Look ahead, Europe: Considerations as Champions League approaches

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on the bench. So were Blaise Matuidi and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Paris Saint-Germain’s home game against Bastia would be a rotation opportunity under any circumstances, but with UEFA Champions League resuming next week, Carlo Ancelotti employed a strategy we’re sure to see throughout the weekend from other prominent managers.

Starting Tuesday, Champions League resumes with two Round of 16 first legs: Valencia hosting PSG and Celtic welcoming Juventus to Glasgow. On Wednesday, German champions Borussia Dortmund travel to Shakhtar Donetsk while Manchester United, in the week’s marquee match, visits Real Madrid.

For bosses like United’s Alex Ferguson and Real’s José Mourinho, the decisions will be relatively straight-forward. While both teams host talented teams this weekend (United facing Everton, Real against Sevilla), squad depth makes their compromises easy. Their reserves would be starters for most of their competition.

Other head coaches face more intriguing dilemmas. Take Valencia’s Ernesto Valverde. The former Athletic Club, Espanyol, Olympiacos and Villarreal boss replaced Mauricio Pellegrino at the Mestalla in December. While Los Che have clawed their way back into Champions League contention (only two points behind Málaga for fourth in Spain), a tight race that includes Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad and Levante means there’s little margin of error. Valencia needs to get into next year’s Champions League. Is it worth Valverde resting players Saturday at Celta de Vigo when the team has little chance of winning Champions League regardless?

Jurgen Klopp faces a completely different dynamic. Borussia Dortmund’s not going to defend their title. They’re 12 points back of Bayern Munich in Germany. They’re also likely to safely qualify for next year’s Champions League while having the talent to compete for this one. Hosting mid-table Hamburg ahead of a mid-week trip to Ukraine, Klopp could rotate his squad.

Here’s a quick look at the European weekend. We’ve highlighted the matches with mid-week Champions League clubs (they’re in bold).

English Premier League

Big match: Sunday’s game at Old Trafford gives Everton a chance to steal points. And when I say steal, I mean pick up points where competitors expect them to fall. The late Sunday start guarantees Manchester United will rotate ahead of Wednesday’s match with Real, while Everton won the reserve, season-opening fixture. Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Intriguing: Newcastle has picked up two wins since their latest French invasion. Now it’s Tottenham’s turn to deal with the likes of Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Debuchy, Yoann Gouffran, and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa. Saturday, 7:45 a.m. Eastern.

source: APGerman Bundesliga

Big Match: This match shouldn’t be that close, but when Bayern Munich faces Schalke, it’s going to be Germany’s big game. The Miners have plummeted to sixth place, their mid-December move to replace Huub Stevens with Jens Keller meeting with mixed results. Compounding an already difficult task, Schalke is expected to be without Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Jefferson Farfan, Ibrahim Affelay, Christian Fuchs and Kyriakos Papadopoulos. This may be the weekend’s marquee matchup, but it’s unlikely to be that close. Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Eastern.

Others: Borussia Dortmund vs. Hamburg (Saturday, 9:30 a.m. Eastern).

Spanish Primera Division

Big Match: Málaga’s Champions League success (winning their group) and performances against Barcelona and Real Madrid suggest they have the quality to avoid a battle for Spain’s last Champions League spot, but their stumbles against the rest of La Liga leave them only one point clear of fifth-place Real Betis. Another stumble at Levante, where they have been outscored 6-1 in their last two visits, could see the Andalusians drop out of the top four. Saturday, 2 p.m. Eastern.

Intriguing: The scheduling is more interesting than the matchup. Since La Liga started their Asian-time kickoff last season, we’re used to seeing mildly interesting matchups scheduled for the early Sunday kickoff. This week, Barcelona gets the slot, kicking off at 6:00 a.m. Eastern against 12th place Getafe.

Others: Celta de Vigo vs. Valencia (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern); Real Madrid vs. Sevilla (Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern).

source: Getty ImagesItalian Serie A

Big Match: Lazio has claimed only one point from their last three, leaving second place to a surging Napoli team that’s pulled league-leading Juventus within three. Tomorrow at the Olimpico, Lazio gets what might be their last chance to salvage their faint title hopes. Given recent losses to Genoa and Chievo (and the absence of Miroslav Klose), Lazio looks unlikely to derail the surging Azzurri, even if Napoli haven’t beaten the Eagles in Roma since 2008. Saturday, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Intriguing: In the wake of his infamous “little n—–“ comment, Paolo Berlusconi tried to make peace with Mario Balotelli mid-week. Milan’s visit to Cagliari will be the club’s first match since their VP screwed up. Sunday, 9:00 a.m. Eastern

Others: Juventus vs. Fiorentina (Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern).

French Ligue 1

Big Match: Lyon’s upset loss at Ajaccio last week fueled speculation that resentment lingers from a contentious transfer window that framed leading scorer Bafetimbi Gomis and others as a potential cost-cutting casualties. Now, OL goes into Round 24 trailing PSG by three points. With the Parisians’ Friday win over Bastia, OL can’t hold out the hope that Champions League considerations will help their cause.

They can, however, keep up by adding to Lille’s misery. When LOSC visit Stade Garland, Les Gones will look to extend Lille’s league road winless streak to seven games.

Report: Morata sale allows Madrid to pursue Mbappe

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For months rumors have claimed that Real Madrid had been priced out of a move for Kylian Mbappe.

Now, they may have the cash, and a way throught.

After selling Alvaro Morata to Chelsea for $75 million, the club may have the funds – and enough offsetting cashflow to appease Financial Fair Play – to make a serious play for the 18-year-old superstar. In addition, the club has almost completed the slale of Danilo to Manchester City for $35 million, and James Rodriguez to Bayern Munich, although they see little return from that immediately, as the deal is a two-year loan with an obligation to buy at the end.

[ MORE: Man City bid for Mendy rejected ]

According to a Goal.com report, Mbappe is now Madrid’s top transfer target, although it seems there is little chance of prying him away from Monaco this late. According to the same report, Mbappe has been advised by unnamed parties that staying at Monaco gives him the highest likelihood of making the French squad for the 2018 World Cup.

“Mbappe is very good,” said Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane. “He’s a very good player and he has shown that all year, but he is not my player. I can’t say anything else.”

PSG is also reportedly in for Mbappe, but it’s understandable that Monaco would be hesitant to sell to a chief league rival.

Follow Live: Jamaica and Canada battle for semifinal spot

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Jamaica and Canada are looking ahead to a possible semifinal spot as they match up at 7:30 p.m. ET in Glendale to mark their beginning of the 2017 Gold Cup knockout round.

Both clubs make up the majority of their rosters from MLS clubs, with Cyle Larin heading the line for Canada and Andre Blake manning the backstop for Jamaica. Nonetheless, it’s Larin’s fellow attacker Alphonso Davies who’s picked up three of Canada’s five goals thus far.

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

Both teams are putting heavy importance on this match with each already eliminated from World Cup contention.

Jamaica has only allowed one goal all tournament, shutting out both Mexico and Curacao. The Reggae Boyz made the final last time around, but will find that same result much more difficult this time around.

LINEUPS

Jamaica: Blake, Taylor, Lowe, Lawrence, Powell, Watson, Lambert, Francis, Gordon, Mattocks, Williams.

Canada: Borjan, Vitoria, Jakovic, Davies, Petrasso, Piette, Tiebert, Arfield, Larin, De Jong, Hoilett.

US Soccer shares bite-mark photo with CONCACAF

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U.S. Soccer spokesman Michael Kammarman told the Washington Post that the Federation has shared a photograph of a bite mark on the back of Omar Gonzalez with the CONCACAF disciplinary committee.

Cameras caught El Salvador defender Henry Romero bite Jozy Altidore and pinch his nipple in the scrum prior to a corner kick in the second half of the 2-0 USA victory over El Salvador. However, Gonzalez said after the match that he was also bitten, and had the mark to prove it.

According to the Washington Post report, the CONCACAF disciplinary committee approached U.S. Soccer asking for any further information they could provide on the incidents. Thus, they shared the photograph of Gonzalez’s shoulder taken immediately after the game. There was reportedly no visible bite mark on Altidore that could be shared.

CONCACAF spokesman Brent Latham refused to confirm an investigation into the incidents.

After Gonzalez’s post-match comments, a review of footage showed that there did indeed appear to be a bite in the 81st minute by El Salvador midfielder Darwin Ceren.

Neither incident was witnessed by the referee, and thus no punishment was dished out in the form of penalties or cards. Altidore admitted he “barely” kept his composure after he was assaulted, saying, “You’ve got to keep your cool because these things happen. I shouldn’t be saying these things happen, but they do.”

Altidore joked about the incident, saying his significant other was angry at him.

Report: Man City bid for Mendy rejected

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According to a report by Sky Sports, Manchester City has seen a bid for Monaco full-back Benjamin Mendy rejected, and will have to significantly increase their offer for the transfer to be completed.

The report states that Manchester City bid $58 million for the 23-year-old French international, but Monaco values Mendy at the $65 million level Man City paid for Kyle Walker, a world record for a defender.

[ MORE: Barcelona president warns PSG over Neymar move ]

Monaco is in an advantageous position in this situation, with Manchester City desperate for full-backs and Monaco not obligated to sell. Mendy’s current contract with the defending Ligue 1 champions runs through the summer of 2021.

City has already purchased Walker, but with the departure of aging full-backs Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, and Bacary Sagna, the club is almost completely devoid at the position, with just Walker and Aleksandr Kolarov on the roster.

Mendy has shown blistering pace and great crossing ability, racking up 11 assists last season across all competitions, including four in seven Champions League appearances. His tackling numbers are also surprisingly competent for such a young defender, completing just about 50% of his attempted tackles during league play last season, and sporting a 64% completion rate in Champions League play.