UEFA Champions League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea look to close out groups

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The final day of UEFA Champions League’s group stage takes place on Wednesday, with Groups E through H completing the process of sending two teams into the tournament’s second round, a third into Europa League. Here are today’s matchups and scenarios, with each game kicking off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern:

Group E 

  • Chelsea (England, 9 pts., first place) vs. Steaua Bucharest (Romania, 3 pts, fourth), Stamford Bridge, London
  • Schalke (Germany, 7 pts., third) vs. Basel (Switzerland, 8 pts., second), Veltins Arena, Gelsenkirchen

First place goes to … Chelsea, if the Blues can get a win or draw against visiting Steaua. A loss, however, means Basel takes first with a result in Gelsenkirchen, having swept Chelsea in the teams’ two group stage games. Schalke, however, would take first with a win at home.

Second place goes to … If Chelsea wins, Basel takes second with any result in Germany. Else, Schalke’s through to the knockout round. The Blues still win the group with a draw as long as Basel doesn’t win in Germany. With a loss, Chelsea’s locked into second place, set to be passed by Basel (draw or win in Germany) or Schalke (win over Basel).

What to know: Even after two humbling defeats to Basel, Chelsea are in firm control of their group stage destiny. Win at home against the group’s weakest team and they go into the group winner’s pot, so although they’ve dragged this drama out one round longer than needed, there’s little reason to think Chelsea won’t take the spot we predicted before match day one: First place in Group E.

Consider the group’s other match, though: An increasingly enticing Basel side, who are looking for the second knockout stage berth in three years, facing an ever-enigmatic Schalke – a team that’s already beaten them in Switzerland. Though the Miners are coming off a 2-1 loss at Borussia Mönchengladbach this weekend, they’d won three of four before that, hinting Jens Keller’s team might be in one of the good phases of their lunar cycle. But if that phase has inexplicably passed (as they often do with Schalke), the likes of Mohamed Salah could seen Basel through Schalke and into the knockout rounds. It wouldn’t even be Basel’s biggest upset of the tournament.

Jermaine Jones is suspended for Schalke, who are also without Marco Höger, Dennis Aogo, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Marcelo Díaz and Behrang Safari are missing for Basel.

In the other game, Brazilians David Luiz and Oscar are misses for Chelsea, while Steaua is without the suspended Alexandru Bourseanu.

source: APGroup F 

  • Napoli (Italy, 9 pts., third place) vs. Arsenal (England, 12 pts., first), Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Marseille (France, 0 pts., fourth) vs. Borussia Dortmund (Germany, 9 pts., second), Stade Velodrome, Marseille

First place goes to … Arsenal if they get a draw or win in Naples. If they lose, they can still win the group if Dortmund stumble in France and Napoli don’t turn fully turn around the 2-0 loss they suffered Oct. 1 in North London.

If, however, Dortmund win at Marseille while Napoli down Arsenal, there’ll be a three-way tie atop the group, one Dortmund likely wins unless Napoli makes up the four-goal gap in goal difference in games among the three tied teams.

Second place goes to … In the three-way tie scenario, Napoli would need a three-goal win over Arsenal to pass the Gunners for second place. Dortmund can’t finish lower than second with a win, but if they stumble in France, Napoli passes them with any result at the San Paolo.

What to know: Napoli has spent the middle of this group stage campaign looking like the third of three, form that has the partenopei on the outside looking in at knockout round. Win at the San Paolo on Wednesday, however, and all could be forgotten, even if that win will have to be convincing. Assuming Borussia Dortmund take full points in France, Napoli will need to beat Arsenal by three to best the Gunners in a three-way tiebreaker.

But that assumption about Dortmund may not be so safe, with Jürgen Klopp’s injury-littered team taking a patchwork squad to Marseille. Nuri Sahin and Sven Bender were lost this weekend against Leverkusen. Mats Hummels, Neven Subotic, Ilkay Gundogan and Marcel Schmelzer are out, as is Lukasz Piszczek.

Though their attack remains in tact, Borussia Dotmund’s back seven is decimated, something that would likely cost them against a full strength Marseille. But with Mathieu Valbuena and André Ayew both injured, BVB may have be suffering an injury crisis at the right time. Better now than against Arsenal or Napoli.

In Naples, Marek Hamsik, Juan Camilo Zuniga, and Giandomenico Mesto are all out, with Pepe Reina’s thigh threading to add the Spanish keeper to Rafa Benítez’s list of absences. Arsenal have Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamerlain on the sidelinse, but the group of players that saw the Gunners to the top of Group F are all healthy.

source: Getty ImagesGroup G 

  • Atlético Madrid (Spain, 13 pts., first place) vs. Porto (Portugal, 5 pts., third), Vicente Calderon, Madrid
  • Austria Wien (Austria, 2 pts., fourth) vs. Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia, 6 pts., second), Ernst-Happel Stadium, Vienna

First place goes to … Atlético Madrid. They locked this one up a while ago.

Second place goes to … Zenit St. Petersburg with a win. With a draw or loss, they open the door for Porto, who would need to win at the Vicente Calderon to advance.

What to know: Diego Simeone’s team may not have anything to play for, but Atleti will play a key part in Group G’s fate. Stay unbeaten by getting a result against visiting Porto, and the current La Liga co-leaders will escort the Dragons out of the competition. If they stumble, Porto have a chance to return to the knockout round. Given Atlético had nothing to play for two weeks ago against Zenit (and still took a point against St. Petersburg), Porto look like long shots to be playing Champions League soccer in February.

Zenit, however, can make that match irrelevant. Win in Vienna, and Luciano Spalletti’s side are through no matter what, and although they were drawn in St. Petersburg by the Austrian champions, they’re unlikely to see a repeat of the 44th minute Axel Witsel red card that hamstrung them in October. Unbeaten in Champions League since their day one trip to the Vicente Calderon, Zenit will likely find their way past a team that’s failed to get a result at home.

To do so, Zenit will have to overcome the absences of Danny, Aleksandr Bukharov, Aleksandar Lukovic and Vyacheslav Malafeev, while Austria will be without defender Lukas Potpuller and midfielder Bernhard Luxbacher. Atlético will be without Thibaut Courtois, Juanfran, and Mario Suárez, while Porto’s only doubt is Lucho Gonzalez.

 source: APGroup H 

  • Barcelona (Spain, 10 pts., first place) vs. Celtic (Scotland, 3 pts., fourth)
  • Milan (Italy, 8 pts., second) vs. Ajax (Netherlands, 7 pts., third)

First place goes to … Barcelona, if they can get a result at home against Celtic. If they lose, Milan go through as winners with a win over Ajax. The Dutch champions, -3 in goal difference after their two games with Barça, can’t win the group.

Second place goes to … Milan with a result at the San Siro, provided a Celtic upset at the Nou Camp doesn’t give the Rossoneri a shock group win. Ajax take the runners up’s slot with a win in Italy.

What to know: Barcelona lost their last Champions League game. They lost their last game in La Liga, and on Wednesday, they’ll be without Lionel Messi, Víctor Valdés, Dani Alves, and Cesc Fábregas. Yet the tensions around Barça-Celtic will remain the same as ever. If the Spanish champions can prevent their guests from getting out on the counter or executing on set pieces, Wednesday could be an easy day for the Blaugrana.

And if it is, all of Group H’s drama will be in Milan, where a win by Ajax will send the Dutch champions into the knockout rounds at Milan’s expense. Given the quality Ajax showed against Barcelona, that kind of result doesn’t seem so far fetched, even if we’ve come to the point where a Dutch team in the knockout round would draw squinted eyes and a few shaking heads. Particularly given the loses this Ajax team suffered this summer, being this close to the knockout round is a mild surprise, and although Milan are starting to show new life in Italy (up to ninth), they’ve still only won once of their last four in Serie A. Lucky for them a draw gets them through.

Ignazio Abate, Robinho, and Valter Birsa are all out for Milan, while Ajax defender Nicolai Boilesen joins Siem de Jong and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson as likely absences. In Barcelona, Celtic will be without the suspended Emilio Izaguirre, while James Forrest’s hamstring will sideline the Scotland international.

Report says Impact will add 96-times capped Ivorian defender

Monaco's Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov (L) challenges Montpellier's Ivorian defender Siaka Tiene (R) during the French L1 football match between Montpellier and Monaco at the Mosson stadium in Montpellier on September 24, 2014.   AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT        (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference’s second-stingiest team is looking to enhance its already-strong back line.

Joining MLS Best XI defender Laurent Ciman could be Siaka Tiene, a longtime international teammate of Didier Drogba on the Ivory Coast squad.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

The 96-times capped Tiene will be 34 when next season starts, but will have fresh legs having not played since last season ended for Montpellier. does the translation work for us:

A report from states that the Impact have signed 33-year-old left back Siaka Tiéné, an Ivory Coast international who boasts World Cup and African Cup of Nations experience.

Aside from Ciman, Ambroise Oyongo is the only Impact back currently under contract.

Tiene played relatively well last season, but was limited to just 17 appearances in Ligue 1.

Phil Neville takes over Valencia training; Could he get job?

VALENCIA, SPAIN - AUGUST 19:  Valencia CF assistant coach Phil Neville gestures prior to the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Valencia CF and AS Monaco at Mestalla Stadium on August 19, 2015 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images
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Phil Neville is one stroke of the pen from opening his full managerial career at a vaunted La Liga stop, with a club in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

Nuno Espirito Santo stepped down from his manager’s role at Valencia on Sunday, with the Bats in ninth place, five points outside the Top Four.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup | Bundesliga wrap ]

In his place in former Manchester United and Everton legend Neville, who will take charge of the team in the interim.

As weird as it would be to give the job to a man who has only led Salford City — a club he co-owns — on a caretaker basis, the hire would be no weirder than Tim Sherwood being allowed to run Tottenham Hotspur.

Would it be a surprise, given the time of season, if Neville was at least given through the end of the year?

And consider, from the BBC:

The club’s Singaporean owner, Peter Lim, has a stake in Salford City, the non-league club co-owned by Neville with his former Manchester United team-mates Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.

Valencia needs to beat Lyon in its final UCL Group H game, and hope Gent draws or loses at home to first-place Zenit Saint-Petersburg. Otherwise, it’s on to the Europa League.

Porter’s Timbers just wanted in the playoffs, now they’re 90 mins away from a title

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers looks on from the bench before the match against the FC Dallas at Providence Park on November 22, 2015 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
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Midway through the season, it was reasonable to question whether Caleb Porter could hang onto his job as Portland Timbers coach. With two games to play in the regular season, the Timbers were on the verge of missing the playoffs entirely, that job status still hung in the balance.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

Yet, this is Major League Soccer, where anything is possible. “Hot at the right time” is a mantra, and Portland hasn’t tasted defeat since early October. The Timbers are 6W-2T since losing to Sporting KC on Oct. 3.

Whether that’s “more exciting” than another league’s system is a conversation for another day, because today’s conversation is about what Porter and the Timbers have done in rising to within 90 minutes of an MLS title.


“When we started the year, we wanted to get into the playoffs and win a trophy,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said in his post game comments outside a champagne and beer-drenched locker room. “That was the goal, and here we are. We’ve won one, and now we want to win the big one. So it’s very satisfying.”

And that’s the thing: You just have to get in. I imagine most Portland fans aren’t thinking, “Does this feel good in relation to how it would feel if we went wire-to-wire as champions?” They are thinking, “This feels good.”

The Timbers just needed to get in. Columbus, too. And now they are playing for a title with some of the better all-around players in the league, running the gamut from veteran savvy (Nat Borchers) to youthful flair (Lucas Melano).

MLS Best XI comes from a wide variety of backgrounds

Toronto FC 's Sebastian Giovinco, center,  tries to take the ball between Columbus Crew's Harrison Afful, left, and Ethan Finlay during the second half of an MLS soccer game in Toronto, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Major League Soccer rolled out its Best XI on Sunday, with few surprises.

Though the lack of fullbacks perhaps rightly cause Taylor Twellman and others to roll their eyes, the MLS’ 3-4-3 formation looks daunting.

[ MORE: Timbers hold off Dallas | Crew advances past RBNY ]

With expected MVP attacker Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto pacing the field, the XI is strong and filled with players from different backgrounds.

From American College Soccer, to Costa Rica, Serie A and the Premier League, there’s no one unifying thread. Heck, Benny Feilhaber and Kei Kamara mark careers reborn with the win, perhaps shining as bright as ever.

Best XI
Goalkeeper: Luis Robles (RBNY)
Defenders: Laurent Ciman (Montreal); Matt Hedges (Dallas); Kendall Waston (Vancouver)
Midfielders: Ethan Finlay (Columbus); Dax McCarty (RBNY); Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC); Fabian Castillo (Dallas)
Forwards: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto); Kei Kamara (Columbus); Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy)

It’s hard to call out snubs on a team this loaded, but David Ousted from Vancouver certainly deserves a shout, and Darlington Nagbe is probably the most aggrieved omission. But who comes out for the recently-made USMNT star?