UEFA Champions League roundup: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain clinch knockout round spots

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Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 0, Manchester United (England) 5

From today’s preview:

Between talent, form, venue, and opponent’s fitness, Bayer has everything going for them ahead of this match, and while the healthy talents United possesses are still capable of winning this match, they shouldn’t. If Bayer can avoid being frightened out of their game, they should go top of Group A.

Smash cut to the present, and Bayer’s again undermined our faith. From our recap, courtesy of Steve Davis:

A sluggish start to the David Moyes era at Manchester United keeps gaining speed. Another mighty puff of steam was acquired Wednesday as the fabled English club qualified in highest possible style for Champions League knockout stages, with a full match to spare …

Wayne Rooney assisted on Antonio Valencia’s early goal and then provided the stinging free kick that turned into an own goal and a 2-0 lead after just 30 minutes at the BayArena. Jonny EvansChris Smalling and Nani provided United’s second half goals in what must surely be the most impressive win yet under Moyes.

The Arsenal win was nice, as was United’s first win over Bayer Leverkusen. But today’s thrashing came out of nowhere. Who needs midfielders when you can have goals?

[MORE:  5-0 Stunner! Manchester United gallops impressively past Bayer Leverkusen, into Champions League knockout stage]

Group A: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) 4, Real Sociedad (Spain) 0

The Ukranian champions’ most impressive performance of the tournament sets up a showdown for first place Dec. 10 in Manchester, Mircea Lucescu’s team staying within three of the Red Devils with a clinical effort Wednesday at the Donbass Arena. Luiz Adriano opened the scoring in the 47th minute, with fellow Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Douglas Costa tripling their lead by the 69-minute mark. A second for Costa just before the end of regulation time launched the hosts into second place, one point ahead of Bayer Leverkusen.

[MORE: Updated list of teams qualified for Champions League knockout stage]

Group B: Juventus (Italy) 3, FC Copenhagen (Denmark) 1

Winless in Champions League coming into today’s match, Juventus woke up, with a hat trick from Arturo Vidal lifting them to second in Group B. Penalty kicks on either side of halftime were complemented by a 63rd minute header, leaving the Chilean on five goals for the tournament.

From our recap:

Up two, Juventus clicked it into neutral, only giving up one more shot on target after [Olof] Mellberg’s goal. Finally putting in the type of performance most expected in their first four games, Juve claimed the Group B place they were supposed to occupy all along. Though they’ve won once in five matches, that may be all they need to advance to the round of 16. A draw at Galatasaray in two weeks will clinch second place and put them into the knockout round.

[MORE: Arturo Vidal hat trick gives Juventus first win of Champions League, vaults team second in Group B]

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 4, Galatasaray (Turkey) 1

Sergio Ramos saw red in the 26th minute, a dismissal that was irrelevant before Gareth Bale put the Merengues up eight minutes before half with a 30-yard free kick. Galatasaray answered a minute later through Umut Bulut but gave up second half goals to Álvaro Arbeloa, Angel di María, and Isco, finishing -8 in their two group stage matches against El Real.

From our recap:

El Real were without their best player, and 26 minutes into the match, arguably their best defender was given his marching orders. For a Galatasaray team that has designs on Group B’s second spot, this was a gift: their best chance to claim points at the Bernabeu. Yet after 64 minutes of playing against 10 men, the Turks were left with another embarrassing loss.

If they thought their 6-1 defeat to the Blancos in Istanbul was bad, think again. At least they were playing a full team last time around. This time, they may have been better off if Ramos had stayed on.

[MORE: Ronaldo-less Real Madrid overcome early red card, cruise past Galatasaray, 4-1]

Group C: Paris Saint-Germain (France) 2, Olympiacos (Greece) 1

Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke through after six minutes, but a 80th minute equalizer from Kostas Manolas left PSG in danger of being drawn from behind for the second straight Champions League match. Edinson Cavani, however, pushed the Parisians to 13 points and a guaranteed first place finish with his 90th minute goal, Olympiacos potentially needing three points against Anderlecht on Dec. 10 to go through.

[REVIEW: UEFA Champions League roundup: Arsenal leading Group F; Barcelona, Chelsea upset]

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 2, Benfica (Portugal) 3

A back-and-forth affair saw Chancel Mbemba’s opener pulled back by Benfica’s Nemanja Matic, the visitors taking their first lead in the 52nd minute through a Mbemba own goal. When Massimo Bruno brought the Belgian champions to the brink of their second point of the tournament, Benfica needed a stoppage time winner from Rodrigo to move to move even on points with Olympiacos.

[REVIEW: Untangling Champions League Group F: What Arsenal needs to advance]

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1, Bayern Munich (Germany) 3

In the day’s early match, the defending champions took a quick lead through Arjen Robben, with München doubling the margin shortly after halftime through Mario Götze. Swpaped penalty kicks just after the hour put Keisuke Honda and Thomas Müller on the scoresheet and left CSKA Moscow launching ill-fated shots from distance on Manuel Neuer. The FCB keeper managed to record seven saves without being truly bothered from open play, Bayern maintaining their perfect record through five games.

[REVIEW: Late Mohamed Salah goal gives Basel second straight win over Chelsea]

Group D: Manchester City (England) 4, Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 2

Goals from Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri, Álvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko saw Manchester City outlast a Viktoria side that put up an unexpectedly strong fight, with Stanislav Tecl’s second half score making it 2-2 after 68 minutes. City needed to bring Jesus Navas, Yaya Touré, and Negredo in to seal the game, with Navas assisting on two of the hosts’ three second half goals.

[REVIEW: Reus, Blaszczykowski, Aubamenyang goals see Borussia Dortmund down Napoli, move second in UEFA Champions League group]

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

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Liverpool, Leicester City headline Premier League Asia Trophy

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The Premier League is coming this summer to Hong Kong.

The territory in Southeast China will host the 2017 Premier League Asia Trophy, featuring Liverpool, Leicester City, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace. The tournament will take place from July 19-22, with all games taking place at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium.

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“We are very excited to be returning to Hong Kong this summer for the Premier League Asia Trophy,” Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore said in a statement. “We know from previous visits that fans in Hong Kong, and across the region, are passionate supporters of our clubs.”

This summer’s edition of the biennial tournament is the first to feature four Premier League teams. In the past, an Asian All-Star XI or a local club would be the fourth team to take part. By bringing a fourth team over, the Premier League is increasing the opportunity for Premier League fans to have a chance to see more of the league’s stars up close and in person.

For Liverpool, it will be the start of a busy season that will include UEFA Champions League action for the first time since 2015.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Rooney has future decided, Navas, Clichy leave Man City

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Wayne Rooney appears to have made up his mind about his footballing future.

Speaking to reporters in Stockholm, Sweden following Manchester United’s 2-0 Europa League final victory over Ajax, Rooney revealed that he has numerous offers, both at home and abroad, and that he had “more or less” made up his mind.

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“There are lots of offers on the table, both in England and abroad, and that’s what I have to decide on,” Rooney said, via The Guardian. “I’ve got some decisions to make now over the next few weeks so I will talk with my family and then I’ll decide. I think I have to make a decision in terms of a football decision, and that’s what I’ll do, I’ll do that the next few weeks with my family while I’m away and as soon as I know what’s going on I’m sure you will.”

If Rooney does call time on his Manchester United stay, it will end a 13-year run with the club, having signed as a teenager from Everton in 2004. Despite being Manchester United’s leading scorer with 253 goals in 559 appearances, he never really won over the fans and won’t be remembered necessarily in the legendary status along with Ryan Giggs and Sir Bobby Charlton. Although he had seasons of 26 and 27 league goals, he was never able to keep up that goal-scoring consistency, although some of that can be chalked up to sacrificing his forward position for a deeper role to help defensively.

[ MORE: Sanchez linked with Bayern

Rooney, now 31-years old, won the Premier League five times with Manchester United as well as the UEFA Champions League and now Europa League once each. Rooney’s current Manchester United contract runs through June 2019, having signed an extension in 2014.


As Wayne Rooney continues to ponder his future, across town at Manchester City, the club has parted ways with four first-team players.

Man City announced Thursday that left back Gael Clichy, winger Jesus Navas, right back Bacary Sagna and goalkeeper Willy Caballero have all left the club. All four are at the end of their contracts and the quartet can leave on free transfers.

“It’s been a special six years for me at City,” Clichy said in a statement. “To win four major trophies and help establish the Club as one of the top teams in English football has been an incredible journey that I’m proud to have been a part of.

Clichy joined Man City in 2011 as it began its spending-spree to join the British and European elite soccer clubs while Navas joined in 2013 and both Caballero and Sagna a year later.

The three departures are not surprising and are likely part of a plan between manager Pep Guardiola and sporting director Txiki Begiristain to bolster the squad with younger players who can play in Guardiola’s high-intensity and high-pressure system.

Guardiola is expected to have a large transfer budget to upgrade his team this summer following a third-place finish in the Premier League and with three highly-paid players off the books, there’s also now more room in the wage budget to accommodate new signings.