UEFA Champions League Preview: Post-hipsterism in Naples, Arsenal’s next challenge highlight Wednesday action

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UEFA Champions League’s group stage continues on Wednesday, Groups E through H completing the competition’s first match day. With special focus on the day’s marque match in Naples, here’s a preview of the week’s final eight games:

WHAT THE HIPSTERS LEFT BEHIND
Napoli (Italy) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Naples (Stadio San Paolo), Italy

Imagine Brooklyn before it became its proto-hipster utopia/refugee camp for disaffected suburban youth. In other words, pretend it’s Portland, just like everybody in Brooklyn wishes it was. Don’t do this as a social experiment or an exercise in pop culture irony. Soccer is our business here, so in the spirit of the UEFA Champions League, do it as a way to understand the dynamic between Napoli and Borussia Dortmund. Borussia Dortmund is Brooklyn – newly, almost paradoxically popular – while Napoli’s the cool protos are trying to emulate.

At least, Napoli used to be that cool. When it was Walter Mazzarri playing wing backs with Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavazzi, and Marek Hamsik tearing teams apart on the counter, Napoli was the thing – a combination of retro (three center backs) and rebellion (counter attacking’s inherently subversive). People’d forgotten how to defend quality wingbacks. They weren’t used to the zealotry Napoli brought to their transitions. Soccer hipsters denying possession for possession’s sake loved the partenopei.

By the time soccer hipsterism had a label (by definition making it less hip) people had moved on to Borussia Dortmund. They were from the next big league, the German Bundesliga, which has this cool ownership model so … word. They drew the biggest crowds in Europe, providing authenticity through community. They cultivated most of their own talent, had a black-rimmed glasses-wearing coach spouting ethereal philosophies. And oh yeah: They just happened to be really young, really exciting, and really good at soccer.

Funny then, now that the  teams are meeting, the matchup isn’t so much a battle of cultures as merely a meeting between two of Europe’s best. Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, finalists in last year’s Champions League, spent heavily in the summer transfer market (Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), putting a minor dent in the “from our own organic garden” philosophies that’d been trust upon them. Napoli have also spent heavily, bringing in Gonzalo Higuaín, Jose Callejon, Raul Albiol, and Pepe Reina to complement a new head coach, Rafa Benítez ditching Mazzarri’s scheme for the 4-2-3-1. Together, despite Dortmund and Napoli losing their best players this summer (Mario Götze to Bayern, Edinson Cavani to PSG), the teams are a combined 8-0-0 in league play, sitting on top of their circuits.

Trite analogies aside, Borussia Dortmund may be the best team in Europe. Opening Champions League at a team of Napoli’s caliber, we couldn’t hope for a better group stage match. Whether that’s hip or not, I don’t know., but it should be an amazing soccer game. Wrap it in bacon, if you need to.

Major miss: Benítez’s big guns will all be ready come kickoff on Wednesday, which means Hamsik and Callejon, despite starting this weekend’s game on the bench, will be in Napoli’s starting lineup. Klopp, however, will be without two of his best XI, with midfielder Ilkay Gündogen and right back Lukasz Piszczek injured.

[MORE: Champions League Roundup, Tuesday: Upsets make way for goals.]

[MORE: Bayern dominant as they begin title defense.]

source: Reuters
Mesut Özil (right) made his Arsenal debut Saturday at Sunderland. On Wednesday, the level of competition increases dramatically as the Gunners visit Olympique Marseille. (Photo: Reuters Pictures.)

NEW GUNS, NEW TARGETS
Olympique Marseille (France) vs. Arsenal (England)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Marseille (Stade Velodrome), France

Mesüt Ozil was ill, Olivier Giroud picked up a knee injury, while Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, and Per Mertesacker weren’t available. Regardless, Arsenal posted a 3-1 victory on Özil’s debut, boosting Gooner hopes their new star can hit the ground running.

There is one caveat, however. Their opponent, Sunderland, has been terrible. Last in the Premier League, conceding two goals per game and taking only one point from 12, the Black Cats are off to an unexpectedly poor start. Given Crystal Palace and Fulham have also taken full points from Sunderland, Saturday’s win may not say much about Arsenal.

Marseille will be a major step up, and although Élie Baup is trying to portray his side as a young, improving group, they’ represent a new challenge for the Gunners. Runners up in France last season and playing at the newly roofed Velodrome, l’OM have enough firepower and support to break through any team. If Mertesacker isn’t fully healthy or the returning Thomas Vermaelen hasn’t left his rust on the training ground, André Pierre Gignac, Mathieu Valbuena, Andre Ayew and the recently purchased Florian Thauvin can snatch three points.

If, however, Özil is closer to full strength, Arsenal may have enough. If Giroud’s knee has recovered, Arsenal’s threats will surely outweigh Marseille’s. And if Aaron Ramsey continues playing like one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, Arsenal can take a valuable road win from Stade Velodrome.

[MORE: Where they stand: Implications of Tuesday’s results.]

[MORE: European titans find form in Champions League.]

source: Reuters
Barcelona’s Gerardo Martino says anything short than a Champions League title will be considered a failure in his first year on the job. (Photo: Reuters Pictures.)

A DEBUT AND A RETURN
Barcelona (Spain) vs. Ajax (Netherlands)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Barcelona (Camp Nou), Spain

Chelsea (England) vs. Basel (Switzerland)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, London (Stamford Bridge), England

“When I took the job, I knew that if we didn’t win a title this season it would be a failure,” Gerardo Martino says of his new post, head coach of FC Barcelona. It’s a ridiculously high and probably unfair standard, though in fairness to Martino (and Barcelona), that may not actually be the case. If Barcelona went deep in Champions League while retaining Spain’s title, few would judge Martino harshly.

Meanwhile at Stamford Bridge, another coach will be making a debut of sorts, but for José Mourinho, Wednesday’s match against Basel is more of a return that debut. But for a man who’s won Champions League twice, returning with Chelsea carries a special significance. In three seasons at Stamford Bridge from 2004 to 2007, Mourinho never took the Blues beyond the semifinals:

“If you win [the UEFA Champions League] once you dream to win it twice. It’s the same with me: I won it twice – I dream to win it for a third time. But I have to focus not in the past but in the future. I want to win for the third time – I want Chelsea to win for the second time.

[MORE: Rooney’s double gives Moyes first Champions League win.]

[MORE: Ronaldo hat trick finish Real route in Istanbul.]

Others

  • Atlético Madrid (Spain) vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Vicente Calderon, Madrid – Atlético will be without their leading scorer, the suspended Diego Costa, but will be emboldened by a perfect start to their La Liga campaign. Their counterattack will stress a Zenit team that doesn’t always play with a typically midfield destroyer. Luciano Spalletti may start Ukrainian veteran Anatoily Tymoshchuk to try to disrupt Atlético’s attack.
  • Milan (Italy) vs. Celtic (Scotland), San Siro, Milan – Milan’s slow start to last year’s competition nearly cost them a spot in the knockout round. This year, injury issues that limit Max Allegri to 13 healthy players present a new challenge, with a Celtic side that qualified for last year’s Round of 16 hoping to become the first Scottish team to beat Milan at the San Siro.
  • Schalke 04 (Germany) vs. Steaua Bucharest (Romania), Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen – After four loses to start their season (following an early win in the German Cup), Schalke have rebounded from potential disaster to win three in a row, a streak that includes sealing Champions League (at PAOK), handing Bayer Leverkusen their first loss, and earning a valuable three points at Mainz. Like Schalke, Steaua recovered from disappointment in their opening playoff leg to qualify for group stage. They’re also unbeaten in their last 13 competitive matches.
  • Austria Wien (Austria) vs. Porto (Portugal), Ernst-Happel-Stadium, Vienna – Austria Wien will be outgunned by the two-time champions on their Champions League debut, a talent gap coach Nenad Bjelica has downplayed leading up to the match. Paulo Fonseca’s team, however, comes into the match unblemished, the Dragons’ new coach hoping to maintain that perfection through his own Champions League bow.

UCL team news: Big calls for all five Premier League clubs

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Three Premier League giants are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday and below is a roundup of the latest team news from Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Also, don’t forget Chelsea and Manchester United are both in UCL action on Wednesday as the five PL clubs all aim to remain unbeaten through the opening two weeks of group play.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]   


Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has revealed that left back Benjamin Mendy will have a late fitness test ahead of City’s clash with Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday.

City will be looking to win their opening two UEFA Champions League group games for the first time in club history after they beat Feyenoord 4-0 away from home in their Group F opener.

Guardiola also revealed that Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan are back in training but neither play is fit enough to play at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.


Tottenham have plenty of absentees as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men are in Cyprus to face APOEL in Group H.

Dele Alli and Jan Vertonghen are both suspended, while Erik Lamela (hip), Mousa Dembele (ankle), Victor Wanyama (knee), Danny Rose (knee), Christian Eriksen (ill) are all out injured.

Pochettino’s men will be hoping to build on their impressive home win against Borussia Dortmund in their group stage opener and Harry Kane will be the main man for Spurs once again as he’s scored six goals in his last four appearances for the north London club.


Manchester United will be without midfielder Marouane Fellaini for their trip to CSKA Moscow in Group A.

Fellaini was injured after a nasty challenge from Shane Long at Southampton in United’s 1-0 win on Saturday and with Paul Pogba also out, Mourinho could turn to either Michael Carrick or Ander Herrera to step in.

The Red Devils boss will face no further action after his sending off at Saints on Saturday and he will be hoping his side can shake off any jet-lag to continue their unbeaten start to the season and make it eight wins from nine.


Liverpool are also in the Russian capital as they play Spartak Moscow in Group E.

Jurgen Klopp is without the suspended Joe Gomez, so Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to slot in at right back, while the big piece of team news is that Loris Karius will start in goal over Simon Mignolet.

Sadio Mane is also likely to start after he served the final game of his three-match domestic ban during Liverpool’s 3-2 victory at Leicester City on Saturday.


Chelsea have a huge game in Group C as they travel to Atletico Madrid.

Antonio Conte could start captain Gary Cahill on the bench as David Luiz is available after suspension, while Eden Hazard started at Stoke City on Saturday and came through it unscathed.

Quotes from the Italian coach about his future may concern some Chelsea fans though.

Report: Man United eye $209 million Dybala

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Manchester United is ready to pay Juventus another huge transfer fee for a star player.

[ MORE: Conte heading back to Italy?

Paulo Dybala, 23, is ripping it up for the Turin club after his move from Palermo in 2015.

The Argentine playmaker has scored 12 goals in his opening eight games of this season after scoring 42 in his first 94 appearances in all competitions for Juve.

Reports have surfaced across the UK media stating that United are set to battle it out with Barcelona next summer for Dybala and are willing to pay over $209 million for the forward who is capable of playing centrally or out wide.

Dybala has 10 caps for Argentina but is yet to score for La Albiceleste.

Does Jose Mourinho really need another attacking midfielder/secondary forward?

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba are all currently scrapping for three spots underneath Romelu Lukaku in Mourinho’s attack. Dybala is a class above most of those players with the diminutive attacker perhaps a long-term replacement for Mata who turns 30 in April.

Not only are his set pieces and crosses a deadly weapon (ask Gonzao Higuain at Juve) but consistently scoring close to 20 goals a season will make the biggest clubs in Europe stand up and take notice.

When I watch Dybala a see a more clinical Philippe Coutinho. Is he worth $209 million? Who knows anymore. The transfer market has gone bonkers but if Neymar is worth $265 million, Dybala’s output isn’t much less than the Brazilian forward.

Juve have said they won’t stand in his way if he wants to move on but United will have to pony up the big boy cash to snap up one of the hottest talents on the planet.

Gareth Barry’s historic longevity: Incredible stats, top goals

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Gareth Barry is expected to make Premier League history on Monday.

If Barry, 36, appears (he is expected to start) for West Bromwich Albion in their game against Arsenal (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Emirates Stadium he will make his 633rd appearance in the PL, breaking Ryan Giggs‘ record.

After making his PL debut in the 1997-98 campaign for Aston Villa, Barry has gone on to play for Manchester City, Everton and now West Brom who he signed for in the summer.

In a recent interview the left-footer said he could go on playing until the age of 40 but he only has a contract through the end of this season at the Hawthorns after turning down a new two-year deal at Everton.

The midfielder, a former England international, won an FA Cup and a Premier League title while at Man City and has played as a left back, center back and in central midfield. Steady, composed and dependable, Barry is the kind of seasoned pro who are worth their weight in gold.

In the video above you can watch Barry’s top five goals in the Premier League, while below are some incredible stats from his near 20-year career in England’s top-flight.

  • Most starts in Premier League history: 600
  • Most minutes played: 52,871
  • Most yellow cards: 119
  • Ranked 10th all-time in wins with 261
  • 17 current PL players were not born when Barry made his Premier League debut on May 3, 1998

Trio of USWNT players stay in locker room for national anthem

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USWNT players Megan Rapinoe, Sydney Leroux and Becky Sauerbrunn were among players from both the Seattle Reign and FC Kansas City who did not appear for the national anthem at a NWSL game on Sunday.

Rapinoe was the first USWNT player to kneel during the national anthem as she joined the protests led by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick calling for racial equality and against police brutality.

With several NFL teams on Sunday taking a knee during the anthem and the Pitstburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks staying in the locker room during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner, U.S. President Donald Trump has responded angrily to sports teams who decided to kneel during the national anthem.

Here’s more info from Sounder At Heart on SB Nation:

This time Megan Rapinoe is not alone. Several players from both teams joined her, staying in the locker room during the flag and anthem ceremony.

Elli Reed, Megan Rapinoe, Madalyn Schiffel, Lauren Barnes and Diana Matheson from the Reign did not take the field. Former Sounders/Reign player Sydney Leroux was among the FCKC starters who were not out for the ceremonies. Yael Averbuch, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Desiree Scott round out that group. Sauerbrunn is currently the United States captain. Leroux and Rapinoe are both regulars with the USWNT.

With U.S. Soccer bringing in a new bylaw earlier this year which states players must stand for the national anthem, could we see male and female U.S. stars following this option by not going out onto the pitch for the national anthem in upcoming international games?

All eyes will be on USWNT captain Sauerbrunn, plus midfielder Rapinoe and Leroux, during the anthem when Jill Ellis’ side play against South Korea on Oct. 19 and Oct. 22.

The actions of Bruce Arena’s USMNT side will also be heavily scrutinized ahead of their upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago on Oct. 6 and Oct. 10 respectively.