UEFA Champions League Preview: Leaky Real Madrid at Juventus; Manchester clubs looking for control

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UEFA Champions League’s group stage resumes on Tuesday, with Groups A through D completing the phase’s fourth round. With special focus on the day’s big match in Turin, here’s a preview of the week’s first eight games:

Juventus (Italy) vs. Real Madrid (Spain)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Turin (Juventus Stadium)

Two weeks ago, Real Madrid beat a 10-man Juventus 2-1, sending the Bianconeri to third in Group B. Since, the Merengues have allowed seven goals in three games, with head coach Carlo Ancelotti labeling his team “disastrous” after giving up two second half goals this weekend’s to Rayo Vallecano.

[REVIEW: Cristiano Ronaldo double helps Real Madrid see off 10-man Juventus]

[REVIEW: Despite 3-2 win, Carlo Ancelotti rips “disastrous” Real Madrid]

“We’ve been conceding too many goals and this is our problem,” Ancelotti says, staying coy on which pair he’d start in central defense. “[Raphaël] Varane will play tomorrow because he didn’t play on Saturday and will be fresh, then I’ll choose between [Sergio] Ramos and Pepe to partner him.

Obviously, disastrous is an exaggeration (Real Madrid did win, 3-2), but he was right to worry about his team. They haven’t been good enough. Three goals conceded to Sevilla? Two to Rayo Vallecano? It won’t work against Juventus. In fact, Real’s defending is enough to wonder what would have happened them if Giorgio Chiellini hadn’t picked up a second yellow card two weeks ago.

[REVIEW: Spain roundup: Ronaldo hat trick, Bale double lead Real Madrid’s rout of Sevilla]

Juventus was starting to control that game. They gave up an early goal to Cristiano Ronaldo, but after that, their midfield was dictating the terms of the game. They’d created a clear chance for Andrea Pirlo and cashed in on a goal by Fernando Llorente. Something was going to have to happen to turn that game back in Real Madrid’s failure, and it did. Chiellini got sent off.

He won’t be Juve’s only absence. Wing back Stephan Lichsteiner and forward Mirko Vucinic are still out, leaving Juve short-handed for a game which they need to win to keep their knockout round fate in their own hands.

[REVIEW: Where They Stand: Groups A through D after three rounds of UEFA Champions League]

“We’ve got to show on the field, as we did in Madrid, that we deserve to go through,” head coach Antonio Conte said Monday. “Otherwise we will be the first to kneel down and applaud those who make it through at our expense.”

Real Madrid, on the other hand, confirm a place in the knockout round with a win and, depending on what happens in Denmark, could secure first place in their group.


Manchester City (England) vs. CSKA Moscow (Russia)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Manchester (Etihad Stadium)

Real Sociedad (Spain) vs. Manchester United (England)
Kickoff: 2:45 Eastern, San Sebastián (Aneota)

Amid all the focus on racism from the previous match in Moscow, a potentially historic moment is being ignored for Manchester City. If they win, they’re through to the knockout round (unless Viktoria Plzen beats Bayern Munich). After two years of European failure under Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini could have the Sky Blues into the final 16 after four rounds.

[MORE: Manchester City hopes to leave racism controversy ‘in the past’ ahead of visit from CSKA]

“For Manchester City, [getting through the group stage] would be a great achievement,” Pellegrini confessed on Monday. “We all know what happened in the last two years, so for a club that is always trying to grow every day, progression in Europe is very important.”

Manchester United’s knockout round fate won’t be decided on Tuesday, but they have a chance to assume a commanding position in Group A. Beat Real Sociedad in Spain, and the Red Devils will move to 10 points. Last year, 16 of 18 teams who reached that plateau made it into the knockout round. The year before, it was 11 of 12 teams.

To reach that mark, Manchester United will have to improve on their performance of two weeks ago, where only a Iñigo Martínez own goal separated the sides at Old Trafford.

[REVIEW: Three points, few answers for Manchester United in Champions League]

“We have to play well if we’re going to get those ten points, which will get us over the line,” Manchester United boss said, emphasizing the importance of that double-digit mark.

“I won’t take anything for granted. I have a lot of respect for Sociedad.”

Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Kickoff: 2:45 Eastern, Donetsk (Donbass Arena)

The big, untold story of the last match day? Shakhtar, now consistent presences in Champions League, got blitzed in Leverkusen. In a battle between teams fighting for the spot behind Manchester United in Group A, Sami Hyypiä’s team scored a knockout, with Stefan Kießbling’s double leading Bayer to a 4-0 victory.

[REVIEW: UEFA Champions League roundup: All hail Ibra as PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid stay perfect]

“The result in Leverkusen didn’t reflect what happened on the pitch,” Shakhtar coach Mirsea Lucescu said on Monday, an act of denial. “In the first half, they didn’t create anything except for the move that led to Stefan Kiessling’s goal, and before the break we were unlucky as Alex Teixeira missed the opportunity to equalise. Our task for the second half was to risk playing attacking football, but after the second goal we stopped doing the things that we spoke about.”

Perhaps predictably, Hyypiä sees things differently.

” Our victory was fully deserved,” Hyypia affirmed, “but I think that everything will be different here in Donetsk. They’re a very strong Shakhtar side and now they’re playing at home, so I expect it will be a very difficult match for us.”

Leverkusen rested players this weekend, so they’ll be ready for a Shakhtar team that lost in league on Friday (shocking, Shakhtar are still in second place in Ukraine). With Bayer carrying a two-point edge into Tuesday’s match, a draw will do nicely.

Regardless, these are two teams who, while unlikely to go far in the competition, have talented, dynamic, yet distinctly different attacks. With Shakhtar needing a win and Bayer coming off a four-goal victory, this could be the day’s highest scoring game, with the likes of Kießling, Luiz Adriano, Sidney Sam, and Teixeira capable of scoring against the best teams in the world, let alone sides a step or two down the pecking order.

It’s the best match you’ll have no access to on Tuesday, which is too bad. As much as the big names that you know will make the knockout round, these teams are what group stage is all about – getting to see talented sides that won’t normally cross your path outside of Champions League soccer.

All games kickoff at 2:45 p.m. Eastern time.

  • Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) vs. Bayern Munich (Germany), Štruncovy Sady Stadium, PlzenBayern ties a competition record with their sixth-straight win if they win in Plzen. Two weeks ago, they out-shot the Czech champions 30-2 en route to a 5-0 win.
  • Copenhagen (Denmark) vs. Galatasaray (Turkey), Parken, Copenhagen – Win this game and their match in Istanbul against Juventus (match day six), and Gala are into the knockout round, but the Denmark leg of that double will have to be conquered without goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and playmaker Wesley Sneijder. Both internationals have been ruled out for the game at Parken.
  • Paris Saint-Germain (France) vs. Anderlecht (Belgium), Parc de Princes, Paris – A win puts PSG in the final 16, and coming off a 5-0 win in Belgium, they’re heavy favorites to take full points. In this season’s competition, Anderlecht have the same number of points as goals: 0.
  • Olympiacos (Greece) vs. Benfica (Portugal), Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus – The Greek champions have already earned a point in Portugal, leaving head coach Michel wary of complacency within his squad: “We must avoid being over-confident … We are only thinking about the present, though, and not the future.” But teams are on four points through three rounds.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.

MLS All-Stars to face Juventus in 2018

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For the first time, Juventus will be taking on Major League Soccer’s best in the MLS All-Star Game.

MLS announced on Thursday that the six-time defending Italian champions will take on the MLS All-Stars in Atlanta United’s Mercedez-Benz Stadium on August 1, 2018. Juventus will be the second Italian club to play in the MLS All-Star Game, following AS Roma’s appearance in 2013.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Since MLS adapted its all-stars vs. foreign club format in 2002 (with a brief return to the old East vs. West format in 2004), MLS has gone 9-6. Last year the MLS All-Stars lost 4-2 on penalty kicks to Real Madrid in Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Klinsmann: “I’m sure I’ll come back” to coaching

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Jurgen Klinsmann hinted that he could return to full-time coaching after the 2018 World Cup.

Klinsmann appears to be enjoying life as a full-time soccer dad after his dismissal from U.S. Soccer in November 2016, having taken home a portion of a $6.2 million buyout from U.S. Soccer for he and his staff. Speaking to Socrates Magazine in Germany, Klinsmann gave his thoughts on the Bundesliga, the German National Team, and whether he’d be back in the hot seat one day.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“I’m sure I’ll come back,” Klinsmann said. “Right now I’m having a nice break, I enjoy it. I do not know when I’ll take on a coaching job again. I’m looking forward to the World Cup in Russia and then I’ll be back in action.”

Klinsmann has been linked with a number of jobs over the past few years, even before he was fired as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, including with Everton, Sunderland, and Club Tijuana in Liga MX. But instead, Klinsmann has remained in the stands, cheering on his son Jonathan at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup along with the rest of the U.S. parents in their section.

Following the disastrous start of World Cup qualifying and the fact that Klinsmann never took the U.S. to the level he promised, it is hard to see where he will go next, unless it’s a lower level, with lower expectations. Based on his work with the USMNT and Bayern Munich, he has shown that he struggles tactically and is mainly a man-motivator, which is just one part of the coaching package.

The 53-year-old former German coach and player also had a bit of a warning to the Bundesliga, after a particularly tough season in Europe. Three Bundesliga teams (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig) made the UEFA Champions League, but both Dortmund and Leipzig finished third in their groups, dropping down to the Europa League. FC Koln, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin all failed to advance to the knockout stages in the Europa League as well.

“The recent development at the European level is not a good sign, it is important that everyone is aware that success is lacking,” Klinsmann said. “Recently, you have lost too much ground.

“It’s a very critical moment. There is a certain amount of satisfaction after winning the World Cup in Brazil and the Bundesliga clubs having done very well in the Champions League.”