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UEFA Champions League Preview: Arsenal’s Dortmund test; Chelsea look to regain control; Barcelona returns to Milan

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UEFA Champions League’s group stage resumes on Tuesday, with Groups E through H starting the phase’s third round of action. With special focus on the matches in London, Gelsenkirchen, and Milan, here’s a preview of the week’s first eight games:

CATCH THEM AT THE RIGHT TIME
Arsenal (England) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, London (Emirates Stadium)

There’s never a right time to face Borussia Dortmund, but Tuesday will be as good as any. That’s because last year’s runners-up are going through a lull, if you can call coming off a weekend win as a lull. But their 1-0 over visiting Hannover was unconvincing, and it came on the back of their first league loss of the season (Oct. 5, at Borussia Mönchengladbach). With midfielder Ilkay Gündogan and right back Lukasz Piszczek out, BVB are still shorthanded, the returns of attacker Marco Reus, midfielder Nuri Sahin, and left back Marcel Schmelzer papering the cracks in a still hampered team.

But that hamstrung side is still one of Europe’s best, particularly going forward. Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, one of the world’s best forwards, sees his threat augmented by Reus, midfielder Henrikh Mkyhitaryan, and winger Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – the attacking three in Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Creative and intelligent in their decisions, ambitious and unrelenting with their movements, the quartet has combined for 19 league goals and sparked the Bundesliga’s best attack (the team with 22 goals in nine games). If they can get at Arsenal’s back line, they’ll provide the sternest test of the season for a decent if vulnerable unit.

Being able to get at that defense is not a given. Borussia Dortmund loves to play on the counter, particularly under these circumstances (on the road, against quality opposition, when the stakes are raised). As we saw against Napoli, having a team cede possession almost took Dortmund out of their game. While Arsenal won’t do the same, the Gunners’ attack won’t depend on sending players forward (exposing themselves to counters) to execute. The likes of Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, and Aaron Ramsey don’t need the help. Secure at the back, Arsenal may force Dortmund onto its front foot.

“Their efficiency is their quality, [Dortmund’s] ability to take their chances,” Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger explained. “We go into the game focused on our quality and performance.”

Without defensive midfielder Mathieu Flamini (recovering from a concussion), Arsenal may be more vulnerable, but against a Dortmund side that isn’t clicking at last year’s levels, his loss can be overcome. If the Gunners are careful in their approaches and mindful to balance their defense when their fullbacks push forward, they should be able to continue their early season success.

source: Getty ImagesA CHANCE TO REGAIN CONTROL
Schalke (Germany) vs. Chelsea (England)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Gelsenkirchen (Veltins-Arena)

Their opening round loss at home to Basel was shocking, but Tuesday’s game in Germany is why it was a bigger deal for the Swiss champions than Chelsea’s Champions League hopes. With a win over Schalke — a win the former champions would always be favored to get — José Mourinho’s side reclaims control of Group E.

Chelsea enter the day on three points, trailing group-leading Schalke by the same amount. Win in Gelsenchirken, and they move into a tie for first, but with two games remaining at home (one against group strugglers Steaua Bucharest), they’ll be back in the driver’s seat. Follow up by holding serve at home, and the 2011-12 champions will have 12 points, and that’s before considering a possible result at Basel. Like today’s game in Germany, they’ll be favored to win that one, too.

That’s the reality of a Group E, a decent but not exceptionally tough quartet, but Chelsea’s largely overlooked form helps the perception they’re in control. The team’s undefeated since losing to Basel, claiming five wins in six games, and although there’s an element to their recent performances that’s more opportunism than prolonged dominance, those quality would have come in handy last month against Basel. This team is making progress.

“The profile of the team is different to when I was here before,” Mourinho said, speaking to that progress. “We used to be physically very strong but things are different now. We have to play a different kind of football with a different philosophy. I am building a new side and it’s very enjoyable.”

That process should be far along against a Schalke team who, despite their weekend victory, struggled against Germany’s last place team, Braunschweig. Some of that may have been the absences Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Kevin Prince Boateng, Jefferson Farfan, and Jermaine Jones (Boateng and Jones are expected to return on Tuesday), but the team’s poor defending also played a part. In nine Bundesliga matches, Jens Keller’s side has given up 19 goals.

That form hasn’t been replicated in Champions League, where Schalke have gone 180 minutes without allowing a goal, though that’s likely to change on Tuesday. Chelsea have already scored five times in Champions League, have put in seven goals in their last two league matches, and could bring Oscar and the hobbled Andre Schurrle back into a team that scored four times on Saturday.

And consider the talents that have gone unmentioned — Eden Hazard, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres — and it’s easy to see why an early stumble hasn’t taken away Chelsea’s favored status. The question is whether they can preserve that place today at Schalke.

source: ReutersREAPPLYING WHAT WORKED BEFORE
Milan (Italy) vs. Barcelona (Spain)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Milan (San Siro)

At the time, it was one of the tournament’s biggest surprises, Milan opening last season’s knockout round with a 2-0 upset of visiting Barcelona. After struggling to get through a group where they’d been the seeded team, 90 perfectly executed minutes left Rossoneri were on the verge of eliminating the tournament favorites. After a half-season being maligned by the Italian press, Max Allegri delivered a masterpiece.

The second leg brought Milan back to earth. Their 4-0 loss at the Nou Camp undoubtedly left a lasting impression, one that reinforced how they took their unlikely lead.

“We need to play with courage and sacrifice against the best team in the world,” Allegri said on Monday. “We must try to make as few mistakes as possible. Barcelona will have the ball more than us, so we have to play a game similar to last year’s home tie.”

He’s not giving away any secrets. Every team tries to hit Barcelona on the counter, and with the exception of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, they bunker while doing so. Last year, Milan’s success saw play funneled to the middle, the ball won and given to Ricardo Montolivo, with Stephan El Shaarawy targeted by long passes. Though some of the other names have changed (Milan now having Mario Balotelli available, have acquired Kaká), the method will largely be the same.

Two key additions on Barcelona’s side give them more options. Brazilian star Neymar was brought in  for situations like these, giving Barça a wide option that may prevent Milan from overloading the middle. If the Rossoneri don’t adjust — if they decide it’s not worth giving Lionel Messi more room — they’ll dare Neymar to beat them.

Gerardo Martino may also be a factor. The new Barcelona boss has encouraged his team to play more direct when necessary. That would mean Barça passing over Milan’s midfield block before they set up. It could suggest a willingness to make earlier adjustments than we saw from Tito Vilanova and Jordi Roura.

Those idiosyncratic differences don’t change the larger picture, one that’s similar for almost all of Barcelona’s matches. The Blaugrana will be given control and asked to move through a packed defense, one that will be looking to create their opportunities in transition. If Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol hold up and the Milan defense breaks down, this will seem like a very Barcelona affair. If, however, Milan can replicate this February’s effort (or if Barcelona are caught looking ahead to this weekend’s Clasico), the result may come down to how well the underdogs take the few chances they’ll create.

Others
All matches kickoff at 2:45 p.m. Eastern

  • Marseille (France) vs. Napoli (Italy), Stade Velodrome, Marseille – This will be l’OM’s easiest match of the tournament, and they’re still underdogs. With Arsenal having already claimed three points at the Velodrome, Napoli will be pressed to do the same. They’ll be without left back Juan Camilo Zuñiga, while Marseille will be missing center back Lucas Mendes.
  • Porto (Portugal) vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia), Estadio Dragão, Porto – If Porto has designs on winning Group G, this is a must win. A second loss at the Dragão (having already fallen to Atlético Madrid), could leave Porto could be six back of first after Tuesday’s action. Zenit will also be hoping for a result, having registered one point through two rounds, but will have to do so without Axel Whitsel. The Belgian international is suspended after his red card against Austria Wien.
  • Austria Wien (Austria) vs. Atlético Madrid (Spain), Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna – Austria, winless in five all-competition matches, sees Diego Costa return for Atleti, Diego Simeone’s leading scorer having finished his two-match suspension. Despite coming off a weekend loss, their first of the season, Atlético will be big favorites to maintain their perfect Champions League start.
  • Celtic (Scotland) vs. Ajax (Netherlands), Celtic Park, Glasgow – With these teams combining for one point through two rounds, the pairing looks set to compete for Group H’s Europa League’s spot. If, however, one team can sweep these next two games (the teams meeting in Amsterdam in round four), Milan could have a challenger for their second round spot. If that challenger’s Ajax, they will have to overcome the losses of Niklas Moisander and Ricardo van Rhijn, both late decisions. Celtic will be without Scott Brown (suspended), Adam Mathews, and Derk Boerrigter.
  • Steaua Bucharest (Romania) vs. Basel (Switzerland), Arena Najtionala, Bucharest – Like Marseille in Group F, Steaua has become the team from which opponents must take points. Schalke and Chelsea have already done their part, putting the pressure on Basel to deliver on Tuesday. While a draw is a very respectable result, it will also see Basel give back some of the points they gained with their win at Stamford Bridge. Dropping points to Steaua could become a deciding factor in Group F.

FIFA release “Garcia Report” in full; issue statement

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FIFA has released the previously confidential Garcia report into alleged corruption surrounding the 2018/2022 World Cup bidding process.

Previously the report compiled by American lawyer Michael Garcia was said to be private and would never be released by FIFA, however German publication Bild had got hold of a copy of the report and was due to leak details from Tuesday.

Now, world soccer’s governing body has got ahead of the game and released the report in full as Garcia looked into potential corruption among FIFA officials and high-ranking officials during the World Cup bidding process which saw Russia awarded the 2018 World Cup and the 2022 World Cup heading to Qatar.

Below is a statement from FIFA in full, while you can download the full report here.

The new chairpersons of the independent Ethics Committee, Maria Claudia Rojas of the investigatory chamber and Vassilios Skouris of the adjudicatory chamber, have decided to publish the Report on the Inquiry into the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup Bidding Process (the so-called “Garcia Report”).

This had been called for on numerous occasions by FIFA President Gianni Infantino in the past and also supported by the FIFA Council since its meeting in Mexico City in May 2016. Despite these regular requests, it is worth noting that the former chairpersons of the Ethics Committee, Cornel Borbély and Hans-Joachim Eckert, had always refused to publish it.

The Ethics Committee will meet in its full composition under the new chairpersons for the first time next week, and it was already planned to use this opportunity to discuss the publication of the report. However, as the document has been illegally leaked to a German newspaper, the new chairpersons have requested the immediate publication of the full report (including the reports on the Russian and US bid teams, which were conducted by Mr Borbély alone) in order to avoid the dissemination of any misleading information.

For the sake of transparency, FIFA welcomes the news that this report has now been finally published.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Ox to Liverpool; Nainggolan to Man United

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A report in Italy states that Manchester United are interested in signing AS Roma’s midfielder Radja Nainggolan.

[ MORE: Henry Onyekuru to Everton?

Gazzetta dello Sport claim that United will offer $51 million for the Belgian international as Jose Mourinho looks to totally overhaul his midfield.

Mourinho is reportedly close to closing a deal for Chelsea’s Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic and adding Nainggolan means there would be plenty of extra bite in the Red Devils midfield next season, especially with Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera around too. Per the report, Nainggolan could be added instead of Matic with the 29-year-old combative midfielder offered $159,000 a week.

Nainggolan has been heavily linked with a move to Chelsea in the past but the two-way midfielder stayed at Roma last season and scored 11 times as they finished in second place in Serie A.

After posting a cryptic message on Instagram on Monday stating “Thinking about what to do” expect this rumor to be cranked up a few notches with Nainggolan possessing the ability to score goals from distance and also dictate and break up the play in midfield. He seems like a perfect fit for the Premier League.


Liverpool is said to have taken their pursuit of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the next level.

The Daily Mirror believes Jurgen Klopp‘s side have made an approach for the Ox, as the 23-year-old considers his options with just one year left on his current deal at Arsenal and talks over a new deal at a standstill.

Played at right-wing back for the final months of last season, Oxlade-Chamberlain shone and kept Hector Bellerin out of the Gunners’ starting lineup. Capable of playing as a winger on either flank or a central midfielder (a role he believes is his best) the Ox’s versatility is a major plus, hence why both Liverpool and Manchester City are said to be chasing him.

The Ox has struggled massively with injuries since joining Arsenal from Southampton as a teenager in 2010, but the England international has undoubted quality and if Liverpool did meet Arsenal’s valuation of $34 million then he he would have the chance to flourish at Anfield. If he left Arsenal for Man City or Chelsea you’d question if he’d be a regular in either team, but at Liverpool he could play in any of the fluid positions Klopp loves in midfield or attack.

After spending the past seven years at Arsenal it would certainly be a shame for Arsene Wenger to see the Ox go, but with just 12 months left on his deal (like Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil et al.) this summer would be the time to cash in if Arsenal wanted to.

Jurgen Klinsmann denies Sunderland links

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Jurgen Klinsmann had quashed speculation linking him with taking the vacant managerial position at Sunderland.

[ MORE: Hazard & Co. start NASL club

The Black Cats were relegated from the Premier League last season and as they prepare for life in England’s second-tier they are managerless and American owner Ellis Short is still searching for a new owner for the club.

That’s how reports linking former U.S. national team boss Klinsmann to the job emanated, as a German consortium are interested in buying Sunderland.

However, Klinsmann had the following to say on his Facebook page about the Sunderland job.

“No truth on rumors coaching Sunderland FC in the near future,” Klinsmann said.

The 52-year-old German national team legend has kept a pretty low profile since being fired by the USMNT back in November 2016 following two defeats to open up the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. His five years in charge of the U.S. had plenty of ups and downs, but you can’t argue with how he helped reorganize the entire structure of U.S. Soccer during his role as Technical Director which coincided with him being head coach of the national team.

Last month Klinsmann was seen in South Korea watching his son, Jonathan, playing in goal for the U.S. U-20 side at the U-20 World Cup, but apart from that he seems no closer to getting back involved in the game via a managerial position.

Klinsmann and his family are settled in Huntington Beach, California and unless and incredible job comes up in Europe or elsewhere in the U.S., it’s tough to see him taking it. The 1990 World Cup winner is constantly linked with every big job which becomes available in England, largely due to his popularity after successful spells at Tottenham Hotspur, but it would be no big surprise if his coaching career was on more than a temporary hiatus.

Major League Soccer’s new franchise in Los Angeles, LAFC, arrive in March 2018 and have yet to hire a new head coach. Given his history with MLS it’s also tough to see Klinsmann getting involved with that franchise. Right now it seems like his future in the soccer world could be in advising clubs or national teams on how to rebuild themselves as he did with Germany ahead of the 2006 World Cup and more recently with the U.S. who have had success at youth national team level.

Report: Everton agree to deal to sign Nigerian striker Onyekuru

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Everton have reportedly agreed to sign Nigerian striker Henry Onyekuru from Belgian club KAS Eupen.

The teenage striker was the top scorer in Belgium’s top-flight last season, scoring 22 times, and had been attracting interest from Arsenal and many others with a release clause of just $8.6 million.

However multiple reports state that Onyekuru had a medical at Everton on Monday, with the Toffees agreeing a deal to sign the Nigerian international.

It has also been suggested that Onyekuru will be loaned out to Anderlecht next season as he continues his development, plus he is yet to be granted a UK work permit.

Onyekuru, 20, took the Belgian top-flight by storm last season and has scored 30 goals in 60 games for Eupen following his move to Belgium from the Aspire Academy in Qatar where he spent time from 2010-15. Eupen finished 13th in the Belgium’s top-flight after being promoted from the second-tier.

Below is a look at some of his highlights from last season as the young striker has plenty of pace and is cool in front of goal. Toffees fans will be hoping he develops in the mold of former Anderlecht and Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku and that Onyekuru could step into his shoes if the Belgian striker leaves Goodison Park over the next 12 months.

If that proves to be the case then Onyekuru could be one of the best pieces of business in recent history. Everton’s Director of Football Steve Walsh certainly has an eye for plucking young talent from lower leagues and across Europe when you think about Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante during his time at Leicester, plus the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin already shining at Everton.

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