Real Madrid's Portuguese coach Jose Mour

League races make decisions easy for Champions League coaches

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When Galatasaray take the field tonight for today’s derby against Istanbul BB, Fatih Terim’s will have to wrestle with one of the default dilemmas of European success. With key players just returning from the March international break, it’s tempting to rest them ahead of important mid-week matches, with the first legs of Champions League’s quarterfinals taking place Tuesday and Wednesday. Yet late in campaigns with domestic honors and Champions League spots at stake, managers must often decide whether to push players through their congested schedules or sacrifice one goal for another.

Gala has led the Turkish Süper Lig for most of the year, but headed into the 27th of 34 rounds, they’re only four points up on rival Fenerbahçe. While Fener looks a safe bet for three points from 17th place Akhisar Belediye on Sunday, Terim’s team gets a crosstown rival that hasn’t lost in five. Any Gala stumble could allow Fener to reclaim the title when Fenerbahçe hosts the season’s final derby on May 11.

So does Terim put his full team out against Istanbul in an attempt to keep Fener at arm’s length? Or does he pursue Champions League glory in a low-percentage play against Real Madrid, implicitly better his team can either recover by Wednesday (if he pushes his starters) or reclaim any points lost by choosing reserves on Saturday?

This time of year, managers are typically forced to embrace that balancing act, though this season is a little different – perhaps disappointingly so. League titles are all but decided in Germany, Italy and Spain, and the good teams chasing those league’s leaders are often safely clear of a fight for Champions League qualification. As a result, few teams actually face any risk today should they rest their starters.

Bayern Munich and Juventus play one of Tuesday’s two matches, but neither of their coaches will leave their teams exposed should they sit their best players. Juventus are nine points clear of second place Napoli in Itay’s Serie A, and while their trip to Inter is one of the higher profile games on the domestic calendar (the Derby d’Italia), Antonio Conte would be justified to rest his more aged legs ahead of Tuesday’s visit from Bayern. As for München, they are 20 points clear of Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, so while a visit from Hamburg is usually a marquee match, Jupp Heynckes can lean on his squad’s depth on Saturday (and for the rest of the season, for that matter).

Also on Tuesday, Barcelona visits Paris Saint-Germain, who came into the weekend with a five-point lead on second place Lyon in France. The Parisians were given a Friday fixture by the FFF, allowing them an extra day’s rest ahead of Barça’s arrival. That helped Carlo Ancelotti play an almost entirely first-choice side against defending champion Montepellier, with a late goal from Kevin Gameiro extending PSG’s lead to eight points.

Barcelona may not be as eager to put their top talent in harm’s way. With a 13-point lead in Spain, Barça face few risks should they pick a second-choice side today at Celta de Vigo.

Real Madrid also play Saturday, facing Real Zaragoza ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Galatasaray. With the league title out of reach, they’re playing for little more than domestic pride. Thirteen points out of first and 14 points into a Champions League spot, El Real’s place in the Primera standings gives José Mourinho every reason to be cynically pragmatic.

Lower down the table, Málaga also have nothing to play for, though for far different reasons. The Andalusians have been banned from next year’s European competitions for failing to pay wages, tax bills, and other fees. Currently sixth in Spain, Manuel Pellegrini’s team has had all of their eggs put into one basket, whether they like it or not. They have little incentive to risk anybody today at Rayo Vallecano.

Then there’s Borussia Dortmund, a contender for this year’s title who may receive a perverse benefit from no longer being about to contest their Bundesliga crown. With players like Kevin Großkreutz, Nuri Sahin, and Felipe Santana in reserve, Jurgen Klopp’s side has the depth to compete on multiple fronts, but thanks to their 20-point deficit in Germany, they can keep that powder dry as they pursue a second Champions League title.

Robben extends contract with Bayern Munich through June 2018

(L-R) Thomas Muller of Bayern Munchen, Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munchen, Arjen Robben of Bayern Munchen during the German Bundesliga match between Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Bayern München at Borussia Park on January 24, 2014 in Mönchengladbach, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
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BERLIN (AP) Arjen Robben has extended his contract with Bayern Munich for another year.

Bayern says the Netherlands winger’s contract will run until the end of June 2018.

[ MORE: Names to watch in Tuesday’s SuperDraft ]

Robben has been with the club for almost eight years, joining from Real Madrid in 2009.

He has scored 82 goals in 152 Bundesliga matches, 14 goals in 23 German Cup games and 21 goals in 53 Champions League matches, including the winning goal against Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final.

Antonio Valencia extends Manchester United deal

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea marshalls Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Antonio Valencia has a fan in Jose Mourinho.

The Manchester United fullback, 31, has added a year to his contract. Scheduled to become a free agent after this season, his contract now runs through 2018.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Ecuador’s captain, Valencia arrived at United from Wigan in 2009 after spending time with El Nacional and Villarreal.

He has 21 goals in 270 appearances, and has played 2,042 minutes under Mourinho. This season, Valencia is averaging 2.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match.

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Ten names to watch as the MLS SuperDraft concludes

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After three days of celebrating its first two rounds, Major League Soccer will complete its surprise-ridden 2017 SuperDraft on Tuesday with a 2 p.m. EDT conference call.

Friday’s first round featured fewer trades than many expected, and a bit of a stunner in its first overall pick: Minnesota United tabbed UCLA attacker Abu Danladi.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Danladi would’ve gone soon after, however, with most of the surprises coming outside of the Top Six. Vancouver’s opted for outside back Jakob Nerwinski (UConn) at 7, Houston tabbed Hofstra’s Joe Holland at 10, and Colorado looked to its backyard for Denver’s Sam Hamilton.

That helped Brandon Aubrey slide to 21st, while Canada’s two Generation Adidas players, Adonijah Reid and Shamit Shome, dipped deep into the second round.

It also means some very productive college players, and supposed first round prospects, could be hungry steals when the draft returns today. Here’s some low-risk, high-reward players for rounds that sometimes see teams pass on individual picks altogether.

Chris Wingate, MID, New Hampshire — Engine room feature piece at UNH

Wulito Fernandes, FWD, UMass Lowell — Cape Verde striker has flair

Jorge Gomez Sanchez, FWD, Temple — 27 goals in two years is good

Chris Nanco, FWD, Syracuse — Showed big upside at MLS Combine

Brandt Bronico, MID, Charlotte — Steadied any worries at Combine

Daniel Deakin, FWD, South Carolina — English striker great at set pieces

Russell Cicerone, FWD, Buffalo — Combine overshadowed solid four years

Christian Thierjung, FWD, California — 18 goals last two seasons

Eddie Sanchez, MID, Portland — Game changer in WCC; Can it translate?

Jordan Wilson, DEF, Kentucky — Scottish center back did well at UK

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New rules crushed Chinese club’s Costa hopes

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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New Chinese Super League rules stopped the nation from acquiring four of the biggest names in the football world.

Tianjin Quanjian believed it had successful bids lined up for Chelsea’s Diego Costa in addition to Real Madrid frontman Karim Benzema, Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, and PSG’s Edinson Cavani.

[ MORE: Costa trains on his own ]

And Tianjin Quanjian owner Shu Yuhui says it had Falcao and Benfica forward Raul Jimenez signed and sealed before the new rules were announced. The club already has Korean midfielder Kwon Kyung-won, Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, and Brazil’s Geuvânio on the books.

But the new rules, which will limit the amount of foreign players on a team to three, hampered his hopes. From the BBC:

But Chinese clubs will only be able to field three foreign players per game when the new season starts.

“This situation has brought a change to our signing plans,” said Shu.

“The online reports about Costa – it’s true we’d like him, and we made an offer for Cavani and were deep in negotiations,” said Shu.

So clearly Costa’s “back injury” seems more likely to be the burden of financial desires on his shoulders. That said, MLS commissioner Don Garber will crack a wry smile at the new rules.

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