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:

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.”

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.

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.

Mexico has to solve 2 major questions before the World Cup

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Eighty-seven days before taking on Germany in its first match of Russia 2018, Mexico appears to have only two major lingering questions for the final 23-man roster that will try to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in a tournament away from home. Is veteran defender Rafael Marquez going to be called? And if Giovani Dos Santos’ lackluster performances put his spot in jeopardy?

Manager Juan Carlos Osorio said recently that he already knows who are going to join him in the quest to play in the fifth game of a World Cup, something that Mexicans achieved only as hosts in Mexico 1970 and in 1986.

Currently, 20 of the 28 players that were called to play friendly matches against Iceland and Croatia appear to have their ticket booked for Russia, leaving a handful of players fighting for three roster spots.


With over two decades playing for the national team, Marquez might not play in a fifth World Cup for two reasons, the major one off the field.

Each week, the 39-year old Marquez shows signs of his demise. His team Atlas is the worst in the league and has a defense that has allowed 22 goals in 12 matches.

In Mexico there’s a big debate on whether it’s worth calling a player whose best moments are behind him.

Marquez is worshipped in the locker room because most of his teammates grew up watching him when he won the Champions League playing for Barcelona (2005-06 and 2008-09).

Besides that, Osorio has to weigh in that Marquez was sanctioned last August by the U.S. Treasury for allegedly acting as a front person for a Mexican drug lord.

Marquez stopped playing for three months to take care of the issue and returned to action in Mexico but the Treasury has not lifted the sanctions yet and Marquez is unable to play in the United States and that’s why he was not called for the friendly matches.


A 28 year-old player as talented as Giovani Dos Santos should be a lock to be on the final roster for Mexico but that’s not the case. Dos Santos, who played in South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014, has not performed well for Mexico under Osorio, who loved the player and has given him opportunities to return to form, but that has not happen.

A recent injury left Dos Santos out of the squad that will play against Iceland and Croatia and that opened the doors for Rodolfo Pizarro, who has been playing great for Chivas and has a good chance of taking the spot if the L.A. Galaxy striker continues with his lackluster performance.


Taking the qualifiers and the Confederations Cup as a reference, Osorio pretty much has his roster set for the World Cup. Guillermo Ochoa and Jesus Corona will be two of the goalkeepers and Alfredo Talavera is probably the third. The defenders Nestor Araujo, Jesus Gallardo, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo are also favorites of the Colombian manager, as well as the midfielders Jonathan Dos Santos, Marco Fabian, Andres Guardado, Hector Herrera and Javier Aquino. On the attack, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jim�nez, Hirving Lozano, Oribe Peralta and Carlos Vela appear to have their spots secured leaving only three spaces.

Fighting for that chance are: Hugo Ayala, who’s been stellar for a Tigres team that has won two of the last three titles in Mexico; Oswaldo Alanis (Chivas), who played in last year’s Confederations Cup and Edson Alvarez (America), who’s not playing much for his club but Osorio loves his style of play and the fact that he can also play as a midfielder.

Midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez is also on the mix after declining to play for the U.S. and Omar Govea, who plays for Royal Excel in the Belgium league, has gathered interest from Osorio.

All five players will have a chance to present their cases in the upcoming friendly matches.

Battle-tested United could turn attention to Neymar this summer

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Last summer’s drama surrounding Neymar could be nothing compared to what is in store for the Brazilian in 2018.

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Diario Gol is reporting that Manchester United is exploring the possibility of making a bid for Neymar this summer, which would come at a record fee for the Premier League side.

The report suggests United would be willing to pay over $367 million for the Paris Saint-Germain star, while possibly sending Paul Pogba to the French giants in the swap.

Neymar, who joined PSG in 2017 after a messy ending at Barcelona, has been heavily linked to his former’s side bitter rival Real Madrid

Man United boss Jose Mourinho is reportedly keen on the move for Neymar after the club’s signing of Alexis Sanchez didn’t live up to the billing.

The Chilean international has scored just once in 10 appearances for the Red Devils, and Mourinho has let it be known that he wasn’t pleased with the player after United crashed out of the UEFA Champions League against Sevilla.

Meanwhile, Pogba’s relationship with the Portuguese manager has been anything but steady in their time together at Old Trafford, making the reality of the French midfielder leaving Manchester a strong one.

Nothing has been indicated for certain that Neymar will leave PSG following the World Cup in Russia, but all signs are pointing to the currently-injured attacker moving from the Parc des Princes.

Report: Conte, Pirlo could spearhead Italy managerial team

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Various nations are still mourning their failure of missing out on the 2018 World Cup, but arguably none bigger than powerhouse Italy.

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The Azzurri, who lost to Sweden in a UEFA playoff series in 2017, will not take part in soccer’s most-prestigious competition in Russia for the first time since 1958.

Former manager Gian Piero Ventura has received heavy criticism for the nation’s failure, and stepped down from his role as head coach immediately after Italy’s dismissal from World Cup qualifying.

A familiar face could now be in line to replace Ventura though, as Football Italia reports that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte could make a return to the Azzurri.

Conte remains under contract at Stamford Bridge, however, Chelsea’s dip in form this season after winning the title in 2016/17 has many speculating that the Italian won’t survive to coach the Blues next year.

Meanwhile, Italian legend Andrea Pirlo has also expressed his interest in joining the technical staff if Conte is appointed.

The two have a close history together from their days with the national team and at Juventus.

In addition to Conte, Carlo Ancelotti is reportedly being considered for the job as well, and Pirlo is believed to be willing to join the managerial staff is the former Bayern Munich coach is hired.

Former Sevilla player Diego Capel training with Sounders

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A former Sevilla star is training in MLS, as the veteran midfielder looks to continue his career stateside.

Diego Capel was spotted training with the Seattle Sounders on Thursday, despite club manager Brian Schmetzer initially playing coy on who the player was.

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“We have a player that’s in camp,” Schmetzer said. “He’s a good player. He’s probably worn the number 10 in his career. Maybe as a youth player. Maybe it’s just a player borrowing Nico’s jersey.”

The Sounders have suffered several major injuries in their attack to start the 2018 MLS season, which also contributed to the team’s derailment in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

While Capel traditionally has played on the wing throughout his career, the Sounders could use all the help they can get in the attacking third.

Jordan Morris has already been ruled out for the season with an ACL tear, while Nicolas Lodeiro and Will Bruin are currently sidelined for the club with respective injuries.

Capel came up through the ranks of Sevilla, while also playing for notable European sides such as Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht.

The 30-year-old last played for the Belgian side in 2017, but has been a free agent since.