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UEFA Champions League recap: Barça, Chelsea, Dortmund claim groups; Arsenal through; Juve out

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Group B: Galatasaray (Turkey) 1, Juventus (Italy) 0

Consider the situation Juventus were in: Held over for an extra day after yesterday’s ice-out. While Galatasaray players went home, slept in their own beds, work up to their normal routines, Juve spent a day essentially held against their will. I want to make it seem like they were held hostage in Istanbul, but they certainly didn’t plan on being in Turkey come Wednesday morning. It’s not difficult to image a little discontent in the squad ahead of today’s match.

Thus, it’s understandable Juventus weren’t at their best, with their Champions League campaign coming to an end after Wesley Sneijder’s late goal at Turk Telekom Arena. If anything, today highlighted the failures of match days one through five, where a win and three draws left Juventus needing a result in Istanbul to advance.

Had the Old Lady performed better before Tuesday’s ice-out, they wouldn’t have left themselves subjected to Mother Nature’s whims. As is, they’re in Europa League.

[MORE: Snow’s over: Galatasaray finishes off Juventus in Champions League on Sneijder strike]

Group E: Chelsea 1 (England), Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0

The performance was more impressive than the scoreline, with Chelsea rarely allowing Mark Schwarzer to be threatened by the group’s cellar dwellers. With Demba Ba converting one of Chelsea’s 10 corner kicks in the first 27 minutes, the Blues locked up Group E, their fourth win in six games completing an uneasy group stage.

[MORE: Demba Ba’s goal enough to give Chelsea 1-0 Champions League win, first place in Group E]

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 2, Basel (Switzerland) 0

How do you undermine a group stage campaign where your team took six points from Chelsea? By going winless in your other four games, a performance Basel confirmed with their loss today in Gelsenkirchen.

Goals from Julian Draxler (50′) and Joel Matip (57′) had the Miners up two before the hour, with Basel reduced to 10 men in the after Ivan Ivanov was judged to have denied a goal scoring chance. With the red, Basel paved their path to Europa League while Schalke were on to another knockout round.

Group F: Napoli (Italy) 2, Arsenal (England) 0

The Gunners would have won their group with a draw but were guaranteed a spot in the knockout round if they stayed within two, so even after José Callejon’s 93rd minute goal built on Gonzalo Higuaín’s 73rd minute opener, Arsenal had enough to go through. The only question remaining: Whether Napoli or Borussia Dortmund would join them, a quandary that was answered in Marseille.

[MORE: Arsenal advance in Champions League, but …]

Group F: Marseille (France) 1, Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 2

Robert Lewandowski’s goal four minutes in hinted BVB’s attack would have enough to overcome the plague of injuries suffered at the back. Souleymane Diawara’s 14th minute equalizer said otherwise, though when Dimitri Payet volunteered for his second yellow card in three minutes with a theatrical dive in the box, l’OM opened the door for last year’s finalists to claim first place.

Marseille, however, held out for 53 minutes before Kevin Großkreutz, one-timing a ball from Erik Durm just beyond the penalty area, beat Steve Mandanda for the game-winning goal. With one kick, BVB had gone from Europa League to group winners, sending Marseille to their sixth loss in as many group stage games.

Group G: Austria Wien (Austria) 4, Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1

In a result nobody saw coming (particularly after Alexander Kerzhakov had Zenit up after 35 minutes), Austria romped to their first ever Champions League victory, their four-goal onslaught denying the Russians’ chance to lock up second place in Group G. Two from Phliipp Hosiner were complemented by goals form Tomás Jun and Roman Kienast, leaving Zenit’s knockout round hopes at the mercy of Atlético-Porto.

Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 2, Porto (Portugal) 0

Two hit posts and a missed penalty saw Porto into halftime down 2-0, Raúl García and Diego Costa giving Atleti a lead despite having nothing to play for. Though the visitors would control the game through the final whistle, accumulating 70 perfect of the possession along the way, they were only able to put three shots on Daniel Aranzubia, the backup’s clean sheet sending the Dragons to Europa League (and Zenit through).

Group H: Barcelona (Spain) 6, Celtic (Scotland) 1

Well, that got out of hand. From our recap:

If the purchase of Neymar was supposed to alleviate Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi, the 21-year-old phenom finally put that plan into effect on Wednesday. Scoring three times and setting up a fourth, Neymar found his way onto a UEFA Champions League scoresheet for the first time in six games …

It was a refreshingly dominant performance for a Barcelona team that’d lost two of its last three games, their only victory coming against a lower division club in Spain’s Copa del Rey …

In the process, they showed why the team need not be so wary of their star’s absence. Whereas a spring injury to Messi derailed Barça’s 2012-13 Champions League campaign, this year they have insurance. If this is the Neymar was can expect going forward — one that’s shaken free of his transition phase to embrace his potential — Barcelona may ready to be more than Messi and friends.

[MORE: Neymar’s first three Champions League goals see Barcelona to 6-1 win, top of Group H]

Group H: Milan (Italy) 0, Ajax (Netherlands) 0

Riccardo Montolivo’s early red card set up a battle of old stereotypes. Could the Italian team, reduced to 10 and given license to defend, hold out for 90 minutes? And would the Dutch side, alleviated of doing that staid, defensive dirty work, break down their opponents and advance to the knockout round?

Well, you see the final score. The numbers? Ajax held 71 percent of the ball. They out-shot Milan 25-5 but only got five attempts on target, stats that tell you all you need to know about this game.

Once Montolivo went off (22nd minute), Milan held on for dear life, a life they’ll take into the knockout round.

EFL Cup Final preview: Saints aim to deny Manchester United, Mourinho

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Vincent Kompany of Manchester City and team mate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate victory with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2016 in London, England. Manchester City win 3-1 on penalties.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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With the Community Shield in tow, Jose Mourinho aims for his first full tournament trophy as Manchester United boss when his Red Devils meet Southampton at 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Wembley Stadium is the venue for the EFL Cup Final, a trophy United has claimed four times. The last one came in 2010, as the Red Devils clinched their third League Cup in five seasons.

[ JPW: Southampton comes full circle ]

Sunday marks Southampton’s first final since 1979, when Saints fell 3-2 to Nottingham Forest.

Saints continue to make due without Virgil Van Dijk and Charlie Austin, but newcomers Manolo Gabbiadini, Sofiane Boufal, and Martin Caceres could all feature on Friday.

Gabbiadini almost certainly will, and he’s been a difference maker for Saints since arriving from Napoli. The 25-year-old has three goals in two Premier League matches.

[ MORE: Projected lineups for EFL Cup final ] 

United will not have Henrikh Mkhitaryan back after the Armenian midfielder limped off the pitch midweek, but fellow walking wounded star Michael Carrick will be back for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, and Eric Bailly will be available.

The Red Devils won the FA Cup last season and the league in 2012-13. Mourinho has three League Cups from his time at Chelsea.

But Antonio Valencia says that United has to act like this is a chance for a new era. From ManUtd.com:

“We have to forget about the fact that we might have won there three, four or five times,” he added. “We have to put that to one side. This is another final, and a totally different story. We cannot afford to make one single mistake, this is a final and we cannot lose our concentration for even one minute.”

Saints will be underdogs for this one, but this trophy isn’t alien to avoiding the hands of the big boys as we’ve seen with Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Swansea City since the turn of the century.

Claudio Ranieri issues classy goodbye to Leicester City

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Claudio Ranieri has issued a statement on his somewhat surprising firing from Leicester City, less than 10 months after winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Swans preview ]

The Italian manager with a knack of word play pulls on the heart-strings in discussing his exit from Leicester, a club he did not plan to leave any time soon.

From the Leicester Mercury:

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions all I dreamed of was staying with Leicester city, the club I love, for always.

Sadly, this was not to be.

He went on to thank his family, Leicester City, saving the kindest words for the Foxes’ supporters.

No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

No surprise to read class from Claudio. Read the full statement here.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chelsea manager Antonio Conte battles to get the ball back with Cesar Apilicueta (r) from Swansea forward Modou Barrow during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Chelsea leads all-time 14W-11D-7L
  • Sides drew 2-2 in September
  • Swans unbeaten vs Blues since Jan ’15

Premier League leaders Chelsea face a resurgent Swansea City side which has given it fits (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have dropped points in two of their last three Premier League matches, and also have two draws and a loss to Swans in the past three match-ups.

Swansea has won three of four in Premier League play, the lone setback a 2-1 loss to Manchester City. New manager Paul Clement has led Swans from deep in the relegation zone to four points clear of the drop zone.

To succeed, Swans will have to avoid conceding often and early. According to Chelsea’s club statistician:

Conte’s players have scored the opening goal more times than any other Premier League team this season (19) and have yet to lose (16 wins, three draws).

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on former Chelsea assistant Clement“He has had a great impact on the team. Also, with the transfer window, they reinforced the team, and we must pay great attention. If you watch their games against Liverpool, against Man City, you understand the difficulty of the game. I am sure my players understand this. They have worked very well to face them in the right way.”

Clement on staring down Chelsea“I have said to the players that yes we have put ourselves in a good position, but how hard are we willing to work to make sure we continue to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season? Because unless we keep winning games and progressing up the table, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we need, say, four points from the last two games of the season.”

Prediction

Stamford Bridge will be the difference here, as Chelsea keeps it tight against Swans. 2-0.

PREVIEW: Tottenham Hotspur’s “To Dare Is To Do”

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The latest Premier League Download makes its debut on Sunday, as we dive deep into Tottenham Hotspur.

With a brand new stadium under construction and a solid look at perennial top-end pushes, Spurs are among the more intriguing stories in the Premier League.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Picks ]

Spurs host Stoke City on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN, and “Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare Is To Do” debuts at 11 a.m. EDT, right after the match.