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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:

WHERE DISASTROUS WON’T CUT IT
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.

source: Getty ImagesBREAKAWAY TIME FOR MANCHESTER CLUBS

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.”

source:  THE BEST MATCH YOU WON’T WATCH
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.

Others
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.

Five things Jose Mourinho must do at Manchester United

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho will reportedly take charge of Manchester United before the end of this week.

[ MORE: Mourinho to hold United talks

The Portuguese coach, 53, has been out of a job since he left Chelsea last December but now the job he’s been muttering about and mentioning for over a decade has arrived.

“The Special One” seems to be the chosen one, at least when it comes to United’s hierarchy who are ready to hand him the keys with Louis Van Gaal out as boss on Monday.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI? ]

Mourinho has plenty of work to do to first restore United to the top of the PL and then to Europe.

Below is a quick checklist of what Mourinho must sort out first when he likely arrives at Old Trafford in the coming days.

He has a huge job on his hands but if anybody can do it, it’s Mourinho.


1 – Get a new, more powerful spine of the team

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 12: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain beats Eliaquim Mangala (20) and Joe Hart of Manchester City to score, but his goal is disallowed during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg match between Manchester City FC and Paris Saint-Germain at the Etihad Stadium on April 12, 2016 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

A lot has been said about the laborious rate of play under LVG the best two seasons but not much has been said about why it’s been like that. Of course, pace is a huge factor in that but as is winning the ball back in key areas and United haven’t done that enough in midfield and defense. Getting in two destructive players in central midfield and central defense is key for this team. With Nemanja Matic linked to United, that would work in midfield. John Stones and Raphael Varane in central defense would also work and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, boom, there’s your new spine of the team. It’s more powerful and able to dominate teams.

2 – Convince David De Gea to stay

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: David De Gea of Manchester United celebrates the opening goal scored by Juan Mata (not pictured) during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Watford at Old Trafford on March 2, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

This is a big one and has this storyline has somehow got lost in the shuffle a little in the past few months. Let’s not forget that De Gea missed United’s opening games of the season after he lost focus with his potential move to Real Madrid up in the air. He accepted it when it didn’t happen after an eleventh hour breakdown and the Spanish international was once again named the PL’s best goalkeeper. De Gea, 25, is key to this United team and to that strong spine we’re talking about. Without UEFA Champions League action to offer next season, Mourinho must convince him to stay at United as Real lurk in the background ready to activate his reported release clause.

3 – Play Wayne Rooney as a No. 10

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on January 2, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

I’ve seen enough of Rooney in midfield in recent weeks to believe this is where his future lies. United’s captain even seems to believe it now too. However, he should play in a slightly more attacking role than he has been. That is where he’s at his best. We’ve seen him struggle with some of the easier passes and given the ball away in key possessions as he takes too many risks on the ball as a holding or deeper central midfielder. Play him just in front of two defensive midfielders and let him roam free behind a target man like Zlatan or Marcus Rashford.

4 – Keep faith in the youngsters

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: Daniel Rashford of Manchester United in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on March 20, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Okay, so Jose has been terrible at doing this in the past. Wherever he has gone he’s had a short-term approach, a “win now, worry later” mentality which has left some of the teams in ruins after his departure. Yet, at United it can be argued that many of the youngsters giving their debuts this season by Van Gaal were the bright spots. Rashford is a special talent and Jesse Lingard is flourishing, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson showed promise. Then you have Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Memphis. The latter could get a new lease of life under Mourinho and, all of a sudden, Mourinho could have a very young team. That said, he’ll likely go out and bring in some experience form his days at Real Madrid or Chelsea but he should not neglect this opportunity to thrust youngsters into the limelight like he has done so readily in the past.

5 – Prioritize the Premier League

Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC

He’s won plenty of FA Cups and League Cups with Chelsea in the past but it is time for Mourinho to fully focus on one thing when he arrives at United: finishing in the top four. United simply have to be in the UCL in 2017-18 and their failure to qualify for that tournament this season was the main reason LVG is out. Like Liverpool showed a few years ago and Leicester City showed us this season, when you only have one competition to focus on, then anything is possible. Play the kids in all of the Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup games and keep your star players hungry to succeed in the Premier League.

Ahead of Copa America, what is USMNT’s best XI?

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Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team has a big few weeks ahead of them.

[ MORE: What’s next for USMNT? ]

The USMNT have two more friendlies — Ecuador on Wednesday, then Bolivia on Saturday — before they face Colombia in the 2016 Copa America Centenario opener in Santa Clara, Calif. on June 3.

Klinsmann has already stated the USA’s goal is to reach the semifinals of the 16-team tournament as CONCACAF and CONMEBOL’s finest square off. Getting out of a tricky Group A will be a big achievement for the U.S. as Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay stand in their way.

[ MORE: Mourinho to hold United talks ]

With the Major League Soccer contingent of players just joining up with the squad, plus others leaving after taking part in the friendly win in Puerto Rico last Sunday, Klinsmann now has the majority of his final 23-man roster with him and available for selection.

Who should start against Colombia in 10 days time? Let’s take a look at the best XI Klinsmann can pick.


USMNT’s best XI

—– Guzan —–

— Yedlin — Cameron — Birnbaum — Johnson —

— Bradley — Jones —

— Bedoya — Dempsey — Zardes —

—– Wood —–

Thoughts

We know that Klinsmann has named Brad Guzan as his starter for the Copa America and given that he’s played more regularly than MLS-bound Tim Howard over the past six months, that’s understandable. Do I still think Howard is overall a better goalkeeper than Guzan? Yes.

The back four, for me, picks itself. DeAndre Yedlin has shown his development, especially defensively, as a solid right back at Sunderland this season. That loan move did him the world of good. Geoff Cameron is the clear leader in central defense (he has been struggling with a hamstring injury but should be good to go next Friday) and you have to select a center back who can compliment him best. I believe Steve Birnbaum is that man even though John Brooks may be the better overall player. Fabian Johnson should play at left back simply because the U.S. doesn’t have many options in that area. The Borussia Monchengladbach winger is incredibly useful going forward but needs must.

Central midfield should be locked down by Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, although Kyle Beckerman or Darlington Nagbe do have a chance of starting in that area to give Bradley the chance to play as the central attacking midfielder.

In an attacking midfield three I’ve gone for Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes as I think they have the perfect mixture of pace, trickery and industry and they will support the man who has risen to stardom: Bobby Wood.

The hopes of Klinsmann’s team rest on the shoulders of Hamburg’s Hawaiian striker but whispers out of training camp suggest Wood is up to the challenge of leading the line after Jozy Altidore went down with an injury. Also, watch out for Christian Pulisic who will likely be used off the bench to support Wood. The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund sensation can slot into any of the attacking midfield positions and is a real wildcard for Klinsmann to throw in when necessary.

Reports: Rafael Benitez to remain in charge at Newcastle United

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafael Benitez, manager of Newcastle United gives the thumbs up during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur at St James' Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Multiple reports in the UK claim that Rafael Benitez has agreed to stay in charge at Newcastle United.

Benitez, 53, took charge of the Magpies in March but camp up just short of keeping them in the Premier League in 2015-16 as they were relegated to the English Championship.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]     

However, a report in The Guardian says he has agree to stay on and has a three-year deal at the club and the Daily Telegraph echoes those sentiments, adding that Benitez will be given full control of the transfer committee and decide who comes in and out of the club.

The reports suggest that Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum, Daryl Janmaat and Andros Townsend will all be sold this summer to help raise around $60 million which will fuel a spending spree to push them back to the top-flight at the first-time of asking.

[ MORE: Arsenal sign $45 million Xhaka ]

Benitez took charge of Newcastle’s final 10 games of the season and lost just three times, getting the fans on his side and the season ended with a 5-1 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur even though they’d already been relegated. Newcastle’s fans believe Benitez is the right man to lead them and gave him an outpouring of messages asking him to so.

It was believed Benitez was not going to stay if they were relegated but such has been the warmth of the fans and the lack of other options in the PL, Benitez seems to have made a massive U-turn after assurances were reportedly made to him by owner Mike Ashley about transfer budgets, a new scouting system and many other facets of the club.

The Spanish coach excelled in the final weeks of the season with Newcastle winning three of their final six games and going unbeaten in that stretch but it wasn’t enough to keep their sinking ship afloat after Steve McClaren‘s disastrous spell in charge of the club was cut short after just eight months in charge.

Benitez simple had too little time to save Newcastle but he did appear to get the best out of the players at his disposal in the short time he was in charge. With his initial contract said to have a break clause he could activate should the Magpies get relegated, the former Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Napoli and Real Madrid manager has been spending some time away to think about his future.

It seems like he has decided to stay and lead Newcastle’s charge back to the Premier League. If that notion comes to fruition it will be music to the ears of fans of the Magpies.

Arsenal complete $45 million signing of Granit Xhaka

TURIN, ITALY - OCTOBER 21:  Granit Xhaka captain of VfL Borussia Monchengladbach wearing a 'No To Racism' arm band during the UEFA Champions League group stage match between Juventus and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Juventus Arena on October 21, 2015 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
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Arsenal has completed the third biggest transfer in their history as Granit Xhaka has joined from Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee believed to be around $45 million.

[ MORE: Mourinho in talks with United ]    

Xhaka, 23, is a Swiss international midfielder and Arsene Wenger has been tracking the powerful box-to-box player for many years.

He will officially be an Arsenal player from July 1 and has signed a long-term deal at the club.

[ MORE: PL money table 2015-16

Speaking to the club website, Xhaka is delighted to have arrived at the Emirates Stadium and explained to Arsenal’s fans a little of what he’s about.

“I am very happy to be here. For me it is a dream come true,” Xhaka said. “I am a player who likes to play football and I am an aggressive player, maybe a leader. I’m only 23 but I was in Germany and captain of a good team.”

Wenger also revealed the extend of Arsenal’s scouting of the former Basel midfielder.

“Granit Xhaka is an exciting young player, already with good Champions League and Bundesliga experience,” Wenger said. “We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad. We wish Granit a good Euro 2016 with Switzerland and look forward to welcoming him to Arsenal ahead of next season.”

Xhaka will slot straight into Arsenal’s central midfield area which now has considerable competition.

With Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny due to be his main competitor for playing time, the fact that Arsenal has shelled out nearly $50  million to land Xhaka tells you that he will likely be a starter. Then, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla will all have to fight to get a spot alongside him in central midfield.

After Arsenal finished second in the 2015-16 PL table, something which disappointing fans with Leicester City winning the title by 10 points, Wenger has started his business early and has sealed the deal for Xhaka before he heads to the 2016 European Championships in France as a key member of Switzerland’s team.

Gunners fans will be licking their lips as Wenger has been backed in the transfer market and has added power and substance to central midfield. That’s something they’ve been crying out for now for many years.

Is Xhaka the missing piece in the jigsaw as Arsenal search for their first PL trophy in 13 years? Perhaps another striker and center back will persuade many that they will be the favorites to win the PL in 2016-17 but Xhaka’s arrival is a huge sign of their intent to kick on next season.