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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)

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.