UEFA U-21 European Championship Preview

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Today in Israel, the UEFA Under-21 European Championships begins with a whole host of top soccer nations vying for success.

Spain, Italy, Holland, Germany and England will start as the favorites from the eight teams who qualified for the finals.

The two groups of four teams are as follows.

In Group A hosts Israel are joined by Norway, Italy and England.

While Group B is incredibly tough, with reigning champions Spain alongside Holland, Germany and Russia. Wow. This will be fun.

This tournament has produced plenty of gems in the past, with the likes of Juan Mata, Petr Cech, Andrea Pirlo and Luis Figo all wining the player of the tournament award in U-21 championships gone by.

This 2013 tournament is no different, with David de Gea, Isco, Rodrigo, Wilfried Zaha, Tom Ince, Lewis Holtby, Marco Verratti, Fabio Borini and Luuk de Jong all on show.

So Spain will undoubtedly be the favorites to lift their second straight U-21 title, thanks to the vast array of talent they have in their ranks, but Holland and Germany are hot on their heels in Group B.

While England kick off their campaign against Italy this afternoon (ESPN U, 2:20pm ET) with head coach Stuart Pearce confident of success. “They have got a good spirit about themselves. We go in with a good record, on the back of nine games not conceding a goal, so confidence is strong.”

England have been in superb form in qualifying and despite several absentees through injury and other issues, they should give a good account of themselves and at least make it to the semifinals. The tournament will be played in four venues across Israel, check out those impressive stadiums here.

The top two teams from each group will make it to the semifinals, and it will be a tight tournament with the proud soccer nations desperate to grab the prestigious tag of Under-21 champions of Europe.

All-time, Italy lead the way with five titles, Spain have three, while England Holland and Russia have all won two U-21 titles. Plenty will be on the line as the much coveted tournament kicks off in the far eastern corner of the Mediterranean.

The fixtures for the entire competition are below, so make sure you keep an eye out for some of Europe’s up and coming stars. This is the best place to spot them.

European Under-21 Championship fixtures

Group A

Wed Israel v Norway (Netanya)

Wed England v Italy (Tel Aviv)

Sat England v Norway (Petah T)

Sat Italy v Israel (Tel Aviv)

Tues Israel v England (Jerusalem)

Tues Norway v Italy (Tel Aviv)

Group B

Thurs Spain v Russia (Jerusalem)

Thurs Netherlands v Germany (Petah Tikva)

Sun Netherlands v Russia (Jerusalem)

Sun Germany v Spain (Netanya)

12 Jun Spain v Netherlands (Petah T)

12 Jun Russia v Germany (Netanya)

Semi-finals

15 Jun Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B (Netanya)

15 Jun Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A (Petah Tikva)

Final 18 Jun Jerusalem

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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De Rossi admits desire to beat young teammates with bat

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Daniele De Rossi doesn’t like the modern world.

Okay, okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the Roma legend dropped a funny quote when discussing the differences between young players these days and those when he began his career.

A one-club man, the 33-year-old De Rossi has played in 556 matches for i Lupi and admits that he probably flummoxed veterans when he began his career because that’s the cyclical nature of adulthood.

From Italia Football:

“When we started out, it was all different, that was 20 years ago. Now a 20-year-old will get into the first team and have more Instagram followers than Messi. When I was young, the older players would say ‘it wasn’t like in my day’ – that’s life and it always will be.

“Mind you, some of them irritate me too. When I see them do live Instagram videos from inside the locker room before a game, I’d like to take a baseball bat to their teeth… But they’re 18 years old and in 20 years’ time they will find themselves complaining about the youth of today.”

Mmmm, tastes like ash and hickory.

It’s a safe bet that De Rossi isn’t wild about Stephan El Shaarawy’s hair, we imagine, but living legends generally get a little leeway with their comments in the media.

Plus, it sounds like he has the wisdom to understand the “why” and at least channel his angry into tackles.