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Zlatan takes Portugal, Eastern block dynamism – UEFA Champions League Group A preview

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What’s Zlatan doing this week?

It takes an incredible talent to makes one of the world’s free spending clubs and turn it into his own traveling show, but that’s what Paris Saint-Germain got when they brought in (one of) the world’s greatest center forward(s). Anytime they play, it’s all about what Zlatan Ibrahimovic does, and whenever they’re away from the Parc de Princes, the only question is where’s PSG taken The Zlatan Show this week?

On Wednesday, Cirque de Zlatan is in Portugal to take on Portguese champions Porto. In Group A’s other match, Dyanmo Kyiv hopes a new coach can help them recover from a matchday one thrashing when they host Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb.

Porto (Portugal) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Estádio do Dragão, Porto, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

For a team of PSG’s ambitions, Porto’s a perfect litmus test. The perpetual Portuguese champions have had trouble translating their domestic and Europe League successes into Champions League. Last year was a perfect example. Porto went 2-2-2 in a group that most picked them to win, relegated to Europa after finishing behind APOEL Nicosea and Zenit St. Petersburg. They’re a talented and accomplished team, but ever since taking away the title 2004, Porto’s Champions League success has been elusive.

It’s not hard to imagine Paris Saint-Germain entering a similar state, if only temporarily. When a eam experiences a long a break from the tournament, the first year back in Champions League can be trying. it can be difficult to create a squad and mindset to balance domestic priorities and the tournament’s mid-week intensity. As we saw last year with Borussia Dortmund, Lille and Manchester City, talent can not always offset inexperience. Or, as we’ve seen with Porto (or during Real Madrid’s long spell pre-Mourinho), even experience isn’t enough. The unique demands of Champions League make it hard to predict whether a team will succeed until they do, in fact, succeed.

That’s why Porto is such a great test. They are right at that edge. At some point, it’s going to click. Perhaps it’s continued emergence of Colombian dynamo James Rodríguez. Maybe a year’s experience will help coach Vitor Periera. Or perhaps the difference between Hulk and Jackson Martínez will add a missing dimension. This year, Porto may be able to scare a team in the knockout round, but until they do, they’re the perfect measuring stick. If you can handle this team, you’re probably dangerous. If you can’t, you probably belong in Europa League.

Early returns on PSG’s ability to meet this challenge are good. They opened their Champions League campaign with a 4-1 thumping of Dynamo Kiev. On the domestic front, they’ve rebounded from a goal-starved start to roll off four straight wins, their +9 goal difference best in Ligue 1. The improved results have come as coach Carlo Ancelotti has settled into a 4-3-1-2 formation, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jeremy Ménez on top of a midfield leld by Javier Pastore, anchored by 19-year-old Marco Verratti. Since the switch, PSG’s clicked.

No matter the formation, the key is Ibrahimovic, who is off to an incredible start with his new team. In seven all-competition appearances, Zlatan has eight goals. He’ll likely be too much for center halves Nicolas Otámendi and Maicon, who will need help from midfielders Joao Moutinho and Steven Defour as Ibrahimovic drops into space. That will only open up room for Pastore and Ménez as well as make it more difficult to pick up Blaise Matuidi and Mohamed Sissoko coming up from midfield.

Despite those advantages, it’s still a big task to go to win at the Dragão. The last team to do so in group stage was Chelsea in 2009, another hint that this is the perfect test for PSG. If the Parisians want to be world elites, they have to perform like world elites.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Dynamo Kiev (Ukraine) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
Olimpiysky National Sports Complex, Kyiv, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

The must-wins come early in a six-game tournament. By the math, Dynamo Kyiv could lose on Wednesday and still get into the knockout round, but coming off a poor performance in Paris, failing to win at home against the group’s trailing pack would leave them with a lot of ground to make up on Porto, let alone Paris Saint-Germain.

Oleg Blokhin, now former Ukraine national team coach, will be the man tasked with making up that ground. The new coach was thought ready to keep both roles after recently being appointed to the role at Dynamo; however, Blokhin tendered a surprise resignation last Friday, allowing him to focus on getting Dynamo caught up Shakhtar Donestk on the domestic front, into the Champions League knockout rounds in Europe.

His first order of Champions League business: making the team forget about the 4-1 loss in Paris. From the club’s website:

“In the Champions League, Dynamo will fight for a way out of the group.

“The defeat by PSG with a score of 4-1 does not say anything. I remember a couple of years ago, the same happened when Shakhtar Donetsk lost in London, 5-1 to Arsenal.

“They then went into the play-offs with first place in the group.”

It’s a strange world where Dynamo is drawing inspiration from Shakhtar, but that’s the challenge Blokhin’s inherited. His team is a clear step behind their Ukrainian rivals, and advancing in Europe is seen more as a fancy than a goal. It’s Blokin’s job to change that view.

Miss Tuesday’s Champions League coverage?

Southampton’s chairman leads Team Europe to 2016 World Cup of Hockey final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Head coach of Team Europe Ralph Krueger looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Southampton FC
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Yeah, you read that headline correctly.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

The chairman of Premier League side Southampton, Ralph Krueger, is currently the head coach of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and against all the odds he’s led his side to the final in Toronto.

Krueger, 57, has a strong hockey background after being the former coach of the Swiss national team and the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL following a 10-year playing career in Germany.

The former German national team player, who hails from Manitoba, Canada, has certainly made the most of his few weeks back in hockey and away from the day-to-day running of Saints. As for Southampton, yeah, they’re coping just fine, racking up four-straight wins in all competitions, scoring nine times without conceding. What a week for Krueger on all fronts.

Before the prestigious hockey tournament began Europe (which is comprised of players from eight countries other than Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic who all have individual teams competing) were 33-1 outsiders to win it all but they now face off against star-studded hosts Canada in a best of three final with the first game taking place on Tuesday.

Europe beat Sweden 3-2 in Overtime on Sunday to book their spot in the final against a Canadian side they lost to in group play. Whatever happens in the final, Krueger has led Europe on a fairytale run through the competition with wins over the USA and the Czech Republic surprising everyone.

It’s not often the soccer and hockey worlds collide (I mean, our interview with Wayne Gretzky at White Hart Lane and the fact that most NHL teams warm up by juggling a soccer ball is about as close as it gets) but this is a pretty cool achievement from someone now thought of very highly in both sporting realms.

And of course you can keep up to date with all the latest news from the World Cup of Hockey with our friends over at ProHockeyTalk.

West Ham’s owners release statement as slump continues

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  West Ham players look dejected as James Ward-Prowse of Southampton scores their third goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Southampton at London Stadium on September 25, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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West Ham United is off to its worst start in a Premier League season with five defeats from their opening six games.

All is not well at the London Stadium.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea? ]

After being hammered 3-0 by Southampton on Sunday the joint-owners of the Hammers, David Gold and David Sullivan, have commented on the current slump on the pitch, as well as plenty of issues in their new home.

Since West Ham moved to the former stadium for the 2012 Olympics in London there have been plenty of issues with fans and stewards involved in ugly scenes as the row about standing at games continues.

There’s no real suggestion that Slaven Bilic‘s job is under immediate threat — after all, Bilic guided the Hammers to a seventh-place finish last season in his first year in charge — but the Croatian manager acknowledged after their fourth-straight defeat in the Premier League that the situation is not a good one.

In a statement on their website, the owners had the following to say:

There is no question that this has not been the start to the season that we were looking for but rest assured we are doing everything we can to fix the situation. The facts are there for everyone to see. We know we are letting in too many goals and not scoring enough, but be assured we will sort the problems out.

There have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses and know that Slaven and his team will be working even harder on the training ground this week to get things right. We have got to remain positive. These are the same players that helped us enjoy such a memorable final season at the Boleyn Ground.

We know this is a difficult time for our supporters at the moment but we want to thank you personally and wholeheartedly for staying with the Club. We will turn our season around. These are tough times but as Mark Noble said over the weekend, this is the time that the West Ham United family needs to come together. We can’t thank you enough for the impeccable way you pulled together and supported the team yesterday.

Our fans have always shown over the years the amazing support they have for the team and we have no doubts they will get behind the players even more over the coming weeks. We stated last week that we would be putting measures in place to make the London Stadium experience something everyone can be proud of and we would like to thank all our supporters for their support in this regard.

Supporters can rest assured that we will not be slowing our efforts despite the match against Southampton being completely trouble-free, and we will not stop working until everyone feels they have a Stadium to be proud of – on and off the pitch. We would like to thank all fans for their incredible support and continued cooperation.

Premier League Preview: Burnley vs. Watford

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  • First-ever meeting in PL
  • Watford looking for third-straight win
  • Burnley haven’t won in last three
  • Clarets without suspended Gray

Burnley host Watford on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) at Turf Moor in the first-ever Premier League meeting between these two teams.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Watford is on a roll with Walter Mazzarri‘s side beating Manchester United 3-1 last time out and the Hornets are looking to make it three wins on the spin in the Premier League. Burnley have just one win to their name back in the PL which was at home in the second week of the season against Liverpool. In home games against Hull City and Swansea they’ve conceded goals late on which is a trend manager Sean Dyche (former captain and manager at Watford) will look to end on Monday with his side going three games without a win in the PL.

In team news Burnley are without Andre Gray as the striker was banned three games by the FA for homophobic comments he made on social media back in 2012. Ashley Barnes is out injured for Burnley, while Watford will be without right back Daryl Janmaat plus Younes Kaboul and Jose Holebas are both fitness doubts.

What they’re saying

Dyche on his time at Watford: “It’s well-documented I’ve always had respect for the club. The situation, the business changed etc etc but I mean every word when I say I had a fantastic time there as player, youth coach, assistant manager and manager. Because business changes and you lose your job it doesn’t mean I hold any baggage at all, I certainly don’t. It’s a lot of water under the bridge and they’ve gone on to become a Premier League club so their model of working has worked for them.”

Mazzarri on Troy Deeney: “Of course he is international level. I would be proud and really happy if Deeney went to the national team He has improved physically and he is much fitter now. He is a strong striker – he just needs to look after his fitness. I respect the England manager and his decision, and I am biased as he is one of my players.”

Prediction

Despite Gray’s absence being a big blow for Burnley, I fancy the home side to get all three points. On a chilly night in Lancashire, Burnley have a stacked midfield which can dig deep and frustrate Watford. With the Hornets playing a 3-5-2 formation, this game will be won in midfield and the creativity of Steven Defour and the bite of Jeff Hendrick may get them over the line for a big win. 2-1 to Burnley.

Bob Bradley to take over at Swansea City?

Bob Bradley, Stabaek Fotball
AP
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Bob Bradley is continuing to be linked with jobs in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chelsea clear out? ]

After a poor start to the season Swansea City’s current manager Francesco Guidolin is under plenty of pressure with reports suggesting he could lose his job with Ryan Giggs the favorite to replace him.

However, a report in the Sun newspaper says Swansea’s U.S. owners want to speak with current Le Havre head coach Bradley, 58, about potentially replacing Guidolin at the Liberty Stadium.

The former U.S. men’s national team coach has carved out a wonderful resume since leaving the USMNT in 2011. From taking the Egyptian national team to the brink of World Cup qualification amidst some of the most difficult circumstances in world soccer, he then took tiny Stabaek in Norway to third-place in the top flight and European qualification.

Bradley was also one goal away from getting Le Havre  promoted to Ligue 1 last season as on the final day of the 2015-16 campaign they came agonizingly close to getting out of France’s second-tier.

With the Swans losing four of their six games in the Premier League so far this season, it is clear the fans and perhaps the board aren’t happy with the direction the club is going in under Guidolin’s guidance. The veteran Italian manager arrived in the second half of last season and despite keeping the struggling Swans up quite comfortably, losing the likes of Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew this summer hit him hard.

[ MORE: Donovan talks about Swansea role ]

When it comes to Bradley the reports says American investors Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan — who now own a majority share of the club after their takeover this summer — are concerned about the lack of experience Giggs has as a first team manager. They believe Bradley would be the perfect candidate to build something sustainable and it is hard to argue with that.

Wherever Bradley has been he’s worked miracles on a shoestring budget and often against all odds he has surpassed expectations. Swansea is a club which won’t spend big but will buy young players and hope to develop them while still being able to maintain their PL status, five years after they gained promotion to the top-flight.

Although Giggs still seems like the favorite if Guidolin does leave the Liberty Stadium, it will be intriguing to see if Bradley will finally get a job his abilities as a coach clearly deserves.

After reportedly coming close in the past for the main job at West Bromwich Albion and being linked to Aston Villa, Hull City, Fulham and countless other gigs in the Premier League, the New Jersey native has always been overlooked for whatever reason. He  That’s something he spoke about at length here as he doesn’t believe there’s much difference between himself and the managerial juggernauts such as Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp.

“I’ll tell you what, maybe I’m stupid but I think I am a manager in and around that level. I’m not saying I am better than those guys, I haven’t had those kind of opportunities,” Bradley said. “But I think that people who have played for me have always feel the experience in the team was different, that training was challenging, that there were a lot of things done to help them become better players and better people. I believe in my work. I don’t go around every day complaining, I just roll up my sleeves, try to show people what I’m all about and see what happens.”

Maybe, just maybe, Bradley will finally get to show what he’s all about in the Premier League.