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.

Balotelli, Nice may have spoiled PSG’s title chances

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Monaco took care of business at the top of Ligue 1 on Saturday and now the Champions League semifinalists could be closing in on France’s crown.

[ MORE: Spurs revel in ruling North London, but want more ]

Paris Saint-Germain slipped up on Sunday with a 3-1 loss against third-place Nice, and it could spell the end for the Parisians’ hopes of winning Ligue 1 in 2016/17.

Mario Balotelli sprung Nice in front after 26 minutes with a curling left-footed effort from outside the box, before Ricardo Pereira doubled the advantage for the hosts just three minutes into the second stanza with a lovely curler of his own.

PSG managed to pull a goal back in the 64th minute as Marquinhos gave the visitors a glimmer of hope to keep their title hopes alive.

However, the final minutes of the match took a drastic turn for the worse for PSG as Thiago Motta and Angel di Maria were both shown red cards for violent tackles on Nice players.

Nice also found a third finish after PSG was dwindled down to nine men when Anastasios Donis headed home a lofted cross from the left wing.

With three matches remaining for PSG, Unai Emery’s side sits three points behind league leaders Monaco, who also have a match in hand. PSG finishes up their Ligue 1 account with matches against Bastia, St Etienne and Caen.

Video: Camilo Sanvezzo scores wonder goal for Queretaro

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Camilo Sanvezzo scored two goals on Sunday for Queretaro but many won’t even remember the score of the game after his brilliant first effort.

The Queretaro forward scored the first of two finishes in the 66th minute after winning the ball in his own half, carrying it into the Toluca end and unleashing a deadly shot from just inside midfield.

Sanvezzo eventually scored his side’s second goal in the dying minutes of the match, and his 88th minute finish proved to be the winner for Queretaro, who currently sit 13th in Liga MX.

The 28-year-old should be familiar to MLS fans after Sanvezzo’s time with the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2011 to 2013. The veteran scored 39 goals in 92 matches with the Canadian side.

MLS Snapshot: Atlanta United 1-3 D.C. United (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Atlanta has been one of the most exciting teams in MLS over the opening two months of the season, but with a bit of luck and grit D.C. United spoiled the newcomers’ fun on Sunday afternoon. It was all the home side early on in the match, which was spearheaded by Kenwyne Jones‘ emphatic header, but D.C. responded well with some good pressure of their own. The win for D.C. moves Ben Olsen’s club into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Atlanta still holds the sixth and final playoff position through eight matches as Gerardo Martino’s side sits on 11 points.

[ MORE: MLS roundup from Saturday’s action ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Hosts apply pressure and hit D.C. where it hurts — This is exactly why Atlanta brought in Kenwyne Jones. Big body and deadly heading ability. Can’t stop that.

25′ — D.C. unexpectedly pulls level — It certainly wasn’t how Lamar Neagle drew it up but he and D.C. somehow equalized before the half hour mark after some sloppy Atlanta defending.

36′ — Acosta runs wild — Atlanta will probably want to look back on this moment and make sure they do a better job covering the diminutive attacker next time.

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Men of the match: Luciano Acosta

Goalscorers: Kenwyne Jones (9′), Michael Parkhurst — OG (25′), Luciano Acosta (36′), Sebastian Le Toux (55′)

La Liga & Serie A: Napoli gains ground on Roma and more

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

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Celta Vigo 0-3 Athletic Bilbao

Bilbao is up to sixth place following Sunday’s win over Celta, and it was quite the dominant performance from the road side. Celta managed zero shots on target throughout the match in comparison to Bilbao’s 12, while Raul Garcia’s brace helped pace his side to victory with goals on each side of halftime. Mikel Rico added a third in the 83rd minute for good measure but there was never much doubt on the day as to which side was coming away with the points.

Real Betis 1-4 Alaves

Despite going down inside the opening quarter hour, Alaves put out a superb showing after halftime to solidify its place in the top 10 in Spain. Nenad Krsticic, Rubén Sobrino and Christian Santos scored in a 10-minute span early in the second half to give the visitors a commanding lead before Aleksandar Katai added his side’s fourth of the day late in stoppage time.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Osasuna 2-2 Deportivo La Coruna
Eibar 2-0 Leganes


Roma 1-3 Lazio

It’s always a fun one when these two sides get together in the Derby della Capitale but Lazio’s victory could prove quite costly for their rivals from Rome. Keita Balde Diao continues his fantastic scoring run for Lazio as the 22-year-old is up to 13 Serie A goals on the season after Sunday’s brace. The Senegalese striker scored after 12 minutes before providing the final touch on the match for the visiting side. Daniele de Rossi converted from the penalty spot to pull Roma even on the stroke of halftime, but Dusan Basta restored the lead for Lazio five minutes into after the break.

Napoli 1-0 Inter Milan

Jose Callejon made things a lot more interesting in the race for the UEFA Champions League. Following Roma’s defeat, a victory for Napoli ensured that the side would move to within a point of the Giallorossi in Serie A. And that’s exactly what Napoli did. Callejon’s first-half finish gave Napoli the cushion it needed on the day, and now sets up an intriguing race for automatic qualification into next season’s UCL.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Bologna 4-0 Udinese
Cagliari 1-0 Pescara
Crotone 1-1 AC Milan
Empoli 1-3 Sassuolo
Genoa 1-2 Chievo
Palermo 2-0 Fiorentina