UEFA Champions League Group C preview

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A fairly evenly matched group with just one team from any of the Big Four nations, Group C in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League could provide an enigmatic qualifier for the knockout rounds.

source:  Benfica

How they qualified: Primeira Liga second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1961, 1962)

Home stadium: Estádio da Luz / Lisbon, Portugal

Coach: Jorge Jesus

Outlook: Portugal is generally a selling league, with players and coaches using it as a platform to earn lucrative jobs abroad. If that’s the case, then multiple scouts will be interested in Benfica’s wares, as the club boasts a smorgasbord of talent from multiple countries. No less than nine nations are represented on the Benfica squad.

source:  Paris Saint-Germain

How they qualified: Ligue 1 champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Quarterfinals (2013)

Home stadium: Parc des Princes / Paris, France

Coach: Laurent Blanc

Outlook: PSG has come into some money recently, spending its way to the top of the talent pool in Europe. As the club stabilizes after its most recent spending spree this summer, it heads into the Champions League with real hopes of doing damage. In Laurent Blanc, the club has a quick-learning manager who once won 11 matches in a row (a national record) at Bordeaux.

source:  Olympiacos

How they qualified: Superleague Greece champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Quarterfinals (1999)

Home stadium: Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium / Athens, Greece

Coach: Míchel

Outlook: As Europe saw with its contrasting performances in Euro 2004 and 2008, Greece is a bit unpredictable. Greek club teams are much the same, as they can be spectacular and astoundingly bad, sometimes in the same 90-minute period. Traditionally one of the higher-spending teams in the league, Olympiacos has achieved moderate European success in the past.

source:  Anderlecht

How they qualified: Belgian Pro League champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Semifinals (1982, 1986)

Home stadium: Constant Vanden Stock Stadium / Brussels, Belgium

Coach: John van den Brom

Outlook: Anderlecht rarely receives much of a challenge in the domestic title race, having won eight championships in the new millennium and often struggles on European nights as a result. Despite bringing in some good young talent from abroad, it will likely be another tough year for the club on the continental stage.

Group outlook

A clear hierarchy exists in Group C, from PSG at the top to Anderlecht at the bottom. The French champion should waltz through this group, with Benfica joining it in the knockout rounds. Olympiacos and Anderlecht will fight for third place and the Europa League berth, but the Greeks should be able to win that battle.

Why PSG’s Alexis, Neymar pursuit fits in a (relatively) smart space

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Paris Saint-Germain’s run of four Ligue 1 titles ended last season, a campaign which also saw exciting league-winners Monaco go two rounds further into the UEFA Champions League.

Monaco looks set for a step back this season, with Bernardo Silva off to Man City and Tiemoue Bakayoko signing for Chelsea. Kylian Mbappe could join Monaco’s list of departures, and reports say Man City had a bid accepted for Benjamin Mendy.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Strootman talks Roma w/ PST ]

While Monaco is loading up on young talent again, PSG clearly sees its chance to surge back into the title seat and Les Parisiens may just make themselves European favorites as well if they can pry Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal and Neymar from Barcelona.

That would be a South American trident nearly as potent as the one Neymar current shares with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi at Barcelona, and the Brazilian would not be second or third fiddle.

PSG has so far been relatively quiet this summer, with the addition of Dani Alves the lone new buy. Aside from money, how was Alves lured to Paris over Man City and a reunion with Pep Guardiola? The idea of a reunion with Neymar and several Brazilian mates — Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura — may’ve been enough and surely that conversation would’ve happened between the two Barca stars.

The French side has to make a big chance at some point soon, unless they’ve been able to unload their money bags and actually buy a fountain of youth. Thiago Motta is 34, Blaise Matuidi 30, Silva 32, and Edinson Cavani 30.

It’s calculated aggression from PSG to splash cash in hopes of rivaling Real Madrid, Juventus, and Barca in pursuit of the UCL title. The Neymar move weakens one of those rivals. If Marco Verratti isn’t part of a swap deal, the signings of Sanchez and Neymar would meet the Italian star’s ambitions well up the road.

De Boer: West Brom was out to injure Palace star Zaha

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No shrinking violet, new Crystal Palace boss Frank De Boer was left fuming at West Bromwich Albion players following the PL Asia Trophy third place match on Saturday in Hong Kong.

While the focus could’ve been on Luka Milivojevic‘s gorgeous free kick (watch here), De Boer couldn’t get past the hard fouls aimed at his key attacker.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Strootman talks Roma w/ PST ]

West Brom gave away the free kick that led to the aforementioned goal by chopping down Zaha, and the foul was not an isolated incident.

From the BBC:

“They were looking for him, to injure him,” said De Boer.

“He’s one of the exciting players in the league. I don’t want to think he’d be out for two weeks or months.”

De Boer is no stranger to rough play, so this is not coming from a soft place. We doubt it’s going to change anything from Tony Pulis‘ men, though.

Chelsea hammers Arsenal 3-0 in Beijing (video)

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Chelsea struck twice early and Michy Batshuayi put the cherry on top as the Premier League champions cruised past Arsenal 3-0 in Beijing on Saturday.

The Blues started a lineup they’d use on any occasion in the PL, while Arsenal had unproven prospects Cohen Bramall and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the XI.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Strootman talks Roma w/ PST ]

Willian‘s quick goal put the Blues up 1-0 at the Bird’s Nest, and Batshuayi scored the second and third. Both were pretty classy, especially the second.

Marcos Alonso did the lion’s share of the work to produce the second chance for Batshuayi, who is threatening to carry over his fine late season form to this campaign. What a smash.

Coutinho rocket helps LFC to PL Asia Trophy (video)

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Goals from Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho helped Liverpool come back from an early deficit to win the PL Asia Trophy on Saturday in Hong Kong.

Islam Slimani gave Leicester City an early lead in front of a heavy pro-Liverpool crowd at Hong Kong Stadium, but Coutinho delivered the goods on both goals in a 2-1 win.

The tournament win is Liverpool’s first in its second trip to the PL Asia Trophy Final.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Strootman talks Roma w/ PST ]

First he crossed for Salah to head home, and then he scored the above goal by cutting in from the left and lashing a shot past a flailing Kasper Schmeichel.

We’ve seen this one before from Coutinho, just not on this particular continent. The Brazilian remains a Barcelona target, but looks prepared for the season in whatever land he sets foot.