City gets Real, BVB’s second chance – UEFA Champions League Group D preview

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If only we had an alternate label for this very difficult group. Unfortunately, the only thing to talk about the games, starting with the day’s headline act in Madrid:

Real Madrid vs. Manchester City

Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

The second-biggest game of Champions League’s group stage helps kickoff the tournament proper. The biggest match will be Real Madrid’s trip to Manchester City, with greater stakes and City’s fanbase (just starting to enjoy their club’s new success) setting the stage for two of the world’s most talented and expensive teams. But given there are few atmospheres better than Madrid’s, it’s difficult to get a better start than Spain and England’s champions meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Because of their connections to Inter Milan (where José Mourinho succeeded Roberto Mancini after three-straight league titles), the two coaches have stolen much of the pre-match focus, a shame given the talent on the field. Each team will fill their XI with depth we usually see only three times per season: the two Clasicos (though there’ve been more lately) and the Champions League final. Thanks to City’s low UEFA coefficient (still not at the same level as their talent), we’re getting two similarly spectacular matchups in group stage.

For the first meeting, expect to see a highly motivated Real Madrid. Weekend disappointment left Mourinho publicly expressing frustration with his club’s 1-1-2 (W-L-D) start. Just as concerning is the team’s lack of goals, having scored only five times this season. Coming after weeks of concern for Cristiano Ronaldo’s emotional health, rancor off the field has given Tuesday’s meeting the feel of a must-win match for Los Merengues.

Trying to match Real’s intensity, City is likely to be shorthanded. Sergio Aguero has been out since the season opener, and while he had targeted Tuesday’s match for a possible return, the Argentine attacker is unlikely to figure at the Bernabeu. That leaves Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli (just returning from an injury of his own) to fill the space in front of Carlos Tévez.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Ajax

BVB Stadion, Dortmund, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

In theory, this should be a straight forward match for Borussia Dortmund. The two-time reigning Bundesliga champions are the more talented side, and while Ajax are champions of the Netherlands, the Eredivisie’s quality doesn’t match its reputation (it’s been five years since a Dutch team made it past group stage). If everything plays out by the book, BVB should have a comfortable night in Dortmund.

But then there’s last year, when Dortmund finished at the bottom of a group that included Arsenal, Marseille, and Olympiacos. Coming off a summer where Arsenal had lose both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasir, BVB was picked by some to win the group. Few thought Marseille would beat them out. Ultimately, BVB couldn’t even claim the third place spot that would have qualified them for Europa League.

Has anything changed this year? Against an Ajax team that has undergone major changes (but remains potent, with Christian Eriksson and Siem de Jong) it may be hard to tell. Even if BVB wins comfortably, the gap between Ajax and the group’s other members is so large, a positive result’s unlikely to tell us much.

Instead, BVB may be looking to show something more ethereal. Progress may be measured in the command and composure we see from Robert Lewandowski, Kevin Grosskreutz, Mario Götze, Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. The young core that’s mastered the Bundesliga needs to show that expertise at the next level.

Soccer world reacts to the Manchester attacks

Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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NBC News is reporting that at least 19 people have been killed and another 50 are injured following a possible suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester.

Multiple senior U.S. intelligence officials who are monitoring British authorities told NBC News that preliminary reports indicate that a single explosion took place outside the arena on the southwest side opposite the train station. The explosion occurred as the concert ended, catching people as they exited.

Soccer clubs, players and personalities around the world are reacting to the horrible event.

Juventus purchases Cuadrado from Chelsea

Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
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If you didn’t realize Juan Cuadrado still belonged to Chelsea, you’re forgiven.

The Colombian attacker will complete his second season at Juventus after the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid, and won’t be headed back to Chelsea afterwards.

Juve has purchased Cuadrado, and the fee is $22 million, and Juve will pay it over three seasons. Cuadrado, 28, is now signed through 2020 with The Old Lady.

Cuadrado first went on loan to Juve in Aug. 2015, and has eight goals and 18 assists in 83 career appearances with the club.

Chelsea bought Cuadrado from Fiorentina for around $32 million in the January 2015 transfer window, but made just 14 appearances with the club.

Report: Jermain Defoe meeting with Bournemouth

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Sky Sports is reporting that Jermain Defoe may head back to the south of England following Sunderland’s relegation.

Defoe, 34, spent two seasons with Portsmouth between 2008-09, scoring 15 goals in 31 appearances.

[ MORE: ‘The Moment’ of each PL club’s season ]

The 56-times capped England striker had a clause in his Sunderland contract allowing him to leave the Stadium of Light were the Black Cats to be relegated, as they were this season. He’d have little interest in dropping into the Championship given his desire to stay a part of the England squad ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

Bournemouth’s strike corps includes Joshua King, who scored the most goals of any player not on a Top Seven side this season. King’s 16 goals were one more than Defoe’s 15, though the latter scored just one goal following a brace against Crystal Palace on Feb. 4.

Chelsea’s Conte wins pair of top managerial honors

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Antonio Conte took league and national honors from the League Managers Association on Monday night.

The Chelsea boss was named Premier League Manager of the Year and Manager of the Year after leading the Blues to the PL title and an FA Cup Final in his first year on the job.

Brighton and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton nabbed another Championship boss of the year award after leading the Gulls to the Premier League. He also won the honor with Newcastle United in 2010.

The League One winner is Chris Wilder of Sheffield United. Wilder won the honor with Northampton Town last season.

In League Two, Paul Cook of Portsmouth was named the winner.