Snap Judgments: Quick reactions to Tuesday’s Champions League results

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While draws can often leave fans feeling empty-handed, today’s games in Gelsenkirchen, Madrid, and Manchester did their part to dissuade the notion an even scoreline at 90 minutes should cancel out the wonders that went into it. Those three draws, all 2-2 finals, made for one of the best nights of the Champions League season. In the process, two unexpected group leaders (Schalke, Borussia Dortmund) reinforced the notion that Germany’s Bundesliga is ready to make its long-awaited impact in European competition.

Elsewhere, Zlatan Ibrahimovic crafted another memorable night, one of his former teams (Milan) needed a late goal to salvage a home result, while Russia’s best hope to compete in this year’s competition continued to disappoint.

Group A

Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 Dinamo Zagreb – Dinamo held PSG dangerman Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoreless, but the big Swede assisted on all four Paris Saint-Germain goals, with Ligue 1’s leaders making predictably easy work of Dinamo. Carlo Ancelotti went back to an attacking trident for this one, giving the trio Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Jeremy Menez a rare start.

Dynamo Kyiv 0-0 Porto – Dynamo continues to be an improved side under Oleg Blokhin, the former Ukraine national team coach who assumed Dynamo’s reins last month. Though the draw almost guaranteed their relegation to Europa League, Dynamo’s a much-improved team from the side that opened the tournament with a 4-1 loss in Paris.

Impact – Porto’s first blemish of the competition allows PSG to move within a point ahead of the teams’ round six meeting at the Parc de Princes. If form holds through the next matchday, that meeting will decide the group.

Standings – Porto 10 pts., PSG 8, Dynamo 4, Dinamo 0.

Group B

Schalke 2-2 Arsenal –Except for a 15-minute stretch of the first half (and the first moments after intermission), Schalke was the better side. Unfortunately for Huub Stevens, his team conceded twice during that quarter-hour spell. Still, after Schalke had come back, goalkeeper Lars Understall had to come up with a big, 94th minute save on Theo Walcott to preserve a draw.

Olympiakos 3-1 Montpellier – The Greek champions got the expected result, but it wasn’t easy. Left playing on the counter, Olympiakos opened the door for a draw by letting Younes Belhanda equalize from the spot in the 67th minute. Late goals from Leandro Greco and Kostas Mitroglou gave Olympiakos the win, all but assuring they’ll still be in Europe come the new year.

Impact – Two wins, and Schalke takes the group, while Arsenal face some danger with a matchday six trip to Piraeus. They’ll need a result to stay in Champions League.

Standings – Schalke 8 pts., Arsenal 7, Olympiakos 6, Montpellier 1

Group C

Milan 1-1 Málaga – Few will be surprised by the draw, an indication of the lowered expectations surrounding this Milan side. With an opening goal, Málaga was on track to close out the group, but an equalizer from Alexandre Pato salvaged a deserved draw for the Rossoneri.

Anderlecht 1-0 Zenit St. Petersburg – With the exception of Manchester City, Zenit has been the tournament’s biggest disappointment. The Russian champions were favored to come out of this group with Milan, but after losing to an Anderlecht side that had failed to score in their first three games, Zenit continues to undermine expectations.

Impact – Hosting Anderlecht to close group play, Málaga’s destined to win this group. The Milan-Zenit match on matchday six will likely determine who joins them in the knockout round, provided Milan doesn’t slip in Belgium.

Standings – Málaga 10 pts., Milan 5, Anderlecht 4, Zenit 3

Group D

Real Madrid 2-2 Borussia Dortmund – One of the best games of the tournament was very open throughout the first 45 minutes, Borussia Dortmund generating a number of chances while Real Madrid struggled to keep up. BVB may not have gotten a (arguably deserved) win, but in taking two leads at the Bernabeu while pushing Real to their limits, Jurgen Klopp’s side proved last round’s win was no fluke.

Manchester City 2-2 Ajax – Goals by Yaya Touré and Sergio Agüero brought City back from two down, but fielding another team that played down to an inferior opponent, Roberto Mancini did himself no favors on Tuesday. Expect more talk about the Italian’s suitability for the City job.

Impact – Dortmund and Real Madrid are going through (eventually), and with their two matches with Real behind them, expect BVB to win the group. Real still has a trip to Manchester, but the game’s unlikely to make-or-break their knockout round hopes.

Standings – Borussia Dortmund 8 pts., Real Madrid 7, Ajax 4, Manchester City 2

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.