WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

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Thiago Silva was the beating heart of the PSG side that kept their Champions League hopes alive with a 2-1 win over Liverpool. (AFP)
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Updated 29 November 2018

WHAT WE LEARNED: Paris Saint-Germain show backbone as Barcelona look brittle at the back

  • French club add substance to style to show they are more than one-trick ponies.
  • For all their brilliance in attack Barca look vulnerable at the back.

LONDON: With only one match of the group stage to go, here is what we learned from the latest round of matches in the Champions League ...

PSG SHOW SOME FIGHT

For all the money the capital club has had thrown at it, there has always been a sense that while it has bought style, the side still lacked any real substance. In the French league they are rarely challenged — this season they have won all 14 of their matches — so when they have come up against good opposition in Europe they have been found wanting. Wednesday night’s clash against Liverpool at the Parc des Princes was a must-not-lose encounter against the high-flying English side. In short, just the type of match they have struggled to negotiate in the past. However, the moneybags club — led by the brilliant Thiago Silva, right — showed some fight to prevail 2-1 in a match very low on quality. It was the sort of performance they have failed to display come the big European nights and one that — when combined with the flair of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani — bodes well for the rest of the competition.

For all of Neymar's tricks it was the guts and determinination that PSG showed that really caught the eye. 

GROUPS OF DEATH PROVE AS SCARY AS PREDICTED

If there is one criticism of the Champions League other than it has made an already very rich elite even richer, it is that the group stages are fairly dull. They are merely processions in which the big teams swat away the minnows to confirm their spots in the knockout stages, which was all but guaranteed when the draw was made. This year, however, the two “Groups of Death” are providing, for once, a lot of entertainment and bitten fingernails. Group B sees Tottenham needing to beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp to ensure progress or at least match what Inter Milan achieve at home to PSV Eindhoven. Group C sees Liverpool needing to beat current group leaders Napoli at home 1-0 or beat the Italians by two goals to go through. That would, assuming PSG beat Red Star Belgrade, eliminate Carlo Ancelotti’s side. But if Liverpool only win 2-1 they would be the team to exit. 
Exciting stuff …

Both Spurs and Inter will have a nervous final 90 minutes of the group stage.

BARCELONA ARE BRILLIANT AND BRITTLE AT THE SAME TIME

The Catalan giants are something of a Jekyll and Hyde side. Going forward they are the best in the world, playing the game with a devil-may-attitude and bare-faced cheek — mostly down to Lionel Messi’s brilliance — that would force even Real Madrid fans to stand up and applaud. During their 2-1 win at PSV this attacking verve was once again on display. Both Messi’s goal — which proved he is playing a different game from everyone else — and his cheeky free-kick that set up Gerard Pique’s strike, took the breath away. But at the back they look as vulnerable as one of the European minnows. The scoreline read 2-1 to the visitors, but in all fairness the Dutch team should have scored at least three and opened up the Barca backline with, at times, alarming ease. Unless Ernesto Valverde can add some much-needed backbone to the defence then we are going to stick our necks out and say Messi and Co. do not have a chance of lifting the trophy this season.

Messi was once again at his imperious best against PSV, but there remain huge doubts about Barca's backline. 


Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community

Updated 16 January 2021

Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim community

  • The New York Jets’ new head coach has families and community leaders excited in neighborhoods all across the US
  • The 41-year-old Saleh, expected to be formally introduced next week by the Jets, is the son of Lebanese parents and grew up in Detroit

NEW YORK: Robert Saleh has made history that extends far beyond any football field.
The New York Jets’ new head coach has families and community leaders excited in neighborhoods all across the country, celebrating the first known Muslim American to hold that position in the NFL.
That’s a source of great pride for a group that has been generally underrepresented in the league’s on-field leadership roles.
“It’s something that shows the growing diversity of our nation, the inclusion we’re trying to achieve at all levels of our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “And I think it’s a very positive sign.”
The 41-year-old Saleh, expected to be formally introduced next week by the Jets, is the son of Lebanese parents and grew up in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to the largest Muslim population in the United States per capita.
“I think he’s just a trailblazer for a lot of coaches who are Muslim, to let them know that they do have a chance to be a head coach,” said Lions offensive lineman Oday Aboushi, a practicing Muslim who has played in the NFL for eight seasons — including his first two with the Jets.
“He shows them you do have a chance to be a defensive coordinator, you do have a chance to grow up and have a job at the professional level,” Aboushi added. “As long as you’re professional and you’re passionate about it like he is, I think a lot of people will look to him as a trailblazer, as far as everyone feeling like they could do it themselves and it’s an attainable dream.”
After Saleh’s college playing career as a tight end at Northern Michigan ended, he got his start in coaching by working as an assistant at Michigan State, Central Michigan and Georgia before being hired as a defensive intern by the Houston Texans in 2005.
Then came stints with Seattle and Jacksonville before Saleh became San Francisco’s defensive coordinator in 2017, helping the 49ers reach the Super Bowl last year with his No. 2-ranked unit. He was a popular candidate among the seven teams looking for a new coach this offseason, and quickly emerged as the favorite for the Jets job.
Saleh, known for his energy on the sideline and being well-liked by players, impressed the Jets during his first remote interview. He was flown in a few days later for an in-person meeting with Jets chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson, president Hymie Elhai and general manager Joe Douglas at the team’s facility in Florham Park, New Jersey.
After a two-day visit, Saleh left to meet with Philadelphia for its coaching vacancy — but the Jets knew they found their new coach. The team announced Thursday night the sides reached an agreement in principle.
“As a pioneer in the sports world, Saleh will serve as an inspiration to many young American Muslims,” Selaedin Maksut, the executive director of CAIR’s New Jersey chapter, said in email to The Associated Press. “In addition to the positive impact that he’ll have on Muslims, Saleh’s presence in the field and on the screen will remind the rest of America that Muslims are a part of the fabric of this nation and proudly contribute to society. It’s a step toward tearing down walls and building bridges.
“Welcome to Jersey, brother!”
Ahmed Mohamed, the legal director of CAIR’s New York chapter, congratulated the Jets and Saleh for what he called a “historic hiring in the National Football League.” He’s optimistic it’s a sign of increasing inclusion and recognition of the Muslim community.
“For all the Muslim youth who may be told they don’t belong or can’t do something because of how they pray, we hope that when they see Mr. Saleh on national television, they will say to themselves that anything is possible and will reach for the stars,” Mohamed said in an email to the AP. “We hope Mr. Saleh’s hiring opens the door for other American Muslims in sports.”
Saleh is believed to be the third Arab American to become a head coach in the NFL. He follows Abe Gibron, who led Chicago from 1972-74, and Rich Kotite, who coached the Eagles (1991-94) and Jets (1995-96) — both of whom also had Lebanese roots.
Saleh is also just the fourth active NFL head coach who is a minority, joining Miami’s Brian Flores, Washington’s Ron Rivera and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin.
“Robert Saleh has made history on the field and off,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday night. “Now he’s knocking down barriers in our own backyard. Congrats, Coach!”
While Saleh’s focus will be on restoring the Jets to respectability and not necessarily being an inspiration, he has provided a path for others to someday follow.
“Any person in a new job, their first goal is going to be performance in their job,” Hooper said. “But I think a secondary consideration might be being an example to Muslim and Arab American youth around the country, that this kind of inclusion and respect for diversity is possible.
“But I don’t think he got the job because of his ethnic or religious background. He got this job because he’s good at what he does.”