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UEFA Champions League draw: Quality in each pot leaves multiple routes to Groups of Death

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When UEFA draws groups for this year’s Champions League on Thursday in Monaco, the big news won’t come out of the first pot, where names like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona and defending champions Bayern Munich wait to be drawn. Instead it’s pot two, from which Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus will be paired with another of Europe’s top clubs. Out of pot three, somebody will get grouped with Manchester City or Borussia Dortmund, while Rafa Benitez’s Napoli will be the club to avoid out of pot four.

Conceivably, you could get a group with Bayern, PSG, Manchester City and Napoli. Or Manchester United could be grouped with Juventus, Borussia Dortmund, and Real Sociedad. Regardless, with the increased number of strong teams outside Champions League’s top pot, the possibility of a group of death (or, groups of death) becomes more likely.

On Thursday, the 32 teams who’ve qualified for UEFA Champions League will be placed into four groups of eight, sorted by how well they’ve done in European competition over the last five years (a team’s UEFA coefficient). Each of the eight, four-team groups that make up the tournament’s main phase will feature a team from each pot. Most of the time, the system keeps Europe’s top performers from meeting too early in the competition, but in the case of teams that haven’t had major continental success in recent years — teams like Dortmund, Manchester City, Juventus and Napoli — the system can drastically underestimate their current quality.

All of which makes group stage much more fun. We could create a system that comes closer to a more accurate depiction of current quality – something that makes an attempt at looking at last year’s results while factoring in league strength; one that ignores Europa League results (this one does not). it’s be flawed and as debated as the current system, but it wouldn’t be difficult to come out with something “better.”  We’d end up with eight relatively even quartets.

But we’d also bringing an element of sterility to group stage. Our hypothetical system would be more fair to the clubs, but it’d also be boring. Besides, with half the teams in each group already advancing to the next round, the status quo is pretty forgiving, offsetting the unfairness. If you can’t finish in the top 50 percentile in your quartet, you don’t have much of a claim to being viable knockout round competition.

Come tomorrow, we’ll see the unintended virtues of UEFA’s system, with Napoli’s draw from pot four the key to a potential group of death:

Pot One: Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Benfica, Chelsea, Manchester United, Porto, Real Madrid

Pot Two: Atlético Madrid, CSKA Moscow, Juventus, Marseille, Milan, PSG, Schalke, Shakhtar Donetsk

Pot Three: Ajax, Basel, Borussia Dortmund, Galatasaray, Leverkusen, Manchester City, Olympiakos, Zenit St. Petersburg

Pot Four: Anderlecht, Austria Wien, Celtic, Copenhagen, Napoli, Real Sociedad, Steaua Bucharest, Viktoria Plzen

FIFA prosecutors want life ban for Webb in bribery case

Sepp Blatter & Jeffrey Webb, FIFA
Szilard Koszticsak/MTI via AP, File
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA ethics prosecutors want a life ban imposed on former FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in the United States.

The judging chamber of the FIFA ethics committee says it opened proceedings against Webb and will consider a verdict.

The ethics committee says it got a final investigation report last week from FIFA prosecutors.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

In November, Webb admitted to taking bribes worth millions of dollars linked to commercial rights for international soccer tournaments.

The former Cayman Islands banker should be sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn next month. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

Webb was president of the CONCACAF soccer body when he was arrested on May 27 at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich.

English striker Joe Cole heading to NASL side Tampa Bay

SWINDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Joe Cole of Coventry City during the Sky Bet League One match between Swindon Town and Coventry City at The County Ground on October 24, 2015 in Swindon, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
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Joe Cole left Aston Villa for Coventry City earlier this year, and now the 56-times capped England man is coming to the North American Soccer League (NASL).

[ MORE: Chatting with NASL commish Peterson ]

Cole has two goals and six assists in 22 games for the Sky Blues since arriving this season, and the 34-year-old would be the latest World Cup veteran to head to the NASL.

The striker had 10 goals for England, and has also played for West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool, Lille and West Ham United.

Here’s Coventry City manager Tony Mowbray, courtesy the BBC:

“I would have liked to have kept Joe,” said City boss Tony Mowbray. “He has proved his fitness and worth to the team

“He’s a fantastic character. No airs and graces, not looking for favours or extra days off and has shown his football ability.

“He can help us control matches but he’s made his decision for his family, and we wish him well. It might happen pretty quickly if he can get international clearance.”

Tampa is 3-2-2 to start the NASL season, and boasts a roster with Darwin Espinal, Eric Avila, Georgi Hristov and Freddy Adu.

Pellegrini looks to road record before UCL second leg at the Bernabeu

during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Academy Training Ground on May 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Gael Clichy says Manchester City wants to make history on the road at the Bernabeu, and his manager is hoping to rely on a shorter-term vision of the past to guide them there.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What does Leicester’s title say for the future? ]

Manuel Pellegrini and his club enter Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu with an impressive road mark in the UEFA Champions League and the advantage of not having allowed a road goal in a 0-0 first leg at the Etihad Stadium.

From MCFC.com:

“This team in three seasons has done very well away – last season we beat Roma in Rome and Bayern away,” Manuel said.

“This season, especially in the quarters we had a very good draw against PSG and we continued. We beat Sevilla, Kyiv and Borussia Monchengladbach.”

Yaya Toure returns and has plenty of familiarity with Real Madrid, having won two La Liga titles and a Champions League title with Barcelona between 2007-10.

David Silva and Pablo Zabaleta are out for City.

Premier League Playback: What does Leicester’s title win mean for PL’s future?

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They did it. They actually did it.

Leicester City, the 5000-1 shots to win the Premier League, won the 2015-16 title on Monday and it’s been one big party in the Midlands city ever since.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Following the initial euphoria questions such as “what does this mean for the future of the Premier League?” have now arisen. Was this a fluke, a one off we will never see again? Was it down to so many big boys going through transitional periods at the same time and creating a “perfect storm” for somebody else to prevail? Perhaps. But maybe, just maybe, this Cinderella story is reinforcing the growing parity levels in the PL.

Up until recently many journalists and pundits (including myself) here in England didn’t believe Leicester could get this done. The established giants getting over the line time and time again have meant that there’s hasn’t been a first-time top-flight winner since 1978 when Nottingham Forest prevailed. Logic told everyone that Leicester couldn’t do this.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate ]  

Now, though, it’s all changing. Everyone is being forced to rethink what is believable. What Leicester has done has given belief to the rest of the Premier League that they can challenge the big boys.For the time being the perennial powerhouses have lost their fear factor, that indestructible aura which held them in such good stead for so long.

It shall return, right? Hang on. What if doesn’t? Those are the kind of questions Leicester’s success has produced.

Certain bookmakers will no longer be offering odds of more than 1,000-1 for teams to win the PL title. Newly promoted Burnley were listed at 5000-1 on Monday after being promoted but now their odds have been slashed to 1000-1 and given the events of this season there will be plenty who will put a fiver on that. Why not? Lightning can struck twice…

[ MORE: Story of Leicester’s season, game-by-game ]

It has, briefly, in the past as Nottingham Forest and Derby County — ironically very similar sized cities located very close to Leicester in England’s East Midlands — both pulled off remarkable title wins in the 1970s. One manager, Brian Clough, masterminded those triumphs and even though you had giants of the game in Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal around then, this was before the days of the mega-rich clubs owned by wealthy foreign investors.

The achievements of Derby and Forest were fantastic and are widely lauded to this day, especially as Forest went on to win the European Cup, twice, during that purple patch.
Will Leicester follow suit? Can they even dare to dream of that?

Manager Claudio Ranieri has only set a top 10 target for next season and doesn’t believe his team will repeat their title win. Then again, this is the bloke who was talking about only focusing on survival when Leicester was clear at the top of the PL in January…

“We want to continue to build,” he told Sky Sports’ Rob Dorsett. “When I came here, the project was to build a very good foundation and slowly, slowly to grow up together in three to four years to fight for the Europa League and slowly come to fight for the Champions League.”

They’ve reached the UCL and won the PL in his first season in charge. The goalposts have moved considerably.

We will watch on with intrigue this summer as the big boys dust themselves off, ready their check books and aim to blast the less powerful clubs to one side once and for all. The real difference now is that even if they spend big, it won’t be easy to widen the gap once more. The PL is without financial restrictions a la the salary cap we see in American sports and even with financial fair play rules limiting the expenditure on wages, the big boys can still pretty much spend whatever they want.

[ VIDEO: Fans react in Leicester to winning the PL

The problem is, they’ve been spending money lazily and they seem to have given up on recruiting talent from lower levels and giving younger players or second chancers, a chance. Leicester, and others, have been smart in how they’ve spent their money and the Foxes’ squad cost just $79 million to assemble in transfer fees. Manchester City’s squad cost $606 million to put together in transfer fees alone. Not to mention that Leicester is in the bottom five of wages paid, their success has proven that it’s not all about money. Which is hugely refreshing with plenty of cynics out there believing only the “super clubs” can succeed.

Premier League Schedule – Week 36

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 1-0 Norwich Recap, watch here
Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham Recap, watch here
Everton 2-1 B’mouth Recap, watch here
Man Utd 1-1 Leicester Recap, watch here
Newcastle 1-0 Palace Recap, watch here
Saints 4-2 Man City Recap, watch here
Stoke 1-1 S’land Recap, watch here
Swansea 3-1 Liverpool Recap, watch here
Watford 3-2 A. Villa Recap, watch here
WBA 0-3 West Ham Recap, watch here

Leicester will net a cash windfall from the PL alone of $36 million in a merit payment for winning the title. On top of the equal share of TV money, $81 million, and facility fees, $21 million, the Foxes will bring in $150 million from TV money and award fees alone this season.

Next season their revenue will continue skyrocket with UCL money, commercial revenue, sponsorship and increased TV revenue from being among Europe’s elite. In 2014-15 English clubs made $38 million each despite not advancing past the UCL’s Round of 16 and Deloitte, which ranks the top 20 richest teams in the world based on their revenue in their rich list, believes Leicester will be among their top 20 clubs next year.

The Foxes are now with the big boys, just 12 months after it seemed like they were going to be relegated from the PL. It is a remarkable story.

[ MORE: The day Leicester (pretty much) won the PL ]

This huge cash injection — as Ranieri has stated numerous time recently — means that they don’t need to sell their best players to be financially sound. The same can be said for the other small to medium teams in the PL. They can afford to pay higher wages to their players and in Leicester’s case, their owner is a Thai billionaire who can pump plenty more money in. That’s the game changer here. Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N'Golo Kante will be chased by bigger, wealthier clubs this summer but if Leicester doesn’t want to sell, they don’t need to.

In an era where other PL clubs are only starting to begin to explore the force of their improved financial strength, Leicester rolls up and does this. They’ve made the most of a season of struggle for the big boys and given everyone else hope that maybe this season isn’t just a one off. Maybe the landscape of the Premier League really is changing.

Fans of the likes of Swansea, Southampton, Stoke, Crystal Palace, Everton and West Ham will be publicly lauding Leicester’s achievements and rightly so. Most of those teams are of a comparable size or if not bigger in terms of fanbase, resources and historical stature. But behind closed doors many fans of those teams will be saying: “damn, that could’ve been us.”

Chairmen of those clubs will be downplaying their answers when asked “well, can you ‘do a Leicester next season?'” because it would be foolish to suggest anything like this will happen again. However, don’t overlook a glint of envy in their eyes. Every PL club will now be hoping they can ‘pull off a Leicester.’

It’s not only in the PL that the rise of the underdog is being talked about. Top European teams in leagues which aren’t as competitive from top to bottom are getting worried, very worried, about the strength of the PL. The president of La Liga, Javier Tebas, recently shared his concern at the upcoming TV cash windfall for PL clubs for the next three-year cycle.

He believes “the Premier League could become the NBA of football” and a league where all the best players automatically flock to, leaving giants such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich scrambling for the rest. We are a long way off Barca and Swansea battling for the same players but it’s getting closer than you think. Take Stoke for example. Bojan? Shaqiri? Afellay? What are they doing there?

Recently I spoke with Stoke’s CEO Tony Scholes about how the PL is changing.

“What Leicester has shown this year is how great this league is,” Scholes said. “On any given day in the Premier League either team can beat the other one. Everyone knows that. That is what makes this league unique. What Leicester have done of course, people were saying that is wasn’t possible anymore, for anyone other than the big six clubs to win the league. Well Leicester have shown it is possible.

“Even West Ham this year have had a great season and might end up in a Champions League place. In many ways West Ham might be more of an indicator of what’s to come in the next few years than Leicester. Next year a few of the bigger clubs will strengthen. We know that. But there’s a great chance that one of the rest of us gets into the Champions League places.”

The signs are there that the playing field is leveling out in the PL.

You can point to Leicester’s title win being lucky or inspired by a greater power at work – many are pointing to 14 one-goal wins as proof of that — but overall it’s not hard to see that the gap between the top and bottom clubs in the PL is closing at a rate of knots

New TV deals kick in next season with domestic and international contracts bringing in roughly $13 billion between 2016-19. The gap will continue to grow smaller as the majority of that money is dished out evenly to each PL club.

That’s the most exciting thing about this. The big boys don’t just seem scared; they’re already on the hunt for who could be the next Leicester.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.