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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.

Blatter, Platini both officially appeal FIFA suspension

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini look on during the Team Seminar ahead of the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthia Hotel on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Suspended FIFA executives Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have both officially appealed their 90-day bans through various means in attempts to clear their names.

The pair have been forced to temporarily vacate their office due to an investigation by Swiss authorities into corruption charges based on a “disloyal payment” of around $2 million from Blatter to Platini in 2011.

Blatter’s appeal was lodged within FIFA on Friday, with the president’s lawyer confirming he has “requested additional proceedings before the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee and filed an appeal with the Appeal Committee.”

Blatter’s American lawyer Richard Cullen said he is “very hopeful” the suspension will be lifted on appeal, while his lawyer team back on Thursday argued in a statement that the FIFA Ethics Committee “based its decision [to suspend Blatter] on a misunderstanding of the actions of the attorney general in Switzerland, which has opened an investigation but brought no charge against the president.”

The New York Times obtained a copy of the appeal, in which Blatter’s lawyers demand to see the case file which the Ethics Committee reviewed upon its decision to suspend the 79-year-old. It also asks that he receive a full opportunity to argue his innocence in front of the committee; previously, he was only afforded a short interview with Swiss investigators.

Meanwhile, Platini’s appeal came through Saturday morning and is filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His case has received official, legal backing from the French FA as his home nominating association for the upcoming presidential election. Using the French FA’s support, Platini can bypass the FIFA appeals system which he individually must exhaust before moving to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CONMEBOL has also publicly supported Platini, issuing a statement that says it “does not agree” with the decision to suspend him, calling it “untimely and disproportionate” while stating, “The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right that has to be considered. Mr. Platini has not been found guilty of any charge, therefore the provisional ban jeopardizes the integrity of the electoral process to the FIFA presidency, of which Mr. Platini is a candidate.”

The FIFA Executive Committee has announced it will hold an emergency meeting on October 20 to discuss the situation. Among the topics that will be considered will be a decision on whether to postpone the February 26 presidential election.

Emerson Hyndman says he wishes to leave Fulham amid contract standoff

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Emerson Hyndman of Fulham celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the FA Youth Cup Final: First Leg match between Fulham and Chelsea at Craven Cottage on April 28, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
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Emerson Hyndman is stuck in an endless circle at his home club Fulham, and the only way out he sees would be to leave.

With his contract set to expire in the upcoming summer, Fulham has been pushing hard for the 19-year-old to lock down a long-term deal as many of his teammates have done in the recent months. Unfortunately, due to reported interest from abroad from teams like Borussia Dortmund, plus others in La Liga and the Dutch Eredivisie, Hyndman has been unwilling to do so thus far.

As a result, the USMNT prospect has seen little playing time, with manager Kit Symons understandably unwilling to let him see the field while he refuses to commit his future to the club. Hyndman has just eight minutes of League Cup play to his name so far this campaign.

Hyndman blames the lack of action as the main reason why he wants to depart, telling American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta that he would like to move on.

“It’s a little difficult right now,” he said. “I’ve told them in the past that I think it’s time for me to move on. There are clubs out there that are interested and that I am excited about, so it’s difficult for me right now, and I can’t see myself getting too many first-team minutes. I feel that I had a good preseason, and I thought I might get a chance, but I am really looking forward to the future more than anything.

Unfortunately, that seems a bit unfair to his club. Why would a Championship club looking to build from within give significant minutes to a player who refuses to sign a long-term deal and looks set to leave in the summer? Then he tags the lack of playing time as the reason he wants to leave. It all seems to be a never-ending cycle.

Hyndman joined the Fulham youth setup at age 15 and flourished last season, making both his club first-team debut and earning a cap with the senior national team. He is currently with the U-23 Olympic team leading the charge for Rio 2016 qualification.

There is no doubting Hyndman’s abilities on the field, but for his sake, he needs to sort out his club situation as quickly as possible to further his growth as a midfielder.