UEFA Champions League Group F preview

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Group F of the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League is the only matchup of teams without a single league champion in the mix. Don’t confuse that for lack of quality, though, as this group includes a finalist from last year and three perennial domestic contenders.

source:  Arsenal

How they qualified: Barclays Premier League fourth place, defeated Fenerbahçe in playoff round

Best finish: Finalist (2006)

Home stadium: Emirates Stadium / London, England

Coach: Arsène Wenger

Outlook: Despite a lack of activity in the summer transfer market, Arsenal started its Champions League campaign well by dispatching Fenerbahçe with relative ease. Manager Arsène Wenger always knows how to coach his team into contention, and young talent such as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud will be hungry to impress on the continental stage.

source:  Marseille

How they qualified: Ligue 1 second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1993)

Home stadium: Stade Vélodrome / Marseille, France

Coach: Élie Baup

Outlook: Although Marseille is used to living in PSG and Lyon’s shadow, it has at least managed to overcome the latter in terms of success in recent years. The locally owned club won’t be able to match PSG for money, but it will always put up a fight, egged on by some of the most passionate fans in France.

source:  Borussia Dortmund

How they qualified: Bundesliga second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Winner (1997)

Home stadium: Westfalenstadion / Dortmund, Germany

Coach: Jürgen Klopp

Outlook: Last season, Jürgen Klopp led his team to an improbable all-German final in this competition, handily defeating Real Madrid 4-1 at home in the semifinal behind a four-goal game from Robert Lewandowski, who stayed with the club over the summer despite serious international interest.

source:  Napoli

How they qualified: Serie A second place, directly into group stage

Best finish: Second Round (1991)

Home stadium: Stadio San Paolo / Naples, Italy

Coach: Rafael Benítez

Outlook: Rafa Benítez took over as Napoli manager after winning the Europa League with Chelsea last season. Napoli has also shown a willingness to spend in the transfer market, bringing in Gonzalo Higuaín and Pepe Reina (on loan from Liverpool). The Neapolitans may not be expected to win much in this competition, but they could do some damage to any team that takes them lightly.

Group outlook

This is a group of overlooked, often-second-place teams hungry for attention on the European stage. It’s hard to say if there are any clear favorites, although Dortmund has to be in that conversation because of its ability to devastate teams. Arsenal has the talent to advance to the knockout round, but it has been one of the more inconsistent teams recently. Meanwhile, Marseille and Napoli are both good, but they just might not have the talent to turn heads in Europe yet.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.