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.

Keeper Ederson hopeful he can score this season for Man City

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The prospects for a goalkeeper scoring during a match are usually uncommon, but that hasn’t halted Manchester City’s number one choice from aiming to break the trend this season.

Ederson — who has moved into the starting role at the Etihad Stadium with relative ease in 2017/18 — has dreamt of scoring a goal of his own for the Premier League champions in waiting.

“I heard the fans chanting my name, asking me to take the penalty but Gabriel went there,” Ederson said. “Unfortunately he missed it and Bernardo happily scored. But if the manager have asked me to go there, definitely I’d score.

“I’m not sure if I would be able to do set-pieces, but I’m good at penalties, either using power or technique on shooting it. But City have [their] regular penalty-takers and we are well-served.

Citizen supporters chanted for the goalkeeper to take a penalty kick over the weekend in the team’s 5-0 win over Swansea City.

However, Gabriel Jesus was the man selected for the opportunity, but had his attempt saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Bernardo Silva was in the right spot to score the game’s fifth goal.

“If Pep asks me to take it, I’m there,” Ederson said of the penalty kick. “Hopefully it will happen [before the end of the season], I’d like to score.”

This isn’t the first time Ederson has discussed exploring opportunities outside of the net, though.

The Brazilian shot-stopper has long been a fan of former Brazil international goalkeeper Rogero Ceni — who scored 65 goals for club side Sao Paolo.

Earlier this season, the 24-year-old joked around with the media, saying that he’d be more than happy to fill a role in the midfield when City was experiencing some injury issues within the squad.

Everton 1-0 Newcastle: Walcott blast has Toffees up to eighth

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Everton earned a 1-0 win against Newcastle on Monday behind Theo Walcott‘s second-half strike at Goodison Park.

The victory puts the Toffees into eighth place, leaping over Leicester City for the time being — as the Foxes have an extra game in hand.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have shot at World Cup ]

The former Arsenal man broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Walcott blasted the ball into the roof of the net following a lofted cross from Yannick Bolasie.

For Walcott, it’s his third goal since joining Everton in 2017/18 from the Gunners.

The visitors had their fair share of opportunities on the day, particularly through Ayoze Pérez, who was active all throughout the match.

Perez nearly broke the deadlock after the half hour mark when he tested goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 31st minute with a diving save in the bottom left corner.

Phil Jagielka came close four minutes later when his close-range attempt narrowly missed the top left corner after Michael Keane‘s flicked header off a corner kick.

The Spanish forward was at it again in the second stanza, and nearly found the back of the net when his header was saved in the center of the goal off of a cross from Kenedy.

Newcastle pushed hard for an equalizer in the dying moments, and even played up a man for a few minutes when Leighton Baines was tended to for a head injury, but the Magpies couldn’t even the score.

Sweden coach: Ibrahimovic must call in order to have chance at World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently raised the stakes when he said, “I am going to the World Cup, yes!” despite having previously declared his retirement from international soccer.

Although the LA Galaxy forward’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show may not be a clear indication of his involvement in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, Ibrahimovic certainly has an interest in representing his native Sweden once again.

[ MORE: FIFA subjects Morocco 2026 bid to scrutiny ]

Now, all the veteran goalscorer has to do is pick up the phone and call Sweden coach Janne Andersson, according to the manager.

“He can do it,” Andersson told kicker. “But If he changes his opinion, contacts me and tells me ‘yes, I want to be part of it,’ then we’ll sit down and discuss what that would mean, how we play these days and so on. But that’s all speculation.

“I don’t know [if he’d still fit into the team]. But I also don’t think about it. I take the things as they come if they come. If you want to be part of it, you must call me. Easy as that.”

The 36-year-old retired from the international game following Sweden’s involvement in EURO 2016, and Andersson says that he had no intention of calling up Ibrahimovic prior to the media-driven questions surrounding the striker.

Ibrahimovic ranks first all-time for his homeland in goals scored (62) since debuting for Sweden back in 2001.

“Not him, or anyone else who retired. But there’s this media noise,” he said. “I have no problem with those questions [about a possible return]. Not with what he says or what is written in media.”

Several of Sweden’s current players, including goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson recently stated that bringing Ibrahimovic back into the fold may disrupt the rhythm created within the squad — who handled Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff to reach the final tournament in June.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup