to go on any longer, the game shouldn’t go on any longer.

What I want to know is how rival fans break this down when arguing.

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “We won the Super Cup!”

ACS Ksar supporter:Yeah. Cause the President ordered it.”

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “Make your own breaks.”

I’ll stop with the jokes here, because I’ve turned to Google and have learned more about Mauritania in the last 20 minutes than I have in my entire life.

Leicester who? Unlikely Angers thriving, ends PSG’s long win streak

Ludovic Butelle - Angers
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Paris Saint-Germain’s only loss this year came at the hands of Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, and only three clubs in France have managed to even split the points with the Ligue 1 giants.

But Tuesday in Angers, the better story in France took hold of the headlines, as Angers became the third club to hold PSG in Ligue 1 play. Les Parisiens entered the 0-0 draw on a nine-match Ligue 1 win streak.

It’s not just the draw that’s impressive, though. While Angers supporters might’ve signed up for that before the season started. it’s par for the course right now (even if Laurent Blanc wasn’t impressed with Tuesday’s bus parking display).

[ MORE: Klopp not seeking an upgrade to Mignolet ]

The draw with the league leaders brought the newly-promoted club into third place, a point behind No. 2 Caen. And while no one’s pegging, well, anyone to overcome PSG’s 14-point lead at the table, Angers is competing for a place in Europe.

A big part of that is a well-traveled 32-year-old goalkeeper playing out of his gourd. Ludovic Butelle has now posted three-straight clean sheets to help Angers rebound from a three-match losing skid, and overcome scoring just 14 goals this season by conceding just nine.

Whether Les Scoïstes can stay ahead of the pack is one thing, but it looks fairly good that Angers can make it multiple top-flight seasons for the first time since 1981.

In another French note, former U.S. coach Bob Bradley earned his first win for Le Havre. The Ligue 2 side is now in fourth place in their promotion chase, six points out of first.


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Paris SG 16 13 3 0 37 8 29 6-1-0 7-2-0 42
Caen 15 9 1 5 18 15 3 5-1-2 4-0-3 28
Angers 16 7 6 3 14 9 5 3-5-1 4-1-2 27
Lyon 16 7 5 4 21 14 7 4-2-2 3-3-2 26
Nice 16 7 4 5 30 19 11 3-1-3 4-3-2 25
St. Etienne 15 8 1 6 20 19 1 5-1-2 3-0-4 25
Monaco 15 6 6 3 21 21 0 2-3-2 4-3-1 24
Lorient 16 5 7 4 24 21 3 4-3-2 1-4-2 22
Rennes 15 5 7 3 21 18 3 2-3-2 3-4-1 22
Nantes 16 6 3 7 12 15 -3 3-2-3 3-1-4 21
Marseille 15 5 4 6 23 17 6 2-3-3 3-1-3 19
Guingamp 15 5 4 6 15 20 -5 3-3-1 2-1-5 19
Montpellier 15 5 3 7 18 19 -1 4-0-4 1-3-3 18
Bordeaux 15 4 6 5 20 25 -5 4-2-2 0-4-3 18
Reims 15 4 4 7 15 19 -4 3-2-3 1-2-4 16
Gazelec Ajaccio 15 4 4 7 14 19 -5 2-3-2 2-1-5 16
SC Bastia 15 4 3 8 15 21 -6 4-0-3 0-3-5 15
Lille 15 2 8 5 8 11 -3 2-2-3 0-6-2 14
Toulouse 15 2 6 7 14 28 -14 2-4-1 0-2-6 12
Troyes 15 0 5 10 8 30 -22 0-4-4 0-1-6 5

Venezuela coach offers to quit if it helps players’ dispute

AP Photo/Juan Karita
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Venezuela coach Noel Sanvicente has offered to step down if it helps the national soccer team’s dispute with their federation.

Fifteen players in the national team are threatening to quit unless the entire board of directors of the Venezuela Football Federation resign.

The federation has yet to make any public reaction to the players, who made their statement on social media on Monday, but released a letter on Tuesday in which Sanvicente apologized to the players for unintended offense by his own previous lack of comment.

“If my departure contributes so that these differences are overcome, then I’ll step aside,” Sanvicente said.

The players accuse interim president Laureano Gonzalez of mistreatment and slander, following recent allegations that several players were conspiring to oust Sanvicente.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

“We accept criticism of our performances and, as a team, take responsibility for the results, but in no way do we accept that we were preparing a movement to get the national coach out,” the players said. “We are upset and disillusioned by the lack of support from the national team’s coaching staff over these accusations.

“Our integrity isn’t negotiable, and the damage done can only be repaired renewing the federation’s leadership. We can’t continue working in an environment damaged by these officials.”

The signatories included Genoa midfielder Tomas Rincon, and West Bromwich Albion striker Salomon Rondon.

Gonzalez took over as head of the federation after longtime president Rafael Esquivel was arrested in Switzerland in May as part of the U.S. and Swiss investigations into corruption at FIFA. In September, Switzerland agreed to extradite him to the United States.

Despite progress in recent years under former coach Cesar Farias, Venezuela has lost four straight matches in South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Mounting tensions in the national squad were evident following the recent loss to Ecuador when Sanvicente accused his players of a lack of commitment and a sense of entitlement.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?