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.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule: Week 13

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Week 13 of the Premier League season is almost upon us. The games just keep coming thick and fast.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Friday
3 p.m. ET: West Ham United vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

Saturday
10 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Brighton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. West Brom – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle Untied vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Chelsea – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
8:30 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
9 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Arsenal – CNBC [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM

Europa League, live: Arsenal, Everton in action

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Two Premier League teams continue their UEFA Europa League journeys on Thursday in very different places.

[ LIVE: Follow Europa League games ]

The Gunners are already through to the Round of 32 and are looking to secure top spot in Group H, while Everton have nothing but pride to play for in Group E with the Toffees already eliminated.

Arsene Wenger will once again play Arsenal’s “B team” for their trip to German outfit FC Koln, while David Unsworth and Everton will aim to beat Italian side Atalanta at Goodison Park so they don’t finish bottom of their group.

Elsewhere some tasty games have been set up as everything is to play for in Group J with Ostersund, Zorya Luhansk, Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin all still able to win the group. The same is possible in Group I with Red Bull Salzburg, Marseille, Konyaspor and Vitoria battling it out.

AC Milan and AEK Athens are battling it out for Group D, while Hoffenheim have their work cut out to make it out of Group C.

Below is a look at the full schedule for Thursday’s games, while you can click on the link above to stay updated on all the action across Europe.


Thursday’s Europa League schedule

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET

Premier League player Power Rankings

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After Week 12 and heading into Week 13, who are the best players in the Premier League following their displays last week?

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Manchester City and Chelsea dominate our rankings, with Arsenal and Liverpool also well represented.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
  2. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Even
  3. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – New entry
  4. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Up 3
  5. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  6. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) – Up 3
  7. N'Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Down 3
  8. David Silva (Man City) – Down 2
  9. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Up 4
  10. Callum Wilson (Bournemouth) – New entry
  11. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Down 4
  12. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) – Down 3
  13. Kyle Walker (Man City) – New entry
  14. Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) – New entry
  15. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 3
  16. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – New entry
  17. Richarlison (Watford) – New entry
  18. Ederson (Man City) – Up 1
  19. Pascal Gross (Brighton) – Up 1
  20. Jack Cork (Burnley) – New entry

Michael Bradley has strong views on Crew’s relocation

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Michael Bradley didn’t hold back when asked about the Columbus Crew potentially being relocated to Austin, Texas, by their owner Anthony Precourt.

[ MORE: TFC, Crew draw ]

The captain of Toronto FC and the U.S. men’s national team had his every touch booed during TFC’s 0-0 Conference Final first leg draw at Columbus’ Mapfre Stadium on Tuesday and was asked afterwards about the uproar regarding the Crew’s possible relocation to a city over 1,200 miles away.

Bradley, 30, did not sit on the fence.

“Look, on one hand you feel for the small group of loyal supporters that they have who have been here since the beginning, who continue to support the team and come out week after week. On the other hand, you can’t deny the fact that things here have really fallen behind in terms of the atmosphere in the stadium, the quality of the stadium, what it’s like to play here,” Bradley said.

“I don’t know who’s at fault for that… there’s a lot going on, and I get that – and like I said, as an outsider I don’t know what that falls on. But again, the reality is just that as the league has continued to grow and grow – and this is not the only one, but this is one of a few markets that has not kept pace.”

Does Bradley have a point?

Looking at MLS in terms of average attendance over the past seven years since MLS expansion became rampant, Columbus’ highest average attendance was 17,125 in 2016. That was still over 4,000 below the league average, even if you believe attendance stats in MLS are vastly miscalculated in many markets with “tickets sold” included in many attendance figures.

For the 2017 regular season only Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas are drawing smaller crowds, on average, than Columbus’ average of 15,439, and there’s only a few hundred difference between those three clubs.

When you look at the somewhat recent arrivals of Seattle, Portland, Montreal, Vancouver, New York City FC, Orlando City and now Atlanta and Minnesota United into the league, you just can’t compare their strong attendance numbers with Columbus and other MLS ever-present franchises such as Colorado and Dallas.

Bradley, on one level, is spot on. There is a distinct, and obvious, difference from the clubs set up in MLS in 1996 who are still in MLS today and the stadium deals those who entered in MLS 2.0 and 3.0.

Of course, his comments will not sit well with Columbus’ fans who are fighting desperately with the #SaveTheCrew movement to keep their club in Ohio with Precourt, MLS and the City of Columbus no closer to an agreement about plans for a new stadium for the Crew in downtown Columbus.

Above all, this is about more than attendances. Plenty of MLS markets have struggled in the past, or are struggling right now, to attract new fans and many Columbus supporters believe having a new owner who has their heart set on keeping the team in the city and improving the team and situation is the key. It’s hard to blame them for wanting that and not rolling over just because their current owner wants to try something different.

This is a tricky situation to see a “winner” from, with Precourt the only one set to benefit if he successfully relocates the Crew to Austin and they become profitable and big crowds turn up.

The situation is an absolute mess and with reports suggesting only two gates were open for Columbus’ playoff game against Toronto on Tuesday to slow down fans entering the stadium, it is become an embarrassing situation for MLS, especially as it appears they had the agreement in place with Precourt for a potential relocation to Austin when he purchased the Crew in 2013.

Once again, what a mess.