Paris est Magique’. That message is one that is placed somewhere, or rather, up there, in the Parc des Princes, and it’s nights like this that tell us, no matter how rarely it occurs, against the supposed the European heavyweights, sometimes, ‘Paris Saint-Germain est Magique’. From the fans to the players, it was the kind of night many expect to a regular feature with the French champions.

As the PSG players took to the turf at home to Liverpool, there was no second-guessing the mission, win. Le Parisiens sat in third place in Group C, a point behind both their guests and group leaders Napoli, who hosted Red Star Belgrade. A win for Napoli against Serbians, very much likely, and a win in the French capital for Liverpool would signal the end of PSG’s Champions League campaign. A draw between PSG and Liverpool, coupled with a win for Napoli, would mean PSG would require Liverpool failing to beat Napoli on Matchday Six. Either way, anything other than victory for Thomas Tuchel’s side, and disaster loomed.

From the start of the game, it looked like the hosts recognised what needed to be done, and begun very much on the front foot, only a poor control from Edinson Cavani prevented them from getting a chance to take the lead inside 40 seconds. PSG looked very different from the lax and lethargic side that lost at Anfield on Matchday One. Then, the accusation was that with the club on such a high plane from the rest of the sides in Ligue 1, they weren’t tested enough, and were likely to crumble under any form of intensity from top European opposition. But here at the Parc des Princes, it was they who had he intensity, who upped the ante, and when Juan Bernat gave them the lead after 13 minutes, it was very much deserved.

Another accusation labelled at the feet of the French champions is that they tend to look more like a top-heavy side with a mash-up of star-names rather than a team, but Tuchel’s influence on the side hasn’t gone unnoticed, his switch to a back-three allowing for the front players to shine, yet creating room for a more rounded side. Here, it looked like a back-three from the off, but most noticeable was the flexibility, a formation that changed to a 4-4-2, particularly when they were without the ball, a willingness of the players to work more and sometimes play less, an example was Neymar, who displayed very little of the self-indulgence he’s always accused of, committed more to being part of a unit, and started and finished things for the side’s second goal.

The two-goal hardly flattered PSG, and the game looked likely to go 3-0 than 2-1. But it would go 2-1, James Milner, converting from 12 yards, after Angel Di Maria’s rash challenge on Sadio Mane inside the box. Referee Szymon Marciniak initially gave a corner, but after consulting with his assistants, opted to award the penalty, a decision that caused outrage among the PSG players, also taking the idea that they were a bunch of overpaid players with no passion for the side to the woodshed.

But after the break, with PSG 2-1 up, another form of magic seemed to happen. PSG were no longer constantly on the front foot. In fact, they were hardly on the front foot, putting themselves under unnecessary pressure at the back, dropping deeper, almost showing shades of their first half display at Anfield in September. The counter-attacks were breaking down due to ill-advised decision-making, Marco Verratti collecting a second yellow card looked inevitable, and Thiago Silva was as imperious as he was shaky at the back.

It was like PSG had performed a notable disappearing act, making all their intensity, and sense of security go away. Tuchel’s substitutions bothered on safety more than anything else, Neymar reverted to being a bit more indulging, and while the threat of a third goal still lingered, their sense of control was gone. In the end it mattered little, as despite the pressure Liverpool mounted, the only shot on target they had was the Milner penalty, and victory takes PSG ahead of the Reds, and a win away from the last 16, as they visit Red Star Belgrade on Matchday Six. Their first half Jekyll was enough to make up for the subsequent second half Hyde.

This performance still had elements of worry about it, but PSG, particularly in the first half, answered questions as to whether they can step up in Europe against top opposition, and this result is the kind that could serve as a turning point for a European season. Now, that’s a sense of ‘Magique’.

Elsewhere:

  • Lyon proved a tough nut for Manchester City once more, Les Gones battling to a 2-2 draw against the English champions, but Bruno Genesio’s side’s failure to hold onto a lead means they’ll basically face a play-off with Shakhtar Donetsk for a place in the last 16.
  • Five Champions League games. Five games in which there’s been a goal in the final five minutes. Sadly for Hoffenheim, those stats are likely to consign them to the bottom of Group F.
  • A look at the crowd and shake of the head in resignation, a bottle slam, and a message to his lovers. Yes, Jose Mourinho has taken Manchester United to the next round of the Champions League.
  • Also in the next round are Ajax, for the first time since 2006, after a Dusan Tadic double saw them past AEK Athens. Erik Ten Hag’s side are one of 12 teams to have sealed a spot in the last 16, meaning only four places remain up for grabs going into Matchday Six.
  • And if ever Cengiz Under didn’t quite abide by his name. Oops.

Results

Dortmund 0-0 Club Brugge

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Monaco

Tottenham 1-0 Inter

Lyon 2-2 Manchester City

AEK Athens 0-2 Ajax

Juventus 1-0 Valencia

PSV 1-2 Barcelona

Napoli 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Porto 3-1 Schalke

Manchester United 1-0 Young Boys

Hoffenheim 2-3 Shakhtar Donetsk

Roma 0-2 Real Madrid

Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 Galatasaray

PSG 2-1 Liverpool

Plzen 2-1 CSKA

Bayern Munich 5-1 Benfica

Published in International Watch

At fulltime, Paris St. Germain looked beaten, looked spent, as the players stood on the pitch at the Parc des Princes, while some crouched. But unlike most of the Champions League games from which Le Parisiens have incurred criticism, their look of tiredness was merely physical; no emotional or psychological beat down, rather just fatigue from going hammer and thongs late on, as the French champions salvaged a point in the dying embers against Napoli. ‘The players used up a lot of energy tonight…’ said manager Thomas Tuchel.

‘We are happy to (have) finished on a positive note’, said Angel Di Maria, scoring of PSG’s late equaliser. ‘You have to fight to the very last second if you want to reach your objectives.’ And PSG did fight in this game, something they’ve been chided for lacking in this competition. According to many, and not without reason, as a result of the lack of intensity with which the Ligue 1 is played, when opponents on the continental front up the ante, PSG look suspect.

But here, it was Tuchel’s side who raised tempo, starting very much on the front foot, Kylian Mbappe proving a handful for Mario Rui, and only a lack of communication from Neymar and Edinson Cavani prevented them from a shot at an early lead. ‘Our first 15 minutes were very good’, said Tuchel, ‘but then we lost our structure, our confidence and we started losing the ball.’ And the German was spot on in that assessment, as after their dominant opening quarter of the game, PSG seemed to take their foot off the gas.

Napoli grew into the game, Jose Callejon scratched a shot at Alphonse Areola, who was then beaten moments later by Dries Mertens, but had to be grateful to the underside of the bar for keeping the score level. But neither he nor the frame of the goal could help the hosts on the half hour mark, when Callejon’s brilliant pass found Lorenzo Insigne, whose first-time finish was as unerring as it was impudent. Suddenly PSG were chasing the game, chasing the group, defeat here, coupled with Liverpool’s lead at home to Red Star Belgrade at the time, meant they were much outside the top two in Group C, looking in.

‘At half-time, I told the players we had to play more simply, faster and with more disciplined’, Tuchel said. ‘We needed to improve.’ And aided by a switch to a back-three – Thilo Kehrer came on for Juan Bernat – PSG did show improvements. Their equaliser came with a touch of fortune, Mario Rui diverting an Mbappe cross into his own net on the hour, but it came about as a result of the pressure the hosts had generated. ‘We had a lot of chances, crosses, and we saw the real Paris St. Germain in the second half’, said Thomas Meunier.

Another spanner would be thrown into their works, though, as Mertens gave Napoli the lead for the second time with 17 minutes left, after a ricochet fell his way, a situation Tuchel described afterwards as ‘very frustrating’. All of PSG’s hard work looked undone, but again, unlike previous Champions League games, they didn’t spend time licking their wounds. ‘…we fought back a second time and that shows a good mentality’, noted the manager.

With the clock running, it was Di Maria, who had a rather inconsistent and unconvincing game, popped up with an equaliser. ‘The second half was excellent’, said the Argentine. ‘We need to build on this second (half) and keep improving.’

The result leaves PSG outside the top two in Group C as the group stage reaches the halfway mark, but Tuchel is still siding with optimism, and on evidence of this game, with good reason. ‘We have three matches left in the group and we want to win our head-to-head with Napoli first of all’, the manager added. ‘It lasts 180 minutes and we have played 90. It’s 2-2 and we have the chance to win it in two weeks.’

  • Swashbuckling Schwarzgelben

It’s unheard that Atletico Madrid lose a game 4-0 under Diego Simeone, but that’s mood which Borussia Dortmund are in at the moment. The Bundesliga leaders took Los Colcheronos to the woodshed at the Signal Iduna Park, with a double from Raphael Guerreiro either side of goals from Axel Witsel and Jadon Sancho. Die Schwarzgelben have scored 37 times in 12 games so far this season; 10 of those games they have won, and are still unbeaten under Lucien Favre.

  • United very much a cut below

Paul Scholes, on BT Sport, noted the ‘air of acceptance’ that surrounded Manchester United’s defeat at home to Juventus on Tuesday, and the former Red Devils midfielder was absolutely spot on, as rarely have 1-0 wins looked so dominant and inevitable. United improved in the second half, but the best – and really, only thing – they could muster was Paul Pogba hitting the post, thanks to some sloppy play from Rodrigo Bentancur, proof of United’s second half improvements owing much to Juve’s complacency more than anything else. Another winning return to Cristiano Ronaldo, as the Bianconeri remain one of two sides in the competition to not have conceded.

Elsewhere:

  • It was the first test without Lionel Messi and it was a test passed, as the Barcelona skipper watched from the stands while his teammates did the job of dispatching Inter at the Nou Camp. Goals from Jordi Alba and Rafinha, the former Inter loanee, who was brought into the line-up as a replacement for Messi; so who needs Leo after all.
  • Inter’s defeat doesn’t seem so costly, as PSV and Spurs opted to play out a 2-2 draw in Eindhoven. Spurs had come from a goal down to lead, and looked utterly in control, but failed to kill off the game (sound familiar?) and things took another turn when goalkeeper Hugo Lloris got sent off. There was no hiding how damaging the result was to Mauricio Pochettino’s side, who said post-match that his team’s Champions League campaign is ‘nearly over’.
  • It was Hoffenheim’s turn to find a late goal after conceding them in their opening two games, Joelinton popping up in the second minute of stoppage time to rescue a point in a 3-3 draw with Lyon. The result, though, leaves Julian Nagelsmann’s side one defeat away from elimination.
  • There were whistles at the end at the Bernabeu, despite Real Madrid ending their miserable run of form with a win. The performance was much more improved, even if it was only against Viktoria Plzen, who still made a fist of it, and only lost 2-1. Asked whether Julen Lopetegui would be the manager in the Clasico this weekend, director Emilio Butragueno answered yes with certainty. Asked whether Lopetegui would still be the manager after the Clasico, ‘you hear rumours’, was Butragueno’s response. That clarifies that.
  • It’s been 12 years since Ajax saw the light of Champions League knockout stage, but the Dutch side are close to it again, after Noussair Mazraoui’s late winner saw off Benfica, and keeps them top of Group E. Erik Ten Hag’s team are one win away from making the last 16.

Results

PSV 2-2 Tottenham

Club Brugge 1-1 Monaco

PSG 2-2 Napoli

AEK Athens 0-2 Bayern Munich

Real Madrid 2-1 Plzen

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester City

Young Boys 1-1 Valencia

Ajax 1-0 Benfica

Liverpool 4-0 Red Star Belgrade

Roma 3-0 CSKA

Dortmund 4-0 Atletico Madrid

Barcelona 2-0 Inter

Hoffenheim 3-3 Lyon

Manchester United 0-1 Juventus

Galatasaray 0-0 Schalke

Lokomotiv Moscow 1-3 Porto

Published in International Watch

‘It’s all well and good putting eight goals past Dijon, but it’s in matches like this that you have to stand up and be counted’. Adrien Rabiot didn’t mince his words, or hide, in any way, his discontent. After Paris St. Germain had lost, despite taking the lead through the midfielder, 3-1 at Real Madrid in the first leg of last 16’s Champions League tie, BEIN Sports wanted a word. He gave them a few that would ring loud in the continent. Simply put, for all their dominance on the domestic front, PSG’s measure of success, the yardstick to define their achievement, for the umpteenth, was the Champions League.

But, barely a month after Le Parisiens put eight past Dijon in Ligue 1, they would suffer a late collapse at the Bernabeu. Two weeks, one Neymar injury, one misty night in Paris and another listless display later, the side from the French capital were tumbling out of Europe in a 5-2 aggregate loss, a defeat that made The Guardian’s Barney Ronay label them as ‘plastic Galacticos, while newspaper L’Equipe’s reaction the following morning read, to English, ‘All that, for that?’.

And that question has been posed again, after PSG looked so remarkably second-best at Liverpool, in their opening Group C game of competition, they didn’t deserve the sense of what might have been that comes with conceding a late decider, as they did. Except the sense of what might have been is not about the result, but rather how different things would seem if they looked a team, performed like a unit, not a mash-up of names. Again, ‘all that, for that?’ For all the money spent, the players assembled, the promise of a Parisian project, is that really what they could come up with? PSG have constantly tried and failed to break the glass ceiling in Europe, since their return to the Champions League in 2012, they’ve never gone beyond the quarter-finals.

Whether by looking tactically out of place (against Manchester City in 2016), simply getting dusted off (Barcelona, 2015), failing to withstand pressure when push turned to shove (Chelsea, 2014), or simply collapsing (Barcelona, 2017), PSG have contrived to fall pre-maturely in the continent, all while being dominant in France (only once since 2012 have they failed to win the league, only once have they failed to win the French League Cup, and only twice have they failed to win the Coupe de France in that time). So, it’s not ludicrous to suggest that PSG’s increasing dominance on the domestic front is playing a part in their continent travails. As UEFA Champions League co-commentator Stewart Robson put it at Anfield, with the intensity of the French first division much lower than in Europe, PSG are always likely to come up shocked should opponents up the ante in the Champions League.

Perhaps that explains why the football was so un-Tuchel like, no pressing game, especially not from the front, from a side coached by a manager who once sounded out his appreciation for the opposition gaffer’s style in a game where his own side lost 5-1. At Anfield on Tuesday, a style was non-existent, the collective performance next-to-nothing, even Rabiot himself failed to stand up and be counted here, almost like the side were waiting for an individual moment or something out of thin air to pull them out of the mire. And the fact that it almost did, that one run at the Liverpool defence from Neymar resulted in an equaliser by Kylian Mbappe, should just about increase their ire, about how much they are capable of, but how little of it they show.

Perhaps this is nothing other than early days under Thomas Tuchel, an awakening that the gaffer would adapt them to sooner than later, and not many sides will get much joy at this seemingly cacophonously impenetrable fortress that is Anfield. But PSG’s growing stature means bouts of criticism are likely to fall in after every setback, particularly if the setback is so recurrent. Tuchel, post-match, described the result as illogical. Perhaps his mind was taken back to the time when his Borussia Dortmund side conceded late goals to lose at Anfield in the Europa League in 2016, which the sucker punch was almost impossible to swallow. Here, though, if there was any sense of injustice over the late goal, is that PSG hardly deserved to have had a shout up until then.

Elsewhere:

  • PSG may have begun Group C on the back foot, but it doesn’t look too damaging early on. Particularly after, in the other group game, Napoli did everything other than score in Belgrade, Carlo Ancelotti’s side getting held to a goalless draw by Crven… Red Star Belgrade!
  • For 84 minutes, Mauro Icardi was a passenger at the San Siro. The Inter skipper had cut a frustratingly isolated figure, and had taken 14 of the most unnoticed touches a player can. But his 15th, his first shot of the game, was an unadulterated volley that found its way to Spurs’ bottom corner. Inter had averted defeat, and via the bonce of Matias Vecino in stoppage time, completed a turnaround against a Spurs side still far from all right, and yet were in control for virtually the entirety of the second period.
  • Schalke looked to have eased their woes, a Ralf Fahrmann save from an Alex Telles penalty early in the first half, and a goal from Breel Embolo midway through the second, seemed on course to get Domenico Tedesco’s side back on track after a troubling start to the Bundesliga. But thanks to Moussa Marega’s theatrics, Porto were awarded another penalty, an opportunity they wouldn’t pass up. Plenty of positives for Die Konigsblauen, yet the most important- excuse this- ‘P’ has just one next to it in all competitions this season.
  • It’s easy to say this afterwards, of course, but there was an air of inevitability when Lionel Messi stepped up to take his free-kick in the first half against PSV. The first of three goals on the night for the Barcelona skipper, who has eight hatricks in Champions League.
  • Real Madrid began their CR7-less assault on Europe with a win over Roma, where they racked up 30 shots, double figures of corner-kicks, scored three times, yet should have gotten at least three more.
  • Speaking of Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese skipper was also in Spain when Real were tussling with Roma. But 400 kilometres away, at the Mestalla, Ronaldo was sent off in the first half for having the audacity to get a coming together with Jeison Murillo, an inexplicable decision that reduced the best player in the world to tears of frustration. Juventus shook off that setback to come away with a 2-0 win, via a pair of Miralem Pjanic penalties, but we’re unlikely to have heard the last of this game.
  • Two goals and an assist from Paul Pogba, who spearheaded Manchester United’s comfortable victory at Young Boys, the Swiss side simultaneously impressing and showing why they are likely to do little more than finish bottom of Group H.

Results

Valencia 0-2 Juventus; Young Boys 0-3 Manchester United; Real Madrid 3-0 Roma; Viktoria Plzen 2-2 CSKA; Manchester City 1-2 Lyon; Shakhtar 2-2 Hoffenheim; Ajax 3-0 AEK Athens; Benfica 0-2 Bayern Munich; Galatasaray 3-0 Lokomotiv Moscow; Schalke 1-1 Porto; Liverpool 3-2 PSG; Red Star Belgrade 0-0 Napoli; Inter 2-1 Spurs; Barcelona 4-0 PSV; Club Brugge 0-1 Dortmund; Monaco 1-2 Atletico Madrid.

Published in International Watch

Emery revealed the Brazilian was the kingmaker at PSG

 

The newly Arsenal manager has revealed that he had to adjust his style of management at PSG because Neymar was the boss.

The Spaniard spent two seasons at the Parc des Princes – the second was when Neymar moved to PSG in a deal worth €222.

The major highlight of the so many rancours the Brazilians caused at the club was taking penalty duties off PSG all-time scorer, Edinson Cavani.

Emery believes Neymar left Barcelona for PSG to occupy the boss’ role at the club because Messi occupied such position at Barcelona.

“I know when I’m the main man responsible, and when I’m not,” Emery, as quoted by Daily Mail.

“I’m of the opinion that PSG’s leader is Neymar. Or that he is currently becoming it.

“Neymar came to PSG to be the leader, to go through this process someday become the best in the World. At Manchester City, Pep is in charge. At PSG, Neymar has to be.”

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Published in International Watch

Arsenal are interested in securing the services of Nice and Ivory Coast midfielder Jean Michael Seri.

With Santi Carzola announcing his departure from the club, and the future of Wilshere, whose contract is set to end at the end of June, still unclear, the North London side have identified the 26-year-old Seri as a possible target.

According to Sky Sports, Seri has an agreement to leave his club should they receive an offer worth in the region of £35m.

Read Also

Bellerin too expensive for Barcelona

Arsenal new coach Unai Emery almost signed the Ivory Coast international in January for his former side Paris Saint-Germain, but had to opt for Lassana Diarra on a free transfer instead over issues pertaining to Financial Fair Play.

Seri is an 18 capped international. He made 30 appearances in the Ligue 1 last season as Nice finished sixth.

Published in Transfer Rumors

William Gallas has said he would have preferred Arsenal to have hired either of Thierry Henry or Patrick Viera to fill the vacant managerial post of the club.

The North London side are on the verge of announcing former PSG manager Unai Emery as the new manager of the club, after making a dying minute on hiring Mikel Arteta, who some considered a gamble for the club.

Gallas, who said he was stunned by the choice of Emery believed Henry and Viera have done a lot for the club and should have been considered for the post.

“I’m a little bit surprised Unai Emery will be the manager,” the former Arsenal captain told Sky Sports.

“I expected to see the former legends like Patrick Viera or Thierry Henry and personally I didn’t understand why they didn’t speak to them and offer them that job because they did a lot for that club.

“So I was a little bit surprised but I’m not a chairman, I’m just a former player and I give my opinion.

“I think next year we’ll see what Arsenal are going to do because they will be under pressure. If Unai goes to Arsenal he needs result and it won’t be easy.”

Read Also

Bellerin too expensive for Barcelona

According to reports in England, Arsenal are set to appoint Emery as their new manager before the end of this week.

Though Arsenal have yet to release an official statement as regards the imminent arrival of a new manager, Emery as reported by Goal, seems to have announced his imminent arrival to Arsenal on his personal website.

The site as reported by Goal had a single page with message that read: “Proud to be part of the Arsenal’s family.” With the manager’s signature below and Arsenal logo above.

Published in International Watch

10 Potential Managerial Changes Next Season

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 15:07

This be the final quarter of the season, mateys; where leagues are won, cups are taken, relegations are suffered, and end of season awards are doled out. But not many things say the end of a season like when a manager leaves his post, either having earlier stated that he would leave when the season ends, or having made the sudden, but inevitable departure, or having been courted by bigger fish.

So what are the potential managerial changes that are foreseeable once the final whistle of the season goes? We have a look at 10…

Paris Saint-Germain

Without a shred of a doubt, it’s the first potential managerial change that many people are foreseeing, and not without reason. After last season’s early UEFA Champions League exit at the hands, alongside only second place in the domestic league, PSG went big in the market, shattering the world transfer record (for Neymar) and the second-world-transfer-record-in-form-of-a-loan (Kylian Mbappe), only to suffer another early exit. They may be coasting to the Ligue 1 title, but after Laurent Blanc was sacked following three consecutive league titles, one league crown and insipid European exits won’t cut it for Unai Emery, especially considering he was hired because of his continental previous with Sevilla. It’s hard to fashion a way to see the Spaniard remaining as manager next season, not least because his contract expires at the end of this campaign, and the French club already contacting Antonio Conte’s representatives. Which brings us nicely to….

Chelsea

It’s little gain pointing out the mood of Conte at Stamford Bridge this term, the Italian has gone from title-winning mastermind to sulky maverick in less than 12 months. Chelsea are currently lingering outside the top four, have won three league games from nine in 2018, and have their fate well out of their own hands, and Conte has spent time questioning the Blues hierarchy on several occasions, from not getting his players, to the board not fully committing to him. All the elements of an inevitable divorce.

Real Madrid

W…W...Wa…Wait!! Before you aim the stones and bring out the clubs, hear ye out. Zinedine Zidane’s success at Real Madrid so far is as much of a mean feat as it is a secret, but there’s no question Los Blancos have floundered this season. They were out of the title race as early as December, they’ve suffered more defeats than the whole of last season already and were bundled out of the Spanish Cup in their own backyard. It’s hard to ignore their resurgence since the start of the year, though, the goals have started to come in (yes, Cristiano Ronaldo) and they made light work of PSG in the Champions League last 16, but it’s in Europe where their only hope lies, and a quarter-final exit at the hands of Juventus might well spell the end for Zizou.

Bayern Munich

Another almost sure-fire change ahead of next season. Bayern have been transformed since Jupp Heynckes returned in September, and are at most two wins away from a sixth successive Bundesliga title, as well as going well in Europe. But despite the smiles on the pitch, and the appeals from chairman Karl Heinz-Rummenigge, Heynckes, 72, still remains intent on stepping down. There have been rumours of Thomas Tuchel (who is by no means done here), as well as Julian Nagelsmann, as potential replacements.

Arsenal

Call it bold, or foolhardy if you like; and perhaps it is. After all, many have had the gusto to predict the time by which Arsene Wenger would have left the Emirates, and all of them have been proved wrong. But the pressure seems unyielding and the discontent louder as each game of the season grows by, and you sense that should the Gunners lift the Europa League, Le Professeur might just finally walk off into the sunset. There have been endless rumours of Italians Max Allegri and Carlo Ancelotti as potential dugout replacements, while Thomas Tuchel’s name has come up in recent days. This might well be Wenger’s final hurrah. Just don’t bet on it yet, though.

Everton

It’s been a season of complete discomfort at the Blue end of Merseyside, despite the wave of optimism that swept it in the summer. After spending big at the start of the season, Everton were primed for a charge against the top six, even with the loss of Romelu Lukaku, while FourFourTwo even talked about them probably being among one of the potential outside challengers for the title. So, surely the fans wouldn’t have expected the Toffees to be spending most of its time trying to stave off relegation trouble, after a torrid start to the season saw Ronald Koeman sacked and Sam Allardyce replacing the Dutchman. Big Sam has just about guaranteed safety already, but there’s little for appreciation or optimism under his stewardship so far, Everton have had at least four games this season where they haven’t managed a shot on target, the performances have been laboured, and they’ve only won once away from Goodison since December. The fans have made no secret of their discontent, surely a side that was the sixth biggest spender in Europe in the summer and winter windows combined ought to play with ambition when away to Watford and West Brom, at the very least. Stranger things than Big Sam staying on next season have happened, but it’s hard to see Big Sam staying on next season.

Borussia Dortmund

Another side where the ship has steadied but the comfort isn’t quite there. Since the sacking of Peter Bosz, Peter Stoger has come in and kept things together nicely at Dortmund, Die Schwarzgelben haven’t lost in the league under his stewardship and are in a Champions League place. But there have been complaints over the football ever since the former Koln arrived, Dortmund have become harder to beat but hard to watch, and they did get beaten, in the Europa League at the hands of Red Bull Salzburg. Stoger’s exploits will have no doubt interested other sides, and done his stock no harm. Perhaps Dortmund would be glad to have someone take him off their hands.

Olympique Lyon

Exciting. That’s been the word associated with Olympique Lyonnais this campaign, the youthful exuberance of a youthful and exuberant side has been pleasing on the eye. But no doubt there would be bumps in the road, as there have been this season, recently as well. After a late win over PSG in February, Lyon were eight points behind the capital side, and seemed like outsiders for a title race. But the form nosedived after that, no wins in their next five domestic games. They were compensating for their drop in the league with a steady run in the Europa League, but at the last 16 stage they were bundled out by CSKA Moscow, denied a home final in the process, and that seemed like the boiling point. First, Benjamin Marcal didn’t take too well being substituted in that defeat at home to CSKA, a discontent he didn’t hide from coach Bruno Genesio. A verbal confrontation immediately followed, and Marcal has been exiled from the team ever since. Then there was chairman Jean Michel-Aulas denying reports that Genesio had offered his resignation before the Marseille game. A win in that encounter has kept them in the hunt for Champions League next season, and pushed the unease inside the club aside for the moment, but it’s not hard to sense that all is far from well at Lyon. Rumours of Claudio Ranieri being touted as a replacement are of little help to the issue.

West Ham

It’s fair to say that move to the London Stadium hasn’t quite had the desired effect that it was supposed to. After that impressive seventh place finish in 2015/16, better things were expected as the club moved away from the Boleyn Ground. Or perhaps following the impressive campaign of 2015/16, expectations became rather unrealistically high. Nevertheless, much was expected after the Hammers moved to the future, the seemingly next level, but little has been delivered. An underwhelming season last time out and a bad start to this one saw the axe swing on Slaven Bilic, and David Moyes was brought in as a replacement, despite the sneers from the fans. Moyes did start well, rejuvenating a previously forlorn Marko Arnautovic, but form has tailed off. Three defeats in three, with 11 goals conceded, are hardly any cause for optimism, and though most of the fans’ distaste has been spat at the direction of the owners, it’s not hard to foresee another managerial change at the East End.

West Brom

Duh!

Okay fine: Three league wins all season, one win since Alan Pardew replaced Tony Pulis in December, those aren’t the kind of stats West Brom were expecting this campaign. It’s been one mishap to another for the Baggies, from the sacking of the club directors to the oh-so-famous taxi-gate incident involving four of their players. It’s no wild guess to say that a lack of options is what’s keeping Pardew in the job; relegation is just about a certainty now. Pards surely won’t be around after.

Published in International Watch

In the end it petered out. A game that started so ferociously in Turin and with Tottenham on the verge of early capitulation ended in a rather drawn-out fashion, and with Spurs having delivered another solid statement against an elite European side.

Mauricio Pochettino and his side had already beaten Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in this season’s Champions League, but this was probably a much harder, they were up against a Juventus side that had won 10 games in row, conceded only once in 16 games (none in 2018), and had won 50 of their last 55 home games in all competitions, fortress-like. Spurs knew they had to be wary, but after only two minutes they seemed careless, caught napping from a free-kick, as Miralem Pjanic played in Gonzalo Higuain, whose wonderful shot on the turn sent the home fans into early cacophony. But if 1-0 down after 200 seconds seemed bad, then two down after eight minutes was just as horrible, Ben Davies with a reckless challenge on Federico Bernadeschi, and Higuain’s resulting penalty found the net via the gloves of Hugo Lloris.

Spurs were suddenly in trouble, their impressive form before this game, as well as their group stage performances, seemed long in the memory; but they weren’t about to lie down, as they took charge and put Juve on the back foot, only a wonderful Mehdi Benatia interception prevented Christian Eriksen from playing in Harry Kane. And when Eriksen did find Kane afterwards, the latter’s point-blank headers was beaten away by Gigi Buffon.

Spurs’ attacking forays, mixed with a tinge of desperation, were always likely to leave them vulnerable at the back, and so it proved, although Higuain could only fire a shot just narrowly wide after a Bianconeri break. Spurs had ridden their luck, and would claw themselves back in the game- and the tie- with less than 10 minutes of the first half left; Eriksen caught Giorgio Chiellini in possession, then Dele Alli slipped in Kane, who rounded Buffon and filled an empty net. Now the deficit had been halved, and Spurs had an away goal to boot, but when Serge Aurier recklessly tripped Douglas Costa in the box for a second Juve penalty, all seemed lost. Except it wasn’t. Higuain blasted the kick from 12 yards onto the bar, referee Felix Brych blew his whistle, and half time came.

Pochettino spoke on the need for Spurs to remain calm after the game, and they were calm during, as they had to bide their time in the second period in their search for an equaliser. It came in the 72nd minute, Eriksen’s low free-kick bamboozling Buffon, who didn’t quite get a strong enough hand, and had to watch the ball find its way into the bottom corner. The action seemed to die down after this, Lloris making a couple of saves from Bernadeschi the biggest highlight, and Pochettino made his three changes all inside the final 10 minutes, proof of him being content, at least, with the draw.

The Spurs manager did describe things in the dressing room as a little angry after the game, but Spurs had a mounted a superb fightback here, the first side to score against Juventus in over 21 hours of football, and erased a seemingly unassailable two-goal deficit.

They’ll have undoubted optimism for the second leg in three weeks’ time, not to mention an advantage, however slim.

Elsewhere:

  • Marcelo couldn’t help himself, as he slid towards Zinedine Zidane in the Real Madrid dugout with less than five minutes to play, the left-back whose fall earlier in the game seemed to have alarm bells ringing, health-wise. Those bells were definitely in sync, when, in the 34th minute, Adrien Rabiot got on to a Neymar flick to put Paris Saint-Germain in front. Real did respond before halftime, Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a penalty after Toni Kroos had been fouled by Giovani Lo Celso. Ronaldo added his- and Real’s- second with eight minutes left, bundling home after a cross from substitute Marco Asensio, and Asensio was at it again moments after, another cross, another goal, this time from Marcelo as Real ensured they’ll take a 3-1 lead to Paris. As Unai Emery watched on with a grim face, it wasn’t hard to tell that his job is likely to depend on what happens three weeks from now.
  • For the first 28 minutes, Basel proved to be something of a match for Manchester City, then Ilkay Gundogan headed them in front, and for the final 72, it just seemed like torture for the Swiss champions. 0-4 loss at home; they did give a decent account themselves overall, but put it this way: when Taulant Xhaka (brother of Arsenal’s Granit) reached the yellow cards limit after being booked for upending Kevin de Bruyne in the 37th minute, it was clear that that was his last game of this Champions League season.
  • It’s also, barring a Quidditch-like Golden Snitch capture of a second leg, the end of the road for Porto, as they were taken apart on home soil by Liverpool, whose fab three were on song again; Sadio Mane bagging a hatrick, while Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah were just as impressive. At some point, their attacking dominance will stop being news.

Results

Juventus 2-2 Tottenham

Basel 0-4 Manchester City

Real Madrid 3-1 PSG

Porto 0-5 Liverpool

Published in International Watch

SpotkickNG

 

As the most memorable aspect of February rolls around (sit down, Valentine’s Day), spotkick’s trusted pick up their crystal balls and cast their predictions on which teams will remain when 16 gets trimmed to eight in the Champions League:

Ola Fadahunsi 

Man City vs Basel

City have been one of the best sides in Europe this season; the tie with Basel should be a banana peel.

City, duh! 

Juventus vs Tottenham

Spurs made a good statement by topping Madrid in the group stage but Juventus' experience in Europe should see them above the North London side.

Juve to knock out Spurs

Porto vs Liverpool

The oddity here is Liverpool qualifying if history is anything to go by. But I will still stick with the Merseyside Red.

Liverpool for me

Real Madrid vs PSG 

Madrid are going into this tie with little or nothing to lose as many have written them off - thus putting enormous pressure on PSG. I doubt PSG's ability to contain this pressure even with their star-studded side led by Neymar: last year's exit to Barcelona at this stage is a perfect example.

I still think Real will qualify.

Chelsea vs Barcelona

The Blues' strength playing Barca over the years has been how solid they've been at the back but this year’s tie will be different - as Barca's strongest household has been their back line and when you sync that with what Messi and Suarez can offer upfront, Chelsea will bow out in style.

Barcelona to progress

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Consistency has been a problem for the two sides but i think United have more than enough to deal with whatever Sevilla would be throwing at them.

United to go through. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

An even tie. Against all odds, Roma made it pass group stage - topping both Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, but if you've been a follower of the UCL for years, you'll know how dangerous Shaktar can be in games like this. As a lover of history, I'll give it to Shakhtar

 

Kunle Ajao

Juventus v Tottenham

Spurs have delivered much better than expected in this season’s competition, after underperforming in the previous campaign. They topped a group that comprised Dortmund and Real Madrid, and their 3-1 win over the latter was mighty impressive. Juve, though, have pedigree in this competition, and have been finalists for two of the last three seasons. They’ve been here and done it before more times than their opponents at this stage. With both sides possessing formidable defences and midfields as well, it might well boil down to which striker, in Harry Kane and Gonzalo Higuain, will have a better day.

Juventus to just about sneak through. 

Basel v Manchester City

There’s no doubt who the overwhelming favourite is for this one, Man City have looked impeccable most times this season. Basel were impressive in qualifying from Group A, beating Manchester United on the way, but have lost Manuel Akanji and Renato Steffen to the Bundesliga. They might spring a surprise, but this looks a hard ask.

Barring a shock, City to go through 

Real Madrid v PSG

The tie of the round, the game that is most likely to determine the future of both managers. For Paris Saint-Germain, it’s finally a chance to prove they can roll with the elite after all the years of spending, especially with last year’s capitulation to Barcelona still in the memory. Real Madrid, meanwhile, have their whole season riding on this.

PSG to make the last eight for me

Porto v Liverpool

This tie seems finely poised, pitting two teams who’ll equally fancy their chances of progress. Liverpool’s front three, despite the departure of Philippe Coutinho, has been one to envy, even if Sadio Mane’s form has dipped recently. Their defence still leaves much to ponder, though, and Porto will look to capitalise on any slackness. But Liverpool’s best form of defending has been attacking, and it has worked so far.

Will be no straightforward task, but Liverpool should progress

Bayern Munich v Besiktas

No prizes for guessing the favourite here, Bayern haven't quite looked the same since Jupp Heynckes took over from Carlo Ancelotti, with only one defeat in all competitions since September. Besiktas do have an experienced, if not ageing, squad which helped finish top of Group G, but that also owed a big part to Cenk Tosun, whose January departure is a big blow.

The odds look overwhelmingly on Bayern Munich

Chelsea v Barcelona

This seems like the most ill-timed meeting of them all, Chelsea’s form having dropped massively, and not helped by Antonio Conte’s constant complaints over transfer dealings. Barcelona have lost just once since that supposedly-crushing Super Cup defeat in August. Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied, but Ernesto Valverde’s side are still favourites in this tie, if not the whole competition.

Barcelona to make progress here.

Shakhtar Donetsk v Roma

Roma were impressive in finishing top of a group that involved Chelsea and Atletico Madrid. But they haven’t been at their best lately in Serie A, and have slipped well out of the title race. Shakhtar are just as impressive a side, and have previous when it comes to the two teams meeting at this stage, they beat the Giallorossi in the last 16 in 2011.

Roma to qualify, just about. 

Sevilla v Manchester United

Sevilla are still searching for that first Champions League quarter-final appearance. They came close in 2008 (losing to Fenerbahce) and last season (eliminated by Leicester), but this looks like the hardest task of all. Jose Mourinho is a master at negotiating ties like this, and only the most courageous would bet against United going through, particularly with this being perhaps their most likely chance of silverware.

Manchester United to progress

 

Shehu Idris

Basel v Manchester City 

Does this actually need a prediction. Better luck next time Basel. A full scale hurricane is coming Basel's way, perhaps they shouldn't even bother showing up for both legs but, in Ed Sheeran's voice, "What do I know?". 

Juventus vs Tottenham

This is like a classic ole battle between an old, experienced and embittered war veteran and a young, greenhorn who's shown that his youthful exuberance can bleed giants to death if allowed. I'm tilting towards the green-necks from North London they should handle the Old Lady pretty easily. 

Porto vs Liverpool

This should be easy for Jürgen Klopp's men, they'll do it on both legs and if by deeds of their typical Liverpool-ism they don't, take this prediction as a tongue-in-cheek bluff. 

Real Madrid vs PSG

We'll plumb this pseudo-big club money sack with over-pampered players who're only there because of the jiggling coins it has in coffer. Real Madrid to progress, yes of course. 

Bayern Munich vs Besiktas

It’s hard for anyone to not see Bayern progressing here 

Chelsea vs Barcelona

Chelsea are but a sorry shadow of their true selves currently, with their coach a 'Noob Saibot' of his usually maniac, football-loving self and against a Barcelona side that haven't lost in the league this season and have Lionel Messi? May God have mercy on them. Barcelona to progress. 

Sevilla vs Manchester United

Sevilla struggled under Eduardo Berrizo, are still struggling under Vincenzo Montella, plus this season has been what they projected it will be. Manchester United will help see to that. United to ease pass them. 

Shakhtar Donetsk vs Roma

Who are these ones? Me, I'm tired ooo. Anyway, Roma to progress.

 

So, according to we at spotkick.com, the potential quarter finalists are:

Barcelona 

Manchester City 

Manchester United 

Roma

Real Madrid 

Juventus 

Bayern Munich 

Liverpool

Keep in mind, keyword, ‘potential’,  there’s not many things as humbling as seeing a seemingly genius and iron-clad prediction go all kinds of wrong.

 

Feel free to disagree with us in the comments section.

Published in International Watch

So, this is it then. On the night of February the 14th, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain will take to the Bernabeu, in a game that might just define both team’s season.

For PSG, the date might hold a few memories, as it was exactly a year ago to that date that they supposedly announced their long overdue arrival with a 4-0 trouncing of Barcelona. But it’s the return leg of that tie that will live long in the memory, as PSG were incredibly on the end of the greatest ever European comeback, which meant they still await their first semi-final appearance since the Qatari owners took charge.

This looked like being the season where their path to it would be rather straightforward, after smashing the transfer record for Neymar, as well as snapping the most sought-after teenager in Kylian Mbappe, Le Parisiens topped Group B, beating Bayern Munich on the way; but their reward for it is a tie with the European Champions.

Los Blancos themselves have a lot riding on this tie, in fact they have their entire season on it. Despite the high expectations at the start of a season where they seemed sure-fire to build a dynasty, Zinedine Zidane and his side have been hugely underwhelming. Out of the La Liga title race, and left to scrap for a Champions League spot, as well getting eliminated from the Spanish Cup at home to Leganes, the continent remains their only potential for success this season.

And it is on the continent where Real have put their best foot forward, aside from the Matchday Four defeat to Tottenham, Real have won four of the other five games, scoring 17 times. They had an impressive 5-2 win over Real Sociedad at the weekend to set the tone for this game, but if their season is anything to go by, that only sets them up for another disappointing result.

It’s a tie that’s likely to determine the fate of both managers, with one so far ahead on the domestic front, and the other so far behind, that it barely matters what happens back home. On the day renowned for the show of love all around, there’ll be little room for sentiment.

Fixtures

Real Madrid v PSG

Porto v Liverpool

Juventus v Tottenham

Basel v Manchester City

Published in International Watch

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