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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.

Report: Januzaj wants to leave Manchester United for good

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 22: Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United competes for the ball during the International Champions Cup match between Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund at Shanghai Stadium on July 22, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
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Adnan Januzaj wants to leave Old Trafford permanently.

The 21-year-old has one club goal since his breakout 2013-14 campaign, when he scored four times in the season that saw him turn 19.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

It wasn’t long ago that the debate on Januzaj’s stardom was not hyped as if, rather when. Countries were fighting for his international future, and United fans were rankled when he didn’t hit the pitch.

Now, it’s a surprise if he factors at all. Januzaj hasn’t played for Belgium since 2014, and made just 12 appearances during a loan stint at Borussia Dortmund last season.

The Daily Mail reports that Januzaj has told Jose Mourinho he’s ready to leave Manchester.

Sunderland have been tipped as a possible destination for Januzaj, who certainly carries a lot of potential. The 6-foot winger has also been whispered as a target of Ajax and Milan.

WATCH: Neuer, Costa, Mourinho guest star in fantastic Pogba “Blah Blah Blah” ad

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Adidas has gone next level with its latest Paul Pogba advertisement.

Next level, or Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” video meets Kanye West’s “Power” (meets Tim and Eric).

The ad is extra pertinent as we wait to hear whether Pogba’s seemingly inevitable move away from Juventus for a record fee.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Entitled “BLAH BLAH BLAH”, the advertisement features Diego Costa, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Jose Mourinho, Marcelo and others.

For me, the video is as instantly memorable as the “Take It To The Next Level” ad that shows a player going from Sunday league to superstar while Eagles of Death Metal’s “Don’t Speak” plays.

On another day, we can have a discussion on whether the Heidecker/Wareheim collective that brought us “Awesome Show” on Adult Swim is the most influential advertising inspiration in years.

Transfer rumor roundup: Welsh EURO stars to Everton, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 05:  (Forward to back) Ashley Williams, James Collins, Jonathan Williams, Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu of Wales visit the Stade de Lyon, ahead of tomorrow's UEFA Euro Champs 2016 semi-final between Portugal and Wales, on July 5, 2016 in Lyon, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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While much of the focus is on “will he/won’t he” when it comes to superstars like Riyad Mahrez and Paul Pogba, there are still plenty of fresh rumors going around the web this morning.

One of those involves a bit of a trend inspired by Juventus’ activity in the wake of Pogba rumors.

In the past, we’ve seen an almost dominant philosophy of investing in young players with the money gained from transfer sales.

[ MORE: Leicester lands Poland star ]

But Juventus prepared for a potential Pogba move by grabbing a fully-developed player who currently is an improvement on the Frenchman, nabbing Roma ace Miralem Pjanic.

Now Everton may be set to do the same thing. John Stones is by no means a finished product, and the Toffees may be forced into selling him to Manchester City.

Ashley Williams, at least right now, is a stronger player than Stones. The veteran Welsh defender leads both Wales and Swansea City, and would likely be a short-term step-up for Ronald Koeman‘s crew.

Wales Online says it would take $13 million to make the move happen, and with $50m coming in from Stones, that’s an easy decision (Though why would Swans sell? And Williams did support Liverpool as a kid).


Sky Sports says Paris Saint-Germain would love to see what Jese Rodriguez could do in a more demanding role. The Real Madrid man, 23, is jammed behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema at the Bernabeu.

From Sky:

“It’s a possibility, as are other opportunities in the transfer window,” Emery said during PSG’s tour of the US.

“I know Jese well, the club knows Jese well, he is a good player.”


Hal Robson-Kanu let his contract run out at Reading in the run-up to EURO 2016, when he scored what could be deemed the goal of the tournament.

That’s looking like a wise decision for the 27-year-old Welshman, who has become a target of Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in moves that would take him from England’s second tier to the UEFA Champions League.

Both sides are now for their signings being quite calculated, and Robson-Kanu carries risk; He hasn’t scored more than five goals in a season since 2012-13’s Premier League campaign with Reading.

“Leicester wanted me the most”: Ranieri to land Polish prize Kapustka

NICE, FRANCE - JUNE 12: Conor McLaughlin of Northern Ireland is tackled by Bartosz Kapustka of Poland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Poland and Northern Ireland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 12, 2016 in Nice, France.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Bartosz Kapustka is headed to Leicester City, barring something wildly wrong with his medical.

The price for Kapustka, 19, is said to be $10 million. He made his debut for Cracovia at age 16, and has piled up 65 appearances with eight goals and 12 assists for his club.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

A left winger who is capable of manning a central midfield spot and also the right side, Kapustka has 11 caps for Poland. He laid out his plans in this post from the Leicester Mercury:

“Yes, of all the offers tabled, Leicester wanted me the most,” Kapustka said. “Ranieri’s interest was a big factor for me.

“He was asking about me, he wanted me to join the team. This convinced me, but there were many factors.

“I’m not going there only because of the name of the club, or because they won the Premier League. I’m optimistic and think I have a real chance of playing time.”

Seems like a good signing for both now and the future for Leicester, as the teenager has already had impactful performances for his club and national team.