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Milan adrift, Zenit’s new firepower – UEFA Champions League Group C preview

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Group quality in Champions League is a zero sum game. It’s like that in all tournaments. If you have a very strong group (like Group D, this year), either the rest of the groups become easier or one, maybe two groups become so easy that the winner’s less likely to be determined by quality than which team can get their act together in time to advance.

And that’s how we get Group C. It’s a collection of teams that have the talent to make the knockout rounds, but with issues surrounding each at the start of group stage, it’s hard to tell which pair is going to be alive come 2013.

Málaga vs. Zenit St. Petersburg

La Rosaleda, Malaga, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Continuing Tuesday’s theme of teams having never played each other, Zenit makes the 2,580 mile trip southwest to face Málaga, one of three clubs making their Champions League debut. Sitting second in Spain, Málaga no longer seem like the speed bump they were projecting after the sale of Santi Carzola. Instead, they’re exactly what they were last year: a team Manuel Pellegrini’s made tough to score on, even if they often seem in incapable of scoring more than one goal.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Málaga’s Champions League debut introduces another possible problem, one we saw in Borussia Dortmund’s unexpected troubles in last year. The German champions finished last in their group, reminding us experience in Champions League (and balancing it against domestic concerns) might actually matter. The increased travel, lack of familiarity with opponents, fixture congestion and increased on-field demands are issues clubs often have to confront before they can master. Even clubs that bulk import players and coaches with Champions League experience face trouble. Like Dortmund, Manchester City failed to make last year’s Round of 16.

Zenit did qualify for the knockout rounds, though based on the new blood they’ve brought in, expectations may be higher. Brazilian goal scorer Hulk and Belgian midfielder Alex Witsel made high-priced moves to St. Petersburg earlier this month, right around the time Luciano Spalletti’s team was dropping out of first in the Russia’s Premier League. After a perfect 4-0-0 (W-L-D) start, Zenit’s gone 1-2-1, losing at home to Rubin Kazan and Terek Grozny.

Travelling with only three days rest and having never won in Spain, Zenit’s list of problems creates a matchup of a more talent but travel weary, out-of-form side against tournament neophytes who have the luxury of playing at home. Maybe this one is destined to draw.

AC Milan vs. Anderlecht

San Siro, Milan, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Until proven otherwise, Milan are Group C favorites. Unfortunately, the Rossoneri seem to be making their opponents’ case. They’ve already lost at home to Atalanta and Sampdoria, with only a Giampaolo Pazzini hat trick at Bologna keeping Max Allegri’s side from a completely disastrous start. After selling Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic this summer (and letting a number of veterans go), Milan was supposed to take a step back, but with an easy schedule to start their Serie A campaign, more was expected in the season’s first month.

If Milan lose to Anderlecht, the club will be in full crisis mode, particularly considering the Belgians’ history on the peninsula. The Jupiler League champions have made 14 trips to Italy and never won, and while the Italians’ struggles make this as good a time as ever to make history, Anderlecht has had their own problems in Belgium. Though they sit second in league, Anderlecht’s won only three of their seven league matches.

Unfortunately for the Belgian Champion (already without  injured Argentine attacker Matías Suarez), Serbian Milan Jovanovic is suspended, leaving the Purple and Whites without two of their four main scoring options from last season. At the rate Milan’s scoring, that may not be an issue, but if Anderlecht’s going to make history instead of merely drawing, they’ll likely need Dieduonné Mbokani to maintain his form (seven all competition goals this season) or Guillaume Gillet (14 goals last year) to regain his scoring touch.

Burnley sign Hendrick in club-record deal; Adama to Middlesbrough

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C) of Sweden competes for the ball against Wes Hoolahan (L) and Jeff Hendrick of Republic (R) of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Stade de France on June 13, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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Burnley have signed Republic of Ireland international Jeff Hendrick on a three-year deal.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Hendrick, 24, shone for Ireland at EURO 2016 this summer and that persuaded Burnley to pay over $13.7 million to Derby County for the energetic central midfielder.

That means the Clarets have now spent nearly $30 million on new players this summer and have smashed their transfer record twice in the last two weeks after Belgian international Steven Defour arrived from Anderlecht.

Speaking to the club website, Hendrick revealed Burnley’s summer-long interest in him was a big factor in him signing.

“The Premier League was a big draw for me and it’s where I aspire to be after the summer I’ve had,” Hendrick said. “Burnley did so well last year going unbeaten for five months and how much they wanted me this summer was a real positive for me. I know there have been a number of bids and I was sitting there waiting for one to be accepted. I would have preferred it to happen earlier to and get to know your team mates and coaching staff a bit more, but I am just thankful it’s done now and I can go away with Ireland known my future is settled.”

Hendrick will add plenty of power to Burnley’s midfield as the Clarets aim to do something they’ve never done in their previous two seasons in the PL: stay up.


There was another Deadline Day deal for a newly-promoted team in the PL as Middlsebrough signed 20-year-old winger Adama Traore from Aston Villa.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

Traore was signed by Tim Sherwood from Barcelona for $9.1 million but failed to break through in Villa’s woeful campaign last season which ended in their relegation from the Premier League.

Now the pacey winger has another chance in the top-flight as he becomes Boro’s 11th signing of the summer and Albert Adomah heads in the opposite direction.

Aitor Karanka isn’t messing around and Middlesbrough’s unbeaten start to life back in the PL is testament to that.

Sunderland sign Didier Ndong for club-record fee

Didier Ndong
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Sunderland have made their first signing of what is expected to be a busy Transfer Deadline Day at the Stadium of Light.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Gabon international midfielder Didier Ndong has signed for a club-record fee of $17.8 million and has a five-year contract at Sunderland.

The 22-year-old defensive midfielder joins the Black Cats from Ligue 1 side Lorient and David Moyes could add as many as five new players on Deadline Day.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ]  

Speaking to Sunderland’s website Ndong revealed his delighted at moving to the Premier League.

“It will be an honor to wear the Sunderland shirt and I will wear it with a true understanding of what it means,” Ndong said. “I am excited to meet everyone at the club, to see the stadium and of course the fans. Today is the most beautiful day of my life.”

Ndong will add to an injury-hit Sunderland midfield and it could free up U.S. U-20 international Lynden Gooch to play in a more attacking central role.

Moyes will be hoping he can add some more defenders between now and the summer transfer window shutting at 6 p.m. ET today, with rumors persisting that Lamine Kone could be on his way out.

Report: Roma lead chase for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere

Arsenal v Hull City - Premier League
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Early on Transfer Deadline Day it seemed like Premier League duo Crystal Palace and Bournemouth were the two options for Jack Wilshere.

Not so fast.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

According to multiple reports Arsenal’s 24-year-old central midfielder is reportedly being chased hard by AS Roma with regards to a season-long loan deal.

Wilshere has expressed his desire to leave Arsenal for regular action this season and over 22 clubs have reportedly expressed interest in taking him on loan.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

That list had been whittle down to three main contenders and it is believed the England international met with Palace boss Alan Pardew and Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe on Tuesday as he decided where he should go.

Now, though, it appears a Serie A giant is pushing hard to get Wilshere.

His good friend Wojciech Szczesny is already on loan from Arsenal to Roma and with the Italian side able to offer UEFA Europa League action, plus challenge for the top four in Italy’s top-flight, Wilshere may see it as more worthwhile than going on loan to Palace or Bournemouth who will both be challenging to finish in the upper reaches of midtable in the PL.

The transfer window in Italy shuts at 5 p.m. ET, an hour earlier than in England, so Wilshere will have to get a move on if he fancies spending the next year in the Italian capital.

Report: David Luiz to Chelsea edging closer; Fabregas staying

Luiz scored on his return to the Bridge and celebrated like a mad man.
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A deal between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea for “the geezer” David Luiz appears to be back on.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

On Tuesday reports emerged that Antonio Conte‘s side had offered $39 million for 29-year-old Luiz. Bearing in mind he signed for PSG in 2014 from Chelsea for $65 million, that would be decent business for Chelsea.

PSG were said to want close to $50 million for Luiz and the deal seemed dead.

However, the Daily Mail is now reporting that the deal for Luiz is edging ever closer with the player said to be keen on a return to Stamford Bridge and the clubs are working towards and agreement.

A flashy central defender, Luiz has many question marks against his name when it comes to his defensive capabilities but he is a fans favorite at Chelsea after winning the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League with the Blues. He can also take a wicked free kick and his impressive range of passing sees him take risks out of the back.

Chelsea do need cover in central defense with Gary Cahill and John Terry their only options, plus Branislav Ivanovic able to slot over from right back to center back. Conte does have Kurt Zouma at the club but the French international defender is likely to go out on loan to Bundesliga side Schalke to step up his recovery following a horrendous injury last February against Manchester United.

Is Luiz heading back to west London?


In other Chelsea-related news Sky Sports is reporting that Spanish international playmaker Cesc Fabregas is staying at the Bridge.

Fabregas, 29, has been linked with a move away from Chelsea this summer after starting the first three Premier League games of the season on the bench. Conte has preferred N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in central midfielder and it was reported that Fabregas had fallen out with Chelsea’s new Italian manager.

The former Arsenal and Barcelona rejected speculation that he and Conte had a bust up but on Deadline Day rumors have arrived that AC Milan want to sign Fabregas.

However it appears Fabregas will be staying at Chelsea at least until January to fight for his place in the team.