Full circle: Misantrope’s revival could land Benítez in Paris, Madrid, or Naples

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I’ve never met the man, but over the course of the last six months, Rafa Benítez and I have had a ridiculously rocky relationship. When, seven months ago, he reentered my life, I was still judging him on the past, bitter at the Jim Jones act he’d pulled on all my Liverpool-loving friends. Then he gave me new reason to disdain his present, a throbbing mass of misanthropy pulsating in Roberto Di Matteo’s shoes. Yet as we sit here, on the cusp of world soccer’s silly seat, I’m forced to admit: I can see why another club would give the man a chance.

I wouldn’t have said the same in November. Not that I like going over old ground, but the obvious needs to be reiterated. He was the one that steered Liverpool out of the old Top Four. Inter took a chance on him in the wake of Mourinho, and Benítez was a disaster. By the time Benítez arrived at Stamford Bridge, he was three-and-a-half years removed from his last successful season.

Maybe some of that mojo was at play early on. Chelsea dipped. When he took over, they were within four points of first, but that didn’t last for long. Impressive performances (at home against Aston Villa) were coupled with beguiling failures (at Southampton). Top four became a battle.

That, however, was the Chelsea of winter. Come spring, the Blues looked like a solid squad. Fans might debate whether they were playing to their potential, but the team had at least stabilized. Ultimately, qualifying for Champions League wasn’t a problem, and the club added Europa League.

Now linked linked with a number of job across Europe, Benítez gets to reap the fruits of that revival. If Carlo Ancelotti leaves Paris Saint-Germain, Benítez will be in frame. He’ll be a candidate at Málaga, a job he seems unlikely to take, and whenever there’s an opening at the Bernabeu, Benítez will be linked with Real Madrid. Even in Naples, where Napoli is saying goodbye to Walter Mazzarri, Benítez’s name is being bandied about.

There’s a good discussion to be had as to how much Benítez actually helped Chelsea. You can also debate whether, at this point in his career, Benítez is a good fit for clubs with as many aspirations as Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, or Chelsea. I’m skeptical of both, but the fact that there’s a debate at all speaks to how far Benítez has come in the last three months.

After his first days at Chelsea, Benítez looked like he was writing another disappointing chapter to compelling, confounding career. Now the saga seems ready for a whole new act. Our misanthrope’s not going away any time soon.

Rapids add longtime Bundesliga winger Aigner from 1860 Munich (highlights)

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The Colorado Rapids are hoping for an injection of offense from veteran Bundesliga right winger Stefan Aigner.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old has played 274 games between the first and second tiers of German soccer, with 25 goals and 25 assists in Bundesliga play and a further 31 and 25 in the second tier.

Most recently with 2.Bundesliga side 1860 Munich for a third time, he’s played most of his career between Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt.

[ MORE: BVB’s Merino to Newcastle ]

Aigner has the resume to succeed and perhaps star in MLS, especially if he wasn’t slowed too much by a knee injury last season (He returned and produced at the 2.Bundesliga level).

Here’s what Rapids interim general manager Padraig Smith said:

“We’re excited to add a player of Stefan’s caliber to our roster for the next three-and-a-half years,” said Smith. “As an organization we are committed to fielding a forward-thinking side and bringing in Stefan – a technical and versatile player who can excel in multiple attacking roles – will help us achieve that vision.”

UEFA Champions League wrap: Celtic held; U.S. GK Horvath busy

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It was a busy night in the UEFA Champions League, with clubs battling for berths in the playoff round where they could draw big names Liverpool, Napoli, Sevilla, Sporting CP or Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 


Club Brugge 3-3 Istanbul Basaksehir

American backstop Ethan Horvath was under siege at home, but his Club Brugge side overcame throwing away a 2-0 deficit to claim a 3-3 draw with İstanbul Başakşehir. The three road goals will give the Turkish visitors every reason to feel good about the Aug. 2 second leg.

Celtic 0-0 Rosenborg

Brendan Rodgers‘ Scottish champions outshot the visitors 12-8, but couldn’t find a way into the goal. Now the Bhoys will have to score in Norway to advance to the next round.

Nice 1-1 Ajax

Mario Balotelli‘s 32nd minute staked Nice to a halftime lead, but the UEFA Europa League finalists snared an away goal through Donny van de Beek to send Ajax back to Holland with a slim advantage.

UCL first legs

Tuesday
Qarabag 0-0 Sheriff
Slavia Prague 1-0 BATE Borisov
AEK Athens 0-2 CSKA Moscow
Steaua Bucharest 2-2 Plzen
Vardar 1-0 Copenhagen
Partizan Belgrade 1-3 Olympiacos

Wednesday
Astana 3-1 Legia Warsaw
Dynamo Kyiv 3-1 Young Boys
RB Salzburg 1-1 Rijeka
Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-0 Ludogorets Razgrad
Viitorul 1-0 APOEL Nicosia
Maribor 1-0 FH

Terim steps down as Turkey manager after restaurant fight

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Turkey’s soccer federation says it has parted ways with national team manager Fatih Terim.

The announcement on Wednesday came weeks after Terim and his two sons-in-law were involved in a fight with a restaurant owner.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 

The Turkish Football Federation statement said Terim, 63, and the federation agreed that “it would be healthier for both sides to part ways,” saying non-football related issues were harming both Terim and the federation.

It also thanked Terim, who has headed the national team since 2013, for his services.

Terim previously managed Galatasaray, Milan and Fiorentina. There was no word on who would replace him.

BVB mid Merino reportedly undergoing Newcastle medical

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It’s been a wild year for Mikel Merino, and now the Spaniard is close to playing for a legend from his home country.

Merino joined Borussia Dortmund from Osasuna last summer, and the 21-year-old had a hard time getting playing time under Thomas Tuchel.

[ MORE: Gold Cup Final preview ]

A defensive midfielder who also plays center back and a bit further up the pitch, Merino is set to join Rafa Benitez on loan at Newcastle United for the club’s return to the Premier League next month.

Merino was photographed in Newcastle on Wednesday, and would join a central midfield with Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden. Both players thrived in the Championship last season.

The Magpies turned Christian Atsu‘s loan permanent to start the summer, and then purchased Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy, and Javier Manquillo.