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Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win v. Juventus

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CARDIFF — Real Madrid secured back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles in style as the Spanish giants beat Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff on Saturday.

[ MORE: Cardiff delivers stunning final

Real have now extended their own record of being crowned Champions of Europe with 12 titles to their name and they’ve won three UCL crowns in the last four seasons as well as becoming the first team to retain the European Cup since AC Milan 1990.

Make no mistake, this is a dynasty.

[ MORE: Match recap | Mandzukic scores stunner ]

Cristiano Ronaldo scored first and last, while Casemiro’s deflected effort put Real Madrid 2-1 up after a moment of sheer magic from Mario Mandzukic leveled the game for Juventus. Late on Marco Asensio made it 4-1 with a tap in.

Zinedine Zidane has now delivered two Champions League trophies in his first two seasons as a manager. Not bad Zizou, not bad.

Here’s what we learned from the final in the Welsh capital.


RONALDO COMES UP WITH THE GOODS, YET AGAIN

For the opening 20 minutes Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of the game falling down and asking for free kicks.

Then, like he always seems to do in the big moments, he pounced. Real launched a rapid counter as Toni Kroos found Karim Benzema who found Ronaldo and he then played in the overlapping Dani Carvajal who returned the favor for Ronaldo to sweep home. Bang. 1-0.

It summed up this Real team who had started slowly and Juventus looked sharper, more focused and more capable in attack, but then their talisman struck and the entire mood of the game changed.

Ronaldo has now won four UEFA Champions League trophies, equaling Lionel Messi. The lines blurring the debate between who is greater, Ronaldo or Messi, have once again been further muddled.

The 32-year-old struggled in the run of play with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini marshaling him, and although he had an off day, like the vast majority of his teammates, Ronaldo came up when it mattered.

Kroos, Luka Modric and Marcelo were Real’s star performers but Ronaldo, as he always seems to do, stole the headlines as he was handed the Man of the Match award by his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson after the game.

Ronaldo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but to come up with big goals in big games to win big trophies time and time again, the man is a machine. In the past 12 months he has won two UCL trophies, a La Liga crown, EURO 2016 with Portugal and individual honors with the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best Player award.

With four Champions League trophies to god name and now 42 goals in the 2016-17 season, Ronaldo has proved he is once again the man for the big occasion.


A FINAL LIVES UP TO THE HYPE

I would’ve been fine if this game never had to end.

The first half was frenetic but composed. Tense yet fluid. Full of quality but also toughness. It had everything you’d want from a final.

Following Ronaldo’s fine finish after a flowing team move, Mandzukic came up with a wonder-goal to level things up.

In the second half tackles flew in as Juve tried to slow down the pace and disrupt Real’s flow. That only fired the Spaniards up and they never looked back after Casemiro’s shot deflected off Sami Khedira and in to make it 2-1.

Ronaldo flicked home at the near post three minutes later to make it 3-1 to all but end the encounter with 25 minutes to go. Ronaldo and substitute Gareth Bale both went close for Real and Alex Sandro flicked a header just wide for Juve with Gonzalo Higuain having a good chance from close range. Juan Cuadrado was sent off as Juve finished the game with 10-men as Sergio Ramos was up to his old tricks.

The game had everything and the quality of play on the pitch, despite Real finishing things off with over 20 minutes to go, was a joy to watch.


MANDZUKIC HAS CONTENDER FOR BEST-EVER UCL FINAL GOAL

This goal is a genuine contender for the best goal ever scored in a European Cup final. Even if Keylor Navas could’ve probably done a little better…

Zinedine Zidane’s volley for Real against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow in 2001 is one of the best, as is Hernan Crespo’s dink for AC Milan against Liverpool in 2005 in Istanbul, but the audacity of Mandzukic’s strike at such a pivotal time stunned the Millennium Stadium crowd.

The fact that the ball didn’t touch the ground from Dani Alves cross-field ball to Alex Sandro’s ball in to Higuain who chested it down teed up Mandzukic made his miraculous finish even better.

Aesthetically it had everything. Adventurous play from full backs, a center forward playing in another attacker superbly and then Manduzkic with a ridiculous chest and finish to make it 1-1.

The only way this goal could be below Zidane and Co. is due to Navas’ positioning. The Real goalkeeper was caught out by the lack of power on Mandzukic’s shot and it looped over his head. Would a taller goalkeeper have got fingertips on it? Perhaps.

Juventus lost a seventh UCL final out of nine, but at least they have this gem to remember from another disappointing display as Gianluigi Buffon’s wait for a European title goes on.

What’s next for Julian Green, and what’s gone wrong?

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Julian Green will have a new team again soon, in all likelihood.

A Stuttgart publication says Green is on the transfer market this month, just eight months after moving from Bayern Munich to the then-2.Bundesliga side for less than $500,000.

Now 22, Green is three and a half years removed from Jurgen Klinsmann’s long campaign to get him into a USMNT shirt. It’s been a little less time since he scored in extra time against Belgium in the World Cup, but also less than a year since he scored goals in consecutive USMNT matches. That shouldn’t be overlooked.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

Green scored one goal in 10 appearances for Stuttgart, who was promoted to the Bundesliga at the end of last season. He fell out of favor there, but was far from poor. Green completed 87 percent of his passes and averaged 1.3 dribbles per game (only four teammates had more, though 10 matches is a smaller sample size).

Before that, he spent parts of three seasons with Bayern Munich and made just four appearances, taking a loan to Hamburg in 2014-15 that saw him banished to Hamburg II after just five appearances.

What gives? Whether attitude or skill, Green has a lot of work to do to get back to a level where he’s a reasonable USMNT call-up (Green has a respectable three goals in eight call-ups, netting against Cuba and New Zealand in Oct. 2016). Still, it’s far from over for Green at 22.

There are legit questions here, as the list of not high-profile players Bayern Munich has used in its senior team at a young age and blossomed elsewhere isn’t necessarily impressive (at least relatively speaking). Nils Petersen, Thomas Kraft, and Sandro Wagner are exceptions to the rule. Better put: Bayern has a really good idea what it’s doing when it lets young players walk, and it begs discussion on the best path for Green.

It seems likely he could get a move to another 2.Bundesliga club, and there’s an outside shot he could get a look in the top flight. It would be interesting to know where the interest lies abroad. Would it be hard to acquire a work permit for France or Spain (England seems a hard sell)? Could a move to a free-flowing Eredivisie club work?

Obviously Major League Soccer clubs would welcome his talent and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t be a useful piece in the United States’ top tier, even if on a short-term move as he looks to regain confidence. Would Green see it as below him?

Arsenal’s Wilshere sent-off after brawling in U-23 match vs. Man City

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Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere isn’t standing around waiting for his next team, he’s fighting.

Period.

Wilshere got into with several members of Manchester City’s U-23 side in a match on Monday, with the English midfielder taking exception to a hockey-style hip check from City’s Matthew Smith.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

Shoving the 17-year-old Smith, Wilshere saw the City man take a tumble and stay prone. Still riled up, Wilshere tangled with City’s Tyreke Wilson.

Wilshere and Wilson were sent off.

Given his injury history, we’re not surprised Wilshere took exception to a hard and needless foul in a U-23 match.

The Arsenal man has been linked with moves to Newcastle, West Ham, AC Milan, and Sampdoria, but Arsene Wenger wants to keep Wilshere at the Emirates Stadium.

Report: PSG to dodge FFP by signing Mbappe on loan, sending Moura to Monaco

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fight to win a UEFA Champions League will receive a major boost from its main Ligue 1 rivals.

Reigning champions AS Monaco have been frustrated by phenomenal and combative forward Kylian Mbappe seeking a move to join Neymar at PSG. Mbappe was reportedly kicked out of Monaco training this week.

That move is very difficult for PSG to pull off thanks to Financial Fair Play; Les Parisiens spent more than $260 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

The way around it? Sky Sports says Monaco will reportedly loan Mbappe to PSG with an agreement to sell the 18-year-old striker permanently after this season. PSG midfielder Lucas Moura would go the other way for this season.

If that rings a bit hollow to those who’d like to see FFP work against massive clubs stockpiling talent, it should; This is hardly any different from spending all the money in one window when considering that Mbappe would join Neymar and Edinson Cavani effective this season.

Incredibly, Sky also has the notion that PSG will bring Fabinho to the Parc des Princes (Yes, from Monaco).

If Mbappe ends up in Paris — forget Fabinho for a second — PSG would be favored to get past its UCL quarterfinals blockade (Les Parisiens were eliminated in the Round of 16 last season by Barcelona after four-straight quarterfinal ousters).

UEFA Champions League playoffs: Differing levels of comfort

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Only one of 20 playoff-contending clubs has a strong foot in the UEFA Champions League group stage with 10 second legs set for this week.

That’s Scottish champions Celtic, who took a 5-0 lead for manager Brendan Rodgers last week at Celtic Park and heads to the capital of Kazakhstan for a Tuesday date with Astana.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for the rest, there are varying levels of comfort. Napoli leads Nice 2-0 and didn’t concede an away goal to the French side, so the Serie A side has to feel pretty good. Liverpool edged Hoffenheim 2-1 in Germany and brings two goals home to Anfield. That, too, is confident footing.

Steaua Bucharest and Sporting CP are the only sides level, scoreless after a match in Portugal.

But Olympiacos is in Croatia and a goal away from being on the wrong foot after a 2-1 win at home to Rijeka, and Hapoel Be’er Sheva has the same situation in Slovenia against Maribor.

At risk? Three high-profile away trips and the same number of group stage home paydays. The losers drop into the Europa League group stage.

Tuesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET unless noted

Astana vs. Celtic (Celtic leads 5-0) — 11:30 a.m. ET
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1)
Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli leads 2-0)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel leads 2-1)

Wednesday
All matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Copenhagen vs. Qarabag (Qarabag leads 1-0)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA leads 1-0)
Slavia Prague vs. Apoel Nicosia (Apoel leads 2-0)
Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool leads 2-1)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting CP (First leg 0-0)