PSG returns, Porto looks to improve – UEFA Champions League Group A preview

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Just like that, Champions League group stage is back. Eight matches per day, two days a week, with match days spread out from now through the beginning of December. For many of you, it will provide something to get through your work day. For some of us, it’s bludgeoning: Too many games; too little time; too much significance.

While the day’s biggest match is in Group D (Real Madrid hosting Manchester City), PSG’s Champions League return will also snatch headlines. They help kickoff Group A play with FC Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, and Dinamo Zagreb.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Dynamo Kyiv

Parc de Princes, Paris, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

You’d be forgiven for thinking PSG had never been in Champions League. It’s been eight years since the Parisians participated in the competition, and since becoming the unofficial club of the Qatari government, Paris Saint-Germain is scarcely the same club.

Today, the Parisians are more talented than their predecessors could have imagined. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has become the focal point of a team that will also feature Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, and Jeremy Menez. While many attacks can claim greater potency, few can espouse to having more skill.

Unfortunately for Carlo Ancelotti, teams are judged by goals, which means the PSG boss needs to find a way to improve on their six goals in five Ligue 1 games. More specifically, Ancelotti needs to get somebody besides Ibrahimovic scoring. Zlatan has scored five times (in four games). The rest of the team is averaging 0.20 goals per match.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Dynamo represents an opportunity for PSG to break out. The Ukranians are perennial contenders domestically, but they’re not on the same level as the Parisians, even if they’ve just gone through an offseason buildup of their own: Miguel Veloso (from Genoa), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham Hotspur), Marco Ruben (Villarreal) and Taye Taiwo (Milan).

Travelling across the continent for a midweek match is tough enough, but when you don’t have the players to match up with Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Menez, the odds become especially long.

Dinamo Zagreb vs. FC Porto

Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Give credit to Dinamo Zagreb for being one of two teams to make it from second round qualifying into group stage, but they’re going to have to drastically improve on last year to make the treck worth their competitive while. No matter how they perform against FC Porto, the money will justify the effort (each team gets $9.4 million for making it this far), but on the field, Dinamo will want to avoid the embarrassment of a record-setting 22 goals allowed in last year’s group stage.

If current form in any indication, Dinamo is set to improve. Shortly after their elimination from last year’s Champions League, Dinamo parted ways with head coach Krunoslav Jurčić, bringing in Ante Čačić from Lokomotiva. Since, the team is undefeated in 33 matches, winning 23.

Porto is also trying to improve on last year, though for drastically different reasons. Favored going into Group G, the Portuguese champions finished third behind Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg and Cyprus’s APOEL. On the final matchday, Porto saw Zenit come of the Dragão and park the bus, their 0-0 draw especially frustrating given one more goal would have put them into the final 16.

Porto’s ability to move forward will depend on how successful they are in replacing Hulk. Their leading scorer last season, Hulk, moved to Zenit earlier this month. Porto are left with a wealth of attacking talent (James Rodriguez, Silvestre Valera, and Christian Atsu), but maintaining their high standards will depend on Jackson Martínez. The talented Ecuadorian was imported from Mexico this summer and has already scored twice in three Liga matches. If he can be as incredible as Hulk, Porto should improve on last year’s disappointment.

Matic: Man Utd needs more experience in its squad

AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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Nemanja Matic would like to see a bit more veteran bravery in his Manchester United side.

The title-winning 29-year-old midfielder finished second in the Premier League this season, his first with the Red Devils after a strong run with Chelsea.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

The Blues beat United in Saturday’s FA Cup Final, and Matic says the answer to winning hardware isn’t in talent as much as it is wisdom.

From the BBC:

“The only team who is better than us this year is Man City,” said Matic. “Obviously, they play amazing football. But we are second and we are in the Champions League next year, which is the most important thing. I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team.”

United loses one veteran cog in Michael Carrick, and both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have skipped town in the last year.

Who could fit the bill in terms of old hats in current United positions of weakness? Well, a full offseason for Alexis Sanchez will help, and perhaps the rumors of Toby Alderweireld make the most sense of any we’ve seen in recent weeks.

MLS Things: Shuttleworth, Quintero somehow get Loons a point vs. SKC

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Entering the day, no one was arguing that hosts Minnesota United were a better side than Sporting KC.

The Loons were 11 points and 19 goals worth of differential behind Western Conference-leading KC.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

They still are, despite a 1-1 Sunday match which carried a fitting disparity on the pitch but nothing to separate the two on the scoreboard.

Khiry gets his just desserts

Oregon State product Khiry Shelton has been wonderful for Sporting KC this season, but the striker just hasn’t found the back of the goal.

That finally changed Sunday, when his downbound header got the better of Bobby Shuttleworth — more on him later — and allowed him a richly-deserved first SKC goal which could well break down the dam.

The eighth minute saw Shelton score his goal on one of just six Loons shot attempts.

Shuttleworth back in business

It’s not always sexy to go to the veteran backstop, but it looks like Adrian Heath should’ve called Bobby Shuttleworth’s name a long time ago.

Entering the day, Shuttleworth had the second-best WhoScored.com rating of any goalkeeper to appear in more than five matches (Evan Bush).

While certainly part of that has to do with the defensive actions foisted upon him, Shuttleworth was the main reason SKC’s 24-6 advantage in attempts failed to turn into anything other than a point.

Darwin

Darwin Quintero has had more good matches than bad ones since joining the Loons, and added his third goal in seven matches with this rebound finish on Sunday.

Quintero had two goals and four assists in 17 Liga MX matches, but has been perfectly revitalized by the Minnesota air.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Bayern Munich fans pay tribute to Jupp Heynckes, again

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich fans turned up in their thousands to bid farewell to Jupp Heynckes for a second time on Sunday.

The veteran coach is going back into retirement after leading Bayern to another league title. The side was five points adrift when he returned in October, but rebounded to wrap up the title with five rounds to spare.

[ MORE: Pellegrini to WHU inches closer ]

It might have been more for Heynckes, but Eintracht Frankfurt stunned the side to win the German Cup final on Saturday and Real Madrid emerged triumphant from the sides’ Champions League semifinal.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge paid tribute to the 73-year-old Heynckes for bringing “old values” such as “humanity and empathy” back to the side.

“The little downside for us is that we would have liked to give our Jupp, our coach, the nearly perfect finish, but it didn’t quite work out,” Rummenigge said of the shock defeat to Frankfurt.

Heynckes led Bayern to the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup titles in his previous stint in 2013, before he retired for the first time.

Bayern’s players were clearly still disappointed over Saturday’s cup defeat as they celebrated the league win on the Munich town hall balcony.

“It feels really bad, how the season ended,” said Thomas Mueller, who added that the team would try to “put a brave face on it.”