PSG returns, Porto looks to improve – UEFA Champions League Group A preview

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Just like that, Champions League group stage is back. Eight matches per day, two days a week, with match days spread out from now through the beginning of December. For many of you, it will provide something to get through your work day. For some of us, it’s bludgeoning: Too many games; too little time; too much significance.

While the day’s biggest match is in Group D (Real Madrid hosting Manchester City), PSG’s Champions League return will also snatch headlines. They help kickoff Group A play with FC Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, and Dinamo Zagreb.

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Dynamo Kyiv

Parc de Princes, Paris, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

You’d be forgiven for thinking PSG had never been in Champions League. It’s been eight years since the Parisians participated in the competition, and since becoming the unofficial club of the Qatari government, Paris Saint-Germain is scarcely the same club.

Today, the Parisians are more talented than their predecessors could have imagined. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has become the focal point of a team that will also feature Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, and Jeremy Menez. While many attacks can claim greater potency, few can espouse to having more skill.

Unfortunately for Carlo Ancelotti, teams are judged by goals, which means the PSG boss needs to find a way to improve on their six goals in five Ligue 1 games. More specifically, Ancelotti needs to get somebody besides Ibrahimovic scoring. Zlatan has scored five times (in four games). The rest of the team is averaging 0.20 goals per match.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Dynamo represents an opportunity for PSG to break out. The Ukranians are perennial contenders domestically, but they’re not on the same level as the Parisians, even if they’ve just gone through an offseason buildup of their own: Miguel Veloso (from Genoa), Niko Kranjcar (Tottenham Hotspur), Marco Ruben (Villarreal) and Taye Taiwo (Milan).

Travelling across the continent for a midweek match is tough enough, but when you don’t have the players to match up with Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Menez, the odds become especially long.

Dinamo Zagreb vs. FC Porto

Stadion Maksimir, Zagreb, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Give credit to Dinamo Zagreb for being one of two teams to make it from second round qualifying into group stage, but they’re going to have to drastically improve on last year to make the treck worth their competitive while. No matter how they perform against FC Porto, the money will justify the effort (each team gets $9.4 million for making it this far), but on the field, Dinamo will want to avoid the embarrassment of a record-setting 22 goals allowed in last year’s group stage.

If current form in any indication, Dinamo is set to improve. Shortly after their elimination from last year’s Champions League, Dinamo parted ways with head coach Krunoslav Jurčić, bringing in Ante Čačić from Lokomotiva. Since, the team is undefeated in 33 matches, winning 23.

Porto is also trying to improve on last year, though for drastically different reasons. Favored going into Group G, the Portuguese champions finished third behind Russia’s Zenit St. Petersburg and Cyprus’s APOEL. On the final matchday, Porto saw Zenit come of the Dragão and park the bus, their 0-0 draw especially frustrating given one more goal would have put them into the final 16.

Porto’s ability to move forward will depend on how successful they are in replacing Hulk. Their leading scorer last season, Hulk, moved to Zenit earlier this month. Porto are left with a wealth of attacking talent (James Rodriguez, Silvestre Valera, and Christian Atsu), but maintaining their high standards will depend on Jackson Martínez. The talented Ecuadorian was imported from Mexico this summer and has already scored twice in three Liga matches. If he can be as incredible as Hulk, Porto should improve on last year’s disappointment.

EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

(more…)

Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

[ FOLLOW: Live MLS scores ]

On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET

UCL Playoff Wrap: Liverpool, Sporting CP, CSKA advance to group stage

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It was another memorable European night for Liverpool in front of the Kop at Anfield.

Lifted by three goals in the opening 21 minutes, the Reds cruised to a 4-2 win over Hoffenheim 1899 in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League playoff stage Wednesday evening. With the win, Liverpool returns to the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

[ MORE: Champions League scores ]

Sadio Mane set up Emre Can twice and both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino chipped in with goals of their own to lead Liverpool to victory. After Can’s double and Salah’s goal gave Liverpool a three-goal lead, Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann brought Mark Uth off the bench onto the field and he promptly scored in the 28th minute to draw within two.

Firmino again put Liverpool ahead by three goals with a goal into an open net in the 63rd minute. Hoffenheim recorded a consolation goal in the 79th minute through Sandro Wagner but Liverpool was resolute and held on for victory.

Liverpool, and the rest of the winning clubs, will learn their fates for the group stage on Thursday.

Here’s a look at the rest of the Champions League playoff scores:

Slavia Prague 0-0 APOEL (APOEL advances 2-0 on aggregate)

FC Copenhagen 2-1 Qarabag FK (Qarabag advances on away goals, 2-2 on aggregate)

FCSB (Steaua București) 1-5 Sporting CP (Sporting CP advances 5-1 on aggregate)

CSKA Moscow 2-0 BSC Young Boys (CSKA advances on aggregate, 3-0)