Schalke 04's Draxler celebrates a goal with team mate Kolasinac during their German first division Bundesliga soccer match against SC Freiburg in Freiburg

Champions League preview: 4 teams that could surprise

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With the Champions League group stage set to begin play on Tuesday, the world’s biggest annual soccer tournament is back in our lives on the big stage.

To get the content started, we look at four teams who aren’t favorites that could potentially make noise this season.

Last year, Malaga, Valencia, Shakhtar Donetsk and Schalke shocked many and not only progressed into the knockout stage but Malaga and Schalke actually won their groups ahead of teams such as Arsenal and AC Milan.

Malaga’s run to the quarterfinals actually vaulted manager Manuel Pellegrini to a big stage, where he landed the job at Manchester City.

So who this year could surprise the world under its brightest spotlight?  The gaps between top, mid-tier, and bottom are quite large, so surprises may be hard to come by.  But we here at ProSoccerTalk enjoy the banter as always, so we dive in:

1) Schalke 04

This season, success from the German club wouldn’t be nearly the surprise it was last season, but they still haven’t garnered the world-renowned respect they possibly should.  They went undefeated in group play last season, beating Arsenal 2-0 on the road and maintaining a bend-don’t-break attitude that led to three draws but the goose egg in the loss column.

Maybe the reason last season’s surprise group stage run made almost no noise is because they proceeded to fizzle out against Group H runners-up Galatasaray in the first knockout round, losing 2-3 at home in a disappointing second leg.

This season, they’ve vastly improved, landing a coup by signing one Kevin Prince-Boateng from AC Milan.  It was rumored, unsurprisingly, that Boateng had offers from many top clubs but Schalke turned his head the most and the midfielder with both holding and attacking skills will be a force in the middle.

They brought in attacking options as well to support the aging but still reliable Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.  Schalke signed Adam Szalai from FC Mainz, and partnering with young star Julian Draxler (pictured, right) on the wings, this German club is a good bet to come out of a group with Chelsea, Basel, and Steaua Bucuresti.

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Can Rafa Benitez lead Napoli to European success?

2) Napoli

Somehow a Pot 4 team despite numerous European appearances in the past few years, naturally the Serie A club created a terrible Group of Death with Arsenal, Marseille, and last year’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund.

Having finished 2nd in Italy last season, Napoli brought in Rafa Benitez to replace the departed Walter Mazzarri who left for Inter.  The former Chelsea manager completed a run of absolutely brilliant transfer business, making this squad much-improved on an already successful base.

Benitez sold Edinson Cavani to PSG for a hefty price, and used the cash to buy players like Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, and Pepe Reina.

The overhaul has worked to perfection so far, as Napoli have begun the Serie A season with three wins in three, on a total goal differential of 9-2.  Higuain has two, Callejon has two, and – perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Napoli’s market moves – incumbent attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik has four.

Despite a worst-case-scenario draw, Napoli have the tools to make a Group of Death splash and ruin the Champions League for Arsenal or Borussia Dortmund.

3) Bayer Leverkusen

Not the strongest German team to ever grace the Champions League, but with a good draw, Bayer could make some group stage noise.

Led by German international Lars Bender and striker Stefan Kiessling, they’ve started the Bundesliga season scorching hot, with wins over quality opponents in Wolfsburg, Monchengladbach, and Stuttgart, and their only loss coming to Schalke.They added Korean striker Heung-Min Song from Hamburg, and invested a fair bit of money in him, and he’s rewarded them with two goals and an assist in six matches so far.

Their group is interesting – Manchester United is the only top-tier team in the pack, leaving presumably the second spot open for the taking.  However, Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad are no pushovers, and thus it will be a battle.

4) Anderlecht

American Sacha Kljestan has gotten his Juliper Pro League season off to a roaring start, and he brings that with him into the Champions League Group C.  Kljestan has 4 goals in 7 league matches so far, a hefty tally for a defensive midfielder.

Anderlecht are a wild card this year, drawn into a really weak group – possibly the weakest one of the tier.  Their Pot 1 team Benfica is a weak Pot 1 side, and only PSG look like a lock.  It’s tough for any Pot 4 team to ever make noise, so Anderlecht have their work cut out for them no matter where they end up, but this is an intriguing scenario for the Belgian side.

They’re led by red-hot Argentinian striker Matias Suarez, who at 25 years of age is just entering the prime of his career.  He has a whopping six goals and six assists in Anderlecht’s seven league matches so far, and he will look to bring that success into Tuesday’s match with Benfica in Portugal.

So who do you have advancing in the 2013/2014 Champions League? We’ll have much more coverage here on ProSoccerTalk of the upcoming group stage openers on Tuesday, including a complete preview, group analysis, and predictions.  Stick around!

VIDEO: Jurgen Klopp calls Bournemouth’s comeback a “deserved win”

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Jurgen Klopp clearly struggled to come to terms immediately with their collapse against Bournemouth, as Liverpool fell 4-3 on an injury time winner after leading 3-1.

The Reds were incisive throughtout the opnening hour, but once Ryan Fraser came off the bench the game changed, and Nathan Ake finally scored the winner four minutes into extra time.

“I think I have to say an absolutely deserved win for Bournemouth. Congratulations for this performance and for this big fight, what they delivered today. I think for a long part of the game we were the better side and we would have deserved to win, but in the decisive moment we gave the game away to Bournemouth. We opened them the door and they ran through with all they had, so that’s absolutely deserved because they stayed in the game and scored some wonderful goals.”

[ RECAP: Bournemouth completes stunning 3-goal comeback vs Liverpool ]

Klopp appeared to be collecting his thoughts as he spoke, often trailing off sentences to formulate new thoughts. What could be taken away, however, was that he believes, coming off a down year, that a rebuilt Liverpool squad is still learning how to complete full matches in a winning manner.

“When you’re on the way from…I would say, last year number nine in the league, a kind of average team…to a team which really wants to achieve something…when you have a start like we had, sometimes life and the impressions you can collect leads you in this direction to think ‘oh we are really good’ and we are good, but at the end only when we are 100% [will we be good].”

The German’s body language appeared to show he wasn’t too concerned about the loss, but didn’t hold back about his assessment of the team’s performance.

“First half I said – even when we were in the lead – I said that how we tried to play football was not good, it was kind of static. Then we concede a goal, then we scored a goal, 3-1 now it’s decided if you want. Obviously we gave it again away because we didn’t play football anymore so…and that’s our fault, and credit is to Bournemouth.”

Klopp finished with a chuckle, saying “if we learn from it it’s ok, and we’ll learn from it, but we were really bad.”

Watch Live: Everton vs. Manchester United (Lineups & Live Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30:  Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United in action during the EFL Cup quarter final match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on November 30, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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For the last year, Wayne Rooney has had to earn his place week in and week out for Manchester United. Finally he has, and suddenly they’re forced to be without him.

The Manchester United captain is suspended for yellow card accumulation as the Red Devils go to visit Everton with a chance to move into sixth in the Premier League table, live on NBCSN at 11:00 a.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Everton vs. Manchester United live on NBCSports.com ]

Despite the miss of Rooney, it’s Everton that comes up with the truly surprising teamsheet. In a poor run of form with just one win in their last eight, Everton manager Ronald Koeman has dropped both captain Phil Jagielka and midfield playmaker Ross Barkley. Ramiro Funes Mori comes in to replace the captain in defense, while Tom Cleverley comes back into the side after two straight on the bench to replace Barkley.

For Manchester United, Jose Mourinho has finally answered calls to start Henrikh Mkhitaryan, including him in the lineup in place of Juan Mata, who drops to the bench. Mkhitaryan has played well in his few opportunities as a substitute and in cup play. United also sees Paul Pogba back after suspension, as is Marouane Fellaini.

LINEUPS

Everton: Stekelenburg; Coleman, Williams, Funes Mori, Baines; Cleverley, Barry, Gueye; Bolasie, Lukaku, Mirallas.
Subs: Robles, Jagielka, Deulofeu, Barkley, McCarthy, Valencia, Holgate.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Marcos Rojo, Darmian; Carrick, Herrera; Mkhitaryan, Pogba, Martial; Ibrahimovic.
Subs: Romero, Bailly, Blind, Fellaini, Lingard, Rashford, Mata.

Bournemouth 4-3 Liverpool: Ryan Fraser sparks Cherries to stunning comeback

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It’s never easy for Premier League minnows Bournemouth, but somehow they always seem to show up in the biggest moments.

Substitute Ryan Fraser, on for an injured Junior Stanislas in the 55th minute, made all the difference. He assisted two and scored one as he sparked the Cherries to an exciting comeback, winning 4-3 on a late goal by Nathan Ake deep into stoppage time. While Bournemouth goalkeeper Artur Boruc made a pair of early mistakes that led to visiting goals, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius spilled one that saw Ake snatch the winner.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Out of the gates, Liverpool maintained a firm control over the game through the opening 10 minutes. The spell of possession earned them the game’s first chance on 10 minutes as Origi missed a sitter, delivered by Nathaniel Clyne on the right edge of the penalty area low beating defender Steve Cook to Origi right in front of net, but sliding to meet the ball he bundled the chance and it trickled wide.

That would be rectified 10 minutes later as Liverpool would steal a pair of goals in the blink of an eye. In the 20th minute, a ball over the top from Emre Can met a streaking Mane who blistered past a hapless Nathan Ake and bagged the opener. It appeared that Ake expected goalkeeper Artur Boruc to come off his line and assist. That would be relevant as just three minutes later, a horrific mistake by Boruc saw Origi in as the goalkeeper came way off his line all the way to the right edge of the penalty area to challenge the Liverpool youngster, but Origi easily touched passed Boruc and finished from an incredibly tight angle to put Liverpool 2-0 up.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Bournemouth seemingly had a way back in when Roberto Firmino appeared to trip Ake at the top of the penalty area, but with referee Bobby Madley starting straight at it, he waved off the penalty shout. Following that moment, the hosts proved themselves in the flow of the game, holding a number of decent spells of possession up to halftime.

Out of the break, Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe brought on former Liverpool youngster Jordon Ibe, and the boss was forced into a change not 10 minutes later with Stanislas needing a replacement in Fraser. Not a minute on the pitch, Fraser made an impact as he was bumped to the ground by James Milner in the box, and Bournemouth had themselves a penalty, which Callum Wilson finished cooly to give the Cherries a lifeline.

The referee had to talk Jurgen Klopp off the ledge with the Liverpool manager losing his mind moments after the penalty, as Bobby Madley and fourth official Stuart Atwell told him no more antics or he’d be off. That spurned Liverpool to a response, and Mane produced a brilliant run on ball into the box, cutting towards the middle before feeding Emre Can for a one-timer that he buried into the top corner for a 3-1 lead just past the hour mark.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The Reds needed goalkeeper Lorius Karius to keep out Fraser in the 70th minute with a shot from straight on tipped over the bar. They came as close to a fourth as physically possible without scoring moments later as Milner nearly scored directly off a corner, but goal-line technology showed that Boruc caught the in-swinger with literally a hair of the ball still on the line.

Bournemouth again pulled within a goal with an incisive counter-attack with 14 minutes left, this time with Fraser on the end of a cutback from substitute Benik Afobe. The goal, the 22-year-old’s first in Premier League play, sent Bournemouth away bursting with confidence, and they came right back down to equalize. A cross by Fraser found Cook standing tall at the spot, where he collected, turned, and poked home for a 3-3 scoreline.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With Liverpool on roller skates, Bournemouth pushed for a winner the whole way through five added minutes, and they’d get it a minute from the final whistle with a deep drive by Steve Cook spilled by Karius, and Ake was there to poke home, needing a pair of touches to get it over the line past a helpless Liverpool goalkeeper.

The win, Bournemouth’s first ever over Liverpool in league play, sees the Cherries jump into the top half of the table on 18 points, sliding past Watford into 10th. Meanwhile, a stunned Liverpool loses ground on the top, with both Arsenal and Chelsea winning on Saturday, leaving Liverpool four points off the top in third with 30 points.

AFC Wimbledon completes stunning 4-goal FA Cup comeback

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Tom Elliott of AFC Wimbledon rises highest to score their fourth goal during the Emirates FA Cup second round match between Curzon Ashton and AFC Wimbledon at Tameside Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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League One side AFC Wimbledon found themselves down 3-0 with 10 minutes to play against sixth-tier side Curzon Ashton in the third round of the FA Cup. The game was over.

Except for the part where it wasn’t.

Wimbledon scored three in three minutes through Tom Elliott, Dominic Poleon, and Tyrone Barnett to get back level at 3-3, and then Elliott bagged his second header, this time off a free-kick, with the last touch of the game to avoid a replay and put them into the next round in dramatic fashion. Go crazy, folks, go crazy.

The comeback could have been even more stunning, as Wimbledon poured men forward after falling behind 3-0, and had a huge number of chances in the final 10 minutes to score over and over, but they left it to the very last.

The end of the game overshadows what was a fabulous performance both by Curzon Ashton as a whole and in particular Adam Morgan, who bagged himself a hat-trick and was set to become an FA Cup hero. The 22-year-old striker is a Liverpool academy product and had spent time on loan at Rotherham and Yeovil Town before he was released by the Reds in 2014.

Curzon plays in the National League North, which sits below the Football League and along with the National League South is the equivalent of the sixth tier of English play. They play at Tameside Stadium just outside Manchester, and would have owned a famous home victory had they been able to hold on at the end against a Football League opponent.