Thiago Motta

PSG is walking wounded into Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona

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Paris Saint-Germain successfully took down a giant in the last round of the Champions League, shocking Chelsea and sending the Blues home with much less than they were aiming for.

With that victory over Chelsea, Laurent Blanc’s job is likely secure as the French club’s foreign owners target European success above all other triumphs. Unfortunately, the new goal of breaking down the quarterfinal brick wall is suddenly looking a loftier goal than anticipated.

Those European goals met their newest challenge in the most ironic of ways, as the Parisians won a monumental league battle with Le Clasique foes Marseille 3-2 on Sunday, but lost a pair of vital players in the process. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti already suspended for the first leg of the quarterfinal matchup against Barcelona to begin next week, PSG has been forced to rule out both David Luiz and Thiago Motta from the first leg as well, with Luiz set to miss the whole thing.

The Brazilian central defender and former Chelsea star was subbed off in the 34th minute of the Marseille win a hamstring tear, and he has been ruled out for an entire month. Meanwhile, Thiago Motta completed the 90 minutes but has been sidelined for 10 days with a lesser hamstring problem, but that can always be extended should it not heal properly.

PSG has proven it can win without its stars this season, including Le Clasique without Luiz for the final hour, but this test will be unlike any other. Barcelona is in flying form, and the miss of three vital players is difficult to overcome. Young Marquinhos is the likely candidate to replace Luiz, as he shifted from right-back into the middle at the time of Luiz’s injury with Gregory van der Wiel coming on. Another natural option could be 36-year-old Zoumana Camara. Yohan Cabaye could be the man to deputize for the injured Motta, potentially a pivotal moment in his PSG career. Should 20-year-old Adrien Rabiot get the nod instead, it could signal the end of Cabaye’s career in the French capital.

Blanc and PSG fell in the Champions League quarterfinal round last season to Chelsea, so while the win over the Blues this season is a famous victory indeed, the Parisians will need to upset Barcelona this year if the club wishes to improve on last season’s hard results.

Three things we learned from Chelsea’s draw vs. Paris Saint-Germain

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After a fiery, slow-burner of a game at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain dished out a tactical treat as the clubs are locked at 1-1 after a tense first leg of their UEFA Champions League last 16 encounter.

[ RELATED: PSG, Chelsea draw 1-1 ]

We learned that PSG are up for a fight, while Chelsea escaped the Parisian cauldron on level pegging this year, as opposed to trailing 3-1 after the first leg of their UCL quarterfinal last season.

Here’s three other things we learned, as the two teams are evenly poised heading into the second leg.

Half fit Costa, Fabregas hurt Chelsea

Diego Costa had not played since Jan. 27. Cesc Fabregas has only played 20 minutes since Jan. 27. Both of those facts were abundantly clear on Tuesday night as Chelsea’s two key players could not get out of second gear.

Fabregas was booked with 20 minutes to go as his timing into challenges was late all night, his energy levels were lagging and you could see exactly why he was only passed fit on the day of the game. As for Costa, he was bullied by Thiago Silva and David Luiz and hardly had a kick all night. He was clattered into when aerial balls came his way and the Spanish international gave the ball away on multiple occasions as he had a night to forget. Costa was subbed out of the match in the 82nd minute, while Fabregas was replaced by Oscar in the 83rd minute. To their credit the duo struggled on and did a job for the team but Costa and Fabregas were far from their scintillating best. If they are fully fit and raring to go in three weeks time for the second leg, they will take Chelsea to the next level and PSG will struggle to deal with them.

source: AP
Ivanovic’s header gave Chelsea the lead at the Parc des Princes.

There’s plenty of life left in PSG

Let’s not forget that this was a PSG side who were also banged up and had five to six key players missing. Yes, they are in a tough spot heading into the second leg at Stamford Bridge and must score at least one goal to advance, but with the return game taking place on March 11, all of their walking wound are likely to return.

Thiago Motta, Lucas Moura, Serge Aurier and Yohan Cabaye were all missing on Tuesday while Marquinhos, Blaise Matuidi and Javier Pastore were far from fully fit, but Laurent Blanc’s side put in a gritty display to thwart Chelsea’s threat on the break and looked more dangerous as the game wore on. After the first leg of their quarterfinal last season, PSG looked home and hosed after a 3-1 win. Despite going to the Bridge and knowing that this time around they must score to wipe out Chelsea’s precious away goal, PSG will have gained plenty of belief from a vibrant display. Chelsea skipper John Terry shared his relief and hailed PSG after the game as Jose Mourinho’s boys were more than happy with a 1-1 draw in a hostile stadium where Les Parisiens have not lost a European game since 2006.

“They are a very good side, especially going forward,” Terry said. “They keep the ball very well and obviously David [Luiz], his range of passes is very good. Thibaut Courtois pulled off some great saves and we go away with a happy draw. Last year we made it very difficult for ourselves but we are in a lot better position now.”

Ivanovic is basically a striker playing right back

Branislav Ivanovic has scored three goals in his last five matches for Chelsea… he’s a right back. On the Blues’ only goal of the night three of their back four combined as Terry whipped in a hopeful cross which Gary Cahill flicked on spectacularly to the back post where the predatory Ivanovic was waiting to cushion home a header back across the goal.

The Serbian international has now scored 30 goals for Chelsea and 51 in his entire career. The fact that he does not take free kicks or penalty kicks makes those numbers even more remarkable. Recently he has scored clutch goals to send Chelsea to the League Cup final and a late winner at Aston Villa, plus his latest effort against PSG. What Ivanovic does superbly is find space in the box, as he always seems to pop up in the right positions and time his runs to perfection. Of course that’s only half the battle, as he still has to keep his composure and bury chances but his ability to hang in the air and strike a ball with power helps him out in and around the box. Ivanovic’s away goal in Paris could prove to be vitally important when all is said and done at the end of this intriguing last 16 match-up.

ProSoccerTalk’s Top 50 winter transfer targets: #50 – 26

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With the January transfer window now open and in full swing, we take a look at the top targets that could potentially move in the transfer window.

This list is a rough ranking of top players that we are watching the most, and have made noise in reports recently. The rankings are determined by skill, star power, potential impact for a new team, and chance to move in the window.

So who could be on the move? Let’s find out! And stay tuned for numbers 25-1 coming up.

TOP 50 WINTER TRANSFER TARGETS: #50-26

50. Dani Alves (RB)
Current club:
Barcelona            Potential price: Free

49. Fabian Frei (CM)
Current club:
Basel                    Potential price: $6 million
Signed through 2017 at Basel, but he impressed in Champions League matches against Liverpool and he himself claimed LFC may be interested, even though he also said he is “skeptical” of winter transfers in general.

48. Marko Vejinovic (CM)
Current club:
Vitesse Arnhem  Potential price: $8 million

47. Fabian Delph (CM)
Current club:
Aston Villa           Potential price: $4.5 million

46. Peter Crouch (ST)
Current club:
Stoke City            Potential price: $2 million
West Brom and former Crouch boss Tony Pulis wants to sign his favorite long-ball target, but it seems odd as to why Crouch would accept a lateral move (at best) when he’s got a good thing going at Stoke. Unless West Brom pony up the cash, it seems this one is just for the papers. And would management want to pay for a 33-year-old? Crouch is out of contract at the end of the season, but in talks for a new one.

45. Cheick Tiote (DCM)
Current club:
Newcastle            Potential price: $17 million

44. Danny Ings (ST)
Current club:
Burnley                Potential price: $7 million

43. Virgil van Djik (CB)
Current club:
Celtic                     Potential price: $12 million

42. Jozy Altidore (ST)
Current club:
Sunderland           Potential price: $3 million
It’s been U-G-L-Y for Jozy in the Premier League, and it seems like that could come to a merciful end this month. He could benefit from Liverpool’s striker emergency, with Altidore rumored to be a replacement for Divock Origi at Lille if the Belgian youngster does end his loan and come back to LFC. He sure isn’t playing at Sunderland, so a move would be a positive for him, especially out of England.

41. Andrej Kramaric (ST)
Current club:
Dinamo Zagreb     Potential price: $14 million

40. Jay Rodriguez (LW)
Current club:
Southampton         Potential price: $22 million

39. Jermain Defoe (ST)
Current club: Toronto FC         Potential price:
$7 million
Defoe has flown out to London, and while it’s been a complete mystery who’s interested and who’s not, Defoe is very likely to leave MLS for a return to England. He could price a few teams out with wage demands, but he will likely move. Another sticking point for some teams could be loan vs transfer. Toronto wants to sell, while few teams are interested in anything more than a loan this window.

38. Seamus Coleman (RB)
Current club:
Everton                    Potential price: $15 million

37. Mauro Icardi (ST)
Current club:
Inter Milan                     Potential price: $30 million

36. Marek Hamsik (CM)
Current club:
Napoli                         Potential price: $30 million
Hamsik has seriously regressed from his near-world-class form two years ago (82% passing this season, yuck), but he remains a quality chance creator who may just need a change of scenery. However, with news that Hamsik is “happy” at Napoli, it’s unlikely he moves in January. Can Rafa Benitez get Hamsik back to his best, or will he have to leave to attain a return to form?

35. Bruno Martins Indi (CB)
Current club:
Porto                         Potential price: $10 million

34. Mesut Ozil (CAM)
Current club:
Arsenal                      Potential price: $48 million

33. Fabio Coentrao (LB)
Current club:
Real Madrid              Potential price: $22 million

32. Kevin Mirallas (RW)
Current club:
Everton                      Potential price: $17 million
With Everton mightily, could Kevin Mirallas become an all-time traitor and move across town to Liverpool? Reports at the beginning of December said Liverpool made contact with the lightning rod’s agent, but things have gone quiet since. Roberto Martinez also vehemently denied any potential sale, but we all saw how that worked out for Wenger and Podolski…

31. Winston Reid (CB)
Current club:
West Ham                  Potential price: $7 million
The New Zealand captain is a favorite to sign for Arsenal, and while Reid is one of the main reasons why West Ham is near the top of the table, Sam Allardyce has reportedly said he wants to be rid of the 26-year-old. He’s out of contract at the end of the year, and Allardyce did say he’s rejected a lucrative new deal.

30. Christoph Kramer (CB)
Current club:
Borussia Monchengladbach       Potential price: $14 million

29. Guillermo Ochoa (GK)
Current club:
Malaga                         Potential price: $4.5 million

28. Karim Benzema (ST)
Current club:
Real Madrid                Potential price: $45 million
Karim’s in the rumor mill every year, so he has to get a mention, but he’s nice and low on the list because – while he’s supremely talented and would be a program talisman if signed – he’s not going anywhere.

27. Saido Berahino (ST)
Current club:
West Brom                   Potential price: $30 million

26. Thiago Motta (DCM)
Current club:
PSG                                Potential price: $10 million
With his agent claiming he could leave if unwanted, reports that the Brazilian is unhappy with management have been set alight. Although, the 32-year-old’s agent also claimed “he’s not just another old player” soooo……(spoiler alert, he won’t be the only PSG player on this list when it’s all revealed).

VIDEO: Bastia striker Brandao sent to jail for headbutt on PSG’s Motta

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After headbutting Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Motta, Bastia’s Brazilian forward Brandao has been sent to prison.

The incident in question occurred on August 16, as the duo came together in the tunnel after PSG’s 2-0 win over Bastia.

[ RELATED: Wilshere out three months ]

After being substituted 20 minutes from the end of the match, Brandao waited in the tunnel for Motta before headbutting the midfielder and breaking his nose in an unprovoked attack. You can watch it all unfold in the video clip below, as the 34-year-old Brazilian lost the plot.

French prosecutors asked for an eight-month suspended sentence a fine of over $20,000 for Brandao on Thursday, but the former Marseille striker will now spend at least a month behind bars as well as a hefty fine. The player is still serving a six-month playing ban handed to him by the French Football Federation for his actions, as he claimed that Motta insulted him on the pitch.

Below is the video of the incident which put Brandao behind bars. What do you think? Can he have any complaints?

Mario Balotelli excluded from Italy squad prepping for Euro 2016 qualifiers

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New Italy boss Antonio Conte has named his roster for upcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Malta, but striker Mario Balotelli, who has been considered one of Italy’s more dynamic forwards, didn’t make the cut again.

And this action arrived after Brendan Rogers decided to nix the Italian from his usual starting XI in Liverpool’s 2-1 win over West Brom earlier today.

Balotelli was also excluded from his country’s friendly vs. the Netherlands and Euro qualifier against Norway in September.

Conte has added a fresh face to replace the 24-year-old striker in the forward rotation. His name is Graziano Pelle and he’s enjoyed a great beginning to the season, scoring five goals in eight games so far this season. Pelle is a huge reason for Southampton’s early year success.

On the defensive side, youngster Daniele Rugani received his very first call-up to the senior team, and the Blues highest-capped defender, Juventus man Giorgio Chellini, is unsurprisingly set to star for his country.

Below is the complete roster, via ESPN FC.

Goakeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain).

Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan), Daniele Rugani (Empoli).

Midfielders: Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina), Giacomo Bonaventura (AC Milan), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Andrea Poli (AC Milan), Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain).

Forwards: Mattia Destro (Roma), Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus), Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund), Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (Inter Milan), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Simone Zaza (Sassuolo).