Champions League: Blanc downplays Leverkusen’s poor performance, Ibrahimovic hails PSG’s fast start

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Bayer Leverkusen’s poor performance may limit our ability to read into Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-0 win in Germany, but for PSG head coach Laurent Blanc, their host’s struggles can’t overshadow the “really excellent” performance his team put in to open UEFA Champions League’s knockout road. With goals from Blaise Matuidi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (two), and Yohan Cabaye, the French champions took a commending lead in their round of 16 matchup, building a lead that’s never been reversed in Champions League.

“Some might point out weaknesses in Leverkusen’s game but our game was really excellent,” Blanc said after the match, as relayed by UEFA.com. “Spirits were really good and I congratulate those who started and those who came off the bench. I really can rely on everyone.”

[MORE: UEFA Champions League: Ibrahimovic brace helps PSG cruise 4-0 at Bayer Leverkusen]

Player-for-player, it truly was a stand to performance for PSG, with only goalkeeper Salvatore Sigiru’s lack of action preventing the team from accumulating above average marks across the board. While Bayer’s inept showing left the team with little opposition, the Parisians deserve credit for pushing from the opening kickoff, their third minute goal coming before Bayer had a sustained period on the ball.

“Our performance during the first half was crucial,” Bayer defender Ömar Toprak said, “but we played with fear and I really don’t know why. We played very, very poorly during the first 45 minutes.”

The second half wasn’t any better. After losing central defender Emir Saphic to a red card in the 59th minute, Bayer were unable to get the ball back from their guests. As the teams approached the end of regulation time, the hosts appeared exhausted, with PSG able to  charge through Bayer’s defense to set up Cabaye’s 88th minute goal.

[MORE: What we learned from Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League demolition of Bayer Leverkusen]

“We scored early and when you are in the lead it is much easier,” star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic said, having contributed to all four goals. “In addition the second and third goals came in the first period and in the second period we continued to play our game. This was a really good evening.”

At least, for one team it was a good evening. For Bayer, the result means having to play a perfunctory 90 minutes in France two weeks from now. They’ll be leaving the competition after this round, their place in knockout round confirmed as a function of a weak group.

“We didn’t win any duels and made life much too easy for them,” Toprak said. “In the second half we tried to fight a little bit more and sometimes it worked out, but in the end it was a very disappointing evening for us.”

Lampard gushes after Thiago Silva debut, Havertz hat trick

Frank Lampard reaction
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Chelsea rebounded from its weekend loss to Liverpool by getting the good vibes going through a number of new faces Wednesday in a League Cup blowout of Barnsley.

Kai Havertz scored three times, Ben Chilwell came off the bench to chip in an assist on debut, and Thiago Silva went 60 minutes in his first match in a Chelsea shirt as the Blues pounded the Championship side 6-0.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

We’ll start with the longtime PSG defender, who had four clearances, an interception, and a tackle while winning both of his duels.

He passed at 94 percent including six-of-seven long balls. Even accounting for the competition, that’s solid.

Lampard called Silva’s outing “a perfect 60 minutes” via Football.London:

“He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others,” Lampard said. “He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight. Yes, I am very very pleased with Thiago. It is what I expected of a player of his level but it is very refreshing to have him here at the club.”

ProSoccerTalk talked about Chelsea’s need for a leader at the back during this week’s “Unfiltered,” and Lampard has clearly been waiting for someone like Silva.

As for Havertz, you only needed the box score to see his influence on the game.

Two of Havertz’s three goals were assisted by Tammy Abraham and a third from Mason Mount.

The German phenom also racked up five tackles and two key passes against Barnsley.

“He makes the recovery tackle for Ross (Barkley)’s goal, but then to also just have some freedom on the ball in central areas roaming behind Tammy,” Lampard said. “The combinations he had with Tammy, the way he grew into the game and had confidence and the three goals. It was a great night for Kai and the first of many for him.”

Havertz scored seven braces for Bayer Leverkusen, but this was his first hat trick. Barnsley may play in the second tier, but they had allowed three goals in their last four games.

Whoops.

Actors Reynolds, McElhenney bid to invest in Wrexham AFC

Wrexham AFC
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“The Gang Buys a Football Team?”

“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” actor Rob McElhenney and “Deadpool” star Ryan Reynolds are said to be in talks to buy National League side Wrexham AFC, reports The Guardian.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

The Welsh club, nicknamed the Red Dragons, was founded in 1864 and made it to the European Cup Winners’ Cup eight times between 1972-96.

They’ve since been relegated out of the Football League, dipping out of League Two in 2008.

McElhenney and Reynolds have bid to take over the club, and the Wrexham Supporters Trust says 97.5 percent of their members voted to allow the actors to propose their vision for the club before a second vote.

From wst.org.uk:

As a result, talks with the proposed bidders will now continue and we are in a position to confirm the two people interested in investing in Wrexham AFC.

Rob McElhenney is an American actor, director, producer and screenwriter, best known as the creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Ryan Reynolds is an award-winning Canadian actor, writer, producer and business entrepreneur whose credits include Marvel’s Deadpool.

It’s gotta get McElhenney’s goat that Reynolds gets the “award-winning” adjective added to his name.

Either way, this is definitely an intriguing club for investment and the potential addition of Reynolds and McElhenney to the fray would only increase the interest in Wrexham AFC.

Deadpool and Mac would be quite a combo in the transfer market.

Arteta drawn into Ozil discussion, reacts to Liverpool doubleheader

Arteta on Ozil
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Mikel Arteta did his best not to give a soundbite that included Mesut Ozil’s name following Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Leicester City in League Cup action on Wednesday.

Ozil, 31, has not played since assisting the lone goal in a March 7 win over West Ham and has since only twice even made the bench (June 20 and 25).

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

Asked six times about the German, Arteta painted in broad strokes before mentioning Ozil in the second set of questions.

Arteta said that Ozil simply hasn’t warranted a place in an 18. This is how he responded when asked if he understood why there are so many questions about a player who has 44 goals and 77 assists in 254 appearances for the Gunners.

From Football.London:

“Of course I understand and I respect your questions but I have to try to do my job as fair as possible. I try to select the players that are, in my opinion, in better condition.”

Okay then.

As for Wednesday’s win, the Gunners broke through on a Christian Fuchs own goal before sealing the deal on Eddie Nketiah’s marker just before the final whistle.

Arsenal was outshot 15-10 but both teams were decidedly second-string. Now the Gunners get consecutive affairs at Anfield, as Liverpool is the hosts for a Monday meeting in the Premier League and a League Cup fourth round tie days later.

Arteta was asked how big of a test that will be for the Gunners.

“You can imagine, probably the toughest place to go in Europe or the world. That’s the fixtures, we have to go there. Let’s go first on Monday, let’s prepare well and see how it goes.”

Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium in July to deny the Reds a 100-point season, weeks after the Reds clinched the Premier League title. The Gunners again topped Liverpool in the Community Shield one month later.

The atmosphere and stakes will be high again next week. Surely Arteta can’t go 4-0 against Jurgen Klopp, right? Right?

Leicester City’s Rodgers: Gruesome Ndidi injury could cost him 12 weeks

Ndidi injury
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For every team, there’s an indispensible player and it’s difficult to argue against Leicester City’s player being Wilfred Ndidi.

The groin injury that kept the Nigerian out of Leicester’s 2-0 home loss to Arsenal in the League Cup could require surgery, said Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers after the game.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

One of the game’s top destroyers, Ndidi had played two matches at center back as Leicester opened the season 2-0.

Rodgers could hardly have made the injury sound more painful.

From The Leicester Mercury:

“We’re just waiting to hear more on that but it could be anything between six and 12 weeks,” Rodgers said. “It’s a groin abductor which may have come off the bone, which is quite a nasty one. We’re waiting to see if he needs an operation or not. If he does, it will be at least 12 weeks.”

Leicester missed Ndidi for five-of-six games in early 2020 and went 2D-3L, starting a skid that ended up costing them Champions League football.

The 23-year-old already has 34 caps for Nigeria.

The Foxes have Nampalys Mendy, Hamza Choudhury, and Daniel Amartey amongst their defensive midfield options.

They next face Man City, West Ham, Aston Villa, and Arsenal in Premier League play. Leicester will learn its Europa League group on Oct. 2 before beginning its UEL run the week of Oct. 22.