UEFA Champions League Preview: Manchester United, Bayern Munich look to finish group stage on top

Leave a comment

The final match day of UEFA Champions League’s group stage begins on Tuesday, with Groups A through D 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 A 

  • Manchester United (England, 11 pts., first place) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine, 8 pts., second), Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Real Sociedad (Spain, 1 pt., fourth) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Germany, 7 pts., third), San Sebastian, Anoeta

First place goes to … Shakhtar Donetsk if the Ukrainian champions win at Old Trafford, a result that would give Mircea Lucescu’s team the head-to-head tiebreaker over Manchester United. Any other result gives the group to the Red Devils.

Second place goes to … Bayer Leverkusen if they better Shakhtar’s result. Else, second will be decided in Manchester.

What to know: Manchester United has dropped two-in-a-row at home for the first time in 11 years, and while Everton and Newcastle have their virtues, they’re not appreciably better than Shakhtar. In fact, neither may be better than a team that’s overcome a bad start in Ukraine to surge back to the top of their league, Shakhtar posting a 6-1-1 record in their last eight games. With United having won their last Champions League match 5-0 in Germany, there’s a chance the clubs’ European form could transcend its Premier League troubles, but if they lose to Shakhtar, it wouldn’t even be their worst result of the week.

If, however, United get a result from Shakhtar, the door will be open for Bayer Leverkusen, visiting a Real Sociedad side with nothing to play for. Despite a resurgence in Spain, La Real have been terrible in Europe, having already clinched last in this group. Between two teams that lost by a combined 9-0 two weeks ago, this may be a battle of who struggles least, neither team able to bring their league form into Champions League.

Leverkusen will still be missing attacker Sidney Sam, while Sociedad central defender Iñigo Martínez is suffering from a thigh injury. In Manchester, the Red Devils are still missing midfielder Michael Carrick, while Shakhtar are fully healthy.

source: APGroup B 

  • Galatasaray (Turkey, 4 pts., third place) vs. Juventus (Italy, 6 pts., second), Turk Telecom Arena, Istanbul
  • Copenhagen (Denmark, 4 pts., fourth) vs. Real Madrid (Spain, 13 pts., first), Parken, Copenhagen

First place goes to … Real Madrid. They’ve already clinched, making today’s match in Denmark meaningless to the Merengues.

Second place goes to … Juventus if they get a result in Istanbul. If Gala win at home, they will make the knockout round at Juve’s expense.

What to know: Since taking over at Galatasaray, Roberto Mancini has won seven of 13 games, a span that started with a surprise 2-2 result in Turin on Oct. 2. Juventus, however, are unlikely to be as lax on Tuesday, the favorites having conceded an 88th minute goal to Umut Bulut in the teams’ first meeting. Unbeaten in nine, Juve are playing their best soccer of the season, the experience of their veteran squad set to come in handing in Istanbul.

If the Old Lady does come through, Copenhagen can vault out of the group’s cellar and into Europa League. All they have to do is out-point Galatasaray, even if those points will have to come at the expense of Real Madrid. El Real, however, have nothing to play for, which means a number of young stars (Jesé, Álvaro Morata, Casemiro) could see time. Real Madrid will still be favored, but particularly without Cristiano Ronaldo, they’ll be more vulnerable than usual.

The visitors will also be without Sami Khedira, Fabio Coentrão, Raphaël Varane (injuries) and Sergio Ramos (suspended), while Rúrik Gíslason and Daniel Braaten are expected to miss out for Stale Solbakken’s side. In Turkey, Gala will be without first choice goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, the Uruguayan recovering from a broken toe, while Juventus is missing regista Andrea Pirlo.

source: APGroup C 

  • Benfica (Portugal, 7 pts., third place) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France, 13 pts., first place), Estadio do Luz, Lisbon
  • Olympiacos (Greece, 7 pts., second place) vs. Anderlecht (Belgium, 1 pt., fourth place), Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium, Piraeus

First place goes to … Paris Saint-Germain. The Ligue 1 champions won this group with a win over Olympiacos on match day five.

Second place goes to … Benfica if they better Olympiacos’s result, but with the Greek champions at home against an Anderlecht team with no chance at Europa, the Portuguese club will need some luck to advance to the knock out round.

What to know: First and fourth are settled, and with Anderlecht offering little opposition in this group. Olympiacos are unlikely to cede control of the packet’s second knockout round spot. Having already won in Belgium, the Super League leaders need only duplicate their road performance to join Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16.

Even if Olympiacos stumbles, Benfica has to better their result to advance, meaning they’ll likely need to beat a PSG team that hasn’t lost in group stage. While the Parisians’ place cemented atop this group means they’re unlikely to put their best foot forward, the depth at Laurent Blanc’s disposal means the Eagles will still be challenged at home.

Two people who won’t be in Blanc’s lineup are Gregory van der Wiel and Marco Veratti, both suspended. Oscar Cardozo and Rúben Amorim will be injury absences for Jorge Jesus. In Greece, star striker Kostas Mitroglou is out with a foot injury, while John van den Brom will miss Matías Suárez, Olivider Deschacht and Massimo Bruno.

source:  Group D 

  • Bayern Munich (Germany, 15 pts., first place) vs. Manchester City (England, 12 pts., second), Allianz Arena, Munich
  • Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic, 0 pts. fourth) vs. CSKA Moscow (Russia, 3 pts., third), Štruncovy Sady Stadium, Plzen

First place goes to … Bayern Munich with a result in Germany. Even if they lose, they can still finish first if they prevent Manchester City from fully reversing the 3-1 loss the Citizens suffered to the holders on Oct. 2. A one-goal loss still sees Bayern top this group.

Second place goes to … Bayern or City. The teams have clinched the group’s top two spots.

What to know: Bayern take a record 10-game UEFA Champions League winning streak into Tuesday’s game, form augmented by their 7-0 league result this weekend at Werder Bremen. They may be without Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweisteiger and Philipp Lahm, but as has been the case all year, injuries seem to have not effect on last year’s champion. There’s no question which team is the best in the world, and while City are only three points behind, there’s little reason to think they’ll end Bayern’s run. Manuel Pellegrini’s left looking for his first career win against Pep Guardiola without starters Yaya Touré (suspension) and Matija Nastasic (calf injury).

The group’s other game will determine the quartet’s Europa League spot, with CSKA holding a three-point advantage on Viktoria heading into Tuesday’s game. But although the Czech champions have yet to register a point this tournament, they can still claim third place, needing only to turn around October’s 3-2 loss in Russia to push Leonid Slutsky’s team into the cellar. With head coach Pavel Vrba set to take over the Czech national team after the game, Viktoria may be looking to send their boss off with a Champions League break through.

Morocco to spend $16B on 2026 World Cup venues, infrastructure

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
Leave a comment

Morocco says it will need to spend almost $16 billion to prepare to host the 2026 World Cup, with every proposed stadium and training ground built from scratch or renovated.

With less than three months until the FIFA vote, the north African nation on Saturday presented details of its proposal to take on the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The North American bid plans to rely on existing infrastructure, including large NFL stadiums already hosting events.

When FIFA insiders score the bids, infrastructure – of which half relates to stadiums – will account for 70 percent of the panel’s mark. The remaining 30 percent is based on projected costs and revenues. A high-risk bid can be disqualified before the FIFA Congress votes on June 13.

Morocco says for $3 billion it can build nine stadiums, refurbish five others and build or renovate 130 training grounds.

That is part of the $12.6 billion in public investment that also requires hospital services being upgraded in 20 cities and transport networks improved for the first 48-team World Cup.

The bid says another $3.2 billion of private investment is required to build hotels.

Morocco’s bid team told The Associated Press that the projections had been “carefully costed” but could not provide a breakdown on how the figures were reached.

Liverpool 5-0 Watford: Salah runs riot

Leave a comment
  • Salah now leads PL with 28 goals, has 36 in all competitions
  • Liverpool rise to third in PL table
  • Watford eight points above bottom three

Liverpool beat Watford 5-0 at Anfield on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s men eased to victory in the snow and are now seven points clear of fifth-place Chelsea in the table.

Mohamed Salah scored four goals to secure his first hat trick for Liverpool and he set up Roberto Firmino for Liverpool’s other goal. The Egyptian is now the leading scorer in the Premier League with 28 for the season.

With the win Liverpool cement their spot in the top four and have 63 points with seven games to go, while Watford slip to 11th but are well clear of relegation trouble and have 36 points on the board.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

It took Liverpool less than four minutes to break the deadlock as Sadio Mane found Salah in the box and the Egyptian winger did the rest.

Salah cut past multiple Watford defenders with ease before slotting home coolly for his 25th goal of the Premier League season. 1-0 to the Reds.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After that goal arrived Liverpool at back and looked dangerous with Roberto Firmino denied by an excellent stop from Karnezis after being played clean through.

Watford grew in stature as the first half wore on but then Salah popped up with his and Liverpool’s second of the game. Mane found Robertson on the left and his cross found Salah unmarked at the back post to tap home. 2-0. Too easy.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Liverpool started the second half well and Salah caused havoc as he cut inside from the right and his cross found Firmino at the near post. The Brazilian forward flicked home with his back heel to make it 3-0 and put the result beyond doubt. Another majestic Liverpool goal.

Pereyra almost got a goal back for Watford straight after going 3-0 down but his whipped free kick from the left clipped the cross bar and went over.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

For the latter stages Liverpool kept the ball and created chances when they wanted to as Salah completed his hat trick in fine fashion. The Egyptian wriggled free of four Watford players, cut back twice and slotted home to make it 4-0. Salah is on another planet.

Danny Ings came on late in the game and his shot was well-saved by Karnezis and then Ings was denied by Karnezis soon after but that man Salah was there to clean up and net his fourth of the game and make it 5-0.

FA Cup, Live: Man United v. Brighton in quarterfinal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United host Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday (3:45 p.m. ET) for a place in the FA Cup semifinals.

[ LIVE: Follow United-Brighton ]

Jose Mourinho has launched a defense of his time in charge of United after they crashed out of the UEFA Champions League against Sevilla in midweek and despite the Red Devils sitting in second, this is their last chance of securing any silverware this season.

In team news Man United have Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez on the bench, with Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford also subs and Sergio Romero starting in goal as David De Gea is rested for the domestic cup game as has been the policy this season.

Brighton have Glenn Murray on the bench, while January signings Jurgen Locadia and Leonardo Ulloa start together up top.


Manchester United: Romero; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling, Shaw; Matic, McTominay; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Lukaku. Subs: De Gea, Lindelof, Young, Fellaini, Pogba, Sanchez, Rashford.

Brighton: Krul; Suttner, Dunk, Duffy, Schelotto; Kayal, Propper, March, Gross; Locadia, Ulloa. Subs: Maenpaa, Bruno, Goldson, Sanders, Izquierdo, Baldock, Murray.

Relegation rivals react to big day at the bottom

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was another big day at the bottom of the Premier League table.

Crystal Palace moved out of relegation zone with a win at relegation rivals Huddersfield, while Stoke City suffered a damaging defeat at home to Everton in the snow and Bournemouth fought back late on to seal a dramatic win against basement boys West Brom.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Below is a look at the contrasting emotions of the relegation rivals after Saturday’s three early games in the Premier League.

West Brom led 1-0 at Bournemouth but Alan Pardew‘s side conceded two late goals from outside the box to lose 2-1 and they’re now 10 points from safety with seven games to go. The Baggies are all but certain of being relegated.

“It is just tough for us, we have had one of those seasons when nothing has gone right for us. The players have worked so hard, it is hard to look them in the eye when they haven’t got anything for it. They are walking out of here injured animals because they didn’t deserve it,” Pardew said. “We are not getting the results and that is the business we are in. I have to take responsibility for that. It is more and more difficult [to stay up] as the games tick by. It is just galling. It was a really committed effort to get something.”

Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace won 2-0 at Huddersfield to move out of of the bottom three as the Eagles ended a run of seven games without a win. Wilfried Zaha‘s return made a big difference and Hodgson believes the away win at Huddersfield was a big moment in their season.

“It is vitally important. All the points teams get down near the bottom are vitally appoint. We have had a difficult run of games and not got any points but to get something here at least puts us back in some sort of equilibrium,” Hodgson said. “I don’t think I have ever had a feeling we are on a slide. We are getting players back to fitness and our squad is looking like what it was when we were getting results.”

Everton moved onto the magic 40-point marker after winning at 10-man Stoke City and Sam Allardyce believes they’re now safe from relegation and he can start planning for next season as Cenk Tosun made it four goals in his last three games.

“Under the circumstances we are extremely pleased. Considering the elements both teams competed with today they’ve given everything – even Stoke after they went down to 10 men,” Allardyce said. “It looked a bit iffy for us again but Cenk popped up with a super goal and that’s why we bought him. It’s paid dividends for us and it puts us on the 40-point mark, and even though mathematically we are not safe I don’t think anyone can catch us now and we can start to prepare for next season.”

Huddersfield boss David Wagner didn’t seem too worried about his team moving just two points above the relegation zone with seven games to go and other teams have games in hand around them.

“Credit to Crystal Palace; they deserved this win. We were below par, particularly with the ball. There’s no doubt about our attitude and effort – we fought – but in ball possession, we were not good enough,” Wagner said. “We were two steps too late today. It’s important how you manage defeats and a disappointment like today. The good thing is that we know what we have done wrong and what we need to put right.”

Stoke City manager Paul Lambert didn’t have any complaints about Charlie Adam being sent off in the first half of their defeat against Everton.

The Potters now have an incredibly tough run of games coming up and time is running out as they second from bottom in the PL table.

“I couldn’t ask more for the effort. We had 10-men for most of the game and got ourselves back into it. It’s a disappointing result but effort, I couldn’t have asked for anymore,” Lambert added.