Snap Judgments: Quick reactions to UEFA Champions League Tuesday

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Coming into the day, only Manchester United had clinched a Round of 16 spot from UEFA Champions League groups E through H. After Tuesday’s action, four more clubs had locked up places in the knockout round, with 2010-11 champions Barcelona joining the Red Devils as group winners.

The other side of that coin: Three teams confirmed they’ll be out of Europe come January, locking up last place spots in their groups.

We’ll spend the rest of the night getting caught up on the action. For now, here are our Snap Judgments.

Group E

Juventus 3-0 Chelsea – There’d be more irony to Chelsea missing the knockout round if a Champions League title didn’t so thoroughly overshadow the Blues’ subsequent slip ups, yet the growing chatter about Roberto Di Matteo’s job (most of which is probably unfounded) will only increase if the defending European champions end up in Europa League. After last year’s first and second place Premier League finishers where relegated to UEFA’s other club tournament, this possibility is more unexpected than shocking.

MORE: Juve rolls over the defending champions.

Nordsjaelland 2-5 Shakhtar Donetsk – Three goals from Luiz Adriano is the footnote to the Brazilian’s foray into amoral pragmatism. After his teammates tried to concede possession to the Danes after a first half drop kick, Adriano collected a long ball, rounded Nordsjaelland’s keeper, and scored into an empty net. When Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu tried to get his team to concede an offsetting goal, this players tackled Nordsjaelland’s attacker. Good thing the game wasn’t closer.

Impact – Shakhtar is through to the second round, sitting on 10 points and holding the tiebreaker advantage over Chelsea (seven points, third). Juventus needs a win or draw in Donetsk on matchday six to send Chelsea to Europa.

Group F

Valencia 1-1 Bayern Munich – Antonio Barragan, a reserve defender getting the start at right back, collected two cards in 33 minutes to handcuff Los Che. Valencia did eventually take the lead, Sofiance Feghouli opening the scoring int he 77th minute, but when Thomas Müller responded five minutes later, Bayern got the result they needed. The draw in Spain gives Bayern the tiebreaker, assuring they’ll take Group F with a matchday six win over visiting BATE.

BATE 0-2 Lille – LOSC’s first points of the tournament came on a barely visible field in Borisov, their two goals through the fog within the first 31 minutes allowed Lille to survive Djibril Sidibe’s late sending off. This was the BATE we expected to see at the tournament’s outset when they were picked to finish last in the group. That’s where the Belarussians may finish, now that Lille holds the tiebreaker between the teams.

Impact – Bayern and Valencia sit tied at 10 points on top of the group. Lille, three points behind BATE for third, can still qualify for Europa League with a win over Valencia and a BATE loss.

Group G

Spartak Moscow 0-3 Barcelona – In a tournament where little has been easy for Barcelona, Spartak Moscow gave the Catalans a day off. If Unai Emery’s side took any inspiration from Celtic’s upset of Barça, it didn’t show. The Russians saw themselves out of Europe.

MORE: Drilling down on Barcelona’s Moscow success.

Benfica 2-1 Celtic – In another match where Celtic took playing without the ball to an extreme, Benfica eventually found a winner, Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay sending his team to second place with a 71st minute goal. Benfica outshot Celtic 30-9, though the shots on target numbers (8-5, Benfica) better approximate the teams’ threats.

Impact – Benfica’s win means Barcelona locks up first in their group. It’s fortunate news for the Eagles, who need a matchday six win over Barça to ensure they advance. Celtic needs to out-point Benfica to advance.

Group H

Galatasaray 1-0 Manchester United – The Red Devils started one first-choice player, and Michael Carrick was in defensive, not midfield. Gala found a second half goal through Burak Yilmaz, the least they could have done against a League Cup-quality team.

CFR Cluj 3-1 Sporting Braga – Rui Pedro, a Portuguese forward who’d accumulated 0 Champions League goals before today, scored three times in 33 minutes to keep Cluj within sight of the knockout round. A 45th minute red card to defender Douglão tossed away what little chance Braga had of coming back for a result.

Impact – Galatasaray and Cluj are tied for second with seven points (and no chance to catch Manchester United). Gala holds the tiebreaker and has a December visit to Braga to close out group play. Cluj visits a Manchester United team that’s unlikely to be stronger than the team of second-choice players Alex Ferguson took to Istanbul.

Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan to miss Europa League final

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Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be available to play in the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.

The final on May 29 is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan and that country has no diplomatic relations with the country of Mkhitaryan’s birth, Armenia. Hence, Arsenal cannot guarantee the safety of their playmaker who is also the captain of the Armenian national team.

Despite the ambassador assuring Mkhitaryan will be safe, the Gunners have decided he will not be able to travel with the squad over those safety concerns.

“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our Uefa Europa League final against Chelsea,” the north London club said in a statement.

Due their conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Mkhitaryan did not travel for Arsenal’s Europa League game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan earlier this season.

He will now not be available for the final despite being a key part of Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final, which they must win to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. UEFA had previously said they would help with the situation, but this is the latest problem in holding the final in Baku as only 5,000 fans of both Chelsea and Arsenal are expected in the 67,000 capacity stadium due to their being no direct flights and other issues getting to Azerbaijan.

Arsenal released the following statement on the situation regarding Mkhitaryan.

We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party. We have written to Uefa expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.

We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career. Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.

Mkhitaryan responded by saying “it hurts a lot” to miss the final, but added that “we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad.”

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.