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Champions, Europa League: Looking ahead to the week in UEFA action

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TUESDAY

David Moyes has been to Champions League before: One time; in 2005; with Everton exiting after group stage. Suffice to say expectations will be much higher this time, with Manchester United fans unlikely to have forgotten the controversial circumstances that saw them eliminated last year by Real Madrid.

Group A play sees Manchester United start their quest for redemption against Bayer Leverkusen, a team whose Bundesliga form suggest they could be a dark horse to challenge for the group’s top spot. With Skahktar Donetsk (visiting Real Sociedad) struggling in the Ukrainian Premier League, the meeting at Old Trafford could provide quick insight into the group’s balance.

Group B’ has two teams who will have title aspirations, with both Real Madrid and Juventus starting on the road. Los Blancos return to Istanbul for a rematch of last season’s quarterfinal against Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder, and Galatasaray, while the Italian champions visit Danish powers FC Copenhagen.

Group C favorites Paris Saint-Germain, coming off their most impressive performance of the season (at 2-0 win Friday at Bordeaux), travels to Greece to face Olympiacos, while Sacha Klejstan and Anderlecht’s visit to Lisbon to face Benfica will provide an early peek as to who will be PSG’s main rivals.

And in Group D, two renown bosses make their Champions League debuts with their new teams. Pep Guardiola has the unenviable task of trying to guide Bayern Munich to last year’s heights. The European champions start their defense against CSKA Moscow. Meanwhile, Manuel Pellegrini takes Manchester City to the Czech Republic to face Viktoria Plzen, with the Sky Blue’s hoping to improve upon last year’s fourth place group stage finish.

Full Schedule

2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoffs

Manchester United (England) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Real Sociedad (Spain) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)
FC Copenhagen (Denmark) vs. Juventus (Italy)
Galatasaray (Turkey) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)
Bayern Munich (Germany) vs. CSKA Moscow (Russia)
Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) vs. Manchester City (England)
Olympiacos (Greece) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Benfica (Portugal) vs. Anderlecht (Belgium)

source: Getty ImagesWEDNESDAY

Two teams perfect in league play will meet in Naples in the day’s marque matchup, with Rafa Benítez (right) and Napoli hosting last year’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund. BVB sits on top of the Bundesliga at 5-0-0 while Napoli lead Serie A with a perfect record through three rounds, but teams managing to excel despite the offseason loss of arguably their best players (Mario Götze for Dortmund; Edinson Cavani with Napoli).

In Group F’s other game, Olympique Marseille, the only team in this group not on top of their domestic league, will look to slow down the Premier League-leading Gunners when Arsenal comes to town. OM, who won their first three games of the Ligue 1 season, sit fourth in France, while Arsenal have amassed a five-game winning streak between the Premier League and Champions League qualifying.

In Group E, José Mourinho and Chelsea welcome a talented but outgunned Swiss champion, Basel, while Schalke, knockout round qualifiers last year, will hope to avoid an upset when Romanian champions Steaua Bucharest visit the Veltins-Arena. Recovering from a slow start to the season, Schalke have won three in a row.

Porto, the “seeded team” in Group G, are in Vienna to face Austria Wien, a match where the Portuguese champions will be pressed to take full points. With Atlético Madrid and Zenit St. Petersburg (meeting in Madrid) also in the group, points dropped against the Austrians could end up deciding who’s still playing Champions League soccer come 2014.

And in Group H, Bojan Krkic’s circuitous route back to the Nou Camp end when his new team, Ajax, visit Spanish champions Barcelona. Meanwhile in Italy, AC Milan will hope their indifferent form in Serie A doesn’t carry over against a Celtic team coming off an appearance in last year’s knockout stage.

Full Schedule

2:45 p.m. Eastern kickoffs

Schalke (Germany) vs. Steaua Bucharest (Romania)
Chelsea (England) vs. Basel (Switzerland)
Austria Wien (Austria) vs. FC Porto (Portugal)
Atletico Madrid (Spain) vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
AC Milan (Italy) vs. Celtic (Scotland)
Barcelona (Spain) vs. Ajax (Netherlands)
Marseille (France) vs. Arsenal (England)
Napoli (Italy) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany)

source: APTHURSDAY

The chaos that is the 24-game Europa League day be will feature a couple of squads that can claim Champions League quality (Tottenham, Fiorentina most notably). They’ll host two of the day’s marque matches, while names like Valencia, Lyon — clubs that we more often find in Champions League — begin this year’s sojourn in UEFA’s second-level competition. Matches to watch:

  • Valencia vs. Swansea City – Michael Laudrup will be familiar with the Mestalla from his time coaching and playing in Spain, but his team will be short on rest after playing Monday in Liverpool.
  • Fiorentina vs. Paços de Ferreira – Last year’s third-place finishers in Portugal get the misfortune of opening their tournament in Florence, though Vincenzo Montella’s side will be without Mario Gomez, who went down with a knee injury this weekend.
  • Real Betis vs. Olympique Lyonnais – At one time they were automatic to make Champions League’s knockout stage. Now Lyon start their campaign in Spain, having previous been relegated to Europa League by another Spanish side (Real Sociedad).
  • Tottenham Hotspur vs. Tromsø – André Villa-Boas won this tournament at Porto and took it seriously in his debut season at White Hart Lane, possibly to their detriment of Spurs’ Champions League hopes. Back in Europa, Tottenham open with a team who will draw them north of the Arctic Circle in the reverse fixture.

Full Schedule

1:00 p.m. Eastern kickoffs

Valencia (Spain) vs. Swansea City (Wales/England)
St. Gallen (Switzerland) vs. Kuban Krasnodar (Russia)
Dinamo Zagreb (Crotia) vs. Chornomorets (Ukraine)
PSV (Netherlands) vs. Ludogorets (Bulgaria)
Salzburg (Austria) vs. Elfsborg (Sweden)
Standard Liege (Belgium) vs. Esbjerg (Denmark)
Zulte-Waregame (Belgium) vs. Wigan Athletic (England)
Maribor (Slovenia) vs. Rubin Kazan (Russia)
Fiorentina (Italy) vs. Paços de Ferreira (Portugal)
Pandurii Targu Jiu (Romania) vs. Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine)
Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany) vs. Bordeaux (France)
Maccabi Tel Aviv (Isreal) vs. APOEL (Cyprus)

3:05 p.m. Eastern kickoffs

Thun (Switzerland) vs. Rapid Wien (Austria)
Freiburg (Germany) vs. Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic)
Estoril (Portugal) vs. Sevilla (Spain)
Real Betis (Spain) vs. Olympique Lyonnais (France)
Vitoria Guimaraes (Portugal) vs. Rijeka (Croatia)
Apollon (Cyprus) vs. Trabzonspor (Turkey)
Lazio (Italy) vs. Legia Warszawa (Poland)
Sheriff (Moldova) vs. Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia)
Tottenham Hotspur (England) vs. Tromsø (Norway)
PAOK (Greece) vs. Shakhter Karagandy (Kazakhstan)
Maccabi Haifa (Israel) vs. AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)
Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) vs. Genk (Belgium)

Neymar out, Arda Turan has another chance for Barcelona

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 06:  Arda Turan of Barcelona (R) celebrates with Lucas Digne as he scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FC Barcelona and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Camp Nou on December 6, 2016 in Barcelona, .  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Fresh off scoring a hat trick, Turkey midfielder Arda Turan is hoping for another chance to prove he can play alongside Barcelona’s best.

[ MORE: Man City faces Leicester without Aguero, Fernandinho ]

With Neymar suspended for Saturday’s Spanish league match at Osasuna, Turan is likely to take his spot next to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in the defending champion’s vaunted attack.

[ MORE: Arsenal looks to continue unbeaten run against Stoke City ]

Turan filled in superbly for Neymar on Tuesday when he scored his first hat trick for Barcelona to lead the team to a 4-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League.

The treble took Turan’s scoring total for the season to eight goals, making him Barcelona’s third-leading scorer behind Messi (20) and Suarez (12).

Even though nobody doubts Neymar is the more talented of the two, the Brazil striker has managed only six goals despite playing 400 minutes more than Turan this season.

Neymar’s suspensions from both the `Gladbach and Osasuna matches were for accumulation of bookings in both competitions.

“Arda is scoring lots of goals. When he plays on the wing he has many skills he can draw on,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said. “He can also play in midfield. I am happy for him.”

Turan, however, has proven to be a tough piece for Luis Enrique to fit into Barcelona’s talent-laden puzzle.

As his coach said, Turan has impressed on the left side of the attack. But that spot has Neymar’s name stamped on it, and Turan has struggled when asked to play further back.

While Turan flourishes when given space and the freedom to break down defenses, he looks uncomfortable in Barcelona’s demanding precision passing approach.

His unease with the defensive tasks that playing in midfield entails was clear in last weekend’s match against Real Madrid when Turan went on as a late substitute to help protect a one-goal lead.

Instead, Turan’s foul on Marcelo conceded a dangerous free kick that Luka Modric didn’t waste, placing a cross for Sergio Ramos to head in a 90th-minute equalizer and snatch a 1-1 draw that kept Madrid six points clear at the top of the Spanish table.

Turan took a lot of heat for that foul in the Barcelona sports media, meaning his three goals against `Gladbach couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We haven’t played well recently and haven’t gotten good results,” Turan said. “We tried to get the best possible result and play at our best (against `Gladbach).”

Now 29, Turan developed into one of the league’s top attacking midfielders through four seasons with Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, helping the once second-rate team become one of Europe’s best with league, Copa del Rey and Europa League titles.

But when Barcelona called in 2015, Turan changed clubs despite knowing that he couldn’t play until 2016 because of Barcelona’s FIFA-imposed one-year ban on new players for breaking its transfer rules regarding underage players.

The former Galatasaray standout also joined Barcelona well aware that competition for playing time, never mind a regular starting role, would be fierce with the likes of Messi, Suarez and, above all, Neymar.

After failing to find a spot following his debut midway through last campaign, Turan made a promising start to this season when Neymar was away playing for Brazil.

He scored twice in a Spanish Super Cup victory over Sevilla and notched Barcelona’s first league goal of the season. But once Neymar was back from helping Brazil win the Olympic gold medal, Turan was back on the bench.

[ MORE: Watford, Everton meet with both clubs looking to halt poor form ]

The reserve role clearly didn’t suit him. Only one of his goals this season has come as a substitute, when he sparked a 2-1 comeback at `Gladbach in September.

Unlike this week’s second win over `Gladbach, which came with Barcelona already qualified for the Champions League’s knockout rounds, Barcelona visits Pamplona on Saturday needing to break a run of three straight league draws.

Promoted Osasuna appears to be the optimum rival to end that skid. It is in last place and hasn’t won in seven home matches since its return to the first division.

State of the League: Garber addresses expansion, Beckham Miami and more

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 09:  Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber talks during day four of the Soccerex - Manchester Convention at Manchester Central on September 9, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)
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As Major League Soccer gears up for Saturday night’s massive final in Toronto, league commissioner Don Garber addressed the media in the buildup with his annual State of the League address on Friday.

[ MORE: 3 key battles to watch in Saturday’s MLS Cup final ]

Among the topics discussed were expansion, the demise of NASL and what MLS is doing to attract younger players to United States.

[ MORE: Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro to make MLS move ]

As it has been in the past, expansion was the biggest discussion on the docket, with Garber stating that next week will likely determine a timeline for the league’s next entries.

“As you probably know it is strategic expansion,” Garber said during Friday’s MLS State of the League address. “Following our board meeting on Thursday in New York, we will announce a process and a timeline for our next round of expansion, which will add clubs 25, 26, 27 and 28 to Major League Soccer.”

David Beckham’s Miami franchise is currently tabbed as the league’s 24th entry, following Minnesota and Atlanta in 2017 and Los Angeles FC in 2018, however, the future of Beckham’s project remains very much up in the air.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In the event that Miami is passed over, there are plenty of teams waiting in the wings to claim its spot. Sacramento, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Detroit and San Diego are among the many destinations currently vying for entry into MLS, however, Sacramento and Cincinnati remain very high on the list after seeing recent success and growth in USL.

“There is a deadline on the Miami deal. I am not going to share that deadline, it is an agreement we have with David and (his business partner) Simon Fuller,” Garber said in regards to the Miami plans.

“But … we need to resolve the Miami situation so that we can go forward with our expansion plans for (expansion) teams 25-28 because they are team 24 and if they are not going to be 24 there are going to be a lot of things that need to move around and it is something we will discuss at our board meeting.”

When Garber was asked about the decline of NASL and particularly the status of the New York Cosmos and whether MLS would ever consider allowing the franchise to join, he stated that the league has no intentions of adding a third New York/New Jersey team.

“As it relates to the Cosmos, it’s a great brand,” said Garber. “We have two teams in MLS in New York. We are not going to have a third team.”

Additionally, Garber also noted that the league has no intentions of changing the MLS playoff format or adding an additional Designated Player spot for each club’s disposal. However, the commissioner did confirm that teams will see an increase of $400,000 each in target allocation money (TAM) in 2017, bringing the total per club up to $1.2 million.

Former Real midfielder Ze Roberto signs new contract at 42

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 12:  Ze Roberto (R) of Palmeiras fights for the ball with Giovanni Augusto (L) of Corinthians during the match between Palmeiras and Corinthians for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on June 12, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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Apparently 42 is the new 22. At least that is one Brazilian’s point of view.

[ MORE: Man City without Aguero, Fernandinho vs. Leicester ]

Former Real Madrid and Bayern Munich midfielder Ze Roberto has signed a new contract with Brazilian club Palmeiras at the age of 42.

[ MORE: Everton, Watford meet with both clubs struggling of late ]

In his time in Europe, Ze Roberto won a UEFA Champions League title with Real Madrid, while also capturing various championships with Bayern, including four Bundesliga titles in his time in Germany.

Ze Roberto played a key role in Palmeiras’ Campeonato Brasileiro title in 2016 and has appeared in 53 matches for the club since joining in 2015.

“My biggest motivation has always been the project. The goals have been achieved – winning the Copa do Brasil title last year and now the Brasileirao,” Ze Roberto said in a statement.

“When I arrived, I said that I would not be coming to pass the time, but to become part of the history of this club, to see my picture in the dressing room. This has been accomplished and I am very happy.

The 42-year-old had a successful 12-year international career with his native Brazil from 1995 to 2006, which included six goals in 84 caps for the five-time World Cup champions. With the national team, Ze Roberto hoisted two Copa America titles for Brazil in 1997 and 2005.

Report: Atlanta United to sign Jamaican attacker Romario Williams

MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 28:  Romario Williams #17 of the Montreal Impact walks towards the play during the MLS game against the Orlando City SC at the Olympic Stadium on March 28, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The game between Orlando City SC and the Montreal Impact ended in a 2-2 draw.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Atlanta has already made some big splashes this offseason as the club prepares to join MLS in 2017, but the Eastern Conference side could be adding another attacker to its already deep bunch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to Metro New York, Atlanta is poised to sign Jamaican international Romario Williams, who was originally drafted to MLS in 2015 by the Montreal Impact.

Williams will reportedly be exchanged for allocation money after having made just two senior appearances for the Impact since joining the club two seasons ago. The 22-year-old has spent two separate loan spells in USL with FC Montreal and more recently with the Charleston Battery.

In 2016, Williams netted 10 goals in 27 appearances for the Battery.

In addition to his club duties, Williams has represented Jamaica at the Under-17 and U-23 teams before reaching senior team in 2016.