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

Leave a comment

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.

source: Getty Images
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.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Leave a comment

AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.