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UEFA Champions League Group D preview

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Group D of the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League contains three domestic champions, a superclub looking for the European success it failed to find last year and a tiny club that traveled a long road to make it to the group stage.

source:  Bayern Munich

How they qualified: UEFA Champions League champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, 2013)

Home stadium: Allianz Arena / Munich, Germany

Coach: Pep Guardiola

Outlook: One of the favorites to win the Champions League and repeat as the title holder, Bayern Munich’s biggest offseason change was hiring new manager Pep Guardiola. The biggest question will be whether he will try to instill a similar possession-based philosophy as he did at FC Barcelona or work with the grittier German style to create something completely different.

source:  CSKA Moscow

How they qualified: Russian Premier League champion, directly into group stage

Best finish: Quarterfinal (2010)

Home stadium: Arena Khimki / Moscow, Russia

Coach: Leonid Slutsky

Outlook: Perhaps not the most powerful team in Russia at the moment, CSKA nonetheless won the league last season and deserves its spot in the Champions League. The challenges of playing in Moscow will benefit the club as it battles teams built more powerfully than it, and CSKA will have to squeeze every drop out of its home advantage to have any chance of advancing out of this group.

source:  Manchester City

How they qualified: Barclays Premier League second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Group stage (1969, 2011, 2012)

Home stadium: City of Manchester Stadium / Manchester, England

Coach: Manuel Pellegrini

Outlook: Last year’s European efforts were nothing short of disastrous for Manchester City, which crashed out of the Champions League and the Europa League in spectacular fashion. At the same time, Manchester United swooped in to secure the Premier League crown, leaving City to stew over its midseason breakdown.

source:  Viktoria Plzeň

How they qualified: Gambrinus Liga champion, defeated Željezničar Sarajevo in second qualifying round, Nõmme Kalju in third qualifying round, NK Maribor in playoff round

Best finish: Group stage (2012)

Home stadium: Doosan Arena / Plzeň, Czech Republic

Coach: Pavel Vrba

Outlook: Plzeň is one of two teams in the group stage to progress all the way from the second qualifying round to the main event. The little Czech club received a favorable draw throughout, never facing a club that started the competition later than it did. As a result, Plzeň is the minnow of the entire competition, in the group stage for the second consecutive year.

Group outlook

Question marks surround every team in Group D. Can Bayern find a rhythm under its new manager? Will City pull together a decent European campaign this time around? Could Moscow and Plzeň find some surprise results and threaten to unseat the two bigger clubs in their group? Bayern and City should be the teams to progress, and CSKA should make the Europa League, but as last season’s showing from the English side showed, anything is possible in Europe.

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.