UEFA Champions League Group E preview

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After Chelsea, Group E in the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League is wide open for exploitation. The group’s teams are nicely spread out all over Europe, with England, Germany, Switzerland and Romania all represented.

source:  Chelsea

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

Best finish: Winner (2012)

Home stadium: Stamford Bridge / London, England

Coach: José Mourinho

Outlook: New-old coach José Mourinho has a lot of faith in his squad, as well he should. Chelsea should win this group, as it clearly has the largest talent pool at its disposal. Beyond that, Mourinho’s teams start to struggle. A core of his previous team, as well as the team that won this competition two seasons ago, remains at Stamford Bridge, which should give the former champion all the push it needs.

source:  Schalke

How they qualified: Bundesliga fourth place, defeated PAOK in playoff round

Best finish: Semifinals (2011)

Home stadium: Veltins-Arena / Gelsenkirchen, Germany

Coach: Jens Keller

Outlook: Schalke almost didn’t make it to the group stage, but wunderkind Julian Draxler worked his magic to ensure passage beyond the playoff round despite his team going down to 10 men. It’s been that kind of time for Schalke since Jens Keller took over as manager, particularly since the new season began. The Germans need to work the kinks out of their system to avoid an embarrassing result in this group.

source:  FC Basel

How they qualified: Swiss Super League champion, defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv in third qualifying round, Ludogoretz Razgrad in playoff round

Best finish: Quarterfinals (1974)

Home stadium: St. Jakob-Park / Basel, Switzerland

Coach: Murat Yakin

Outlook: Basel usually makes it to the group stage and pulls off a couple good results. The club also has a history of producing young talent to be poached by bigger clubs, Xherdan Shaqiri most notably from recent memory, as well as Philipp Degen, who has returned to the club of his youth days.

source:  Steaua Bucharest

How they qualified: Liga 1 champion, defeated FK Vardar in second qualifying round, Dinamo Tbilisi in third qualifying round, Legia Warsaw in playoff round

Best finish: Winner (1986)

Home stadium: Arena Națională / Bucharest, Romania

Coach: Laurențiu Reghecampf

Outlook: For the first time in five years, Steaua finds itself back in the Champions League group stage. It wasn’t easy getting here, and a result better than fourth place will be hard to achieve. A Romanian team has never qualified for the spring portion of the Champions League since the competition was rebranded, but this is probably the best team from the Carpathians in the past decade, even after selling center back Vlad Chiricheș to Tottenham.

Group outlook

Chelsea should win this group comfortably, but Schalke, Basel and Steaua all have equal claim to the second and third slots and advancement into further continental competition. If Schalke can pull together some decent performances, it has the best odds of advancing, but the other two will fight ferociously to ensure at least a third-place finish in this group.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.