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.

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

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Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

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The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.

Puksas Award finalists: Somehow absent is USWNT’s Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd, USWNT
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FIFA announced on Monday its three-man list of finalists for the 2015 Puskas Award, handed out each year to the player who scored the “most beautiful” goal of the past calendar year.

[ MORE: 2015 Ballon d’Or finalists ]

The three men up for this year’s honor are Alessandro Florenzi (WATCH HERE), Lionel Messi (WATCH HERE) and Wendell Lira (WATCH HERE) — all scorers of fantastically beautiful goals this year.

That means Carli Lloyd, who made the original list of nominees before being whittled down to just three, is shockingly tragically scandalously criminally not a finalist for this year’s award. Reminder: This is the goal we’re talking about.

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

So, here’s the case for Lloyd:

  • She scored from midfield
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick
  • She scored the winner from midfield in a World Cup final to complete a hat trick in the 16th minute

How in the world is Carli Lloyd’s midfield goal to complete a 16-minute hat trick and win a World Cup final not a top-three goal of the year? You got some (more) explaining to do, FIFA.

Beckham group abandons latest plans for Miami MLS stadium

David Beckham
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All signs seemed to point toward an all-too-familiar outcome for the David Beckham-led investment group hoping to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to the city of Miami: another failed plan in their bid to build a brand new stadium.

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Earlier this month, newly-joined all-world sports executive Tim Leiweke warned that groups or individuals currently owning the various parcels of land surrounding the Miami Marlins’ baseball stadium, the latest site Miami Beckham United (MBU) had chosen, were making “unrealistic” demands and threatened to derail the project at that location.

Today, it’s been reported across South Florida that the group has altogether abandoned plans to build their stadium at that particular site. Miami city commissioner Francis Suarez confirmed that MBU were “moving in a different direction” — quotes from Local 10 News:

“It’s going to be withdrawn from the next agenda because the Beckham group has not acquired the private properties that are needed to construct the stadium on that site.”

“The residents expect us to hold these teams to the fire,” Suarez said. “A lot of times they’re financed by wealthy people and they want some sort of a public subsidy, which is very controversial as well, which is why we were going to take it to referendum.”

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

On Sunday, during halftime of the league’s Eastern Conference final, MLS commissioner Don Garber was asked about the Miami stadium situation, to which he responded, “We think Miami will be a great market. We found a reasonably good site. I’m confident that we’ll get something done there.”

MBU is reportedly being held to something of a deadline by the MLS board of governors, which meets every year ahead of MLS Cup, with this weekend’s sit-down thought of as a target date to have something concrete going forward. Meanwhile, Sacramento Republic FC, an MLS expansion hopeful currently playing in the USL (third division), announced last week they would be moving forward with building their brand new MLS-sized stadium, expansion bid or not.