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)

Lukaku rejects big comparisons: “I can’t say I’m in my prime”

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Romelu Lukaku has bagged a bunch of goals and played on three Premier League teams, but knows there’s another level to his game as he opens up life at Manchester United.

Rejecting comparisons to big strikers like Didier Drogba (because they’re different style players) and Robert Lewandowski (because he’s not yet at that level), Lukaku gave his thoughts about his career’s next steps.

[ MORE: Q&A with Edin Dzeko ]

Lukaku didn’t score in the PL for Chelsea, but has a 17-goal campaign on loan to West Bromwich Albion as well as 15-, 10-, 18-, and 25-goal seasons for Everton.

From Sky Sports:

“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.

“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”

Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.

Something tells us having Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Marcus Rashford setting him up could help, too.

Q&A: Edin Dzeko on Roma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Champions League

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PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.

That piece came out well, but the conversations with some of his teammates were just as fun. While Kevin Strootman’s resilience and Hector Moreno’s Mexican ambassador status neatly fit into individual posts, our talk with ex-Man City striker and reigning Capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko works better in Q&A form.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.

PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?

Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”

PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?

Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?

Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”

PST: What would it mean?

Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”

PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.

Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”

(Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt. 

Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”

PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”

PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?

Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”

Reports: Swans rebuff Everton bid for Sigurdsson; want $65M

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What’s $7-13 million amongst peers?

Swansea City has reportedly shot down either a $52 and/or a $58 million Everton bid for Gylfi Sigurdsson, offers that falls shy of Swans’ $65 million asking price.

$65 million? Why that’s almost Benjamin Mendy money.

Either way, with Sigurdsson absent from Swansea’s U.S. tour, a move seems predetermined.

[ SERIE A: Can De Rossi help Roma catch Juve? ]

The BBC says Monday’s offer was the $52m price, and that it was Everton’s first offer, though The Guardian says it’s a second $58m bid from Everton for the Icelandic playmaker who almost single-handedly ensured the Welsh side’s Premier League status last season.

Reports of an initial $52 million bid also came earlier this month.

Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.

He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.

Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.

VIDEO: Chicharito talks West Ham signing, opener at Manchester United

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is back in the Premier League, and will debut for his new club at the home of his old club.

The league schedulers didn’t know the Mexican striker would be a member of West Ham United on Opening Day, but nonetheless have the first weekend ending with an 11 a.m. ET kickoff between the Irons and Red Devils of Manchester United at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Combine a new home with an old haunt, and you’ve got one fired up Little Pea:

“A little bit more than my teammates probably, of course to be back to Old Trafford to start this adventure this season with my new team. It’s gonna be a very important one and I’m going to be very happy to be there.”

Hear more from the latest West Ham buy below: