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Europa League Roundup: Tottenham disappoints at home; Lyon, Valencia take control

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Tim Sherwood’s week just got a lot worse. After a weekend drubbing by Chelsea and fallout that saw the Tottenham Hotspur manager question his squad’s commitment, Thursday’s Europa League action dealt Sherwood’s team another blow. Losing 3-1 to Benfica at White Hart Lane, Spurs may be down to the last 90 minutes in their European season.

That time will come next week at the Estadio de Luz. Today, England’s fifth place club dug themselves a potentially inescapable hole, giving up three away goals in the teams’ first Round of 16 leg.

Former Bolton loanee Rodrigo opened the scoring in the 29th minute, with veteran defender Luisãõ adding two goals in the second half. Though Cristian Eriksen’s 64th minute score briefly brought Sherwood’s side within two, Luisão’s second six minutes from time restored Benfica’s edge.

The result may represent a blessing for Tottenham, with the likes of Harry Kane and Kyle Naughton brought into the team ahead of a weekend derby with Arsenal. Having Europa League off the schedule could certainly simplify any lingering desire to finish fourth.

Liverpool’s surge up the Premier League standings means that’s a bit of a pipe dream, perhaps explaining why most of Sherwood’s regulars were in the starting XI. Heading into the game, Europa League was the team’s best chance at silverware this season, a goal they could pursue without worrying about a meaningful slip in the Premier League. Odds are, Spurs will be back in Europa against next year.

After Thursday’s game, that hope of silverware may be done. The team will need to score at least three times in Portugal to account for the away goals edge Benfica has built. Having been outscored 7-1 over the last 180 minutes, it’s unclear Tottenham’s capable of doing that.

Elsewhere

  • Ludogorets (Bulgaria)  0, Valencia 3 (Spain) – Los Che were up within five minutes through Antonio Barragán but needed a first half penalty save from Diego Alves to maintain that advantage. Goals from Fede Cartabia and Philippe Senderos against 10 men helped Valencia leave Sofia with a decisive edge.
  • Porto (Portugal) 1, Napoli (Italy) 0 – Jackson Martínez put the Dragons  in front off a second half corner, though Rafa Benítez won’t be too disappointed to get out of Portugal down one.
  • Basel (Switzerland) 0, Salzburg (Austria) 0 – The Swiss champions survive after being outshot 15-8 (8-3, shots on target).
  • Juventus (Italy) 1, Fiorentina (Italy) 1 – Arturo Vial’s third minute opener was pulled back by Mario Gomez, with the German international scoring in a substitute’s role to send the tie back to Florence even.
  • AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) 1, Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia) 0 – A 29th minute penalty converted by U.S. international Aron Johannsson gave last year’s Dutch Cup winners a slight edge before a second leg in Dagestan.
  • Sevilla (Spain) 0, Real Betis (Spain) 2 – La Liga’s last place team pulled off the upset thanks to goals on either side of halftime from Baptistão and substitute Sevilla, giving the Verdiblancos a two-goal edge despite seeing only 30 percent of the ball.
  • Lyon (France) 4, Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) 1 – A surprisingly impressive performance from Lyon saw three assists from Steed Malbranque and goals from Gueïda Fofana (two), Alexandre Lacazette, and Arnold Mvuemba give it the day’s highest goal total.

Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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Designing the perfect UEFA Champions League Round of 16

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 06:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona chips the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen to score his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, first leg match between FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Muenchen at Camp Nou on May 6, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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With 16 teams settled into their spots for Monday’s UEFA Champions League draw, what would be the most tantalizing octet of matches for February’s Round of 16.

We’ll include a full list of seeded and unseeded teams at the bottom so you can pair ’em up however you like, but let’s start with our best ideas.

Remember: Teams can neither be drawn against teams from their own domestic leagues, or against the other advancing team from their group stage quartets.

[ MORE: USMNT GK off to Belgium? ]

Let’s begin with the reigning champions. Real Madrid is unseeded, and cannot draw Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund. Our vote would be Juventus and a reprisal of the 2015 final in Berlin.

Real boss Zinedine Zidane would not be pleased.

Staying in Spain, seeded Barcelona only knows it will avoid Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Sevilla. We’re interested in attractive soccer, so how about a bombastic battle with Bayern Munich.

Manchester City is the lone Premier League team in the unseeded pool, and cannot face Arsenal, Leicester City, or Barcelona. We’re thinking Sky Blue vs. Sky Blue, and a match-up with Napoli.

Leicester City completes the Premier League trio. Given our above draw and group mates Porto, that leaves Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Sevilla, and PSG as potential rivals. We’ll chose Bayer Leverkusen as the match-up likely gives the Foxes their best chance to hit the snooze button and keep dreaming.

The biggest name left is Paris Saint-Germain (with apologies to BVB). Unai Emery’s bunch would be left with Atletico Madrid as the lone option, and another tete-a-tete between the ex-Sevilla boss and Diego Simeone works for us.

Now Arsenal… who do you draw with the hopes of a quarterfinal berth in ages? The remaining options are Benfica, Sevilla, and Porto. We’ll give Benfica a trip to the Emirates, leaving Porto to face Monaco, and Sevilla on the road to Borussia Dortmund.

Our final draw:
Arsenal vs. Benfica
Monaco vs. Porto
Borussia Dortmund vs. Sevilla
Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Manchester City
Leicester City vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Juventus vs. Real Madrid


Seeded
Arsenal
Atletico Madrid
Barcelona
Napoli
Monaco
Leicester City
Juventus
Borussia Dortmund

Unseeded
Paris Saint-Germain
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
Benfica
Bayer Leverkusen
Porto
Sevilla
Real Madrid

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Europa League preview: Saints, Man Utd hope to join Spurs in Round of 32

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Yuto Nagatomo of Internazionale (R) and Ivan Perisic of Internazionale close down Nathan Redmond of Southampton during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur will be seeded in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 32. What do Manchester United and Southampton need to do Thursday to join them?

Both the Red Devils and Saints enter the final group stage match day in their respective groups’ second place, but only United can claim a seeded place in the Round of 32.

[ UCL: Scenarios for Premier League sides ]

United can still win Group A, and would need to better Fenerbahce’s result on Thursday. Jose Mourinho’s men are in Ukraine against bottom-dwelling Zorya Luhansk, while Fener are away at Feyenoord.

Manchester United will advance with a draw, and could also go through if they lose and Feyenoord doesn’t defeat Fenerbahce.

As for Saints, Claude Puel‘s men are level with Hapoel Be’er Sheva and welcome the Israel side to St. Mary’s after drawing 0-0 in the reverse fixture.

Southampton needs to beat Hapoel or hold them to a scoreless draw. A scoring draw would push HBS through via road goals.

Full UEL schedule

11 a.m. EDT
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. EDT
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. EDT
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

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