Champions League Draw: English teams happy, Spanish and Italian giants to clash in group stages

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In Monaco on Thursday the UEFA Champions League group stage draw took place as the 32 teams that qualified found out their fate.

The draw provided several intriguing matchups as some huge European clubs will face each other in the opening round of play.

For the third year in a row Spanish and Italian giants Barcelona and AC Milan will go head-to-head after being paired together in the group stages, while another top Spanish vs. Italian clash will take place in group B as Real Madrid and Juventus square off.

Elsewhere group F has been dubbed the “Group of Death” by many, as Arsenal face Marseille, last years runners-up Borussia Dortmund and Rafael Benitez’ talented Napoli outfit.

As for the English clubs, Manchester City got off relatively lightly in group D as they face holders Bayern Munich, Russian champions CSKA Moscow and Czech side Viktoria Plzen. City have had no luck with the draw in recent seasons so Manuel Pellegrini’s men will be looking forward to the 2013/14 UCL campaign. While Chelsea will play Schalke, Basel, Steaua Bucharest in group E  and David Moyes’ Manchester United come up against Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad in group A.

This seasons competition is one of the strongest in recent history, as Europe’s elite club competition promises to provide plenty of scintillating action between now and the final next May.

A whole host of previous Champions League winners are involved this campaign, with Real Madrid (9 titles), AC Milan (7), Bayern Munich (5), Ajax (4), Barcelona (4) and Manchester United (3) all aiming to add another title to their tally.

The group stage begins on September 17-18 and will run until December 10-11. Then the knockout stages begin in February 2014 and the 2013/14 Champions League Final will take place in Portugal at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon on May 24, 2014.

But for now all the focus is on the incredibly tough pairings drawn today, here are the eight UEFA Champions League groups for this seasons group stages:

GROUP A: Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad

GROUP B: Real Madrid, Juventus, Galatasaray, FC Copenhagen

GROUP C: Benfica, Paris Saint-Germain, Olympiakos, Anderlecht

GROUP D: Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Manchester City, Viktoria Plzen

GROUP E: Chelsea, Schalke, Basel, Steaua Bucharest

GROUP F: Arsenal, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli

GROUP G: Porto, Atletico Madrid, Football Club Zenit, Austria Vienna

GROUP H: Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax, Celtic

VIDEO: Pedro scores stunning goal for Chelsea

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Not a bad way to start the Premier League weekend…

12 minutes into the first game of Matchweek 9, Chelsea’s Pedro curled home a stunning effort into the far corner and off the far post after a corner was played short to him.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

A simply stunning goal from the Spaniard which you can watch in the video above.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Watford in top five clash

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Chelsea host Watford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as fifth and fourth clash.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea are without a win in three games in all competitions and some pressure is starting to build on the Blues as they’ve fallen further behind the two Manchester clubs atop the PL table.

As for Watford, Marco Silva‘s men are in fourth place and aiming to keep up their impressive away form in the PL this season with three of their four wins coming on the road.

In team news Chelsea’s injuries are piling up with Victor Moses and N'Golo Kante missing but Alvaro Morata does start after recovering from his hamstring injury, while Watford start Troy Deeney up top after his impressive cameo against Arsenal last week.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Rudiger, David Luiz, Cahill; Azpilicueta, Bakayoko, Fabregas, Alonso; Pedro, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Christensen, Ampadu, Zappacosta, Musonda, Willian, Batshuayi

Watford: Gomes; Mariappa, Kabasele, Britos; Femenia, Cleverley, Doucoure, Holebas; Pereyra, Deeney, Richarlison. Subs:

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!