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Real Madrid provides BVB’s next big test – UEFA Champions League Group D preview

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In a group with three stand out teams, one squad will always get a relative “week off,” though that doesn’t guarantee points. On Tuesday, Juventus squandered their break in Copenhagen, dropping points against Nordsjaelland. Today, Manchester City will try to avoid the same end on their trip to Amsterdam.

Meanwhile in Germany, Real Madrid has a chance to put Group D under their thumb. A win over Dortmund will not only see them sweep their first three games, it will also give last year’s semifinalists at least a four-point lead on the rest of the group. If Manchester City slip, the lead could be five.

Borussia Dortmund (Germany) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)

Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

We all know what to expect from Real Madrid: The steadiness of Iker Casillas in goal; The potency of Cristiano Ronaldo in attack; The steal that head coach José Mourinho injects into each of this players. Los Merengues are as good as any team in the world.

Borussia Dortmund, on the other hand, is less of a certainty. Consider their last two big games. Three weeks ago, BVB went to the Etihad Stadium and had a break through against Manchester City, giving their best European under Jurgen Klopp. This weekend, however, Dortmund lost at home to Schalke, not only dropping a derbybut also losing more ground on Bayern Munich.

This is the point where we’d usually discuss which BVB is most likely to show up, but there’s no telling how they’ll respond against Real Madrid until Wednesday night’s kickoff. Can Robert Lewandowki, Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Jakub Błaszczykowski succeed against a Real Madrid defense that has contained some of the world’s the best attacks. Can Lukasz Piszczek hold off Ronaldo while Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic play mistake-free soccer against Karim Benzema? Who knows?

As successful as Borussia Dortmund have been over the last two years, we’re not close to answering these are questions. On Wednesday, we start gathering information.

From Borussia Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp:

“They were tactically disciplined, quick, showed anticipation, pressed and counterattacked while playing football of a high technical standard. That left quite an impression.”

From Real Madrid head coach José Mourinho:

” We know how dynamic they are, how gifted and how quick they play, but they do have little weaknesses which we plan to exploit.”

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Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Manchester City (England)

Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Ajax is the fourth of three in a group of death that’s not, but with Manchester City visiting the Amersterdam ArenA, the Dutch champions presented with one of their few chances to have an impact on the group. Ajax aren’t strong enough to do damage away from home, and last round they were reminded Real Madrid can still have their way in the Netherlands. But hosting Manchester City? Or Borussia Dortmund? With those teams still maturing into European powers, points might be there for the taking.

This all assumes Ajax can actually play well, something that hasn’t been a given in recent weeks. Back-to-back Eredivisie draws have Frank de Boer’s team five points off FC Twente’s pace. Though they’ve yet to lose in league, Ajax has only won four of nine matches. It’s hardly the type of record that portends an ability to compete with England’s champions.

Manchester City, for all the critiques that can be made about their performance in Champions League, has actually been somewhat consistent in the eight group stage games they played over the last two tournaments. They’re able to compete with the teams that are threats to get out of the group (Bayern and Napoli last year, Real Madrid and Dortmund this year) but take care of business against the weakest link. City picked up six points from Villarreal last year, outscoring the Yellow Submarine 6-1.
In theory, the results indicate of a level of play right below that of a tournament contender. While that’s a very high standard, it’s below Manchester City’s aspirations. It’s also consistent with a rather comfortable victory today.

If Ajax is the Villarreal of this year’s toughest group, Manchester City probably won’t have a problem.

From Ajax head coach Frank de Boer:

If we want to survive in Europe we need a result from this match and that’s our goal … Our team is learning so let’s hope they are quick students.

From Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini

“” We don’t have experience as a club but all our players have experience in the Champions League. Maybe as a club we need to get experience in the Champions League, but we have players with that experience.”

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Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.