UEFA Champions League Wednesday Roundup: Goals galore see Bayern, Real Madrid thrive, Juventus stumble

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Last time Champions League’s first four groups (A through D) played, eight games combined to produce 30 goals. It’d be greedy to ask for a repeat of that outburst, so as those groups completed their second round of play on Wednesday, we were forced to content ourselves with a mere 28 goals. How ever will we cope?

Those aren’t exactly drought conditions. On Wednesday, there were no 0-0 results. Each match produced at least two goals. Five teams scored at least three times, and there were only three clean sheets. There may not be an obvious reason why these groups are producing so many goals, but you won’t hear many complain about it.

Manuel Pellegrini might have a qualm, though. His Manchester City side was on the wrong end of a 3-0 result. Jorge Jesus with Benfica? His team lost 4-0 in Paris. Stale Solbakken may have appreciated fewer than four goals being put in against his Copenhagen team in Madrid, while John van den Brom will wish his Anderlecht team to held Olympiacos to less than three in Brussels. And, of course, David Moyes (Manchester United), Antonio Conte (Juventus), and Jagoba Arrasate (Real Sociedad) will rue the late goals that cost their teams points.

[MORE: Full-time snapshot: The numbers from Wendesday’s Champions League matches.]

Here’s what else happened in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action:

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 1-1 Manchester United (England) [REACTION

Our Steve Davis, on today’s game:

It wasn’t exactly the ultimate sweep of brilliant relief Manchester United went looking for Wednesday in the Ukraine, but a 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk qualifies as something of an essential pressure valve considering the state of things lately for the woozy English giants.

That state of things is the disappointing start United’s had in England. Today’s result, however, was one of their better performances since David Moyes took over, even if they were stressed to preserve it come full-time. Will people celebrate this as a strong point won? Probably not. Regardless, an early goal from Danny Welbeck held up, with Taison’s 76th minute score still allowing the hosts to claim second place in Group A.

[MORE: Manchester United makes Danny Welbeck’s early opener hold up.]

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 2-1 Real Sociedad (Spain)

Late goal in the first half (Simon Rolfes), late goal in the second half (Jens Hegeler), and Bayer Leverkusen had full points. If only it were that easy. Although Bayer was the more dangerous team throughout, they only held the lead for seven minutes, with Carlos Vela’s put-back of Bernd Leno’s 52nd minute penalty save initially bringing Sociedad even. It stoppage time, substitute Hegeler snared a deserved win, the loss leaving La Real at the bottom of Group B.

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 4-0 Copenhagen (Denmark)

In place of the injured Gareth Bale, Ángel Di María gets to prove his benching was foolish. A regular starter since being acquired from Benfica three years ago, the Argentina international out-shined Cristiano Ronaldo on a night the Portuguese had two goals. Di María had a double of his own, with the ball played off this ‘rabona’ assisting on Ronaldo’s second score:

source:

(Note: This image was floating around Twitter, and I couldn’t resist using it. If you know who should be credited, please get in touch in the comments or @richardfarley. I’d love to replace this note with some credit.)

Also of note: the younger players that got on the pitch for Real Madrid. Asier Illarramendi started in midfield. Álvaro Morata was first off the bench. Spanish U-level stand-out Jesé came on late. Even not-so-unproven Raphael Varane returned from injury, starting along side Pepe in central defense.

Group B: Juventus (Italy) 2-2 Galatasaray (Turkey) [REACTION]

From our recap:

It was a match where, despite their obvious quality, Juventus never saw profits from their control. In the 37th minute, an under-hit backpass for Leonardo Bonucci created the first goal, Drogba finishing into an open net Gianluigi Buffon was compelled to abandon. It was the 78th minute before Juve equalized, a contentious penalty call allowing Vidal to convert from the spot, while Quagliarella (brought on early for an injured Mirko Vucinic) headed home a Andrea Pirlo cross in the 86th minute, apparently giving Juventus a win in Roberto Mancini’s Gala debut.

But two minutes later, when Drogba headed down for Bulut, the script flipped …

It was Roberto Mancini’s Gala debut, and in a match against the club he supported as a boy, he produced a huge turnaround.

In their first Champions League match this season, Galatasaray lost 6-1. Today, they took a point from Turin. Not a bad start for il Mancho.

[MORE: Home draw with Galatasaray should raise concerns for Juventus.]

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 3-0 Benfica (Portugal) 

Paris Saint-Germain hasn’t always been able to convert Laurent Blanc’s coveted possession into goals, leading to speculation as to whether the tweaks he’s made to Carlo Ancelotti’s winning formula are worthwhile. Today, however, the possession game worked perfectly, keeping Benfica at arm’s length after PSG built a 3-0 lead before half. Maybe this is an example of Blanc’s endgame?

Of course, it helps when Zlatan Ibrahimovic is scoring goals. Coming into the game, Ibra’d been held to two goals in nine games. Today he scored twice in the first half hour.

Funny how everything seems to click when your best player’s scoring goals.

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 0-3 Olympiacos (Greece)

Which Olympiacos was going to show up? The one that outplayed PSG in the first half two weeks ago? Or the one that was dominated in the second?

Perhaps neither. Winning by three, Olympiacos obviously played well, but the level of opposition swung to the other end of the spectrum. Instead of facing a team that was in last year’s quarterfinals, they were matched up against a foe that may miss Europa League. A three-goal win on the road is impressive, regardless, but with Anderlect electing to start 16-year-old Youri Tielemans next to Sacha Kljestan at the base of midfield, the hosts may have rolled out the red carpet.

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 3-2 Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)

When it initially rolled it, CSKA’s third goal didn’t look like it would matter, but when Marek Bakos pulled Viktoria within one late, Matús Kozacik’s error came back to bite the Czech champions. Rather than taking a valuable draw out of St. Petersburg, Pavel Vrba’s team remains bottom of their group, with goals from Keisuke Honda and Zoran Tosic giving CSKA their first points of the tournament.

Group D: Manchester City (England) 1-3 Bayern Munich (Germany) [REACTION]

Remember yesterday, when we were touting Arsenal’s as the most-impressive performance of the tournament? Well, they held that title for one day, with Bayern putting in a performance reminiscent of their Barcelona demolitions in last year’s semifinals. Perhaps the scoreline wasn’t as lopsided, but the difference between the teams was.

On the flip side, Joe Hart gave the worst goalkeeping performance of the tournament. He was at fault on Frank Ribéry’s seventh minute opener, played a part in Thomas Müller’s second, and should have saved Arjen Robben’s third. Joe Hart was the anti-Bayern.

From our recap:

For some reason, Guardiola has decided to change that, and only against competition like CSKA or Manchester City have we seen the end game. Sacrificing the second deep midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for another player higher in a 4-1-4-1, Guardiola has dared to fuse the best of Bayern and Barcelona. He has the audacity to imagine Bayern’s oppression combined with Barcelona’s control.

The holders are the best team in Europe, and nothing we saw today tells us Manchester City will miss the knockout round (again). But we got a clear idea of the difference between these two sides. And it’s huge.

[MORE: Bayern Munich brilliance, Joe Hart follies see Manchester City fall.]

Sources: Patrick Vieira move to Nice finalized

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New York City FC’s fantastic start to 2018 will have to continue without its manager, as Patrick Vieira is set to move overseas.

Multiple sources have told Pro Soccer Talk that Vieira’s move to Ligue 1 side OGC Nice –which was reported by PST over the weekend — has been finalized.

The deal is for a two-year contract with the French club, who finished eighth place in Ligue 1 during the 2017/18 campaign.

French outlet L’Equipe has reported that NYCFC won’t receive a buyout for the remainder of Vieira’s contract, which was set to run through the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season in December.

Vieira was at NYCFC training on Tuesday, and is expected to be once again on Wednesday, per a source familiar with the situation.

Tomorrow’s training session will likely be Vieira’s last though, and he won’t travel to coach NYCFC for the team’s MLS match on Friday night against the Houston Dynamo.

There aren’t any indications to this point as to whether or not NYCFC has an interim manager in mind to replace the outgoing Vieira.

The 41-year-old manager has spent the last two-plus seasons in New York City, guiding NYCFC to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Eastern Conference. He took over at the team in 2016, following the firing of the team’s first-ever manager Jason Kreis (now at Orlando City).

Vieira will be replacing Lucien Favre at Nice, who recently left the club at the conclusion of the Ligue 1 season. Favre has since taken the vacant managerial position at Borussia Dortmund.

Over recent months, Vieira has been linked to several other European jobs, including Saint Etienne (Ligue 1) and Southampton (Premier League), neither of which escalated to a serious level of interest.

FIFA: Insufficient evidence of doping by Russia’s World Cup squad

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says there is insufficient evidence any players in Russia’s World Cup squad have previously doped.

The governing body has been assessing information from the World Anti-Doping Agency, samples recovered from the Moscow lab, and information from its former director Grigory Rodchenkov.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Russia last week named a provisional 28-man squad, plus seven reserves for the World Cup, which kicks off in Moscow on June 14.

After investigating the players, FIFA says “insufficient evidence was found to assert an anti-doping rule violation. FIFA has informed the World Anti-Doping Agency of its conclusions, and WADA in turn has agreed with FIFA’s decision to close the cases.”

FIFA did not provide information on the status of investigations into players who are not in the World Cup squad.

Why Pulisic could be more likely to stay at Dortmund

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Christian Pulisic isn’t short of potential suitors this summer as he ponders his future.

Without a World Cup, Pulisic has plenty of time to recover from another full season of European football, one where he fully experienced the harsh realities of soccer at the highest level – two managers in and two managers out.

[READ: Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal]

With Dortmund hiring another coach, it seemed there was a chance Pulisic could decide to leave Dortmund and reunite with former manager Jurgen Klopp, or head elsewhere for a more stable situation. But Tuesday’s news that Dortmund has hired Lucien Favre may change all of that.

The 60-year-old Swiss native signed a two-year contract Tuesday, and his preferred style of play fits perfectly into how Pulisic performs best on the field.

The Bundesliga recently posted a detailed look at Favre’s tactics from his time at Nice, where he led the club to finishes of third and sixth the last two years, while re-juvinating the careers of Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda as well as unearthing young gems in Jean Seri and Allan Saint-Maximin.

In Favre’s 4-3-3, you could easily see Pulisic lining up on the right of the forward trident, running to the byline and dishing out assists, with Marco Reus on the left, cutting inside and firing shots home with his howitzer of a right leg. Or we could see the pair switch.

One thing that is currently missing is a dynamic No. 9, but with the whole summer transfer window ahead, Dortmund could easily re-sign Michy Batshuayi or find a new powerful center forward (Balotelli, anyone?).

In short, while Pulisic may have had a reason to leave Dortmund had another Peter Stoger-type manager been hired, Pulisic now has no reason why he can’t be a wild success at Dortmund for years to come. The 19-year-old (he’s still a teenager!) American star will have plenty of chances to bend in crosses or cut in and score goals himself, as well as the opportunity to play in the UEFA Champions League.

Kane named England captain, set to break record

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Call him captain Kane.

The FA confirmed on Tuesday that Harry Kane would captain England at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he’ll break a record for being the youngest England captain at a World Cup. At just 24-years of age, Kane appears wise beyond his years and has over the past World Cup cycle developed into arguably the best striker in the Premier League, if not one of the top center forwards in the world.

The previous youngest England captain was the late, great Bobby Moore, who was 25-years old at the 1966 World Cup – hosted of course by England.

Considering the overall youth movement within the England ranks, this comes as a smart decision from manager Gareth Southgate. Though strikers aren’t usually made captains, he leads the line by example and has displayed great leadership for Tottenham over the last two years. In addition, should he remain consistent in his club and country form, he could be an England captain for another eight years or so.

In the last two World Cups, England has gone with the veteran hand for captain, with Steven Gerrard wearing the armband for both. But England was knocked out in the Round of 16 in 2010 and didn’t make it out of the group stage in 2014, which, combined with the shocking defeat to Iceland in Euro 2016, necessitated a change in management and culture.