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.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.

Mexico 1-0 Honduras: Pizarro strikes early to put El Tri in Gold Cup semifinals

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Mexico had little trouble dispatching Honduras as El Tri won 1-0 in Glendale, AZ and eased into the Gold Cup semifinals.

Just four minutes into the game, Mexico took the lead as they got Honduras on its heels, with Rodolfo Pizarro sticking the ball in at the far post at the end of a scramble. Jesus Duenas carved a ball through the defense, and while Elias Hernandez whiffed on the tap-in, Pizarro was right behind him to finish the chance.

Mexico settled in after scoring, while Honduras tried to out-muscle El Tri, with the latter receiving a pair of yellow cards in the first 45 minutes. There were precious few other chances throughout the first half, with Honduras completely incapable of creating anything in the attacking half.

Mexico continued to dominate out of the halftime break, but they lost Monterrey midfielder Jesus Molina in the 65th minute with discomfort, replaced by Chaka Rodriguez. The best moment for Honduras as they chased the game late came in the 78th minute as Jose Corona made a spectacular save when substitute Alexander Lopez nearly scored directly from a corner. They came close again in stoppage time after a set-piece as Alfredo Mejia scuffed a shot agonizingly wide.

Honduras ended their Gold Cup without a single goal scored. They technically defeated French Guyana 3-0 in the group stage, but that came on the typical forfeit scoreline, whereas the actual game played ended in a 0-0 draw.

Meanwhile, Mexico will take on Jamaica in the semifinal in a rematch of last tournament’s final.

Manchester United beats City 2-0 in preseason Derby

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Manchester is Red, at least for the preseason.

Manchester United used quickfire first-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford to topple Manchester City 2-0 in Houston as part of the International Champions Cup.

The first half-hour saw plenty of action, but nothing in terms of goals. New Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker made a great run to cut down Rashford before he could shoot, while goalkeeper Ederson was required to keep out Paul Pogba.

On the other end, Chris Smalling was active often, nearly conceding a penalty with a pull on the shirt of Patrick Roberts, while also cleaning up after a high City press caught United in their own defensive third.

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Just before halftime, United went in front thanks to their prized new striker. Pogba launched an absolutely brilliant long-ball, and Lukaku streaked to meet it, heading past a charging Ederson before cutting from a tight angle into the empty net before defenders could recover.

Immediately after, Rashford put United 2-0 up on a cool finish from the right with space after a ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The score is Rashford’s third goal of the United States tour.

After a host of changes at halftime that saw City keep just four players on the field, it didn’t help as United kept on the pressure. Rashford almost scored an accidental long-range chip as his long-ball to the far post nearly went in, but Ederson tipped it over. Moments later, Lukaku thundered a howitzer into the crossbar.

United made a host of changes past the hour mark, and they nearly had another if not for the offside flag raising on Phil Jones after a double-save by Ederson. City had a big chance in the final 10 minutes, as a great ball from Samir Nasri found Gabriel Jesus, but the Brazilian put it well over.

Ederson had a solid game in net for Manchester City despite the loss, while Kyle Walker and 17-year-old City youth product Brahim Diaz also stood out. For United, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was bright as were Paul Pogba and goalscorer Marcus Rashford.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea (Romero 45′); Valencia (Fosu-Mensah 77′), Lindelöf (Bailly 45′), Smalling (Jones 45′), Blind (Darmian 45′); Herrera (Fellaini 62′), Pogba; Rashford (Martial 62′), Mkhitaryan (Carrick 62′), Lingard (Pereira 78′); Lukaku.

Manchester City: Ederson; Adarabioyo (Otamendi 45′), Kompany (Mangala 45′), Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (Sane 45′), Walker, Foden (Zinchenko 74′), De Bruyne (Diaz 45′), Sterling (Jesus 45′), Aguero (Stones 45′), Roberts (Nasri 45′).