Blanc

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.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Sevilla: Gameiro, Vitolo give two-time champs an edge

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Facundo Ferreyra, left, competes for the ball with Sevilla’s Mariano during semifinal first leg of the Europa League soccer match, between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla at Arena Lviv stadium in Lviv, western Ukraine, Thursday, April  28, 2016. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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Vitolo scored a goal then drew a penalty, and Kevin Gameiro converted the chance as Sevilla picked up a pair of road goals in a 2-2 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday in the first leg of the clubs’ UEFA Europa League semifinal.

Marlos had a goal and an assist for Shakhtar Donetsk, with Taras Stepanenko scoring Shakhtar’s other goal.

Sevilla has won the last two tournaments, and hosts Thursday’s second leg with an advantage toward reaching a third.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

Gameiro set up that oh-so-pivotal road goal in the first 6 minutes, sliding the ball to Vitolo for his left-footed finish between the legs of Andriy Pyatov.

But the Ukranians weren’t slow to respond, and Shakhtar netted twice before halftime. First Marlos scored a left-footed of his own from Yaroslav Rakitskiy in the 21st minute, and then Marlos turned provider for Stepanenko’s headed finish in the 35th.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Villarreal strikes late to take first leg on Liverpool in Europa League semis

during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.
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Denis Suarez found Adrian Lopez in the third minute of stoppage time to lift Villarreal to a 1-0 home win over Liverpool in Thursday’s first leg of their UEFA Europa League semifinal.

There wasn’t much enjoyable about the match for either side until late, but Liverpool looked set to head to Anfield in search of a win. Now they’ll need more.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

The timing was off early for Mexican attacker Jonathan dos Santos and Congolese striker Cedric Bakambu, and Simon Mignolet made a couple collections to get into the flow of the match.

Liverpool answered with a dangerous chance in the fifth minute, but Joe Allen‘s only alley was a pass directly to keeper Sergio Asenjo.

Roberto Soldado knifed a bouncing shot wide of the far post in the 11th minute, and would later curl a shot around Kolo Toure that didn’t finish its dramatic bend inside the field of play.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The Yellow Submarine had the best of possession, but the Reds were stout in defense with the exception of some slips on the wet turf.

Roberto Firmino was the most dangerous Liverpool attacker, saved off the woodwork just over an hour into the match.

There wasn’t much threat coming from either camp before Mignolet made a terrific save on Bakambu in the 87th minute.

And Alberto Moreno sprung a near 60-yard run past the Villarreal back line, but couldn’t put his left-footed blast on net

Liverpool: Tribunal rules record payment due to Burnley in Ings case

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Danny Ings of Liverpool fends off Alan Hutton of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield on September 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images
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The Premier League has a new compensation record, as Burnley has received close to $12 million for Liverpool’s signing of Danny Ings after a tribunal’s ruling.

Ings, 23, was a transfer rumor mill mainstay but stayed through his contract at Turf Moor, earning the right to go anywhere on a free transfer.

[ MORE: Agbonlahor quits as Villa captain ]

But clubs have to pay compensation when signing players who are under the age of 24, and Burnley will get money from Liverpool.

From the BBC:

Burnley chief executive David Baldwin said: “This is an unprecedented record payment for training compensation and not a transfer fee.

“As the initial fee decided by the committee represents almost double the previous record for a tribunal, this fully justifies our decision to press ahead with what we felt was a fair reflection of the part Burnley played in Danny’s development.”

The Clarets will also receive 20 percent of any sell-on fees should Ings move to another club, and Bournemouth stands to make a small percentage as well. The Cherries sold Ings to Burnley in 2011.

Agbonlahor quits as captain of relegated Aston Villa

Leicester City v Aston Villa - Premier League
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BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) Gabby Agbonlahor has quit as Aston Villa captain and apologized for his off-field conduct.

The forward was pictured in a newspaper with what look like nitrous oxide – or laughing gas – canisters on the same night that Aston Villa’s relegation was confirmed after losing to Manchester United this month.

Villa announced that Agbonlahor’s suspension from the club has been lifted, while he has been fined.

[ MORE: Alli’s season is over ]

Agbonlahor wrote on his Instagram account: “I am stepping down as club captain with immediate effect, as I do not deserve to carry out such a role anymore … it hurts to have lost it.”

Agbonlahor is Villa’s longest serving current player and their record English Premier League goal-scorer, having netted 73 times since his debut in 2006.