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

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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.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

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Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.

Mourinho-Costa feud could mean January transfer activity for Chelsea

Diego Costa & Jose Mourinho, Chelsea FC
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Perhaps no man in the footballing world has been embroiled in more controversy this season than Jose Mourinho, who remains in charge of Chelsea despite a horrid start to the club’s 2015-16 Premier League campaign.

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The Portuguese mastermind has fallen out with a number of his own players and staff this season, so why not add another name to the growing list? Come on down, Diego Costa, you’re Mourinho’s next combatant.

The two reportedly got into a heated locker-room exchange following Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Given Costa’s increasingly poor form all the way back to the final weeks and months of the 2014-15 season — just seven goals scored in the last 10 months — Mourinho is reportedly less and less sure the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard is the right man to lead the line for the reigning PL champions.

The details of Mourinho and Costa’s halftime spat, from the Guardian:

Mourinho, just as he did after a similar situation against Norwich on Saturday, made his frustrations clear at the forward’s lack of anticipation over an Eden Hazard pass, which would have provided the striker with a tap-in had he been on the move. Costa returned his manager’s remonstrations in kind. Oscar and John Terry tried to calm him down only to be pushed aside. The manager subsequently suggested there had been “a few kisses, a few cuddles” in the dressing room at the interval, and “no problem,” though the public show of dissent was notable.

The club’s hierarchy is reportedly considering dipping into the transfer market in January — something they’re extremely loath to do — to replace the misfiring Costa. The names of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Saido Berahino are the biggest currently linked with the Blues, given the lack of elite players typically available — as well as not being cup-tied in the Champions League — during the January window.

Chelsea, who currently sit 15th in the PL, return to league action on Sunday when they visit Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane (Watch live at 6:30 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra).

Wenger expects “hunting lion” Sanchez to be fit for Norwich clash

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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Alexis Sanchez is, by regular human standards, questionable for Arsenal’s Premier League clash with Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on Live Extra), thanks to a tweak to his hamstring during Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb.

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There’s just one problem with the above premise: Sanchez, according to manager Arsene Wenger, isn’t exactly human; he’s more like a lion, says Wenger — a hunting lion chasing after and feasting on its prey.

Wenger, on Sanchez’s ability to recover quickly and star for the Gunners — quotes from the Guardian:

“When he does something, he does it 100%. He finishes and you think: ‘He’s dead now.’ But then he recovers and gives 100% again. You always see signs of exhaustion but it’s not [that], because two days later, he’s fine.

“His style is very explosive, it’s a very committed style. Jamie Vardy is a bit similar. When they go, they go. They are like the lion. He has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, he’s dead [on his feet] afterwards. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after, they have to stop.”

“I take information, especially from the medical people who know him and treat him everyday and after, we look at his overall recovery as well. When there are alarming signs, we want to make the right decision at the right moment but as long as the guys are confident, they score goals – it is always difficult to rest them.”

Sanchez’s production this season — 9 goals, 4 assists in 17 appearances – all competitions — is right on par with his spectacular debut in the PL last season. “What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America to play,” Wenger went on to say. “He comes back on Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem, even if he’s jet-lagged.”

Expect Sanchez to feature on Sunday, and probably to score a goal or two, as well.

“Unprofessional” Grealish banished to U-21s after nightclub incident

Jack Grealish, Aston Villa FC
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2015 has been an eventful calendar year for Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, to say the least.

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First, there was his emergence as a prominent first-team player for his boyhood club; followed by the Villans’ run to the FA Cup final in May; then came the England-versus-Ireland tug-of-war for his international services; a forgettable vacation to Spain for the 20-year-old; and another managerial change at Villa Park. After yet another off-field incident last weekend, in which Grealish was photographed in a nightclub hours after a 4-0 defeat to Everton, his new manager, Remi Garde, has labeled Grealish “unprofessional” and sent him away to train with the club’s U-21 side.

Garde, on Grealish’s actions and subsequent punishment — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is not professional. It is not what is expected from my players. That is why now Jack is training with the under-21 team for the moment. He won’t be included in the squad for Watford. At this stage he is not playing this weekend and he is training with the under-21 team. That is all I can say for the moment.”

“Sometimes players in every country ask to stay in the city we have played in and this is not a problem for me, it happens one or two times a season. The problem with Jack was not that he wasn’t on the bus. The problem was elsewhere.”

Villa, who will welcome 13th-place Watford to Villa Park on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on Live Extra), currently sit rock bottom in the Premier League (5 points from 13 games), five points away from climbing out of the relegation zone.