How Premier League clubs will fare in the Champions League group stage

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With the Champions League group stage draw completed, let’s turn our attention to what to expect from the four Premier League clubs in Europe’s top competition.

Manchester United (Group A with Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad)

David Moyes has been gifted a very negotiable group as he enters his second ever Champions League contest following Everton’s 2005 loss to Villareal in the qualifying round.

Bayer Leverkusen is managed by ex-Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia who guided the club to third place finish behind Munich and Dortmund last season. The squad is led by goal-scoring dynamo Stefan Kießling, who is partnered by new signing Son Heung-Min. Factor in midfielders Lars Bender and Simon Rolfes as well as center-back Omer Toprak and Leverkusen has the tools to compete with United.

Playing in the Ukraine is never an easy feat but with the loss of Willian, Fernandinho, Razvan Rat and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Shakhtar lost a tremendous amount of their top talent. Manager Mirceu Lucescu has moved fast to replace those losses by buying Brazilians Bernard, Fred, Fernando and Wellington Nem but cohesion issues should be expected.

Real Sociedad is a La Liga club on the rise. La Real stomped Lyon 4-0 on the aggregate to advance to the group stage and have a tricky group of strikers in 21 year Swiss Haris Seferovic, Mexican international  Carlos Vela and 22 year old Frenchman Antoine Greizmann. Running the show is Xabi Prieto, who was recently joined by Esteban Granero on season long loan from QPR.

United should win this group but don’t be surprised if they take a couple of nicks while doing so. Leverkusen and Shakhtar will provide challenges but the shocker will be when Sociedad qualifies in second place.

Manchester City (Group D with Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen)

Manchester City were dealt a blow when they drew title holders Bayern Munich but that was softened after CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen were added to the group. 

The Russian and Czech outfits are by no means light-weights but if City is to prove itself as one of the best clubs in Europe these are scalps they have to nick. City boss Manuel Pellegrini has taken both Villarreal and Málaga to the latter stages of the competition and there would be disappointment if he could not do the same with a club blessed with such a deep pool of talent.

Munich should take the group with City a close second.

Chelsea (Group E with Chelsea, Schalke 04, Basel and Steaua Bucharest)

Chelsea should have little problem conquering Group E.

The Blues will be quite familiar with Basel and Steaua Bucharest after facing both sides in last year’s Europa League title run. Basel were particularly impressive in that tournament, knocking out Tottenham in the quarterfinals before Chelsea cruised to a 5-2 aggregate semifinal victory.

Steaua made a decent run Europa League run themselves, bowing out to Chelsea 3-2 on aggregate in the Round of 16. Things will be tough for Bucharest as they have yet to advance beyond the group stage in the Champions League era.

Schalke arguably represents Chelsea’s biggest competitor to win the group as Dutch striker Klaus Jan Huntelaar and attacking midfielder Julian Draxler are two of the best players in the Bundesliga.  Jens Keller’s club enters the group stage of the tournament in questionable form, however, after narrowly defeating PAOK 3-2 in the Champions League play-offs.

If Jose Mourinho’s men do not win this group it will be a significant failure. Expect Schalke to lock down the second spot.

Arsenal (Group F with Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli)

Arsenal was handed a tough draw when they were matched up with last year’s beaten finalists Borussia Dortmund, Rafael Benitez’ Napoli and French runner-up Marseille.

The Gunners possession based style of play will be tested by the up-tempo attack of Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund squad. The two sides met in the 2011-12 Champions League group stage with Arsenal winning 2-1 at home before playing to a 1-1 draw in the return leg at Signal Iduna Park. Dortmund ended that campaign finishing last in the group while the Gunners claimed the top spot.

One year later and it was a different story for BVB as their eye-opening brand of football brought them all the way to the Champions League final, where they lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich. Arsenal also bowed out to Munich as well but not without a fight. After losing 3-1 at the Emirates they fired back at the Allianz Arena with a sound 2-0 victory, coming up just short on the aggregate.

Another side known for their quality football is Napoli, who also ended up securing the services of Arsenal target Gonzalo Higuain. Gunners boss Arsene Wenger later claimed that he halted his pursuit of the Argetine striker, claiming he was “not a special player.” Factor in Wenger’s antagonistic past with Napoli manager Rafa Benitez and this should prove to be a hotly contested affair.

Marseille is yet another team Arsenal faced in the 2011-12 Champions League group stage. Both sides advanced but Arsenal claimed the top spot after Aaron Ramsey’s injury time goal handed the Gunners a key 1-0 victory at the Stade Vélodrome.

If Arsenal are to advance to the Round of 16 it won’t come easy. Dortmund will likely take the group but the Gunners pedigree in Europe runs too deep and should be enough to help outwit the challenge posed by Napoli.

Everton 3-1 Swansea: Dominant second half has Toffees up to ninth

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Don’t look now, but Sam Allardyce‘s side are up to ninth place in the Premier League.

Everton managed a 3-1 comeback victory on Monday night against Swansea City, behind finishes by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Since taking over managerial duties at Goodison Park at the end of November, Allardyce and his side are unbeaten in five matches (4W, 1D).

Rooney continued his long-time status as one of the PL’s top goalscorers when he notched his 10th finish of the year in all competitions. The ex-Manchester United forward scored from the penalty spot with over 15 minutes remaining in the second stanza, after previously having a spot-kick attempt saved.

The former Swansea midfielder, Sigurdsson, gave the hosts the lead in the 63rd minute, after brilliantly cutting in on his preferred right foot and curling a shot into the far corner.

The Toffees had pulled level just moments before halftime, when Calvert-Lewin scored on a rebound from Wayne Rooney’s penalty kick.

Despite getting a hand to the initial save, and pushing it off the post, Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski couldn’t keep the follow up out by the young Englishman.

Leroy Fer tapped home for Swansea nine minutes before halftime after the Everton backline left the attacker wide open at the far post for his first goal of the season.

The Swans were forced to make a substitution after just four minutes when striker Wilfried Bony pulled up lame on the touchline. Leading goalscorer Tammy Abraham — currently on loan from Chelsea — came on to replace the veteran Ivorian.

The two sides will be back in action on Saturday when the Toffees host Chelsea, while Swansea takes on fellow bottom-half side Crystal Palace.

LA Galaxy has acquired rights to Quakes goalkeeper Bingham

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David Bingham is officially on the move from one Western Conference side to another, but his new club still has to sign the coveted MLS goalkeeper.

[ MORE: PSV likely to acquire Man City, USMNT’s Palmer-Brown on loan ]

On Monday, the LA Galaxy announced that the team has acquired the rights to the former San Jose Earthquakes shot-stopper in exchange for $200,000 in allocation money ($100,000 in TAM and $100,000 in GAM).

Despite now holding Bingham’s rights ahead of the 2018 MLS season, the Galaxy must still come to terms with the player in order for him to suit in the spring.

Last season, Bingham had a $190,000 base salary, per the MLS Players’ Union.

In the event Bingham doesn’t agree to terms with the Galaxy, another MLS club could potentially sign the experienced starter or he could move outside of MLS via transfer.

Bingham is entering his eighth season in MLS, after previously spending seven years with the Quakes.

The veteran keeper also has three caps with the USMNT, after earning his first start with the Yanks in 2016 against Canada.

At the half: Calvert-Lewin brings Toffees level with Swans

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Shaky early moments had the Swans on the back foot, but the relegation side has settled in nicely since.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s late finish in first-half stoppage time has Everton level against Swansea City, 1-1, at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

The Toffees looked to go into the break down a goal, but a penalty kick chance to Wayne Rooney sparked the home side’s equalizer.

Despite having his spot-kick attempt saved by Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski, Calvert-Lewin was in the right place to smash home the rebound.

Meanwhile, the Swans opened the scoring on 36 minutes when Leroy Fer tapped home.

The opportunity came off of a corner kick beyond the hour mark, to which Fer snuck in at the back post, and simply guided the ball past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Everton struggled to muster up chances of its own during the opening 45 minutes, despite the team’s extensive possession.

It was bad news early for the Swans, when Wilfried Bony suffered a leg injury inside the opening five minutes. That sparked the visitors to bring on loanee Tammy Abraham.

Juventus president Agnelli’s 1-year ban lifted on appeal

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ROME (AP) Juventus president Andrea Agnelli had his one-year ban for selling tickets to ultras lifted on Monday, but the Serie A club’s fine was doubled and it will have to play a match with one of its main sections closed.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation in September for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping. He was also fined 20,000 euros ($24,000).

The FIGC’s appeals court said it has changed Agnelli’s sanction “into a fine of 100,000 euros ($118,000) and a ban until today’s date.”

Juventus, however, was fined 600,000 euros ($708,000) and will have its Curva Sud closed for the home match against Genoa on Jan. 22.

The federation’s prosecutor, Giuseppe Pecoraro, had requested a 2 1/2-year suspension for Agnelli and also appealed the original decision.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an ultra fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions, and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

The 42-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus denied any wrongdoing.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo and ticketing director Stefano Merulla have had their suspensions and fines canceled. D’Angelo was originally banned for 15 months, while Merulla had been handed a one-year suspension.

However, former marketing director Francesco Calvo had his appeal rejected and will be banned for one year and will have to pay a 20,000 euro ($24,000) fine.