UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal eases worries; Schalke drawn at home

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Fenerbahçe certainly didn’t live up to expectations today in Istanbul, the cauldron that is the Şükrü Saracoğlu going untended as Arsenal walked through the first leg of their UEFA Champions League playoff. After going into half time drawn 0-0, the Gunners got second half goals from Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud en route to a huge, 3-0 lead over Turkey’s runners-up.

The second leg of the teams’ playoff takes place next Tuesday at The Emirates, with the winner qualifying for Champions League’s group stage.

Arsenal dictated play throughout in the first half, particularly over the match’s first 20 minutes, yet they had nothing to show for it at halftime. In the second period, Theo Walcott took advantage of his mismatch with Fenerbahçe left back Michal Kaldec, with Ramsey’s stellar night in midfield helping the Gunners translate control into production.

The first instance came in the 51st minute as a Ramsey ball threaded through the Fener defense allowed Walcott to pick out Gibbs for an easy opener. In the 64th minute, Ramsey doubled Arsenal’s lead with a shot from outside the box. Giroud completed the scoring in the 77th  after a call against Kadlec gave the Arsenal striker a chance from the spot.

Up three goals halfway through their playoff, Arsenal helped assuage doubts festering from Saturday’s upset loss to Aston Villa. An early injury to Laurent Koscielny, kicked in the face by Pierre Webo, was the only negative Arsenal will take out of Istanbul, with Arsène Wenger telling Sky Sports after the match that his central defender was taking to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Fenerbahçe, on the other hand, will need one of (if not the) most famous wins in club history to avoid relegation to Europa League.

Elsewhere in Champions League

Schalke (Germany) 1, PAOK (Greece) 1 – A disappointing start to the 2013-14 season continued for Schalke despite going up early through Jefferson Farfan. In the second half, however, Miroslav Stoch gave PAOK a valuable road goal, assuring a clean sheet next week in Thessaloniki will put them into the next round.

Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1, Legia Warsaw (Poland) 1 – Federico Piovaccari opened the scoring after 33 minutes, lifting his shot over Legia keeper Dusan Kuciak to give the hosts a halftime lead. Eight minutes into the second half, a defensive breakdown left 22-year-old Jakub Kosecki open on the other end of a Miroslav Radovic cross, allowing Legia to get out of Romania with a road goal.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) 0, Austria Wien 2 – Dinamo had more of the ball and the advantage in total shots but find themselves on the wrong end of a crushing result. Conceding twice within a seven-minute span in the second half (to Marin Leovac, Marko Stankovic), Dinamo allowed the Austrian champions to leave Zagreb with a commanding lead.

Ludogorets (Bulgaria) 2, Basel (Switzerland) 4 – Underdogs going into the tie, the Bulgarians had a 2-1 lead after 50 minutes, Ivan Stoyanov putting Ludogorets ahead after the teams traded first half goals. But tallies Mohamed Salah, Giovanni Sio, and Fabian Schär give the Swiss champions a decisive lead and a likely return to Champions League’s group stage.

War of egos weakens Cavani at Paris Saint-Germain

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PARIS (AP) With eight wins in as many matches this season, Paris Saint-Germain should be bursting with confidence ahead of Bayern Munich’s visit next week in the Champions League.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars with a goal in another BVB win ]

A war of egos between the club’s biggest stars, however, is tarnishing PSG’s perfect start to the season, as well as the club’s slick image that the Qatari owners want to promote in their ambition to build a great club in the French capital.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid to host 2018/19 Champions League final ]

When Qatar Sports Investments splashed 222 million euros ($262 million) – double the previous world-record transfer of 105 million euros (then $116 million) – to acquire Neymar, the general mood at the club and in the French media was upbeat.

To sum it up, the Brazil striker was the player PSG needed in its quest for Champions League glory.

But some voices immediately rose, noting that Neymar’s technical relationship with forward Edinson Cavani could be problematic, especially if the former Barcelona player was used in a central position. PSG coach Unai Emery, however, made the clever choice of keeping Cavani in a center-forward role, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe deployed on the wings.

PSG’s new attacking trident was clinical in its first two matches, scoring 10 goals, but proved less efficient in a 2-0 win over Lyon last weekend at the Parc des Princes, where tensions between Cavani and Neymar were obvious.

The two argued over who should take a penalty kick that Cavani finally missed. The dispute happened just minutes after the Uruguay international had tried to take a free kick, but Neymar’s good friend and Brazil teammate Dani Alves took the ball and gave it to the former Barcelona star.

Visibly angered, Cavani went back to the dressing room straight after the final whistle while his teammates celebrated on the field.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, a dressing room bust-up followed and the duo had to be separated by teammates.

For now, PSG seems to be willing to ease tensions between its stars.

“There needs to be a gentlemen’s agreement between them when it comes to taking spot kicks,” Emery said. “Apart from that, we will have to arrange things internally for when we get penalties because I believe that both are capable of converting them.”

The altercation, however, spoke volumes about how fast Cavani is losing his influence in the team. After years in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the long-haired forward finally got the chance to impose himself as a true leader last season. He did it in style, finishing as the French league’s top scorer and netting 49 goals in 50 games across all competitions.

Neymar’s arrival has taken the spotlight away from him, and the good relationship between the Brazil captain and Mbappe is making things ever more difficult for Cavani. In a team where five Brazilians are now playing together, Neymar is clearly the new boss and Cavani’s days at the club might be numbered.

[ MORE: Mourinho questions worth of the League Cup ]

Speaking to an Uruguayan radio program, Cavani has nonetheless denied tensions exist between the pair.

“These things are created. The truth is that these are normal things, things that happen in football,” he said. “The truth is that there’s no problem.”

L’Equipe reported that Dani Alves invited all his teammates to a reconciliation dinner on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen how long the new “MCN” trident of Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar will stay in place at PSG.

Breaking: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January

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We all suspected this would happen, and it finally occurred on Thursday.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham expected to call Nigeria his national team ]

Chelsea has announced the transfer of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for roughly $77 million after spending  seasons with the Premier League side.

The 28-year-old will re-join Atleti in January during the winter transfer window. Atletico was banned from making transfers over the summer, which kept the move on hold.

Costa played for the La Liga side on two separate stints, first from 2007-2009 and then 2010-2014 after a brief move to Real Valladolid in between.

In his time with the Blues, the Spanish international scored 59 goals in all competitions for the Londoners, and helped the club to two Premier League titles.

The sale of Costa isn’t unexpected after the striker’s falling out with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte towards the latter half of the 2016/17 PL season.

The Italian boss revealed to Costa via text at the conclusion of the team’s PL-winning campaign that the goalscorer would no longer be needed at Stamford Bridge, prior to Chelsea acquiring striker Alvaro Morata over the summer.

Red Bulls must rally quickly, turn attention back to MLS playoff race

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For any Red Bulls supporter, Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final was a grim reminder of how devastating any cup final can be for a team.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

The New York Red Bulls fell short against Sporting KC — who captured its fourth Open Cup victory in its club’s history — but Jesse Marsch’s side cannot dwell on the result because there is another big task at hand over the final weeks of the MLS regular season.

While that may be easier said than done, especially after the “heartbreaking” nature of Wednesday’s loss, Marsch believes that his side exhibits the qualities you’d want in any good team.

“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us. In the moment, there’s no consolation prize,” Marsch said when asked about if there would be any hang over from the loss. “But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”

The biggest concern for the Red Bulls though isn’t necessarily even their current form, but instead the form of other clubs around them in the Eastern Conference. With six matches remaining, Marsch and Co. sit just three points above the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, Atlanta United has surged up the table and still holds at least a game in hand over most of the field, making them quite the danger in addition leaders Toronto FC and second-place New York City FC.

The Red Bulls haven’t won a match since their 3-2 Open Cup semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, which came over a month ago.

Marsch and his side do have the benefit of facing bottom-dwellers D.C. United twice over the last five weeks of the regular season, but also packed into into the Red Bulls schedule are matches against four current playoff teams, including Toronto and Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stressed the importance of his side maintaining its focus, particularly after the Impact and Atlanta each picked up three points on Wednesday night.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, (our upcoming games) will make us move on from this,” Meara said. “We’ve got a big game in Columbus, we know the teams around us have been winning, Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Tammy Abraham expected to make international switch to Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham has a bright future in the Premier League, but the on-loan Chelsea striker appears that he won’t be playing his international soccer for the country in which he currently plays.

[ MORE: Spurs land Hammers in League Cup draw; Chelsea faces Everton ]

The 19-year-old is expected to announce that he’ll play for Nigeria — the country of his father’s birth — after having represented England at various youth levels since 2014.

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick has made it clear that he believes Abraham will represent the Super Eagles at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, assuming Nigeria qualifies for the competition.

“I had a very honest and productive discussion with Tammy and his father last week,” said Pinnick.

“It’s been a long process but I can tell you authoritatively that he has agreed to play for Nigeria and not England. He and his parents have started the necessary documents to effect the switch.

“Clearly he understands he stands a better chance playing for the Super Eagles. With his talent he has the ability to fight for a place in the Nigeria squad, by God’s grace we make it to Russia, then he would contest for a chance to represent his fatherland.”

Nigeria currently leads its CAF World Cup qualifying group in the final round of African qualification, and a victory over Zambia on October 7 would ensure the country’s place in Russia next summer.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars, scores a goal in BVB’s latest Bundesliga win ]

The Super Eagles have a number of players Abraham is familiar with, given their connection to Chelsea, including Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, youngster Ola Aina and current Blues wing back Victor Moses.