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From glory to humiliation: PSG loses in dramatic style

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PARIS (AP) The man hired to lead Paris Saint-Germain to Champions League glory delivered the most embarrassing result imaginable.

PSG became the first team to throw away a 4-0 lead from the first leg in the Champions League, losing to Barcelona 6-1 in the second. The awful outcome was made worse by the calamitous way PSG conceded three late goals.

In the previous four seasons, PSG had reached the quarterfinals. That was insufficient in the eyes of Qatari owners QSI, who fired coach Laurent Blanc – despite Blanc winning back-to-back domestic trebles – and replaced him with Unai Emery.

[ MORE: Barca inspired “by the Super Bowl” ]

When PSG dismantled Barcelona at home with an electric display of attacking soccer three weeks ago, the back-slapping and congratulations were in full swing. There was a growing confidence, if not certainty, that Emery was the perfect man to lead PSG to its first European Cup. He was credited with instilling the breathtaking energy the players showed that night.

Now, he and his players will be known as the ones who threw it all away.

“We had everything in hand and we gave them the game,” PSG right back Thomas Meunier said. “We made an enormous amount of errors.”

On a disastrous night, the club’s initials could have stood for something else: Pathetic. Spineless. Gutless.

The French press let rip.

Shortly after the loss, sports daily L’Equipe’s website carried the headline “A Historic Disaster” along with a picture of midfielder Marco Verratti lying on his back with his hands covering his face. L’Equipe’s newspaper called it “Unqualifiable” – underlining the shock while delivering a scathingly sarcastic verdict on PSG’s inability to progress in the most favorable of circumstances.

“We weren’t worthy of playing for PSG,” Meunier said.

Angry fans gathered at the airport to jeer and heckle the players when they arrived back.

LACK OF LEADERS

As the exasperated Emery gesticulated wildly on the sidelines, there was no one on the field to stop the damage.

From the first minute, PSG sat far too deep, inviting Barcelona to overrun midfield and camp around the penalty area. That gave PSG the look of a small, retreating army with a massive one bearing down on it, attacks coming from all sides.

[ MORE: Ranking the greatest comebacks ]

Thiago Motta’s absence in central midfield was sorely missed. A great organizer, strong tackler and neat passer, Motta would have added steel and calmness. The hard-nosed Italian is also a relentlessly competitive character and would have got a response from his flagging teammates.

“We were a bit lost,” Meunier said. “We allowed ourselves to be victims.”

PSG also missed veteran left back Maxwell, with Layvin Kurzawa out of position all game and scoring an own-goal.

CHANGING A WINNING TEAM

When PSG routed Barcelona at Parc des Princes, observers marveled at Emery’s tactical innovation.

His three-pronged attack of Edinson Cavani, Julian Draxler and Angel Di Maria worked to perfection, while his decision to pick inexperienced center half Presnel Kimpembe paid off as he contained Lionel Messi.

Then he changed a winning team.

[ ROBERTO: I woke up wondering if it was a dream ]

Kimpembe was on the bench for the return leg. Worse, with PSG needing only to see out the last few minutes, Emery kept him there.

Di Maria was overlooked in favor of Brazilian player Lucas. When Di Maria came on, PSG looked sharper going forward and soon pulled a goal back.

If Barcelona had to defend the whole game against Cavani, Draxler and Di Maria, they might have had fewer occasions to charge forward.

SHEER COMPLACENCY

PSG’s lethargic absenteeism on the field was mirrored by a complacent approach before the game.

Two days before the match, the club released a video on YouTube called “Supper Club” with four players sitting around a table.

As they pick at their pizzas and slurp soft drinks, Blaise Matuidi and Verratti are joined in conversation by Draxler and Meunier. They are casually discussing the game ahead.

“The first 20 minutes are going to be tough, eh Marco? The field is really big,” Matuidi says. “(Barcelona) attack, attack, and they leave a lot of spaces.”

Draxler then intervenes, telling Matuidi “you will need to run a lot” and they both laugh when Matuidi retorts “I’ll need you to (run) as well.”

The players certainly appeared to taking Barcelona lightly.

BAD GOALKEEPER

When Emery took over he recalled goalkeeper Alphonse Areola from a loan spell and made him his No. 1. Then, uncertain about Areola’s level, he picked Kevin Trapp.

Against Barcelona, Trapp exposed all of his limitations: Poor composure, weak handling, erratic decision making.

On the first goal, the German keeper came up to claim a looping ball with his fists bunched rather than his hands apart, reducing his own surface area.

Trapp appeared to be terrified and his inability to command his back four made sure that panic set in – and stayed throughout.

WHAT NEXT?

Emery’s future clearly hangs in the balance.

PSG trails Monaco by three points in the French league and Emery’s position will be further undermined if he does not win the title. PSG also faces Monaco in the League Cup final next month.

After the Barcelona match, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was asked if Emery was still the right man for the job.

“That’s not a question for now,” Al-Khelaifi said.

It will be soon, though.

Sessegnon beats Neuer to score first Spurs, Champions League goal

Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)Photo by Peter Kneffel/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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Ryan Sessegnon has his first Spurs goal, which also happens to be his first UEFA Champions League goal, and he’ll love telling the tale of it.

The 19-year-old Englishman ripped a rocket past Manuel Neuer of all people, collecting a deflection to equalize early in Tottenham’s match against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sessegnon entered the day with an assist in 30 minutes spread across three appearances for Spurs, and needed just 20 more minutes to find a goal.

He made a big money move from Fulham this summer, having made a remarkable 120 senior appearances. Almost all of those came before he turned 19, and he’s scored 25 times with 18 assists.

Kingsley Coman has Bayern’s goal as the teams remain locked at 1 after Bayern hung 7 on Spurs in England earlier in the group stage.

 

Jesus hat-trick downs Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta qualifies for knockouts

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Manchester City looked sluggish again, but Gabriel Jesus made sure it didn’t matter.

The Brazilian cropped up at a critical juncture for Pep Guardiola, sending Manchester City through into the knockout stage on a winning note as his hat-trick sealed a 4-1 come-from-behind victory that knocked Dinamo Zagreb from European competition altogether.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The first half was especially lackluster for the English visitors to Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb, with lots of possession but little to show for it. The hosts went in front early on, punishing Man City on the counter on a fabulous volleyed finish from former Barcelona youth product Dani Olmo.

That was the best goal of the day, but Man City picked itself up and pulled back level before the break, with Jesus grabbing his first via a header as Dinamo Zagreb shut off, screaming for Man City to put the ball out with a Zagreb player down. The visitors rightly did not, and Dinamo was punished by the equalizer.

After halftime, Man City was much better, hammering the left flank to take a commanding lead. The second came on excellent work by Jesus in the box to shake a defender and finish with his right, while the third flew in minutes later on a pinpoint Benjamin Mendy cross that Jesus met with a flying karate kick. Pep Guardiola had one eye on the festive fixtures, withdrawing Jesus soon after the hour mark, replaced by Oleksandr Zinchenko who curiously took Jesus’s place at the striker position.

Phil Foden was the best Manchester City player throughout, and finished off the scoreline with seven minutes to go. An excellent buildup down the right saw Bernardo Silva sprung through, and he cut back to Foden at the top of the six-yard box who slid to meet the ball with pace and poke home the cherry on top.

Elsewhere, Atalanta topped Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 in the Ukraine on goals by Timothy Castagne, Mario Pasalic, and Robin Gosens, meaning the Italians secured the second spot in Group A, qualifying for the knockout stage. The Ukranians were left dead in the water after right-back Dodo was sent off 13 minutes from time, leading to the second goal to seal things up. Atalanta’s advancement marks a stunning comeback given the Italian side failed to secure points in any of their first three group stage matches.

That left Shakhtar in third, dropping to the Europa League, while Dinamo Zagreb was left at the bottom of the group, on the outside looking in.

Charlotte MLS club files trademarks for eight potential names

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It is being heavily reported that Charlotte is the next city to earn a club in the rapidly expanding Major League Soccer landscape, and Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper has taken the next step towards that possibility.

The new club needs a name, and they appear to be nearing a selection. Tepper filed for eight different name trademarks, according to multiple reports, including The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue who confirmed the filings were made under Tepper’s Panthers address.

Here is the list of names he filed copyright requests for:

“Charlotte FC” would be a bare-bones and generic name that follows in the footsteps of recent MLS expansion clubs such as Orlando City SC, NYCFC or LAFC. Others are a little more colorful, including “Carolina Gliders FC” or “Charlotte Monarchs FC,” while a few others like “Charlotte Town FC” or “Charlotte Athletic FC” clearly call forth thoughts of smaller English clubs.

Rodrigue speculated that the relative lack of “Carolina” encompassing names is potentially due to the possibility of an expansion bid from Raleigh down the road, and a Carolina team would potentially provide an unnecessary roadblock to that future prospect. There is a clear lack of region-encompassing names in Major League Soccer, with “New England Revolution” the only example, and there’s no real reason to break that mold with another potential bid city down the road.

Which name is your favorite? What would you have gone with if you could name the club?

LIVE, UCL: Two knockout spots remain; Man City, Tottenham in play

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Two more spots in the knockout round remain unclaimed as the final day of group stage play begins on Wednesday.

Groups C and D both require a second team to progress through to the Round of 16, with five teams still in the mix.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Manchester City has already won Group D, but the remaining three teams Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta all remain in contention for the second spot. Shakhtar currently sits second and has a home match with Atalanta, while Dinamo Zagreb host Man City in Croatia. Both those games feature in the early 12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Group D, meanwhile, has a pair of sides vying for the last spot. Atletico Madrid has a point advantage, currently sitting in second with a home match against already eliminated Russian side Lokomotiv Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, hosts group winners Juventus in Germany.

Elsewhere, Tottenham Hotspur has already locked up a spot in the knockout stage, locked into the second spot in Group A, and they finish out the group stage with a visit to confirmed group winners Bayern Munich. Jose Mourinho told the press he forbid his players from watching any footage of the 7-2 defeat to Bayern to begin group stage play, and is resting “a few players” ahead of the festive Premier League fixtures.

Finally, Group A has already been decided with Real Madrid confirmed to finish second behind winners Paris Saint-Germain, but the two still have to complete the fixture list. Madrid heads to Belgium to take on Club Brugge, while PSG hosts Galatasaray. The Spanish side is most likely to rest players, with a weekend visit to Valencia coming up on Sunday followed by a midweek El Clasico that was rescheduled from earlier in the season.

Below is the full schedule for the last UCL games on Wednesday, with all games kicking off at 3 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted, and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Wednesday Champions League action

Group A

Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray

Group B

Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiakos v. Red Star Belgrade

Group C

Dinamo Zagreb v. Manchester City (12:55 p.m. ET)
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta (12:55 p.m. ET)

Group D

Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus