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Manchester United sinks to new depths in 2-0 Champions League loss at Olympiakos

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Piling on to the festering misery of their 2013-14 campaign, Manchester United suffered their first ever loss to Olympiakos on Tuesday, a 2-0 defeat in UEFA Champions League that leaves its competition’s survival in serious doubt. With goals from Alejandro Domínguez and Joel Campbell, the Greek champions took a commanding lead in the teams’ Round of 16 match up, holding the Red Devils without an away goal ahead of the teams’ return leg three weeks from now in Manchester.

Olympiakos broke through in the 38th minute when Alejandro Domínguez’s deflection rolled inside David de Gea’s right post, leaving England’s champions down one at halftime. Ten minutes into the second period, however, the hosts were up two, with a long curler from Joel Campbell taking advantage of lax United defending to seal the club’s first win in five all-time meetings against the English titans.

United finished the match having controlled possession, a deliberate but passive style allowing them to keep 61 percent of the ball. At full-time, however, they registered only one official shot on target. Olympiakos, on the other hand, had put four shots on de Gea, their 12-7 edge in total shots speaking to the difference in the teams’ attacking intent.

Electing to pursue goals rather than control, Olympiakos won what’s sure to become a famous victory, the club having lost each of their four previous meetings with United. As a result, the team is 90 minutes away from the quarterfinals, with the now hovering specter of a road goal at Old Trafford leaving the Greek champions with one foot in the competition’s quarterfinals.

(MORE, Champions League: Borussia Dortmund punish slack Zenit Saint Petersburg in 4-2 win)

source: APFrom the opening kickoff, Manchester United settled into a passive posture, one that granted their hosts a monopoly on the first half’s chances. Dropping central midfielders Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley deep toward the defense when in possession, the Red Devils were more intent on controlling the game than generating actual scoring opportunities, something that left Olympiakos goalkeeper Roberto with little to do before the first intermission.

Seven minutes before halftime, one of those Olympiakos shots finally found twine, sending the underdogs into the dressing rooms with a 1-0 lead. Off a ball cleared out of the United area, midfielder Giannis Maniatis fired a speculative shot from well outside the penalty box toward a crowd of players near the spot. One of those players, Domínguez, opened his right foot onto a touch, pushing his deflection toward David de Gea’s right post. Wrong-footed and diving in vain, the United keeper could only watch as the game’s first goal rolled inside his right post.

Ten minutes into the second half, the underdogs doubled their lead, with a lax effort from United’s midfield allowing Campbell to beat de Gea from beyond the arc. After a Cleverley giveaway in the Red Devils’ half, Olympiakos forward Michael Olaitan laid a pass off for Campbell cutting in from the right flank. Taking one touch around Carrick, the Costa Rican international had plenty of time to curl his 24-yard shot around de Gea and inside the left post, giving the Greek champions a 2-0 lead.

United manager David Moyes quickly responded by bringing on Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa (at the expense of Antonio Valencia and Cleverley), but having ceded the night’s momentum to their hosts, United’s tendency of possession without potential persisted through the final whistle. As the Karaiskakis Stadium crowd started to realize the inevitability of their team’s accomplishment, their voice began to embolden their players. Only a Robin Van Persie chance from near the penalty spot in the 82nd minute carried the aura of a breakthrough, though when the team’s best finisher put his shot well over the bar, the Red Devils were relegated to their latest embarrassing result.

Thanks to competition’s format, Moyes has 90 minutes to engineer a comeback, one that’s not beyond the reach of a team with United’s talent. But after a first leg where the Red Devils played so far below their potential, an Olympiakos victory can no longer be seen as an upset. The upset will be if United go through.

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.