Manchester City's manager Mancini listens to questions during a news conference at the club's Carrington training complex in Manchester

What’s at stake on UEFA Champions League Wednesday

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Porto head coach Vitor Pereira may believe “[t]here are no such things as favorites in [Champions League],” but there are certainly teams more likely to win games than others. Some might even call that a favorite. Pereira’s is team one, hence his dismissive, containing attitude ahead of the Dragons’ match with Dinamo Zagreb, even if Pereira’s right to be skeptical of frontrunners. Milan, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Manchester City — all in action on Wednesday — have failed to find results commensurate with their talent.

Those teams may still be hoping for a turnaround, but time’s running out. Wednesday marks the end of group stage’s fifth of six rounds. Up to seven teams could be eliminated after the day’s matches, and unless Luciano Spalletti and Roberto Mancini (right) can find solutions to their teams’ Champions League travails, Zenit and City will be among them.

Group A

Porto (Portugal) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia), Estadio Dragão, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France), Olympic Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Porto 10 pts, PSG 9, Dynamo Kyiv 4, Dinamo Zagreb 0

Calling a side’s last performance “weak-willed and unfocused” while claiming there could be “major changes during the winter break” might seem like a dangerous, potentially mutiny-inspiring way to approach an important match, but Dynamo Kyiv’s poor run of form leaves Oleh Blokhin little choice. Instead of gloss over his team’s woes ahead of Ukraine’s winter break, Blokhin’s made it clear. Sitting third place in league and staring at a probable relegation to Europa League, the team could be in for a major shakeup.

If Dynamo beat PSG, they stay alive ahead of a matchday six meeting with Dinamo Zagreb, against whom a win could put them through to the knockout round. In order for that to happen, PSG would have to follow their upset in Ukraine with a home loss to Porto, a team who’d likely have a knockout round birth sewn up. Even if with the Parisians coming off an embarrassing Saturday loss, that’s a lot of planets that need to lineup for Dynamo to be playing Champions League soccer come January.

Group B

Schalke (Germany) vs. Olympiacos (Greece), Veltins-Arena, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Arsenal (England) vs. Montpellier (France), Emirates Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Schalke 8 pts, Arsenal 7, Olympiacos 6, Montpellier 1

After taking four points off Arsenal, Schalke’s control of this group goes beyond their one-point group lead on the Gunners. Hosting Greece’s champions before visiting struggling Montpellier (who somehow managed a point in Gelsenkirchen), Schalke’s facing the easiest run-in possible. If form holds, they’ll earn first place and the benefit of an easier Round of 16 matchup.

Coming off a weekend loss in the Bundesliga (where they’ve dropped two of three), Schalke may be vulnerable, though it’s unclear how much of a threat Olympiacos will pose. The Greek champions haven’t lost since Oct. 3, but that’s against a kind Champions League schedule (back-to-back with Montepellier) and a weakened Greek league.

Schalke wins this game if they play to their potential, but what happens if they have an off day, like they did this weekend at Leverkusen? Can they still get three from Olympiacos?

Group C

Zenit (Russia) vs. Málaga (Spain), Petrovsky Stadium, 12:00 p.m. Eastern
Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. Milan (Italy), Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Málaga 10 pts, Milan 5, Anderlecht 4, Zenit 3

Anderlecht “could be Alexandre Pato’s game,” insists Milan coach Max Allegri, who also talked up the improved form of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Robinho during his Tuesday press conference. Anybody who’s followed Milan’s season might be quick to accuse the embattled Rossoneri boss of burying the lead. These days, Milan is all about Stephan El-Shaarawy.

The 20-year-old Italian international scored twice this weekend in Naples, single-handedly helping Milan recover from a terrible first 30 minutes to claim a point at Napoli. With six goals in his last nine games (plus his goal for Italy against France last Wednesday), the former Genoa attacker is up to 11 all-competition goals this season. In a Milan season that’s been defined by disappointing results and the memory of sold stars, El-Shaaraway is doing his part to make up for the summer loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If El-Shaarawy stays hot and gets help from the rest of Milan’s talented attack, the Rossoneri may be in the knockout round by day’s end. They’ll need a result from Málaga in St. Petersburg, but given how the two teams’ have fared in this year’s competition, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Manuel Pellegrini take three points from Zenit.

Group D

Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Amsterdam ArenA, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Manchester City (England) vs. Real Madrid (Spain), Etihad Stadium, 2:45 p.m. Eastern
Standings: Borussia Dortmund 8 pts, Real Madrid 7, Ajax 4, Manchester City 2

Sometimes you wonder if Prozac might help Roberto Mancini’s press conferences.

“We don’t have much chance to go through,” he conceded on Tuesday. “It was a difficult group from the start and now it’s very difficult because of the mistakes we made in the first two games.”

The last two games have been much more damaging. Against Ajax — a team that should have been a distant fourth of four in this group — Manchester City claimed a single point. Had they claimed all six, they would still be fighting for a spot in the knockout round.

Thanks to Real’s stumbles against Dortmund (taking only one point in two games), City still has a chance to advance. Unfortunately, for Mancini, that means beating Real Madrid boss José Mourinho. The two will forever be linked after Mourinho replaced Mancini at Inter Milan, taking the Nerazzurri to a European title.

“[I]t’s not Mourinho v. Mancini,” the City boss said, “it’s between the players, they are more important than we are.”

Contrast that with Mourinho’s attitude.

“I don’t think it is normal when you are out of the competition at a very early stage,” was a combative Mourinho’s blunt assessment of the job his rival’s done in Champions League. “I speak for myself, and if Real Madrid lost a final, or a semifinal, or even a quarterfinal, that’s football. But when you are out at the group stage it is more difficult to accept and to understand. Last season, they were out [at this stage] and this season I think they will be out again.”

Even if City pulls off an upset, they could still be in last place come Wednesday night. Conversely, if Dortmund gets a result in Amsterdam, the German champions clinch a spot in the next round.

Mathieu Valbuena injures shoulder but won’t need surgery

GENT, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 16:  Mathieu Valbuena of Lyon runs with the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between KAA Gent and Olympique Lyonnais held at Ghelamco Arena on September 16, 2015 in Gent, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena will miss a month with a dislocated shoulder, but while initially it was feared he would need surgery, that is no longer an option, and four weeks should be an adequate recovery time according to reports in France.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries this year, missing a pair of matches with a hip problem, and now will be sidelined much longer after a hard landing in the 75th minute on Saturday in a loss to Guingamp.

After the match, president Jean-Michel Aulas told TV channel Canal+ that Valbuena would likely need surgery, but after further testing they will look to get him back by the start of December.

Lyon is struggling mightily, having lost three of four in Ligue 1 play and falling to 10th in the table.

Valbuena has been a regular for the French national team, missing just two matches since late 2012. With this injury, he will most certainly miss France’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden in early November, plus the following friendly against the Ivory Coast.

Three things we learned from Chelsea’s win vs. Man United

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Manchester United 4-0 on Sunday in an unhappy return to Stamford Bridge for Jose Mourinho.

[ RECAP: Chelsea batter United ]

First half goals from Pedro and Gary Cahill set them on their way and then Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante added gloss to the scoreline as United unraveled as Chelsea went into the top four.

Here’s what we learned from a humbling afternoon for Mourinho back in west London.


“You’re not special anymore!”

“You’re getting sacked in the morning!”

“Who are ya? Who are ya?”

Those were just sum of the chants directed at Manchester United’s manager Jose Mourinho on his first return to Chelsea since he was sacked last December.

It was an incredibly uncomfortable afternoon for Mourinho as his side fell behind after 30 seconds and never truly recovered.

A man who has been revered around the Kings Road for over a decade had the indignity of being torn apart in front of them. Only once had a Mourinho side conceded four or more goals in a Premier League game, but his side simply waved the white flag when it came to their defensive responsibilities. Going forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard were denied by the brilliant Thibaut Courtois, but United were never truly in this.

A shocking display was summed up by N’Golo Kante’s goal to make it 4-0. The French midfielder waltzed into the box and past a token challenge from Chris Smalling and then Paul Pogba made no effort to track Kante as he held his arms in the air. That one action alone summed up Mourinho’s return to Chelsea.

Chelsea’s fans sung Jose Mourinho’s name loudly after they went 4-0 up. But instead of the happiness it was usually sung with during the three PL titles he delivered in five full seasons in charge, there was a smugness in the tone. The Blues have moved on without Mourinho and the toxic atmosphere his departure created last season. After this abject display, Mourinho will have to work incredibly hard to move on from this.

Standing on the halfway line for the final 20 minutes of the game with his hands in his pockets, the Portuguese coach looked lost in a place where it always felt like he would be a champion forever. With 14 points from his opening nine games this season, maybe the fans are right. Maybe he isn’t special anymore…


United simply couldn’t get to grip with Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation. They got it all wrong defensively. A United side which was able to shut down Liverpool expertly on Monday at Anfield were set up to defend resolutely once again, but Pedro’s goal after 30 seconds changed all of that.

The gaps between center backs Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly were huge. Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia couldn’t cope without Pedro and Eden Hazard cutting in from the flanks and both Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford provided no defensive help out wide.

Conte’s Chelsea have now scored nine goals, won three-straight games and conceded none since he switched to a 3-4-3 formation.

It was always going to take the Italian coach time to find his feet in the Premier League and adapt his defensive methods but he’s found the correct formula to get the best out of his players. Chelsea looked perfectly balanced but United’s inability to shut their wide players down certainly made them look much more effective.


Racing around his technical area like a madman throughout, Antonio Conte is a born winner. You can see it in his eyes.

It’s tough to see know how much of a difference his antics make to his team on the pitch, but how would you not want to play for him? He is a hard task master, even for the fans. With United’s fans singing away as their side trailed 4-0, Conte took his eyes off the game and urged the home fans to sing.

The entire stadium began to chant. The Italian has an infectious desire and drive within him and thinking back to Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat at Arsenal last month, he’s made big changes to the way they play and it’s paying dividends.

You could almost say it reminded you of a certain Portuguese coach in his early days.

At the final whistle Mourinho and Conte embraced but the former lent in and had plenty to say to Conte. The Italian boss didn’t seem impressed. He has that swagger about him.

Chelsea 4-0 Manchester United: Blues carve up United defense from start to finish

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Jose Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge to a warm reception, but was soundly beaten at his own game by Antonio Conte.

Comprehensive defense and cutting-edge finishing left Chelsea with all three points as they topped Manchester United 3-0. Pedro scored just 30 seconds into the match, and goals from Gary Cahill, Hazard, and N'Golo Kante put it away. On the other end, Manchester United defense put in an embarrassing performance, caught sleeping under a minute in and left red-faced by a scything run from a defensive midfielder near the end.

That early goal came in stunning fashion and left Mourinho’s gameplan in tatters. Marcos Alonso lofted a searching ball over the top for Pedro alone against three defenders, but the ball fell to the Spaniard and with Chris Smalling out of position and completely confused, Pedro broke free and clipped home the opener.

[ WATCH: Pedro scores Chelsea opener 30 seconds in ]

Manchester United seemed to respond immediately, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed just over the bar from close range with 7 minutes gone by. Marcus Rashford was a threat down the left as well.

Eden Hazard had a chance on 14 minutes off a corner, but his low volley skittered just wide of David De Gea‘s right post. Set pieces looked dangerous for Chelsea, and they bagged a second via that route. Hazard swung in a 21st minute corner, and it clipped Ander Herrera, falling right into the path of Gary Cahill who blasted it into the back of the net with little contest.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

United continued to have issues at the back as Pedro dispossessed Daley Blind in a dangerous position, but De Gea was there to stop the ensuing cross with a 2-on-1 developing. The visitors had another chance forcing Thibaut Courtois into action, saving off a long swerving shot from Herrera and again on the rebound from Jesse Lingard.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The hosts were lucky to remain with 10 men five minutes before the break when David Luiz shoved his studs into the thigh of Marouane Fellaini with an ugly, high-footed challenge, but the referee only showed him into the book with a yellow.

After the break, Manchester United got away with one as Eric Bailly – already on a yellow card – downed Hazard on the edge of the area for a clear foul, but it was waved away by the referee. The 22-year-old then went down injured minutes later, replaced by Marcus Rojo.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

United pushed for something, anything in front of net to try and get back into the game. Lingard forced a save by Courtois with a shot from distance just before the hour mark, but instead of building on the possession, it would get worse. Eden Hazard put Chelsea 3-0 up thanks to a beautiful feed from Nemanja Matic slicing up the United defense, and the Belgian superstar was there for a cutback and a shot into the back of the net. The fourth came on a beautiful run on the ball by Kante to leave the defenders in his wake and bag his first goal with the Blues with 20 minutes to go.

The win for Chelsea moved them up to 19 points, remaining in fifth but just a point off the top in the crowded Premier League table. Manchester United is stuck in seventh, left with 14 points and falling further behind the top bunch.

Brad Davis announces retirement at the end of the MLS season

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 27:  Brad Davis #14 of the United States in action against Azerbaijan during their match at Candlestick Park on May 27, 2014 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The 15-year career of Brad Davis will come to an end at the end of the MLS season, Sporting Kansas City announced Sunday.

The 34-year-old has spent his entire career domestically, currently with Sporting KC for a season after spending ten years with the Houston Dynamo where he won two MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. The club made it to the final again in 2011, but Davis missed it with an injury and the team fell to Los Angeles.

Davis also collected 17 caps with the U.S. National Team. He debuted in 2005 in a Gold Cup win over Cuba, but was a late bloomer with the national team, making 12 of his 17 appearances from 2013 or later. He earned his final cap for the Stars & Stripes in the 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup.

“I can’t believe that the last 15 years have gone by so fast and that this journey has come to an end,” Davis told the official Sporting KC website. “Along the way, I have met a lot of great people and have had the privilege to play alongside many great players. There are so many individuals that I look forward to thanking who have made me the person and the player I have become.”

The announcement came just hours before Sporting KC finishes its regular season against San Jose in front of the home fans at Sporting Park. With Kansas City teetering on the edge of the playoff picture, it’s likely they wanted to allow Davis the opportunity foir a sendoff should they fall short of extending the season.

Sporting sits in the final playoff spot on 44 points, level on points with Portland but above on goal difference by a single goal. The Timbers finish their regular season on the road at 9th-placed Vancouver.