UEFA Champions League roundup: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain clinch knockout round spots

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Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 0, Manchester United (England) 5

From today’s preview:

Between talent, form, venue, and opponent’s fitness, Bayer has everything going for them ahead of this match, and while the healthy talents United possesses are still capable of winning this match, they shouldn’t. If Bayer can avoid being frightened out of their game, they should go top of Group A.

Smash cut to the present, and Bayer’s again undermined our faith. From our recap, courtesy of Steve Davis:

A sluggish start to the David Moyes era at Manchester United keeps gaining speed. Another mighty puff of steam was acquired Wednesday as the fabled English club qualified in highest possible style for Champions League knockout stages, with a full match to spare …

Wayne Rooney assisted on Antonio Valencia’s early goal and then provided the stinging free kick that turned into an own goal and a 2-0 lead after just 30 minutes at the BayArena. Jonny EvansChris Smalling and Nani provided United’s second half goals in what must surely be the most impressive win yet under Moyes.

The Arsenal win was nice, as was United’s first win over Bayer Leverkusen. But today’s thrashing came out of nowhere. Who needs midfielders when you can have goals?

[MORE:  5-0 Stunner! Manchester United gallops impressively past Bayer Leverkusen, into Champions League knockout stage]

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 4, Real Sociedad (Spain) 0

The Ukranian champions’ most impressive performance of the tournament sets up a showdown for first place Dec. 10 in Manchester, Mircea Lucescu’s team staying within three of the Red Devils with a clinical effort Wednesday at the Donbass Arena. Luiz Adriano opened the scoring in the 47th minute, with fellow Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa tripling their lead by the 69-minute mark. A second for Costa just before the end of regulation time launched the hosts into second place, one point ahead of Bayer Leverkusen.

[MORE: Updated list of teams qualified for Champions League knockout stage]

Group B: Juventus (Italy) 3, FC Copenhagen (Denmark) 1

Winless in Champions League coming into today’s match, Juventus woke up, with a hat trick from Arturo Vidal lifting them to second in Group B. Penalty kicks on either side of halftime were complemented by a 63rd minute header, leaving the Chilean on five goals for the tournament.

From our recap:

Up two, Juventus clicked it into neutral, only giving up one more shot on target after [Olof] Mellberg’s goal. Finally putting in the type of performance most expected in their first four games, Juve claimed the Group B place they were supposed to occupy all along. Though they’ve won once in five matches, that may be all they need to advance to the round of 16. A draw at Galatasaray in two weeks will clinch second place and put them into the knockout round.

[MORE: Arturo Vidal hat trick gives Juventus first win of Champions League, vaults team second in Group B]

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 4, Galatasaray (Turkey) 1

Sergio Ramos saw red in the 26th minute, a dismissal that was irrelevant before Gareth Bale put the Merengues up eight minutes before half with a 30-yard free kick. Galatasaray answered a minute later through Umut Bulut but gave up second half goals to Álvaro Arbeloa, Angel di María, and Isco, finishing -8 in their two group stage matches against El Real.

From our recap:

El Real were without their best player, and 26 minutes into the match, arguably their best defender was given his marching orders. For a Galatasaray team that has designs on Group B’s second spot, this was a gift: their best chance to claim points at the Bernabeu. Yet after 64 minutes of playing against 10 men, the Turks were left with another embarrassing loss.

If they thought their 6-1 defeat to the Blancos in Istanbul was bad, think again. At least they were playing a full team last time around. This time, they may have been better off if Ramos had stayed on.

[MORE: Ronaldo-less Real Madrid overcome early red card, cruise past Galatasaray, 4-1]

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 2, Olympiacos (Greece) 1

Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke through after six minutes, but a 80th minute equalizer from Kostas Manolas left PSG in danger of being drawn from behind for the second straight Champions League match. Edinson Cavani, however, pushed the Parisians to 13 points and a guaranteed first place finish with his 90th minute goal, Olympiacos potentially needing three points against Anderlecht on Dec. 10 to go through.

[REVIEW: UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal leading Group F; Barcelona, Chelsea upset]

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 2, Benfica (Portugal) 3

A back-and-forth affair saw Chancel Mbemba’s opener pulled back by Benfica’s Nemanja Matic, the visitors taking their first lead in the 52nd minute through a Mbemba own goal. When Massimo Bruno brought the Belgian champions to the brink of their second point of the tournament, Benfica needed a stoppage time winner from Rodrigo to move to move even on points with Olympiacos.

[REVIEW: Untangling Champions League Group F: What Arsenal needs to advance]

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1, Bayern Munich (Germany) 3

In the day’s early match, the defending champions took a quick lead through Arjen Robben, with München doubling the margin shortly after halftime through Mario Götze. Swpaped penalty kicks just after the hour put Keisuke Honda and Thomas Müller on the scoresheet and left CSKA Moscow launching ill-fated shots from distance on Manuel Neuer. The FCB keeper managed to record seven saves without being truly bothered from open play, Bayern maintaining their perfect record through five games.

[REVIEW: Late Mohamed Salah goal gives Basel second straight win over Chelsea]

Group D: Manchester City (England) 4, Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 2

Goals from Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri, Álvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko saw Manchester City outlast a Viktoria side that put up an unexpectedly strong fight, with Stanislav Tecl’s second half score making it 2-2 after 68 minutes. City needed to bring Jesus Navas, Yaya Touré, and Negredo in to seal the game, with Navas assisting on two of the hosts’ three second half goals.

[REVIEW: Reus, Blaszczykowski, Aubamenyang goals see Borussia Dortmund down Napoli, move second in UEFA Champions League group]

Two positive COVID tests for Atletico Madrid ahead of Champions League

Atletico Madrid coronavirus
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Atletico Madrid announced two positive coronavirus tests from its crew set to travel to Portugal for this week’s UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against RB Leipzig.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

The team says it will test all of its players and staff again to assure that there are no positive COVID-19 cases affecting the tournament.

Atleti asked for extreme privacy regarding the individuals who tested positive.

The match with RB Leipzig is Thursday in Lisbon, the second of four quarterfinals on the docket.

The positive tests are a stark reminder that while the top leagues in European soccer have done a very good job at isolating and keeping tests down, an incredibly contagious virus like COVID-19 can wreak havoc on the competition at any time.

From Atleti’s web site, via Sky Sports:

“Today, two positives appeared among the known results, which are now isolated in their respective homes and were reported immediately to the Spanish and Portuguese health authorities, UEFA, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the Portuguese Federation and the Superior Council of Sports.

“As such, a corresponding protocol planned for these circumstances has been activated, which requires new tests to be undertaken to first team players, members of the Lisbon travelling party and those who are in close contact with the positive cases, and which will result in changes in the timings of training sessions, in the structure and development of the journey and the accommodation in the Portuguese capital.”

Atalanta plays PSG on Wednesday, while Barcelona and Bayern Munich meet Friday, and Man City battles Lyon on Saturday.

It will feel like smooth sailing once the tournament begins and players hit the proverbial bubble. Until then, though, this proves that there are no guarantees.

USWNT star Kelley O’Hara on NWSL restart, launching podcast

Kelley O'Hara
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When USWNT star Kelley O’Hara launched her own podcast, she didn’t mess around with the star power of her guests.

Launched in July, the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast has hosted three incredible guests including the first post-pregnancy interview with USWNT teammate Alex Morgan as well as talks with Olympic star Chloe Kim and WNBA hero Candace Parker.

A Stanford connection with fellow alum Haley Rosen put the two-time World Cup winner on the path to hosting the show, and O’Hara admits that she was driven by the chance to lift the lid on athletes’ true feelings beyond the shield that comes up while talking to reporters.

[ MORE: Champions League favorites ranked ]

“Even as an athlete I know that I have a little of my guard up when I’m talking to a reporter because sometimes they’ll take it and use it for their own narrative or agenda,” she said in a conversation with ProSoccerTalk. “There’s an ability to be vulnerable and be safe because you’re talking to someone who has a general idea of what it feels like to be an athlete. Nothing about it is trying to catch them.”

Part of that comes with O’Hara realizing she has a massive stage on account of her accomplishments. The USWNT is one of the most-watched teams in the world, on-and-off the pitch.

While she felt more like someone achieving a life goal when she first became a pro, the simultaneous life under a microscope and on a platform has inspired her to take advantage of her role model status.

“You come to realize that with the success that we have had, individually and with the national team, you do influence people,” O’Hara said. “You have an impact. You have this ability to be a role model and do good things in the world. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast; I have the ability to lend my platform to other athletes and give people a voice and a space.”

O’Hara was speaking as the National Women’s Soccer League put a bow on its return to the pitch with the NWSL Challenge Cup.

O’Hara’s Utah Royals fell to eventual champions Houston Dash in the quarterfinals, but the completion of the tournament in itself was a bright spot to a dark summer.

“I’m really proud about what the NWSL was able to create there,” O’Hara said. “There was a lot of uncertainty around the Challenge Cup because of COVID, but the fact that the NWSL was able to create an environment to get back on the field has been fantastic. Obviously you have Orlando that wasn’t able to come but since every team has arrived, not one player has tested positive so the NWSL deserves a lot of credit for designing this whole set-up.”

PST asked the 32-year-old how much credit should go to the players, considering how many other leagues have been thwarted by the negligence of athletes or staffers around COVID-19.

“When the NWSL was proposing everything, they told us it was built on trust. If players weren’t going to be responsible, it wasn’t going to work. It’s great that we all want to be competing, I feel we’re very lucky to be able to compete, but that’s contributed to people following the rules. You didn’t want to be the one person who ruins it.”

Learn more about the Just Women’s Sports crew, which includes Olympic heroes Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Hilary Knight, and Maggie Steffens as well as former WNBA No. 1 overall pick Nneka Ogwumike, at their official web site.

Champions League favorites ranked from eight to one

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Eight teams remain in the UEFA Champions League’s rapid-fire return, with one-legged ties promising high drama in Portugal.

The quarterfinals begin Wednesday, the bracket distinctly split into one deadly half and another with upset potential.

Because of this set-up, there’s a massive challenge in divining the true favorites to win the Aug. 23 in Lisbon.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

If you were assembling a bottom-up power rankings in terms of the talent and toughness assembled by the eight remaining clubs, it might look something like this:

Longshots: Atalanta, Lyon
Puncher’s chance: Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig
History-weighted powers: Man City, Paris Saint-Germain
Favorites: Barcelona, Bayern Munich

Here’s the rub: Three of the four biggest favorites will have to get through each other to get to the final, including the two top dogs. Barcelona and Bayern Munich will scrap Friday, and Man City’s slight advantage in facing Lyon is mitigated by one day’s less rest for a Bayern-Barca winner.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

Man City is the bookies’ favorites to win the whole thing. Do we see it that way? Spoiler alert: Nope.

And, by the way, despite changes to both outfits this is a Lyon that took four of six points from City in the 2018-19 UCL group stage. We don’t see an upset at that stage but it’s a way to note that anything is, indeed, possible.


8. Lyon

Seventh-place in Ligue 1 this season, Rudi Garcia’s men already have the beating of Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus on their resume. Moussa Dembele, Houssem Aouar, and Memphis Depay are all exciting attacking talents, but the bracket’s demands to take down Man City, then either Bayern and Barcelona just to get to the final sinks them to eighth.

7. RB Leipzig

Julian Nagelsmann is building a reputation as a man who can outwit anyone in a one-off — see two draws with Bayern in Bundesliga play this season — so it’s fitting that he’ll go tete-a-tete with Simeone in the next round. The absence of Timo Werner, who’s off to Chelsea, is a huge problem given the occasion(s). Asking three wins seems a lot, though there will be plenty of Americans pulling for Tyler Adams’ team.

Bayern Munich v. RB Leipzig recap and video highlights
09 February 2020, Bavaria, Munich: American midfielder Tyler Adams duels with Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski. (Photo by Matthias Balk/picture alliance via Getty Images)

6. Atalanta

The Bergamo-based side will have the support of many neutrals. For one thing, Atalanta is on a historic run for their club before taking into account their city’s status as one of the early epicenters of the coronavirus. For another, they are super fun. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men scored 98 goals in Serie A, 19 more than next-best Lazio, and lost the second-fewest games in Italy. They’ve lost once since January 25, a final day defeat to Inter Milan. Five players have scored double-digit goals in all comps this season.

5. Atletico Madrid

Ask Liverpool: Diego Simeone and Jan Oblak in knockout round football is reason to doubt anyone. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Atleti has punched well above its weight this season, even relative to El Cholo’s standards.

4. Barcelona

Lionel Messi means the club should be even higher on this list, and Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez are plenty battle-hardened in this spot. But Barca has made a mess of their last few ventures into the latter rounds of this tournament, and those ghosts combined with having to beat Bayern and perhaps Man City in consecutive weeks is brutal with several u’s.

Messi new contract
SEVILLA, SPAIN – JUNE 19: He’s good (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

3. Paris Saint-Germain

There’s a good argument to be made that PSG might hold the top spot on this list. Thomas Tuchel’s men are better rested and have a more straight-forward path to Lisbon, plus the Ligue 1 champs have played and won two Cup finals in the past three weeks. There are two reasons we’re keeping them below Man City and Bayern. One is the UCL-challenged history that has us as well as surely them seeing ghosts, and the other is the uncertain status of Kylian Mbappe. He’s in the squad, but at what percent?

2. Manchester City

The reason to consider putting City above Bayern is the men in charge. Hansi Flick has done oh-so-well at Bayern but is certainly not Pep Guardiola in terms of big-game acumen or reputation. But City’s defense has proven suspect, with John Stones falling off a cliff and Nicolas Otamendi not at the levels of previous seasons. Relying on Fernandinho, Aymeric Laporte, and Eric Garcia to shut down three top attacks in two weeks is a big ask, and left back is also a huge concern with the talented wingers set to test City.

1. Bayern Munich

No weaknesses aside from potentially having to beat Barcelona and Man City inside of six days. Boasting one of the only double-double men in Europe’s top leagues in Serge Gnabry, a played who doesn’t get mentioned as often as history-chasing Robert Lewandowski and history-making Thomas Muller. A midfield duo of Leon Goretzka and Joshua Kimmich which is just plain stupid. Speed and composure to spare with Manuel Neuer at the back. The German keeper may no longer be the undoubted 1 or 2 in the world, but he’s still a monster.

Leipzig’s Nagelsmann: Real Madrid can call if I’m available

Nagelsmann to Real Madrid
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Julian Nagelsmann turned down Real Madrid two years ago, but don’t sleep on him becoming the boss of La Liga’s champions in the future.

Offered the job before Zinedine Zidane returned to Madrid, Nagelsmann says it was too big of a jump for him from Hoffenheim to Real.

[ MORE: Man Utd – Copenhagen preview ]

But again, as he makes plain below, tomorrow’s another day (and just a couple of days away from Real’s ouster from the Champions League).

From Marca:

“We had calls, but I was the one who decided in the end. I didn’t think it was the right step to go to Real Madrid. I was one of the candidates and that was important for me. I had a good chat with Jose Angel Sanchez and we agreed that it wasn’t yet the right move. We agreed that we could speak again in the future if Real Madrid were to need a coach and if I were available.”

Instead, he opted for RB Leipzig, where he’s certainly continued his collecting of bona fides. Now there could be little doubt that he’s ready for, well, whatever.

That said, Zidane’s as safe as he wants to be considering Real’s constant state of unsteadiness. Real took back La Liga this season and was missing suspended Ballon d’Or (in any other year) candidate Sergio Ramos for its second leg at Man City.

[ MORE: JPW’s European predictions ]

And Nagelsmann is a candidate for any opening in the world given what he’s done at the age of 33.

A couple other things: Beating Atletico Madrid in a knockout round match after Real fell to City will get more Real tongues wagging at the prospect of Nagelsmann, however unlikely the timing. And if Nagelsmann leaves, might Leipzig promote American boss Jesse Marsch from Red Bull Salzburg? And will Marsch still be in Austria?