UEFA Champions League Preview: With blindfold and cigarette, David Moyes faces the firing line

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Wednesday’s may be David Moyes’ last match with Manchester United. Or maybe it will be the next one. As long as the Red Devils play as poorly as they did this weekend, Alex Ferguson’s replacement is a zombie: walking the sidelines with no vital signs; with nobody able to explain how he’s able to carry on.

The explanation used to be that theoretical patience Manchester United prides itself on, but even that’s starting to wear thin. Every major outlet across England has some report about his job security, with some referencing disappointment in the Red Devil boardroom (examples A, B). If Ed Woodward and the Glazers are already reconsidering Moyes’ future, the rest of this season may be his Green Mile.

The next step on that path is at Old Trafford, with a game few would have thought an obstacle before UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 started. Since then, however, Manchester United has shown itself capable of falling to Greek champions Olympiakos, having done so three weeks ago in Piraeus. At the time, the result was seen as one of the worst of Moyes’ tenure, one that leaves them two goals down (2-0) before tonight’s kickoff. Then this weekend happened.

“When you lose in the fashion we did and against one of our biggest rivals [Liverpool] there is always a lot of disappointment,” Moyes explained in Tuesday’s press conference. “We knew it was a big week, but as soon as [the Liverpool match] was over we concentrated on this game. We told the players on Monday morning that the only thing that matters now is this game and our focus is on that.”

If the team can regain its focus — if the players can put Sunday’s embarrassment behind them — they should have no problem with Olympiakos. Despite the Greek champions’ huge lead in the Super League (18 points, title already clinched), United have an overwhelming edge in talent. There’s no player who’ll be selected in Michel González’s starting XI who would start for the Red Devils, making it all the more remarkable they were able to produce a 2-0 win three weeks ago.

“The work of a football team shows on the pitch,” Michel said. “There are no secrets, no surprises when it comes to this game. All I know is that we played well in the first leg and deserved to win, but this will be a different game and we will need a good performance and a good result to show our worth.”

Manchester United not only need to win on Wednesday, they need to do so by at least three goals if they’re to avoid penalty kicks. A two-goal win without keeping a clean sheet means they’re out – the byproduct of being the only group stage winner not to score an away goal. They need to not only be better than the teams that showed up in Piraeus and against Liverpool, they need to be much better if they’re to preserve their only chance at silverware this season.

“The players know they can play better,” Moyes said. “I don’t think any of them are questioning that. But I’ve got belief in the players because I see what they can do and hopefully we can show it.”

Amid all the gloom and doom that rightfully hovers over the Red Devils, it needs to be reiterated: They can win this game. Robin van Persie is capable of winning it on his own. So is Wayne Rooney. Even with their suspect midfield, the Red Devils are capable of controlling this match, providing they have a better, more cohesive plan than they implemented in Greece. Winning on Wednesday should not be that hard.

But if United doesn’t “show it,” as its manager put it? Moyes may as well stay on the field after the game, adorn himself with a blindfold and cigarette, and wait. In a season of lows and lowers, going out of Champions League on home soil to Olympiakos would represent a new trough, one that builds on Sunday’s disaster.

Perhaps Red Devils management will refrain from taking aim, but out of Champions League, there’ll be no reason to keep Moyes in his job. At a minimum, it will test their faith that the current manager truly is the right man for the job.

Totti leaves future uncertain before final match with Roma

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ROME (AP) Francesco Totti has finally announced that Sunday’s match against Genoa will be his last with Roma after an incredible 25-season career with his hometown club.

Whether the 40-year-old Totti will continue playing with another squad remains anyone’s guess.

The 2006 World Cup winner opened his future to questions by releasing a carefully worded statement on Thursday.

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“Roma-Genoa, Sunday 28th May 2017. The last time I can wear Roma’s jersey,” Totti said. “I can’t tell you in a few words how much these colors meant, mean and will always mean to me.

“I just feel that my love for football never fades; it’s a passion, my passion. It’s so deep I can’t imagine not fueling it any longer. Ever. From Monday I’m ready to go again. I’m ready for a new challenge,” Totti added.

The first part of Totti’s statement inferred that it wasn’t his decision to end his Roma career but that of the club, by not offering him a contract for next season.

Totti has not hidden his difficult relationship with Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, who has used Totti mainly as a last-option substitute.

However, Spalletti is widely expected to follow former Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini to Inter Milan; while Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco, a former teammate of Totti’s, could move to Roma.

The second part of Totti’s statement, when he mentioned a “new challenge,” inferred that Totti is considering ending his career with another club.

Miami FC, which plays in the second-tier NASL and is managed by Totti’s former teammate with the national team, Alessandro Nesta, and co-owned by Paolo Maldini – another former Italy teammate – appears to be the most attractive option.

James Pallotta, Roma’s American owner, has offered Totti an unspecified management position.

As for Sunday, Totti is not expected to start.

While the match at the Stadio Olimpico was sold out for Totti’s goodbye, Roma enters the final match of the season still looking to seal second place in Serie A and a direct berth into the Champions League.

Roma is one point ahead of third-place Napoli, which will play at Sampdoria.

Totti has appeared in 785 matches in all competitions with Roma, third all-time in Italy for most games with a single club behind only Maldini (902 with AC Milan) and Javier Zanetti (858 with Inter Milan).

Totti is also second all-time in goals scored in Serie A with 250, 24 short of the record that Silvio Piola established from 1929-54. No other active player has more than 200.

But statistics don’t tell the entire story for Totti, a cultural icon perhaps more linked with his club and city than any other player in Italian history.

Born in the working-class San Giovanni section of Rome, Totti made his debut for Roma at the age of 16 way back in 1993.

In 1998 at the age of 22, Totti became the youngest ever Serie A captain.

At the 2000 European Championship, Totti’s chipped “Panenka” penalty against the Netherlands highlighted his talent and audacity.

A year later, Totti led Roma to its third Serie A title and was the centerpiece of a celebration inside the Circus Maximus attended by a crowd estimated at 1 million.

After a spitting incident with Denmark’s Christian Poulsen at Euro 2004 slightly tarnished his image, Totti regained respect within the national team by returning from a broken leg to help Italy win the 2006 World Cup – playing with a metal rod and about 10 support screws inside his left ankle.

In 2007, Totti led Serie A with a personal-high 26 goals and earned the Golden Shoe award as the top scorer in Europe.

In 2015, Totti scored twice as Roma came back from two goals down to earn a draw with Lazio in the city derby, then took a selfie with Roma’s fans in the background.

A final highlight came in February, when Totti scored in added time to give Roma a 2-1 win over Cesena and a spot in the Italian Cup semifinals.

On Sunday, Totti’s career will be honored with an extensive post-match celebration at the Olimpico.

Whether or not there will be more highlights next season – somewhere – remains to be seen.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Transfer rumor roundup: Morata flying to Milan, Carvalho to Newcastle

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Alvaro Morata is one of the hottest properties on the planet. Like James Rodriguez, he doesn’t get the time at Real Madrid he’d receive at most other clubs in the world. And like James, he’s been linked with plenty of clubs including Premier League powers Chelsea and Manchester United.

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But Italian site Gazzetta says Morata will skip over the Premier League for a return to Serie A, this time heading to AC Milan. The ex-Juventus star, 24, scored 20 goals in 42 appearances for Real this year.

Morata is said to be flying to Italy, hours after Marca claimed that Jose Mourinho would insist on his inclusion in any deal for David De Gea.

Newcastle United is the latest club linked to Portuguese center midfielder William Carvalho, and the Magpies are said to be looking into a $78 million bid. The 25-year-old Sporting CP dynamo is a regular in the transfer rumor mill, and has 31 caps for Portugal. The Angola-born Carvalho played nearly every minute of Portugal’s EURO 2016 winning run.

Sevilla: Agreement with Sampaoli to leave for Argentina job

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Argentine managerial wizard Jorge Sampaoli is coming home.

Sevilla announced that Sampaoli is leaving the club after one season to take charge of the Argentina national team, with La Albiceleste’s World Cup fate hanging in the balance.

Sampaoli won 50 percent of his matches at Sevilla, leading the side to the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 in addition to finishing fourth in La Liga.

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He previously led Chile to its first Copa America crown.

Sevilla said the agreement to let him go will be signed on Thursday, allowing him to oversee Argentina’s next World Cup qualifier in late August. Argentina sits fifth in the CONMEBOL table, just two points out of second.

It heads to Uruguay before hosting Venezuela, with the remaining qualifiers versus Peru and away to Ecuador.

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

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  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.