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.

source: Getty ImagesREBOUND OR REGRESS
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.

Carli Lloyd sent off after throwing elbow in FA Women’s Super League (video)

Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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“Hey Annie, you played in Buffalo, too, right?”

“Yeah, Carli. Why?”

“Taste some wing.”

That’s a fictional account of a conversation occurring between Yeovil Town’s Annie Heatherson and Manchester City star Carli Lloyd a moment before the USWNT star threw a ruthless red-card winning elbow in the mug of her mark.

No need for that Carli.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 PL season reviews

The red card will bring a three-match ban for Lloyd, which could keep her from seeing the field again before the end of her loan to Man City from the Houston Dash.

The 33-year-old Heatherson scored seven goals in nine appearances for the Buffalo Flash, the precursor to the Western New York Flash that employed Lloyd from 2013-14.

Griezmann says move to Manchester United “6/10” chance

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Atletico Madrid fans should be on red alert regarding the future of their star attacker.

Antoine Griezmann is openly flirting with Manchester United in the press, essentially giving the Premier League club a 60 percent chance of securing his services.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews ] 

The talk gives both Atleti, United, and agents the pressure to find what’s best for their groups and Griezmann… and soon.

Like two weeks soon. From the BBC, and French outlet Quotidien:

“I think I will decide [on my future] in the next two weeks,” he said.

Asked if United would be his new club he replied: “Possible, possible.” Asked to give the chances on a scale of one to 10, Griezmann added “six”.

There’s a reported $112 million release clause in Griezmann’s contract, and few clubs will be able to meet it. The player has said he’s loyal to Diego Simeone, and the manager said he’s staying at Atleti.

Still, is Griezmann to Old Trafford fait accompli?

Premier League 2016-17 season reviews: M(UFC) to W(est Ham)

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The 2016-17 Premier League season is now over and it is time to look back at how all 20 teams fared over the course of the campaign.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Below you will find the second half of the PL analyzed (Manchester United to West Ham United), with the first half ably handled by Joe Prince-Wright this morning.

Plus, click on the link above to follow all of ProSoccerTalk’s reviews of the 2016-17 season.

Let’s get to it.


Manchester United

Pogba (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Final position: 6th (Europa League group stage)
Star manPaul Pogba — It’s clear that he’ll never justify his price tag to some critics, but once he found his footing in late Fall there was no turning back for one of the most complete players in the world. Only David De Gea played more minutes for the Red Devils.
The Gaffer: Jose Mourinho — There were typical odd Mourinho moments, and his fixture congestion talk was tiresome, but all-in-all he navigated the Europa League all the way to the final despite an absurd rash of injuries to defenders and long absences for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata, and Paul Pogba amongst others.
Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Sixth is no prize for Manchester United, but a win on Wednesday against Ajax may bump this mark up to 7 (perhaps 8 given the injuries).
Season summed up in a word: Patience.


Middlesbrough

Gibson (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Final position: 19th (Relegated)
Star manBen Gibson — The 24-year-old defender played all 3420 Premier League minutes for Boro, and was the most consistent performer on a team that defended like a top half side.
The Gaffer: Aitor Karanka / Steve Agnew — Karanka has a right to feel a bit hard done-by after leading Boro to the Premier League, but he couldn’t orchestrate goals and that is what doomed the Smoggies down to the Championship.
Mark out of 10: 4/10 – Even with relegation, Boro didn’t embarrass itself like their Northeast neighbors Sunderland.
Season summed up in a word: Inoffensive.


Southampton

Romeu (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Final position: 8th
Star man: Oriol RomeuThe hard-nosed tackler with an eye for the smart pass showed us what Barcelona and Chelsea saw in the center midfielder.
The Gaffer: Claude Puel — Not back in Europe, and that’s a disappointment, and seems destined to start next season somewhere else. Is that fair for a League Cup final campaign, one that probably deserved better than a loss?
Mark out of 10: 6/10 – An injury to stellar center back Virgil Van Dijk is likely what kept them from contending with Everton for seventh place. Their Europa League return was decent, and Puel (or whoever) will need to boost the club back into the Top Seven discussion early if he wants to stick around St. Mary’s.
Season summed up in a word: Acceptable.


Stoke City

Martins Indi (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Final position: 13th
Star man: Bruno Martins Indi — The Dutchman was a beast in the back for Stoke, but heads back to Porto this summer unless Mark Hughes can work a sale.
The Gaffer: Mark Hughes — An injury to Geoff Cameron hampered their season, but the Potters stumbled too much given their talent.
Mark out of 10: 3/10 –  There’s a difference between leveling off and dropping off, and Stoke massively underachieved when it comes to taking any sort of step forward.
Season summed up in a word: Underwhelming


Sunderland

Pickford (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Final position: 20th (Relegated)
Star man: Jordan Pickford — The young backstop won’t be long for the Stadium of Light.
The Gaffer: David Moyes — From word one the Scottish boss said his club wasn’t good enough for the league, which sure didn’t help them en route to relegation. Oddly enough, he could’ve been the right man to lead an undermanned rebound to the Championship. Instead, he’s resigned.
Mark out of 10: 1/10 – There was nothing to like from the Northeast, but Jermain Defoe, Didier N’Dong, and Pickford were bright spots.
Season summed up in a word: Moribund.


Swansea City

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Final position: 15th
Star manGylfi Sigurdsson — The Icelandic star is simply the reason Swans stayed alive long enough to see their season rescued by Clement and Co.
The Gaffer: Francesco Guidolin / Bob Bradley / Paul Clement — Not one of these men were given enough talent to keep the team in the Premier League, so credit to Clement for getting it done.
Mark out of 10: 3/10 – Selling Ashley Williams and not adequately replacing him as a leader or center back could go down as the worst move in a long time.
Season summed up in a word: Fortunate.


Tottenham Hotspur

Kane (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)

Final position: 2nd (Champions League group stage)
Star man: Harry Kane — Two Golden Boots before he’s turned 24, and the latest Englishman to have a deserved comparison to Alan Shearer.
The Gaffer: Mauricio Pochettino — He’s one of the best managers in the world, and Spurs are fortunate to have him.
Mark out of 10: 10/10 – From the development of Dele Alli to the steadiness of their back line, Spurs could be the next dynastic club in the Premier League.
Season summed up in a word: Precipice.


Watford

Capoue (Scott Heavey/PA via AP)

Final position: 17th
Star manEtienne Capoue — Impressed in possession and finishing touch. In some ways he may be like Gylfi Sigurdsson as a player best suited to stand out on a lesser squad than contribute on a well-oiled machine.
The Gaffer: Walter Mazzarri — Like Quique Flores, another Watford manager sent packing by an impatient brand.
Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Avoided the other end of the yo-yo worry.
Season summed up in a word: Alive.


West Bromwich Albion

Foster (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Final position: 10th
Star man: Ben Foster — Saved points for the Baggies on so many occasions.
The Gaffer: Tony Pulis — Yes he was in the running to be Premier League Manager of the Year, but that feels a bit hollow, like honoring a domestic mainstay for talking down his club’s chances and then keeping them from the drop. At some point, like with Stoke, stagnation makes staying alive less impressive.
Mark out of 10: 6/10 – Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, and Foster helped defend to the death, but the club dropped off a cliff.
Season summed up in a word: Sated.


West Ham United

Reid (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Final position: 11th
Star man: Winston Reid — The New Zealand captain was a steady presence in a tumultuous season.
The Gaffer: Slaven Bilic — Given the club’s massive aims, this season will be combed through in a fine manner. But the Dimitri Payet saga clobbered the team after the Frenchman welched on his commitment to the club. Bilic deserves another chance.
Mark out of 10: 5/10 – The chairman will want more than this, and he has to get it early this Fall.
Season summed up in a word: Wobbly.


St. Petersburg arena hurries to lay new field for Confed Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian organizers are hurrying to lay a new field at the stadium in St. Petersburg which will host the final of the Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Full PL 2016-17 season reviews

With less than a month to go until the tournament kicks off, the 68,000-seat arena requires its third pitch following severe technical problems with the first two.

Russian Football Union board member Igor Lebedev tells Russian news agency Tass that “they’re installing a new pitch.”

The stadium has hosted just two Russian league games, and both times the playing surface cut up badly.

That pitch was the second to be fitted at the St. Petersburg stadium after the original one died, a Zenit St. Petersburg club official previously said.