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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.

Man City 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Controversy, and how!

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, runs past Tottenham Hotspur's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who holds the ball after being pushed by Tottenham Hotspur's Danny Rose, right, during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan., 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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  • Sane scores second PL goal
  • Lloris has miserable 4 minutes
  • Sides split season series

Referee Andre Marriner is the first name in a match recap, which is rarely a good sign.

The official failed to give a clear penalty to Raheem Sterling moments before Spurs grabbed an equalizer at the other end, as Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City drew 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne scored for Man City, while Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son netted for Spurs.

The draw helps Chelsea more than either side, with City staying fifth on 43 points while Spurs are second with 46.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Aside from goals, the first half did not disappoint. The home side was buzzing, and forced Spurs into timely interventions. Tottenham was its usual disciplined self.

Man City had a lot of terrific chances, none better than one robbed by Spurs’ backstop Hugo Lloris. Aguero was nearing the doorstep when Lloris flew to his right to capture the ball with both hands.

Scoreless at halftime, and if you felt someone was missing from the proceedings…

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino deciding to put his foot forward in the second half, taking off Kevin Wimmer for Heung-Min Son.

It was a rare mistake from Lloris that broke the deadlock. The Spurs ‘keep opted for a flying headed clearance of a long ball, reaching it before Sane but heading it off the striker and toward a gaping goal. 1-0, 49’.

It was four minutes later that City scored again, with Lloris going to ground to bobble a Raheem Sterling cross. De Bruyne followed up the play and pushed it in. Wow, 2-0.

Alli continues to prove a threat in the air, rising high to pull one back when Kyle Walker sent a cross over the City back line.

Somehow, Andre Marriner did not award a penalty when Walker shoved Sterling just before the Man City man took his 1v1 shot on Lloris. Marriner allowed the play to go to the other end, and Alli helped Son to an equalizer inside the far post.

Gabriel Jesus subbed into the match for City in the 82nd minute, and nearly had an assist and then headed goal in the first 60 seconds of his Premier League career.

He appeared to have scored a minute later, but was offside. A bit premature from the youngster, who electrified the crowd.

VIDEO: After reaching 250, a look at Rooney’s top Man United goals

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Wayne Rooney has scored some stunning goals for Manchester United over the past 12 years.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, hit the 250 mark on Saturday at Stoke City to become United’s all-time leading goal scorer and his curling free kick set the record in style.

In the video above we look back on some of the best goals Rooney has scored in a United shirt over the years.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts

From his bicycle kick against Manchester City in the derby to his shot from the halfway line against West Ham and his volley against Newcastle, he has scored goals of every tye on his way to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record.

Which is your favorite Rooney goal?

Mourinho praises Rooney, bemoans Man United’s finishing

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Jose Mourinho kept it simple when summing up Wayne Rooney‘s record-breaking day for Manchester United on Saturday.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, scored his 250th goal for United to set the all-time goal scoring and move ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton.

Speaking to the media after the draw at Stoke City, Mourinho spoke about Rooney’s incredible achievement.

“The record is the record. It is the record of the biggest club in England and one of the biggest in the world,” Mourinho said. “Before him the record belonged to a legend of English football. Now Wayne becomes a legend of Manchester United.”

Well said, Jose.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts ]

As for the draw, which Rooney’s goal secured, United’s manager saluted Stoke’s defensive effort but is concerned his team keep dropping points when they should be winning.

“It was a big game with two teams in the beginning trying to win. But after 25 minutes one team tried to win and the other tried to defend, which they did amazingly well. They showed great work-rate and did everything to try and stop us. We did everything well expect in front of our target. We missed unbelievable chances. We hit the post, the keeper saves, we miss chances and we have another draw. We have too many draws for the attacking play we produce. Opposition goalkeeper are always amazing against us.”

United is now 17 games unbeaten in all competitions and they continue to keep scoring late to grab wins or draws.

That said, they could fall 14 points behind leaders Chelsea if they beat Hull City on Sunday. That would mean United’s already very slim title hopes are all but over. An aura of invincibility is returning, though, and United remain within three points of the top four.

Not all doom and gloom but if United fail to finish in the top four this season it will be down to their poor finishing.

Clement buoyed by upset: “We frustrated Liverpool”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Paul Clement, Manager of Swansea City looks on during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Swansea City boss Paul Clement’s plans for keeping his club safe in the Premier League probably didn’t have “Win at Liverpool” high in likelihood.

But Swans did just that, rising above their still-poor defense to outscore the Reds 3-2 at Anfield on Saturday.

[ MORE: Recap | Klopp furious with Reds ]

New signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll hit the pitch, but it was Fernando Llorente’s brace and Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s late winner that did the trick to boost Swans out of the drop zone.

From the BBC:

“We frustrated Liverpool and defended really well. We showed great togetherness and it was a massive team effort. At half-time I told the players we would get at least one chance, but to get three was unbelievable.

“It’s very important for the confidence of the side that we can come to a big team and get a result. We need to work hard on the training pitch and make sure we get another result in 10 days’ time.”

Swans have kept just three clean sheets this season, and Clement seems to be joining Bob Bradley in the realization that, for now, winning will have to include multiple goals. Let’s see if Swans can build off this.