With PSG stumbling, is Laurent Blanc really on the hot seat?

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In Laurent Blanc’s first season as head of Paris Saint-Germain, the capital city giants have lost just two league matches and made the Champions League Round of 16.

That’s fewer league losses than any European club in the five major leagues, only matched by European kings Bayern Munich, who also sit at two.

And yet, following their bitter Champions League collapse to Chelsea and their subsequent league loss to Lyon this past weekend, serious questions are being asked of Blanc.

His hire plus the addition Edinson Cavani and Yohan Cabaye were meant to take the Parisians over the hump.  They are the 2011 Andy Murray of European soccer – a very good club stuck behind two or three all-time greats.

While Murray broke through with his Olympic triumph on home soil in 2012, which led to his first two major victories in the next 12 months, PSG have yet to prove they can shatter the glass confines holding them back.

Nothing has emerged to give credibility to any calls for Blanc’s head, but with the club h̶a̶v̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶w̶r̶a̶p̶p̶e̶d̶ ̶u̶p̶ on the verge of their second straight Ligue 1 title, the Coupe de la Ligue finals against Lyon becomes a massive fixture.

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Did Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s injury signal the shutting of PSG’s European window of opportunity? Or will they rebound next year to again challenge the best?

PSG have reached a crossroads in club growth where the league title is no longer enough; respect on the European stage is what they lust, and its own club history teaches us how small the window is for a team to break the barriers of good to great before the door shuts for some time.

They must wait yet another year for Champions League vindication, having squandered not just a 3-1 lead to Chelsea but with it their golden opportunity to show the world PSG is here to stay.

No doubt turning up the heat on Blanc’s throne is the pending Financial Fair Play decision. Of the 76 teams in question, The Guardian reports PSG have the most to worry. Their Qatari owners covered up huge losses in recent years by back-dating a sponsorship deal with Qatar Tourism Authority, and must convince UEFA the deal is of fair market value.

If they do end up in hot water, a fine, transfer embargo, or even a European ban could slam the aforementioned window shut in lightning-quick fashion, and may leave fans not only thinking what could have been in this year’s Champions League, but rueing the wasteful disposal of what could prove their last chance for many years to make a major European splash.

The club won’t blow their league table lead, but if Blanc stumbles down the stretch, especially in their cup final against OL, Le President could see himself jobless thanks to a few dire tactical blunders down the stretch, despite a season overflowing with success.

Such is the constant pressure on managers – with growing success comes growing expectations, and if a club cannot finish what it started, the blame falls with the manager.

Blanc’s firing would signal the closing of PSG’s window of opportunity, and the marking of another “golden age” in club history with an asterisk. An asterisk used to remind all that they yet again got so close, but could not make the final push.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday