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As it happened: Barcelona vs. Chelsea

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As we did last week, PST live blogged today’s UEFA Champions League semifinal between Barcelona and Chelsea. Here’s how it happened:

Score: Barcelona 2 (2) [Busquets 35′, Iniesta 43′], Chelsea 2 (3) [Ramires 45+1′, Torres 90+2′]

Final: An amazing day for Chelsea. Their captain got himself ejected. Their other central defender left early with injury. A brilliant finish from Ramires in the first half put them back in front, and Fernando Torres sealed the victory. Chelsea is on to Munich, and Barcelona’s title defense is over.

90+2′ – Torres intercepts a ball along the left but has it taken from him. Xavi tries a ball into the box but it’s intercepted, with Cole punting it deep. Torres is the only person near the center line. He dribbles in on Valdes, gets around him and puts Barcelona away. Chelsea will go on to Munich.

90′ – Messi tries a chip for Sanchez, but Ivanovic heads it out. Mascherano collects and takes a crack, forcing Cech to push it out of play. Corner from Xavi targeting Puyol comes to nothing.

88′ – Torres intercepts a Messi pass on the right. Mascherano takes it off him with a nice tackle, brings it back in only to be taken down by Meireles. Raul spends too much time arguing (stalling), and is shown yellow.

87′ – Barcelona wins, takes a corner, but nothing comes of it.

85′ – We’re getting into not again territory here for Chelsea fans. Any score will be heartbreaking. They can be encouraged by Barcelona’s reluctance to shoot despite scaring Cech with a Messi long try a few seconds ago.Messi, in particular, is playing one pass too many.

83′ – Messi finally decides to have a crack and he puts it off Cech’s left post. Replays showed Cech pushed it onto the woodwork.

82′ – Goal for Barcelona, but it’s waved off. Messi’s ball to the right for Alves finds the Brazilian off side. Thought the next touch from Sanchez was in the back of the net, the score remains the same.

81′ – Chip by Messi for Keita into the left of the area goes out for the goal kick. Barcelona has no intention of shooting the ball.

80′ – Drogba, who was just seen exhaustedly walking back to his left-flank’s role, is off. Fernando Torres is on. Chelsea is out of subs.

79′ – This is frustrating to watch. Barcelona just wants one too many pass. Messi, instead of taking a speculative shot from 23 yards, tried to play to a teammate, allowing Chelsea to intercept and clear the ball.

78′ – As  base, Chelsea has Lampar, Mikel and Miereles playing in front of a back four, Kalou and Drogba defending wide.

77′ – Also (and this happened a couple of minutes ago) Barcelona brought Tello from the right to the left flank, seemingly allowing Iniesta to play in midfield.

75′ – Keita is playing as a center forward along with Sanchez. On their last entry into the box, Barcelona tried to loft a ball for him at Cech’s right post. Drogba tracked back to head it clear.

74′ – Fabregas is off. Seydou Keita is on.

73′ – A lot of Barcelona possession within 25 yards of goal, but everything’s so congested, they’re looking for something that isn’t there. It’s unclear what they’re waiting for. They’re got to start putting the ball ito the box, be that via shots at Cech or by sending it in and hoping for the best.

72′- Lampard slides into Fabregas, brings a second leg through, and sees yellow.

71′ – As Barcelona tries to increase the pressure, every player by Mascherano is in the final third. Three (Alves, Busquets, Puyol) sit right on its edge. It will be interesting to see when Puyol gets sent farther forward, possibly to attack Ramires.

69′ – Drogba is down but gets up relatively quickly only to see the referee come over and say something that agitates him.

68′ – Chelsea with some possession on their right flank before Lampard lofts a ball into the box for Kalou, who forces Valdes to come and weakly punch into midfield, where it’s cleared.

67′ – Cuenca, who has had a good match, comes off. Cristian Tello is on.

66′ – Barcelona backs all of Chelsea’s players into their box but still got a ball over most of them before Ramires heads it into touch. The corner’s played out into midfield, another ball is sent in, and Ramires heads it out.

64′ – Chip from the left flank gives the crowd pause as Drogba’s trying to run onto the ball. Barca plays it out for a corner, and when Frank Lampard swings it in, Valdes can’t get to it before Ivanovic puts a head to it. Ball goes out, but Chelsea always had another.

63′ – Drogba is just running around to where he’s needed. Five minutes ago he was deep on the right. Over the last two minutes he’s been deep on the left, and whenever the ball is dead, he makes his way back to a striker’s position.

62′ – Barcelona catches Ramires too narrow, plays it out to Cuence who has a shot from seven yards out. Cech some down and makes another great save.

61′ – Reminiscent of how Jose Mourinho used Samuel Eto’o two years ago, Didier Drogba was just seen on the left of  a six man defensive line: Ramires-Ivanovic-Lampard-Bosingwa-Cole-Drogba.

59′ – Cech has picked up a  yellow card, possibly for time-wasting, as he was warned in the first half (and the card seems to have been given during the process of taking a goal kick).

58′ – Kalou is on for Mata.

56′ – A near embarrassing moment for Valdes. Drogba bring the ball out of his own end, plays it past Puyol at half way and then fires at goal. Valdes has to dive to keep the ball out.

54′ – Barcelona with another good chance that goes (as they say) wanting. Alves bursts down the right and puts a ball far post, but Sanchez can’t head it home.

50′ – Now Iniesta finds his way into the book, fouling Drogba.

48′ – In there, Branislav Ivanovic picked up a yellow card. If Chelsea makes it to Munich, he’ll be suspended.

48′ – Lionel Messi steps to the ball and … unbelievable! It’s off the bar! Chelsea is still in front as Messi against misses a golden chance, this time from the spot! Cech had guessed the right way but had no way of stopped that, were it a ball length lower.

48′ – We’ve got a penalty. Drogba brings down Fabregas after being dispossessed. Barcelona is set to go up again. The play was way to the right of the box, but there was little hesitation.

46′ – Welcome back. Barcelona is now moving from right to left in your head.

Halftime: Total passes (I believe this is Opta): 349-89, Barcelona.

Halftime: As seen on Twitter, Xavi has 59 completed passes in the first half. Chelsea: 61.

Halftime: I suppose this goes without saying: If Chelsea makes the final, Terry won’t play. David Luiz has yet to return to health, and Gary Cahill went down in the first half.

Halftime: Possession: 72-28, Barcelona; Shots: 9-4, Barcelona; Shots on target: 3-1, Barcelona.

Halftime: An incredible last 10 minutes saw three goals and a red card, though essentially, we’re right back where we started. Chelsea is still en route of Munich, even if the score looks a little different. There’ll be no penalty kicks, as Chelsea takes a 2-2 “edge” into intermission.

45+1′ – We’re headed to injury time, and Chelsea desperately needs halftime … wait – Lampard plays a through ball for Ramires and Valdes is eight yards off his line. The chip is in the back of the net. It’s now 2-2 and Chelsea, thanks to their away goal, is in front! (Originally put Drogba as the scorer … bad reflexive response, I guess)

44′ – Ramires picks up Chelsea’s second yellow.

43′ – It just got a lot worse for Chelsea. Alexis squares for Messi, who plays into the left of the area for Iniesta. It’s a cool finish on a shot we see missed more than make. Just inside the lower-right corner, Barcelona is in front.

43′ – UEFA is reporting a collision between Valdes and Pique is what prematurely ended the defender’s night.

42′ – Chelsea defense is actually Ramires-Ivanovic-Bosingwa-Cole. Mikel stays in midfield.

40′ – Terry’s dismissal will force Mikel into central defense and, seemingly, has left the Blues with two hopes: Drogba and penalty kicks.

37′ – Amazingly dirty play. As the ball is on the right flank, John Terry takes his right knee and puts it into the small of Alexis Sanchez’s back. The assistant most have saw it, because after a brief pause, the official didn’t hesitate to produce red.

37′ – John Terry has been red carded.

35′ – We are tied up! Barcelona wins a corner and targets Puyol with the restart. Chelsea heads it clear but Alves is there to bring it back in and play it out to the left for Cuenca. He puts it across the face, along the six for Busquets, who has an open goal to left-foot the equalizer home. It’s 1-1, people.

34′ – Drogba and Busquets collide again. This time, Drogba gets up checking his mouth for blood.

33′ – For the first time we see Iniesta making an attacking move from the left. The ball from Fabregas to him goes into touch. On the goal kick, the official talks to Cech about taking too much time. Cech obliges and restarts.

33′ – Possession: 72-28, Barca. Shots: 6-2, Barca. Shots on target: 1-0, Barca.

31′ – Long ball from Drogba (goal kick) flicked on for Mata running behind. He has a step on Puyol and forces Valdes to punt it into touch for a throw. Within seconds of the restart, Chelsea’s given the ball back, and Mikel has to take down Sánchez to prevent a break. First card.

30′ – I can’t help but think Barcelona didn’t think out the Piqué substitution. As we saw some work from them on their right you see Cuenca’s presence completely blocks Alves. Alves has a killer right foot and could be valuable in other ways, but I can’t help but wonder if Adriano wouldn’t have been the better choice.

28′ – Not seeing many ill effects of Cahill coming off. On the last exchange (started with a cross from Cuenca), Ivanovic made a nice read to drop into the box as Xavi tried to chip for Fabregas.

26′ – Piqué has had to come off. It’s unclear what happened, but he’s going straight to the locker room. It seems like an aggravation of the leg injury he has suffered from throughout the month. Dani Alves is on – not Adriano. Will Busquets drop into defense? Or will Alves play a traditional defender’s role?

25′ – For all the talk of Barcelona needing depth, they’re creating enough chances by going straight down the middle. Intricate passing, running until they can’t anymore. Typical Barcelona.

22′ – Drogba and Busquets collide contesting a long ball. Neither go down. This really should be the headline.

22′ – Long chance from Mascherano goes just over the bar. The game’s really picked up over the last four minutes.

20′ – We’re seeing enough from Barcelona to know breaking down the defense won’t be the problem. As has been the case for most of the year, finishing will be the issue. Messi (Messi!) has already failed to convert two very good chances.

19′ – Another great chance for Barcelona, this time requiring Cech to be at his best. A ball played to the left of goal gives Messi a chance from eight yards out. The ball’s heading for the far corner but Cech gets a leg to it. What a save.

19′ – Sometimes, you have to love modern technology. We’re back.

12′ – Finally, it happens. Bosingwa is on for Cahill. Di Matteo decides not to take any chances.

11′ – Early, Barcelona has 74 percent of the possession (the UEFA possession, not Opta’s)

10′ – Just as the board had been prepared to announce the sub, Bosingwa sis back down.

9′ – Cahill’s back on the pitch, but it still looks like Bosingwa is going to come on. Later in the game we could have expected Bosingwa to come on for Mata and play right midfield. Obviously, that won’t happen should Bosingwa come on.

7′ – Barcelona’s fans boo, suspecting early time-wasting. Nice. Cahill’s now up and running along the goal line, testing his leg. Bosignwa is taking off his warm ups. If he comes on, Ivanovic will play centrally.

6′ – Barcelona with another entry into the area as Fábregas slips a ball into the Invanovic-Cahill channel. Sánchez is in behind but is closed down quickly by Lampard. Nothing comes of it besides Cahill doing down. He’s tweaked his left hamstring, and it doesn’t look good.

4′ – Early we see a benefit to Pique beyond his height. He’s perfectly comfortable stepping into midfield and handling the ball. Here he swings it out to Cuenca on the right, who plays it in before Ivanovic sends it out for a throw.

3′ – Brilliant chance for Barcelona. Ball rolled to Messi’s feet. Touch to Sanchez, back to Messi, freezing John Terry. Right-footed shot from 14 yards goes into the outside of the side netting.

3′ – Barcelona with their first real foray forward sees a chip from Xavi go over Terry and Messi, bouncing into the arms of Cech.

2′ – Messi with a giveaway, ball to Drogba ho holds up play before playing wide to Ivanovic, who is fouled. Restart is quickly given back to Barcelona.

1′ – Early Ramires and Ashley Cole break down the right of Barça’s defense. Cole rolls a ball toward the six but Drogba can’t get to it before Valdés swallows it up.

1′ – Game on! Barcelona needs a goal. Chelsea needs time to speed up.

0′ – Chelsea will be moving from right-to-left on your imaginary screen. They’ll also be kicking off.

[LIMBO] – Anthem is sung and the handshakes are done. We’re moments away.

[LIMBO] – Players are finally walking out. The crowd, having just finished singing, will undoubtedly discard their typical golf clap celebrations for more a full-voiced approach. And just in case you were wondering, the officials are wearing lavender.

[LIMBO] – Sky Sports just featured a Braveheart, 300-esque rallying cry from somebody I can only assume is Gerard Butler’s second choice voice double. Teams are lining up in the tunnel.

[LIMBO] – We’re now in the middle of that nether region between advertised start time and kickoff. We should be about 10 minutes away. For Barcelona and Chelsea fans, may as well be an hour.

4′ – Sky Sports just showed the replay of John Terry’s miss in Moscow. I’m assuming this was both obligatory and not at the request of Chelsea supporters.

6′ – Jamie Redknapp, commenting on di Matteo, with a possibly unintended vicious backhand to André Villas-Boas: “I think [di Matteo’s] shown common sense.” I suppose I should be used to this. I’m not. It’s still very amusing.

7′ – One thing Roberto di Matteo has going for him, as it concerns his prospects for a permanent position at Chelsea: The Blues have a recent history of success with managers sporting caterpillar eyebrows.

9′ – As far as prematch news goes, it’s been pretty slow, a reflection of everybody pretty much knowing what’s about to come. Can Chelsea hold out for 90 minutes? Potentially worrisome news, Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) just asked about rumors of a ruckus outside the Nou Camp between Chelsea supporters and Barcelona’s faithful.

14′ – As implying by tactical savant Michael Cox on Twitter (@zonal_marking), Pep Guardiola’s selection leaves him with a ton of options. Guardiola could go with four across the top with Iniesta, Messi, Sánchez and Cuenca and still have Fábregas coming from deep. You could drop Iniesta into midfield and play 3-4-3. You could move Fábregas up and play … let’s just start the game already.

Point: Barcelona’s got a ton of interchangeable parts.

-18′ – Good line here from SI’s Georgina Turner, via her Twitter (@georgina_turner): “I’m not suggesting Sky have overhyped Barca v Chelsea, but if the teams don’t emerge in solid gold gladiatorial armour, I’ll be disappointed”.

-27′ – Now, Chelsea’s selection, unchanged from Stamford Bridge:

G – Petr Cech
LB – Ashely Cole
LCB – John Terry
RCB – Gary Cahill
RB – Branislav Ivanovic
LM – Ramires
CM – Raul Meireles
CM – John Obi Mikel
CM – Frank Lampard
RM – Juan Mata
F – Didier Drogba

Subs: Turnbull, Bosingwa, Essien, Malouda, Torres, Kalou, Sturridge

Though there was some post-match debate as to what the formation was exactly last week, reviewing the tape certainly seemed to show a 4-5-1/4-1-4-1 though most of the game. Up 1-0 at kickoff, we may see the same, only with the midfield sitting even deep at the match’s onset.

-29′ – The consensus seems to be Alves was dropped because he was at fault for the goal at Stamford Bridge, something with which I disagree. The tactic was the problem at Stamford Bridge. Guardiola’s move today is less an indictment of the player as it is the approach.

-34′ – Barcelona’s lineup first, with one major surprise:

G – Victor Valdés
D – Gerard Piqué
D – Javier Mascherano
D – Carles Puyol
M – Sergio Busquets
M – Xavi Hernández
M/F – Andrés Iniesta
M/F – Cesc Fábregas
F – Alexis Sánchez
F – Lionel Messi
F – Isaac Cuenca

Subs: Pinto, Alves, Alcántara, Keita, Adriano, Pedro Rodríguez, Tello

Amazingly, Dani Alves has been benched. Where many thought Barcelona would have to do a better job or stretching out Chelsea’s defense, their best wide player is out of the XI.

The other change from last week: Gerard Piqué is in, Adriano is on the bench.

This looks like it will play as a 3-4-3, with Sánchez and Cuenca possibly playing wide attacking roles. But, we’ll have to wait and see.

-36′ – Welcome back. I missed you. Did you – not, you don’t have to say. We’ll get the lineups up in a minute and then update you on all the latest pregame news. In the interim, you can check out

Zidane’s Madrid on cusp of setting new unbeaten record

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03: Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is one match away from coaching Real Madrid to a new unbeaten record.

When Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez midway through last season, the inexperienced former midfield standout got off to an auspicious start with a 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.

Eleven months and one Champions League title later, Madrid faces Deportivo again at home on Saturday with the chance of surpassing its longest unbeaten run since the club was founded in 1902.

On Wednesday, Madrid equaled a club record of 34 games without a loss set in 1989 under coach Leo Beenhakker when it drew 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund.

“It’s important to continue to make history and continue our good run,” Zidane said after the match. “I don’t think it’s very important for me to leave my mark. What interests me the most is to continue with this great run that we’re on.”

Last season, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez tapped Zidane to take over a struggling team, the decision smelled of desperation.

A fan favorite from his playing days as part of Madrid’s “galaticos” bunch, Zidane was promoted from coaching the reserve team to take over a side that was lurching from one embarrassing episode to the next.

Madrid’s 2015-16 campaign had started with Perez flubbing his play to sign away Manchester United goalie David De Gea. The team was then disqualified from the Copa de Rey for fielding an illegible player, and it endured a 4-0 defeat from Barcelona at home as it failed to click with Benitez.

Perez needed to make an impact move. But instead of searching for a veteran manager, he charged the unproven Zidane with turning around Madrid’s group of talented underachievers.

At first, the team remained erratic, and even looked set to bow out of the Champions League after a shocking 2-0 loss at German side Wolfsburg.

But that defeat on April 6 proved to be a catalyst. The team hasn’t lost since, recovering to claim its 11th European Cup and almost nip Barcelona for the Spanish league crown, before roaring out to lead la Liga this season.

Zidane, whose top-tier coaching experience had been limited to his stint as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, has now reached the half-century mark as head manager. During that 50-match period, he has overseen 37 wins, 11 draws and only two losses. That other loss came at Atletico Madrid in February.

“The players have to be congratulated. They’re the ones out on the pitch, it’s them who run, fight and dig in,” Zidane said. “We also have to thank the fans, who always get behind the team and support us. They’ve got to take some credit for what the team is achieving”.

Gifted with world-class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, Zidane focused on getting more from Madrid’s supporting cast. He put a new emphasis on defense in his midfield by favoring Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro over flashier playmakers James Rodriguez and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, and he has helped the little-known Lucas Vazquez blossom into an important piece of its attack.

“(Zidane) has gotten us to work hard and for things to go well for us, and that is paying off with this run of 34 unbeaten games,” defender Dani Carvajal said. “Everyone on the team has words of praise for him.”

Whereas the draw with Dortmund was disappointing because it cost Madrid a first-place finish in its Champions League group, its 1-1 stalemate earned last weekend at Barcelona tasted of victory. The “clasico” draw kept Madrid six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish table.

After it plays Deportivo, Madrid heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.

If Zidane sets the new club mark, his next goal would be the milestone held by Barcelona under counterpart Luis Enrique, whose 39-game unbeaten run was ended by Madrid last April.

Top 5 Premier League storylines for Week 15: Chelsea top, Leicester tested

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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This weekend is absolutely critical for the Premier League. Last time out, the top of the table kept pace and little changed. This time around, there is danger lurking for much of the top. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs all have difficult tests, but can Tony Pulis be the one to pin Chelsea back?

Spurs and Manchester United 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com) meet with both teams clawing for scraps from those above them. These two teams very well could be battling it out for a final Champions League place at the end of the season, meaning this matchup could go a long way in building a true gap in the table.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho failing to adapt at Manchester United ]

The bottom of the table is fascinating as well. Bob Bradley has his biggest chance yet to pull the Swans off the bottom against Sunderland amid the noise, while Hull City and Crystal Palace have a key meeting.

1. Moving day for Chelsea

Chelsea vs. West Brom — 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

Chelsea is in the best form of any Premier League team in years. Their clean sheet streak predictably ended two games ago, but it hasn’t stopped the Blues’ fine run. They’ve won eight in a row and look impossible to stop. Can Pulis-ball keep the Blues at bay? They’re three points on top of the table, and another win would likely give them even more space considering tough matches for the other top teams.

2. Any magic left in the tank for Leicester City?

Leicester City vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

The Foxes topped their Champions League group, but things continue to look more and more bleak in league play. Claudio Raneiri admitted they’re in a relegation battle with the Foxes just two points above the drop. But we’ve learned not to count this team out already, and a win against Pep Guardiola‘s stumbling team could be more than just three points.

Speaking of Manchester City, Pep was pipped by fellow first-time Premier League manager Antonio Conte last weekend, and then held to a 1-1 draw with Celtic in midweek Champions League action. However, City has taken care of business so far this season against weaker opponents, and the Foxes certainly seem to be just that at this point.

Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

3. Will Arsenal stumble against Stoke?

Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

For all the heat the Gunners have (unfairly?) taken this season, Alexis Sanchez has them just three points off the top. For Arsenal to still be one game off Chelsea despite the Blues’ fabulous run is somewhat remarkable, and for them to have thus far weathered the storm, it would be truly something to see them capitalize on a slip-up from Conte.

[ MORE: Sanchez among Premier League’s best 5 players ]

However, Stoke has been here before. The Potters have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches, including a pair with clean sheets; if anyone can stop Sanchez’s amazing form, it’s the Mark Hughes and the defensively stout Potters. A win for Stoke could potentially see them jump as high as sixth, could they go on the road and halt the Gunners? It’s possible, but a 315-minute shutout streak vs. Stoke for Arsenal puts things squarely in Arsene Wenger‘s favor before kickoff.

4. Bob Bradley’s golden opportunity

Swansea City vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

Bob Bradley has taken plenty of flak at Swansea City, and rightly so. Since his anointment as the first American manager in England’s top flight, the Swans have picked up just five points and still sit bottom of the table, two points back of anyone else. But to be fair, the competition has been tough. The four losses since his appointment have come against Arsenal, Stoke City, Manchester United, and Tottenham, and he picked up a pair of points against 8th placed Everton and 11th placed Watford. Now is his chance to pick the Swans off the bottom with a win against those directly above him.

[ RELATED: Swansea issues vote of confidence for Bob Bradley ]

Sunderland visits Wales sitting in 18th, and should Swansea win, they would jump above the Black Cats. The task is no given, however, with Sunderland owning three wins in its last four, meaning they’ve picked up nine of their 11 total points in the last month. Bradley fended off much criticism the past week, and if he’s going to silence those calls for his job after just two months, this is a must-win.

5. West Ham finishes gauntlet stretch

Liverpool vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

The Hammers are in the midst of a brutal run of matches where they have just two points, putting them a single point above the relegation zone. The teams they’ve played? Everton, Stoke City, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal. Yikes. And yet, if West Ham aspire to the heights they reached last season, Slaven Bilic will expect better. Can the Hammers get a result against the high-flying Reds? Liverpool sits four points off the top, but goalkeeper Loris Karius was exposed last week in the stunning Bournemouth comeback, and it’s possible that disappointment leaves a lasting impact. Who will prevail?

FA bans Leeds owner Massimo Cellino 18 months

LEEDS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Massimo Cellino President and Director of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Fulham at Elland Road on December 13, 2014 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
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Leeds United may be making a push to return to the Premier League, but they’ll have to do so without their owner.

Massimo Cellino, who took over Leeds in February of 2014, has been banned for 18 months by the English FA for his involvement in the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham later that summer. He was also fined $315,000 and required to complete a course outlining the duties and restrictions for owners in the English league.

During McCormack’s sale, a significant payment was apparently paid to unlicensed agent Barry Hughes, facilitated by McCormack’s official licensed agent Derek Day, who was also banned for 18 months, although 11 of those are suspended, leaving him sidelined for seven months should no other infractions arise.

This likely will only serve to accelerate the current potential sale of Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani, with both sides having publicly acknowledged discussions are ongoing.

Leeds is currently in fourth in the Championship table, having won five of their last six matches. McCormack, meanwhile, scoring a whopping 42 goals in 100 appearances over two years before making a big-money move to Aston Villa this past summer, where he has slumped at Villa Park, owning just two goals over 13 Championship appearances this season and losing his place in the team. To be fair, he struggled in his early days at Fulham as well, scoring just twice in his first 15 matches before exploding in his second season at Craven Cottage with 21 league goals.

Europa League roundup: Manchester United through, Southampton bounced

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton is chased by Shir Tzedek of Hapoel Be'er Sheva during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The Europa League group stage finished up Thursday and a pair of Premier League teams are through, along with other big-name clubs.

Manchester United secured its spot in the knockout stage by beating Ukranian side Zorya 2-0 on goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paul Pogba looked incisive as well, feeding Zlatan on the second goal. They finish second in Group A after Fenerbahce beat Feyenoord on a wonderful overhead kick from bike specialist Moussa Sow, giving the Turkish club the group’s top spot.

Southampton, however, suffered a double blow as they needed a win or a 0-0 draw against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, but were dumped from the competition with a wild 1-1 draw after Maor Bar Buzaglo scored with 11 minutes remaining to send the Israeli club through. In addition, the Saints may have lost striker Charlie Austin for some time after he went down with what looked to be a dislocated shoulder, as trainers appeared to pop it back in as Austin lay on the pitch, before he came off in clear pain.

[ RECAP: Southampton dumped out of Europa League with draw ]

Group B finished with a tight margin. Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia defeated bigger brothers Olympiacos 2-0 with one early and one late. That sent Apoel clean through at the top of the club, while the Greeks took second. Olympiacos finished level with Young Boys on eight points, but the Greek club went through thanks to a win and a draw against their Swiss groupmates.

Group C ended even tighter as St. Etienne completed a stunning comeback, down 2-0 in the first half on the road at Anderlecht before coming from behind to win 3-2 with all three goals coming in a 12-minute span in the second half. That gave the French side the group win with 12 points, while the Belgians came in second with 11. FC Mainz won 2-0 over Qabala but finished third with nine points.

AZ Alkmaar’s wire to wire 3-2 win over Group D winners Zenit St. Petersburg saw them advance despite Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory, while Celta Vigo overtook Standard Liege to move on through Group G thanks to a 2-0 win over Panathanaikos. The Spaniards came into the day tied with Standard Liege on points, and the three points saw them through, while the Belgians were bounced after managing just a draw against group leaders Ajax.

Group F is the only question mark, as Genk and Sassuolo were meant to play, but the match was postponed due to signifncant fog cutting sight to essentially nothing at Mapei Stadium in Italy. Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, sits atop the group, but a 1-1 draw Thursday with Rapid Wien means Genk is still able to take over the top spot from the Spaniards with a draw or win.

Red Bull Salzburg caught FC Krasnodar on points thanks to a win over group leaders Schalke plus a Krasnodar loss to Nice, but it wasn’t enough thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, so Schalke and Krasnodar move through in Group I.

Finally, Villarreal secured a place in the knockout stages thanks to a late 2-1 win over 10-man Steaua Bucharesti. Manu Trigueros scored the winner in the 88th minute, pushing them clean into second behind Turkish club Osmanlispor who won the group with a 2-0 win over FC Zurich thanks to two late goals.

SCORELINES

Zorya 0-2 Manchester United
Southampton 1-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Feyenoord 0-1 Fenerbahce
Astra Giurgiu 0-0 Roma
AZ Alkmaar 3-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Standard Liege 1-1 Ajax
Inter Milan 2-1 Sparta Prague
Red Bull Salzburg 2-0 Schalke
Villareal 2-1 Steaua Bucharesti
Qarabag 1-2 Fiorentina
Sporting Braga 2-4 Shakhtar Donetsk
Anderlecht 2-3 Saint Etienne
Mainz 2-0 Gabala
Panathinaikos 0-2 Celta Vigo
Viktoria Plzen 3-2 Austria Wien
Konyaspor 0-1 Gent
PAOK 2-0 Liberec
Apoel Nicosia 2-0 Olympiacos
Young Boys 3-0 Astana
Osmanlispor 2-0 FC Zurich
Nice 2-1 Krasnodar
Sassuolo vs. Genk (postponed until Friday)

The draw for the Round of 32 will take place on Monday, December 12th.

ROUND OF 32:

Group winners: Fenerbahce, Apoel Nicosia, St. Etienne, Zenit St. Petersburg, Roma, Athletic Bilbao/Genk, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke, Fiorentina, Sparta Prague, Osmanlispor.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Olympiacos, Anderlecht, Anderlecht, Astra Giurgiu, Athletic Bilbao/Genk, Celta Vigo, KAA Gent, Krasnodar, PAOK, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Villareal.

Dropping down from Champions League: Ludogorets, Besiktas, Borussia Monchengladbach, FC Rostov, Tottenham Hotspur, Legia Warsaw, FC Copenhagen, Lyon.