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UCL wrap: Real rocks Roma, Vlasic finishes CSKA comeback

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What a day in the UEFA Champions League!

CSKA Moscow came from two down to get a draw, Paul Pogba put on a one-man show in Switzerland, Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in Spain, and Manchester City slumped to a home loss.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

And, oh yeah, Real Madrid scored a pair of show-stopping goals in a 3-0 win over Roma that left few worries about life post-Ronaldo.

Young Boys 0-3 Manchester United RECAP

Paul Pogba scored a brace, the first a sensational dribble and drive, as Jose Mourinho’s men had little trouble in Switzerland. The second half saw the Frenchman assist Anthony Martial to help the Red Devils cruise home.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim led twice, the second time through Havard Nordtveit, but would only take a point home from Ukraine thanks to an 81st minute goal from 21-year-old Brazilian attacker Maycon de Andrade Barberan.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Benfica 0-2 Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski scored in the 10th minute and Renato Sanches after halftime as Bayern eased to a win at the Estadio da Luz.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Viktoria Plzen 2-2 CSKA Moscow

Czech midfielder Michael Krmencík scored twice to give the hosts a first-half lead, but Fyodor Chalov finished a 49th minute chance to pull one back for the Russian visitors. And it was a precursor to another CSKA goal, the leveler coming from Everton loanee Nikola Vlasic and his penalty kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Real Madrid 3-0 AS Roma

We need your help deciding whether Real Madrid’s first or third goal was more spellbinding, please.

Gareth Bale scored a second half goal, but it’s impossible to discuss this game without mentioning the delightful free kick goal from Isco and Mariano Diaz’s outstanding stoppage time belter. My goodness.

Valencia 0-2 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in controversial fashion, but Miralem Pjanic scored twice from the penalty spot to help 10-man Juve to the win. Wojciech Szczesny stopped a stoppage time penalty to preserve the shutout for The Old Lady.

Ajax 3-0 AEK Athens

Left back Nicolas Tagliafico sandwiched a pair of goals around Donny van de Beek’s 77th minute marker as Ajax scooped up an easy win against Greek opposition.

Manchester City 1-2 LyonRECAP

The French visitors took advantage of sloppy midfield play and an awful clearing attempt from Fabian Delph to build a 2-0 lead, and Bernardo Silva‘s goal from a Leroy Sane feed was all City could muster in its comeback bid.

Five friendlies to watch closely over the next week

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The UEFA Nations League is taking center stage in this international break, but there are several other interesting matches on the docket outside of the new, formal UEFA competition.

[ MORE: Girona-Barcelona in Miami ]

A pair of them involve the United States.

In some circles, you could call that bias (and we certainly care more about U.S. matches than the rest of the world). But there’s hardly such a thing as a friendly against El Tri, and people will have one eye tuned-in any time Neymar hits the pitch.

Here are five top matches to scout this week.

Mexico vs. Uruguay — Friday (Houston)

These two sides boast an even rivalry, though plenty of eyes will be on Mexico without manager Juan Carlos Osorio (he’s off to Paraguay). El Tri‘s hot start to the World Cup cooled with a blowout loss to Sweden and 2-0 defeat by Brazil, and interim boss Ricardo Ferretti will bring a lot of youth to Texas; Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera, and Hector Moreno are among the big names left home.

Uruguay’s World Cup quarterfinal run ended with a loss to champions France, and that was the CONMEBOL side’s lone loss of 2018. Fabian Colto is the caretaker boss as legendary manager Oscar Tabarez’s future is mulled, and Uruguay will have most of its big names: Suarez, Cavani, Godin.

Portugal vs. Croatia — Thursday

We’ll get some tantalizing intra-Europe matches with the top groups of the UEFA Nations League featuring just three teams. This one sees Portugal without Cristiano Ronaldo and with plenty of interesting pieces; Ruben Neves, Andre Silva, Bernardo Silva, and Renato Sanches all bear close watching against a Croatian squad bringing its whole crew.

Colombia vs. Argentina — Sept. 4

While the reception Argentina receives at home to Guatemala earlier in the window will be fascinating, how Lionel Messi-less Argentina reacts to a match-up with Colombia will tell us more much more about the Albiceleste.

This is Paulo Dybala’s chance to shine bright, with no Messi, Sergio Aguero, nor Gonzalo Higuain in sight. Argentina will also hope to see plenty from its inexperienced but tantalizing offensive talent: Giovanni Simeone and Lautaro Martinez are among those hoping to join Dybala in restoring hope to Argentina.

Colombia? James Rodriguez is not coming, but Carlos Bacca, Luis Muriel, and Juan Cuadrado are in the fold, and Los Cafeteros have a lot of young bucks, too; Pay mind to Rangers star Alfredo Morelos and Spurs center back Davinson Sanchez.

USMNT vs. Brazil — Friday (NJ)
USMNT vs. Mexico — Sept. 4 (Nashville)

We’ll dive deeper into these two over the next few days, but the American side’s visits from Brazil and Mexico give us these three fun plot lines.

A) Was the stingy 1-1 draw against France pre-World Cup a fine indicator of progress?

2) How will the Yanks fare in both matches without Christian Pulisic, who’s injured?

D) Who’s deeper: next generation USMNT, or next generation Mexico (the latter featuring relatively-ignored-by-the-Yanks dual citizen Jonathan Gonzalez)?

PL Sunday preview: Man City’s title trot; Wenger’s farewell tour

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Manchester City will play as the confirmed champions of the Premier League, though they won’t celebrate as such for a couple more weeks, on Sunday. Meanwhile, the only manager Arsenal have known for more than two decades begins saying goodbye…

[ MORE: Man United come back to beat Spurs, reach FA Cup final ]

Arsenal vs. West Ham United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

So begins the Arsene Wenger farewell tour, and with a London derby at that. Wenger announced on Friday that he’ll leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, which has little to no chance of seeing the Gunners finish in the PL’s top-five, let alone the top-four. Sunday’s clash with West Ham will be the first of Wenger’s three remaining games at the Emirates Stadium, including the Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. Unfortunately for Wenger, three of his final five PL games (four of seven in all competitions) will be played away from home, where his side has lost five straight in league play.

Speaking of lost and wayward seasons, 14th-place West Ham are almost mathematically clear of relegation (there’s currently three places and six points between themselves and 18th-place Southampton). It’s hardly the future they imagined upon moving to the London Stadium at the start of last season. Andy Carroll scored the late equalizer in the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Monday, which rescued perhaps a perfectly timed point with all five remaining games to be played against sides currently in the top-nine (Arsenal, Man City, Leicester, Man United and Everton).

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Jack Wilshere (ankle) | West Ham — OUT: James Collins (hamstring), Sam Byram (ankle), Winston Reid (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring), Pedro Obiang (knee)


Stoke City vs. Burnley — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Here’s what’s at stake at the bet365 Stadium on Sunday:

Stoke sit two places and five points adrift of safety from relegation, with four games left to play (17th-place Swansea City have a game in hand, to boot). After 10 seasons in the PL, it’s looking more and more likely that Paul Lambert (with a tip of the cap to Mark Hughes earlier in the season) will take the Potters back to the Championship for the first time since they won promotion in 2008.

Burnley trail Arsenal by just two points (though the Clarets have played one more game than the Gunners) in the race for sixth place. A sixth-place finish would be the club’s highest top-flight finish since 1966 (3rd).

INJURIES: Stoke — QUESTIONABLE: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (groin) | Burnley — OUT: Steven Defour (knee), Scott Arfield (calf), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Ben Mee (knock), Georges-Kevin Nkoudou (hamstring)


Manchester City vs. Swansea City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

While Man City won’t lift the PL trophy until their May 6 clash with Huddersfield Town, Sunday’s visit from Swansea will be Pep Guardiola‘s side’s first outing since clinching the title courtesy of Man United’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend. Guardiola’s focus has turned to breaking the all-time PL points record (95 — they currently have 87 with five games still to play).

“In the past, I won the league at Bayern and at Barca with five, six or seven games (left) but the next games were not good,” he said this week. “We have to think about how many points we can get, it can be a good argument. What we need to do is already done, the points record is not the most important thing, but maybe it can help us to be focused. It would be uncomfortable to finish in a bad way, there always has to be a target and maybe scoring the most goals and winning the most points will be a good focus.”

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Sergio Aguero (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee); QUESTIONABLE: John Stones (thigh) | Swansea — OUT: Wilfried Bony (knee), Leroy Fer (achilles), Renato Sanches (hamstring)

Season strugglers: Inominious PL performances

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Tuesday found us breaking ties on our “Most Impactful Premier League Summer Buys” rankings by digging through some advanced statistics sites.

In doing so, something struck us: We rarely if ever check out which players are faring the worst when it comes to those next level numbers.

Ah, the international break: Good for off-the-wall posts.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back]

At the risk of kicking a player while he’s down, here are some negative numbers that stand out from the pack.

Of the 358 players who’ve played at least 10 Premier League matches, Joe Hart is having the worst season of the bunch according to Squawka. That’s a bit misleading due to how the site’s metrics operate, considering eight of the bottom 20 players are goalkeepers (and several, like Jonas Lossl and Jordan Pickford, are having outstanding campaigns).

So the unfortunate honor goes to Swansea defender Martin Olsson, who edges James McClean of West Brom for the infamy. Since the site does heap numbers on players by action accumulated, perhaps it’s better to single out the per-game and per-90 strugglers. Olsson and McClean are still very much near the bottom, but surprisingly Yannick Bolasie is the worst per game, and Swansea’s Wayne Routledge is having the least effective season per 90 minutes.

As for WhoScored, its metrics are hammering forwards, with Lys Mousset, Andre Gray, and Benik Afobe at the back of the back (ahead of McClean, again, who is a multi-site struggler).

These stats aren’t perfect, of course, and I like the idea of having McClean on my squad. But there are some other odds stats in the pack.

 These players might want to pass their next opportunity to the keeper. Of players with 10 or more shot attempts this season, Adam Lallana (11), Renato Sanches (12), Lewis Cook (14), and Dale Stephens (15) have failed to put a single shot on target.

— Of the 81 players who’ve tried their luck 30 times or more, these are the worst accuracy rates

— For perspective, Harry Kane has put 56 percent of his league-leading 162 shots on target, while second place man Mohamed Salah is 61 percent of 118.

— Defensive errors also can be increased significantly by the times a player is put under pressure by his team, which is why goalkeepers are high on Squawka’s list. Take them out, and you get a list with Spurs’ Eric Dier up top. Two of his six errors have led to goals against Tottenham, with Zanka (Huddersfield Town), Alfie Mawson (Swans), Andreas Christensen (Chelsea), and Shane Duffy (Brighton) next with four errors.

FA Cup preview: Huddersfield, Swansea set for replays

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Huddersfield Town and Swansea City will try again for a spot in the FA Cup 5th round as they have another shot after draws their last time out.

First, David Wagner‘s crew takes a five match winless run into St. Andrews as they visit Birmingham City after a 1-1 draw. Their Championship opponents might be in 19th place in the table, but they are in good form, having moved further off the bottom of the table in recent weeks.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Lukasz Jutkiewicz has lost his starting spot in Championship play, but he scored on the Terriers in the first meeting between these two clubs and could be given another shot. The early portion of the match could be critical, as Huddersfield has trailed eight times at the halftime break this season, and earned just a single draw from those games.

Elsewhere, Swansea City hosts League Two side Notts County as the Swans look to build on their good form, without a loss since January 2nd. The Swans have gone to a replay now in two straight FA Cup rounds, after being held their first time out against Wolverhampton before winning the second go around at home.

Notts County came into their meeting with Swansea in poor form, having lost two in a row, but they earned the 1-1 draw to force a replay, and then came back and clobbered Crewe Alexandria 4-1 in their subsequent league meeting. Swansea will be without Wilfried Bony and Leroy Fer who both suffered long-term injuries in the past week.

when one swan falls, another swan begins to fly,” said manager Carlos Carvalhal. “We are disappointed because Fer was doing very well and Bony was fighting hard every day to get to his best level. We wish we had them available, but we have players to cover the situation in the time that they are not here.”

They are also missing young loanee Renato Sanches who is out a month with hamstring injury. That makes three players who started the 1-1 draw with Notts who will be absent for the second go. In addition, new arrivals Andre Ayew and Andy King are both cup-tied and cannot be selected.

Finally, League One basement-dwellers Rochdale host Championship side Millwall in a replay after the two played to an exciting 2-2 draw that saw Millwall equalize in the 90th minute to force a replay.