Arsenal’s visit to Istanbul to face Fenerbahce highlights the second day of UEFA Champions League play-in matches.
Both clubs are in turmoil, although for very different reasons – so a little success could go a long way to creating some better times for one of the clubs in crisis.
Fenerbahce is playing on appeal to UEFA; the club has already been provisionally expelled from Champions League for a match-fixing case in domestic league play. Two days of court hearings began in Switzerland on Tuesday.
So Arsene Wenger and Arsenal actually have two ways to advance into upcoming group play: by virtue of victory over two legs on the field, of if the Turkish club cannot win its court fight.
Either way, Wenger and his Gunners could use the surge of success. Not only would it help placate some of the supporter unrest over transfer trauma, but there is also this matter of money for UEFA group stage participants, somewhere north of $20 million per team.
(MORE: Wenger defends the club’s transfer record. No, really!)
There is also this streak of 15 consecutive Champions League campaigns, all of those under Wenger. That is behind only Manchester United (about to enter its 18th consecutive group stage) and Real Madrid CF (about to enter its 17th).
Wenger and the Gunners have prevailed in two of these play-in series over the last five seasons, one against Scotland’s Celtic and one against Italys’ Udinese.
And there was good news to report out of the Arsenal camp on Tuesday, as Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere (shown Tuesday at training) and Tomas Rosicky all trained before departure in Istanbul. All had been injury concerns.
The schedule of Wednesday’s Champions League matches; All are 2:45 p.m. kickoffs:
- Dinamo Zagreb vs. Austria Vienna
- Fenerbahce vs. Arsenal (Fox Sports 1)
- Ludogorets Razgrad vs. FC Basel
- Schalke 04 vs. PAOK Salonika (Fox Soccer Channel)
- Steaua Bucuresti vs. Legia Warsaw
Could Wayne Rooney‘s days at Manchester United be over as soon as the end of the month?
The BBC reports that Rooney’s agent is in China in the hopes of negotiating a contract with a Chinese Super League team.
[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]
The 31-year-old is said to be wanted by Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian. The former club has ex-Chelsea standout Ramires, while the latter is coached by Fabio Cannavaro and boasts Axel Witsel and Alexandre Pato.
From the BBC:
There are no guarantees of success and it is thought a deal remains highly unlikely before the Chinese transfer window closes on 28 February.
And if he does not leave this month it seems certain he will go in the summer.
Rooney is the all-time leading scorer for both Manchester United and England. While his legacy is secure at the former and the latter, will a move to the CSL end his time under Gareth Southgate at England before another World Cup?
So many questions to unpack as one of the Premier League’s all-timers looks set to leave the country in the next six months.
The lone Wednesday match on La Liga’s docket injected some drama back into the chase for Spain’s crown.
Real Madrid fell 2-1 at Valencia, unable to overcome conceding twice in the first 10 minutes.
The match was one of two matches-in-hand Real held on its rivals for La Liga’s title. Now Real’s one-point lead over Barcelona and three-point advantage over Sevilla seem a bit more manageable.
[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]
Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana netted for Los Che, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44th minute goal was the only answer the leaders could muster before full time.
Zaza’s goal was a stunner:
Real could rebuild its lead over the weekend, with Barcelona off to Atletico Madrid on Sunday and Sevilla traveling to Betis on the heels of its UCL win over Leicester City.
But for now, life’s a bit more exciting in Spain. Real hosts Barcelona on April 23, and hosts Sevilla on the penultimate weekend of the season.
We still can’t get over Sebastian Giovinco’s omission from the list of finalists for the 2016 MLS MVP Award, and the Toronto FC magician gave us another reminder of his greatness on Wednesday.
Playing a preseason match against Minnesota United on a rain-soaked pitch, Giovinco scored a brace. One of those goals came off an ankle-breaking dribble and finished with rain splashing off the net.
[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]
Yeah, he’s still good.
Giovinco turned 30 last month but still looks good money to dance up the statistical leaderboard this season. The Reds open at Real Salt Lake on March 4.
Sevilla probably should’ve put Leicester City to bed.
Thanks to Kasper Schmeichel, the Spanish powers couldn’t do that. Now stubborn Leicester is a 1-0 win away from progressing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.
[ MORE: UCL wrap-up ]
Credit to Jamie Vardy, too, who put away a rare Leicester chance to give the Foxes a road goal from its trip West, but Schmeichel was magnificent.
And Leicester certainly knows how to defend and hit teams on the break.
“We knew they are better than us, they have high quality in possession. We suffered. They showed their quality but we showed our heart. We showed belief and never game up. That makes me satisfied.
“At the end, if we are a little more calm on the counter-attack, we could have done more. It was very important to match them and every result is still open.”
It certainly wasn’t easy to get to the final whistle. Here’s Vardy.
“Everyone has given 110 percent and everyone has come off absolutely blowing. We knew we had to be patient and take our chances but we knew we could hurt them on the press and that’s what Danny (Drinkwater) did. He got it over to me and I slipped it in.”
Again, we wouldn’t sleep on Leicester despite Sevilla’s dominance at home. King Power Stadium will be riled up come March 14, and one moment of magic could be enough for another miraculous moment for Leicester lore.