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.

Spanish federation maintains five-match ban for Ronaldo

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer federation has ratified its decision to suspend Cristiano Ronaldo for five matches.

The Real Madrid forward will miss the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona. Madrid holds a 3-1 advantage.

He will also miss the first four matches of the Spanish league, which Madrid opens on Sunday at Deportivo La Coruna.

Ronaldo was suspended for one match after being sent off during Sunday’s first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. Spanish media reports said Madrid appealed Ronaldo’s second yellow card, when the Portugal forward was booked for diving.

Ronaldo was given an additional four-match ban for shoving the referee in the back after he was shown the red card.

USMNT’s John Brooks out three months with thigh injury

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Uh oh.

The U.S. men’s national team will have to do without center back John Brooks for their crucial upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifiers after his club side, Wolfbsurg, confirmed he ruptured tendons in his thigh in a German Cup game last weekend.

Brooks, 24, became the most-expensive U.S. player in history this summer after he joined Wolfsburg from Bundesliga rivals Hertha Berlin for $23.3 million but the German-American will now spend a considerable amount of time on the sidelines.

“John Anthony Brooks will be out for VfL Wolfsburg long term,” Wolfsburg said in a statement. “In the first round of the DFB Cup the American ruptured a tendon in his right front thigh at FC Eintracht Norderstedt. This resulted in in-depth investigations on Tuesday and Wednesday and it is expected that Brooks will be able to return to the team training in about three months.”

So, a huge blow for Bruce Arena who will now have to find a new partner for Geoff Cameron at the heart of the USA’s defense.

Tim Ream, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez will be the frontrunners to slot into the back four, but Cameron and Steve Birnbaum struck up a good partnership in the past. Ream, who has had a fine start to the season with Fulham, would seem like the best option, especially with his ability to play as a left-sided center back.

Whatever way you slice it up, this isn’t great news for the USMNT ahead of their qualifiers against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena on Sept. 1 and at Honduras on Sept. 5.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Saints won’t sell Van Dijk; Aurier to Tottenham

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Southampton are said to be interested in signing Lazio’s Dutch international center back Wesley Hoedt and have issued an update on Virgil Van Dijk‘s future at St Mary’s.

[ MORE: Danny Rose to Chelsea?

Multiple outlets, including the Sun, say Saints have bid $20 million for Hoedt, 23, and many believe that is the first chain of action in star Virgil van Dijk leaving St Mary’s.

Van Dijk, 26, has put in a transfer request with Liverpool and Chelsea said to be interested in the $80 million valued center back, but the Press Association is reporting that Hoedt is not seen as a replacement for VVD.

Southampton continue to insist that their star man isn’t for sale despite his desire to leave and in an interview with BBC Radio Solent, Saints chairman Ralph Krueger issued an update on van Dijk’s situation on Wednesday.

“Our stance remains based on our strategy from May when we spoke last. I already told you the numbers that we have transferred in and transferred out and it is time to stop that. We really thought this was a good summer for that. Strength of the contracts, age of the group and the experiences of last year like going to a cup final gave us the feeling this is a group that tasted that winning and keeping them together would give us the chance to reach another level.

“Virgil is not the only player that is involved in this he is part of the whole strategy of not selling. Nobody is for sale that we don’t want to sell and so he is not for sale in this window. We have said it more than once. We are not done with the window yet. We are still looking at some options. I am not going to promise anything. It has got to be something that truly strengthens the squad and fits into our group.”

Saints currently have Japanese international Maya Yoshida, England U-21 international Jack Stephens and Poland U-21 defender Jan Bednarek as their three central defensive options available, and it is likely Hoedt would come in to take a starting role in place of either Yoshida or Stephens.

If Van Dijk’s situation can be resolved amicably and he returns to the squad then Saints’ defense would be much stronger with two Dutch internationals at the heart of their defense. Conceding goals hasn’t been the biggest issue over the past 12 months for the south coast club but a drought of six home Premier League games without a goal is perhaps the biggest concern for new manager Mauricio Pellegrino.


French outlet L’Equipe are reporting that Tottenham have agreed to sign Paris Saint-Germain’s Serge Aurier for $25.7 million.

Aurier was previously linked with a move to Manchester United and both Inter Milan and Juventus are said to be interested in the defender.

The right back, 24, has fallen down the pecking order for Les Parisiens after Dani Alves joined PSG from Juventus this summer, plus Thomas Meunier is also around at the Parcs des Princes.

Per the report the deal for Aurier is fully agreed but is dependent on his appeal hearing against his conviction of assaulting a police officer in Paris. He was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence and that could complicate a move to the UK as Aurier could not travel to England to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game at Arsenal last November.

The Ivory Coast international has pace, power and is versatile, making him a perfect fit for Spurs’ defensive unit. After losing Kyle Walker to Manchester City for $64.3 million many believed Kieran Tripier would be the automatic starter for Tottenham at right back, but with the England international currently out injured Spurs academy product Kyle Walker-Peters (I know, confusing Stick with it) put in a man of the match display at right back against Newcastle United during the opening weekend of the Premier League season.

Aurier’s added experience would help Spurs in the UCL this season and there’s no questioning they need some extra cover in the back with Mauricio Pochettino also said to be closing in on a move for Ajax’s Colombian center back Davinson Sanchez.

Premier League player Power Rankings – Week 1

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It is time to take stock of the Premier League’s opening weekend and select the top 20 players who dazzled to open up the 2017-18 campaign.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Romelu Lukaku (Man United)
  2. Steve Mounie (Huddersfield)
  3. Nemanja Matic (Man United)
  4. David Silva (Man City)
  5. Alexandre Laczette (Arsenal)
  6. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City)
  7. Dele Alli (Tottenham)
  8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
  9. Wayne Rooney (Everton)
  10. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
  11. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
  12. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
  13. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea)
  14. Kyle Walker (Man City)
  15. Stefano Okaka (Watford)
  16. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield)
  17. Sam Vokes (Burnley)
  18. Jay Rodriguez (West Brom)
  19. Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea)
  20. Ryan Bertrand (Southampton)