UEFA Champions League Preview: Arsenal seek to recover points at Borussia Dortmund; politics in focus at Milan

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UEFA Champions League’s group stage continues on Wednesday, with Groups E through H completing the phase’s fourth round. With special focus on the day’s big match in Germany, here’s a preview of the week’s final eight games:

WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
Borussia Dortmund (Germany) vs. Arsenal (England)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Westfalenstadion, Dortmund

Arsenal need to get those points back. After losing at home two weeks ago, they’re in a three-way tie for first. They still have to play at Dortmund. They still have to play at Napoli. If they don’t get a result in one of those matches, they’re probably headed to the Europa League.

“I don’t know if this will be a decisive match – it also depends what happens between Marseille and Napoli – but it is a very important match for us,” Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger explained on Tuesday. “[B]ecause we lost at home … now have to win the away games.”

Europa League seems like a cruel possibility for a team we’ve seen perform so well in England, but there are two factors in play here – one discussed at length, the other glossed over. This is an incredibly though group, with all of Arsenal, Dortmund, and Napoli possessing the quality to advance in this round and the Round of 16. But also, England just isn’t as good as it was five years ago. Success in the Premier League doesn’t necessarily mean a team will have proportional success in Europe.

That change was evident at the Emirates two weeks ago, when Borussia Dortmund won at the Emirates. Though Arsenal didn’t necessarily play poorly, they were clearly on a different, lower level than one of the continent’s elites. Though the Gunners battled, taking the match to the 82nd minute tied 11, Robert Lewandowski eventually separated the sides late.

“[T]he match in London there were also moments where [Arsenal] did manage to find that tiny gap,” Dortmund  boss Jurgen Klopp explained. “[S]mall things could have made a difference.”

If Arsenal’s to prove contenders in Europe as well as England, they have to find a way to bridge that gap.  They need to raise their game to a different level. They need the small things to go their way rather than Dortmund’s, because without a result in Germany, the Gunners are likely to be starting at third place with two games to go.

“We maybe lost the first game because we wanted to absolutely win it at all costs and we exposed ourselves,” hindsight tells Wenger. “It was a midfield battle and we got caught on the counterattack because we were all up front and were not happy with the draw.

“It will strengthen the resolve of my team to come out and show a different level.”

source:  SAME SHHH, DIFFERENT YEAR
Barcelona (Spain) vs. Milan (Italy)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Camp Nou, Barcelona

With Milan having fallen to 11th in Italy, news around the Rossoneri’s Wednesday match has focused on internal politics, not the challenge presented by the Spanish champions. A second successive slow start to the season has Barbara Berlusconi, one of embattled owner Silvio Berlusconi’s daughters, seeking to gain full control of the club and oust CEO Adriano Galliani, who some see responsible of the downsizing of Milan’s squads. If Barbara is unable to jettison Galliani, head coach Max Allegri could leave, with reports in Italy claiming the fourth year boss has two games to save his job.

Barcelona may seem a suboptimal opponent to face when you need results, but Milan’s recent record against last year’s semifinalists is a decent one. Thanks to their meeting in last year’s Round of 16, the teams have played three times this calendar year, and while many would expect the Blaugrana to have gotten the best of those encounters, the teams have split the games. Each team has won once, with the 1-1 draw in Milan two weeks ago doing little to dissuade the notion the Rossoneri are capable of matching up with Barcelona.

Despite that matchup, focus will be on the turmoil with Milan, who went through a similar situation last year after saying goodbye to much of their veteran core. Then, Milan were even lower than 11th (lingering closer to the drop) when, just as this week, management issued a statement in support of Allegri. The team would eventually eek through their Champions League group before bowing out in the knockout round, but along the way they soared up the Serie A table and eventually reclaimed a Champions League spot.

Even though Serie A is more competitive this year, Milan have the talent to do that same. And just as last year, the team’s matches with Barcelona provide their embattled coach a chance to temporarily silence his detractors.

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

The difference between a blip and a streak is the second result. Reverse the trend before it starts, and disappointment looks like an aberration. But fail to respond to adversity, and you’ve got a pattern. And once you have a pattern, you have to worried about what’s fueling it, how long it will last, and the potential for the pattern to become a characteristic.

After Saturday’s loss a Newcastle, Chelsea are at the left end of that process, but after losing 2-0 (and getting out-shot, in terms of shots on target, 8-2 by the Magpies), José Mourinho is wary of his team’s mindset.

“Sometimes when you win a lot of times, players forget why they win,” Mourinho explained on Tuesday. “Probably they forgot why they won against Schalke, Arsenal and Man City. When you win and win and win – three, four, five matches – sometimes they forget. Maybe they think they win because they are good, but there are many other ingredients that make you a consistent winner.”

The fact that Chelsea won 3-0 in Germany won’t placate Mourinho, nor should it. Are Newcastle a greater obstacle than the Miners? Or, at least, so different that the same result that befell his team this weekend couldn’t be replicated on Wednesday? Of course not. Play like they did at St. James Park, and Chelsea could fall.

It makes the analysis ahead of the match quiet easy. Thanks to the team’s meeting two weeks ago, we have a good idea of which side is better. Now it’s just  a matter of whether Chelsea plays that game or the one that was on display on Saturday. Do the former, and Chelsea will move clear of Schalke in Group E.

Others
All matches start at 2:45 p.m. Eastern with the exception on Zenit-Porto. Playing in Russia, the Zenit match starts at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

  • Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) vs. Porto (Portugal), Petrovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg – A disappointing Champions League campaign for Porto could reach now lows in Russia, where Zenit will be favored to extend their one-point lead on the Dragons in Group G, thus strengthening their claim to the group’s second knockout round spot. Juan Quintero and the suspended Hector Herrera are absent for Porto in what has to be seen a must-win game, considering the team still has to go to the Vicente Calderon.
  • Basel (Switzerland) vs. Steaua Bucharest (Romania), St. Jakob Park, Basel – The Swiss champions were drawn in Romania two weeks ago and need a win on Wednesday. Murat Yakin’s team faces group-closing matches against Chelsea and at Schalke, and while they’re capable of getting results in each, their best chance to improve on their four points is Wednesday at St. Jakob Park.
  • Napoli (Italy) vs. Olympique Marseille (France), San Paolo Stadium, Naples – Nothing short of three points is acceptable for Napoli, who close group stage with matches against Dortmund and Arsenal. With Marseille having failed to claim a point yet this tournament, Rafa Benítez’s side is heavily favorited to move to nine points, even if they’ll have to do so with a depleted defense. Miguel Britos, Camilo Zuñiga, and Giandomenico Mesto are all out.
  • Atlético Madrid (Spain) vs. Austria Wein (Austria), Vicente Calderon Stadium, Madrid – Perfect through three rounds, Atlético face their easiest match of group stage, with a win clinching their spot in the knockout round. A draw in St. Petersburg would allow the Colchoneros to take Group G.
  • Ajax (Netherlands) vs. Celtic (Scotland), Amsterdam ArenA, Amsterdam – Celtic’s win in Glasgow two weeks ago dropped Ajax to fourth and positioned the Scottish champions to challenge Milan in Group H. A win in Amsterdam could vault Neil Lennon’s club above Milan ahead of the Rossoneri‘s visit to Scotland, but coming off a draw in league on Saturday, Lennon’s aware his team will be underdogs.

Report: Danny Rose to Chelsea for $64.3 million

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Just a week after Danny Rose gave an explosive newspaper interview, for which he later apologized, suggesting he will get paid what he’s worth be it at Tottenham Hotspur or elsewhere, it appears interest is rife in the England left back.

Who would have thought that would happen…

[ MORE: Wenger gives update on Sanchez ]

The Sun newspaper claim Rose will be the subject of a $64.3 million from Chelsea on Sunday following heir clash with Tottenham at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a massive London derby.

Rose, 27, is still recovering from a knee injury and won’t be available until after the next international break in early September, but the man who has been named as the best left back in the Premier League over the past two seasons will have obviously upset the hierarchy at Spurs with his comments, even if many believe he was only airing the thoughts of most of Tottenham’s players.

He certainly opened up a can of worms with his comments (more on that here) as Spurs’ star names continue to be paid less than stars at Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and even Arsenal, and with Kyle Walker moving on to Man City earlier this summer and instantly doubling his salary, many can see where Rose is coming from. However, nobody told this Spurs players to sign new long-term deals. They all agreed to them.

Man United are also said to be interested in Rose who revealed in his self-proclaimed “ill-advised” comments that one day he would like a move back to the north of England to be closer to family.

Moving back to Chelsea’s pursuit of Rose, does it make sense?

Strengthening on the right-hand side of defense should probably take priority for the reigning champs with Marcos Alonso having a fine first season at Stamford Bridge and also adding an attacking threat down the left in the 3-4-3 system. Adding Rose could see Alonso pushed further forward but having two players for each position is crucial for Antonio Conte especially with UEFA Champions League action coming up, so looking for another left-wing back make sense. Rose’s pace and power make him the perfect fit for that position.

With Tottenham said to closing in a move for Ajax’s 21-year-old Colombian center back Davinson Sanchez, it appears Spurs are pushing ahead with exactly what Rose asked for last week: more big-name signings he didn’t have to Google to find out who they were.

It would be extremely tough to see Spurs willing to sell on another full back after letting Walker leave for Man City for $64.3 million earlier this summer, but if Chelsea wanted to pay that for Rose and with Ben Davies stepping in and developing into a solid, dependable left back over the past 12 months, should they take the cash and invest in other talented youngsters from across Europe?

Wenger gives update on Sanchez, Chamberlain, Wilshere

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Arsene Wenger has a lot to sort out in the coming months. And that’s just off the pitch.

Wenger, 67, has nine first-team players who are in the final years of their contracts at Arsenal and although Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have had much of the spotlight when it comes to their respective futures, there is plenty more to sort out.

But, for the sake of order, let’s start with Wenger’s comments on Sanchez’s future as the 28-year-old remains sideline with an abdominal injury and is in the final 12 months of his deal.

Wenger revealed that Sanchez won’t make the game at Stoke this weekend, but that he’ll likely return against Liverpool on Aug. 27.

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Stoke on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) the Frenchman revealed there has been no progress in talks over Sanchez staying at the Emirates Stadium.

“He is a player who goes into the final year of his contract. We have not progressed on that front,” Wenger said. “Let’s not be wrong, it’s not an ideal situation on the financial side and it demands some sacrifice. But first of all, it doesn’t mean the players who are in the final year of their contract will not extend their contract. You have still that possibility and we work on that as well.

“That (possibly allowing Sanchez to leave for free) is a consequence of what I say, yes, unfortunately. But we have to make a choice between efficiency on the field and financial interest and most of the time if you can find a good compromise, it’s better. But in this case, I think I prioritize the fact that he will be useful on the sporting side.”

So, that’s Sanchez. It appears Wenger is still willing to let Sanchez leave for nothing at the end of this season with the Chilean superstar, who scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the Premier League for Arsenal last season, free to negotiate a free transfer with clubs outside of England from January onwards.

As for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, Wenger seems eager to keep both players but interest around the England internationals continue to swirl with both Chelsea and Manchester City said to be interested in the Ox and clubs such as West Ham, Newcastle and Sampdoria trying to sign Wilshere.

“We always wanted to keep Sanchez and we always hope, even now, that we can extend the contracts of Sanchez, Chamberlain, Ozil,” Wenger told beIN Sports. 

He expanded on those thoughts with the press on Wednesday, stating his appreciation for Chamberlain in particular.

“I rate him  highly,” Wenger said. “I want him to stay here for a long time and I’m convinced he will be the English player in the next two or three years that everybody will look at.”

Wenger’s comments earlier in the summer about Arsenal being in a strong position with several first-team stars in the final year of their respective contracts seemed like a bizarre one. With these situations rumbling on and no end in sight to the speculation and uncertainty, his comments now seems even more peculiar.

The legend of Wright-Phillips grows with latest Red Bulls triumph

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For the better part of five years, Bradley Wright-Phillips has been the engine that never ceases to churn for the New York Red Bulls attack.

[ MORE: Red Bulls storm back to knock off Cincinnati in Open Cup semis ]

The Englishman that wears kit number 99 continued to cement his legacy with the MLS side on Tuesday night as Wright-Phillips added another two goals to his growing tally, which now stands at 94 in all competitions.

BWP — as Red Bulls faithful know him — recorded a brace after the 75th minute to help the Red Bulls reach the U.S. Open Cup final in Cincinnati, including once in extra time.

While Wright-Phillips certainly played a key role in the comeback, the striker emphasized his side’s “character” after they went down 1-0.

“It felt massive,” said Wright-Phillips. “When we went two goals down it was going take something special but if there’s one team that can do it. It’s not me being biased, it’s us. We have a lot of character, we’re a fit team and situations like that seem to suit us. As soon as we go a goal down, I don’t like it but sometimes we just turn into a different animal. Today, it was no different.”

Manager Jesse Marsch and the Red Bulls have come under scrutiny in the past for not showing up in big matches, particularly when the MLS Cup playoffs roll around.

The Red Bulls have finished atop the Eastern Conference in back-to-back seasons leading into 2017 under Marsch, however, the club has come up empty in the postseason.

Tuesday night’s comeback win over Cincinnati is a positive step for the club in terms of how the Red Bulls handle adversity in the biggest of matches.

“I think it’s been a very long time and I read things all the time about New York Red Bulls don’t win trophies or even some of their fans were saying we were going to choke into the semifinals,” Wright-Phillips said. “So it’s just good to get over this hurdle here and prove to people that we are a team that we’re learning and we’re getting better.”

Marsch and Co. trailed 2-0 with under half an hour remaining at Nippert Stadium, but a gutsy performance from Wright-Phillips and the rest of the Red Bulls crew ensured the team that they’d play in the their second Open Cup final in club history (first occurred in 2003 when Red Bulls were previously the MetroStars).

[ MORE: Fourth MLS firing in ’17 — Mastroeni sacked by Rapids ]

The Red Bulls will move on to the tournament’s finale next month when they take on Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park.

Red Bulls storm back against FC Cincinnati to reach Open Cup final

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FC Cincinnati looked to be on the verge of another historic victory at Nippert Stadium, but that was before Bradley Wright-Phillips had his say in the matter.

[ MORE: Rapids fire Pablo Mastroeni in fourth MLS coach dismissal in 2017 ]

The New York Red Bulls notched an impressive comeback on Tuesday night to knock off Cincinnati, 3-2, in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The Red Bulls will now move on to face Sporting KC in the Open Cup final on September 20 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City.

The 33,250 supporters in the crowd on Tuesday marked the second-highest attended match in the Open Cup’s history, according to TheCup.us.

Wright-Phillips grew his legend with the Red Bulls after recording a brace for the MLS club (his 93rd and 94th goals). Alan Koch’s side managed to stifle the veteran Englishman for most of the night, but Wright-Phillips kept on doing what he does best when it matters most.

The 32-year-old goalscorer tallied his second goal of the night in the 101st minute to help the Red Bulls complete their comeback, after having previously trailed by two goals inside the final 20 minutes.

Cincinnati was certainly on the back foot in terms of chances created throughout the night, but Austen Berry made no mistake with his opportunity in the 62nd minute, which gave the home side a 2-0 advantage.

The 28-year-old defender broke free on a corner kick from Kenney Walker, and Berry’s aerial effort left Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara with absolutely no chance.

This came after Corben Bone had sent Cincy out in front near the half-hour mark.

Just as the team looked dead in the water, goals from Gonzalo Veron and Wright-Phillips broke the hearts of Cincinnati inside the final 15 minutes of regulation.

For Cincinnati, Veron’s finish marked the first time the club has conceded in this year’s competition.