Giroud returns to Montpellier, Schalke goes to Greece – UEFA Champions League Group B preview

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Montpellier vs. Arsenal

La Mosson, Montpellier, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Four months after leading Montpellier to one of the more improbable European titles in recent memory, Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud returns to La Mosson for a match that’s bound to inspire mixed feelings.

“I spent a beautiful, wonderful season there last year when we were champions and won the title,” Arsenal’s new 25-year-old striker told Arsenal Player. “It will be difficult for me to play against Montpellier, because there is a lot of emotion …”

It’s unclear how that emotion will manifest in the crowd. Getting $19.5 million for him this summer, Montpellier received a windfall for a player who was in the French second division two years ago. The fans, however, could see the departure as a player quickly abandoning a club that helped him become a star.

“I hope to receive a good reception from the Montpellier fans, because I finished the top goal scorer there last season and worked hard for the title,” Giroud said. “I think the reaction will be good, but there may be some people who will boo maybe. It is always like this.”

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

This all assumes Giroud plays. He’s yet to score in a competitive match since moving to Arsenal, something which leaves manager Arsene Wenger uncertain as to whether the former MHSC man will start.

“I felt that he is under much pressure at the moment and sometimes to get a little breather is good,” Wenger said, having left Giroud out of his starting XI this weekend against Southampton, a decision that could portend to Giroud starting on Tuesday.

Wenger is one person who will not be on the field at La Mosson. The Arsenal boss starts serving the first of a three-match touchline ban incurred for confronting officials after the Gunners’ elimination to Milan in last year’s knockout stage. Still fuming over the suspension, Wenger labeled UEFA “clueless.”

What he’ll miss is a battle between two clubs with vastly different Champions League resumés. Montpellier is making their first appearance in the competition. Arsenal is making their 15th straight, having progressed to the knockout round in 12 consecutive seasons.

Further tilting the scales, Arsenal has never lost at a Ligue 1 club in Champions League. They’ve also yet to lose this season in England, while Montpellier took four rounds to record their first Giroud-less win.

Olympiacos vs. Schalke 04

Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Like Arsenal and Montpellier, Olympiacos and Schalke have never met, so if we’re looking for insight into how these teams match up, we’ll need coincident results. Last season, German champions Borussia Dortmund were drawn into Olympiacos’s Champions League group and proceded to lose 3-1 on their trip to Piraeus. Arsenal would fall to an identical score, and with Olympiacos 3-0-0 out of the gate in Greece (with a +6 difference), there’s no reason to think the Greek champions have taken a step back.

Schalke is off to a hot start of their own, earning seven points from their first three games. Having already posted seven goals, concerns over the loss of Raúl’s 15 may prove unwarranted (the Spanish icon got hooked up with direct deposit with Al Sadd in Qatar). Lewis Holtby, Julian Draxler and Jermaine Jones, who combined for seven goals last season, have already found net four times. Huub Stevens has scarcely needed new acquisitions Ibrahim Afellay and Tranquillo Barnetta.

The question is whether Schalke can hold up at the back. Having only allowed two goals thus far, the team may be slightly improved on last year (when Christoph Metzelder got half the starts ahead of Christian Fuchs). Olympiacos’ Rafik Djebbour may provide their stiffest test to date. The 28-year-old Algerian has started the Greek season with four goals.

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.