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.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a pair of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 2-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

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Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.

Transfer rumor roundup: Chelsea in for Pjanic; Lozano to Juventus?

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Pro Soccer Talk examines some of Thursday’s top transfer stories, including a Premier League giant looking to add to its midfield.

[ MORE: Uruguay reaches Round of 16 courtesy of Luis Suarez ]


Chelsea could be set to join Barcelona in the race for Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic, according to the Daily Mail.

The Blues and new manager Maurizio Sarri are said to be open to looking to Serie A to solve some of the team’s troubled areas, including in the center of the park to join France international N'Golo Kante.

Sarri is already said to be keen on signing Napoli star Dries Mertens, whom he has coached for several years at the Stadio San Paolo


Meanwhile, Juve has interest in a World Cup star, with Mexico’s Hirving Lozano attracting significant looks from around the world.

Lozano scored for El Tri in their 1-0 victory over Germany to open their 2018 World Cup campaign, and has become an instant star in the Dutch Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven.

PSV would reportedly be willing to complete a deal if the Serie A champions shell out over $40 million.


Sticking with Juve, Emre Can‘s move to the Turin side appears to be close to finalization.

Can is set to have a medical in Italy on Thursday, as the 24-year-old anticipates completing a five-year contract with the Serie A giants.


Finally, West Ham United is looking to add to its attacking options next season, and the club could be nearing a record move.

Lazio winger Felipe Anderson is reportedly set to come to the London Stadium in 2018/19 as the Hammers prepare a $46 million deal.

Anderson tallied four goals in 21 Serie A matches last season for the Biancocelesti.

RB Leipzig names Julian Nagelsmann future manager

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Julian Nagelsmann won’t take over at his new club until the 2019/20 season, but Red Bull Leipzig has put a lot of confidence in one of the youngest managers in global football.

[ MORE: Ronaldo’s tally gives Portugal win over Morocco ]

On Thursday, the Bundesliga side announced the appointment of the Hoffenheim coach, who will continue in his current capacity for the upcoming 2018/19 German campaign.

Nagelsmann signs on with Leipzig until the conclusion of the 2022/23 season.

The 30-year-old has spent two seasons managing Hoffenheim, guiding the club to back-to-back top-four finishes in the Bundesliga.

Leipzig is currently without a manager ahead of the next season, so it remains unclear who will take over until Nagelsmann assumes his role in 2019.