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The new fan’s 2014/15 guide to picking a new Premier League club

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Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I’ve given prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game.

[MORE: Interactive team selector from NBC’s Premier League All Access]

But the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. They had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cowboys fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!

So without further adieu, I submit to you my 2014/15 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team.

source: Getty Images

1. Arsenal
Last championship: 2003-04
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Gunners
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Tottenham, Chelsea
Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Gooners… they are everywhere. From Piers Morgan to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of celebrity fans and it seems impossible to go to a soccer gathering without meeting an Arsenal supporter. There’s some magic to the club, for sure. French manager Arsene Wenger fashions players who play the game with flair and the club has begun to spend again after paying off a great deal of debt. With Mesut Ozil last year and Alexis Sanchez (and more?) this year, the Gunners are looking for a title fight.

2. Aston Villa
Last championship: 1980-81
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Villians
Location: Birmingham
American players: GK Brad Guzan
Biggest rivals: West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City (championship)
Comparisons: Chicago Bears, Calgary Flames
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Great slogan, cool color scheme and some solid players: there are far worse teams to select than Aston Villa. Conceptually, Villa as a strong English side is appealing on a few levels and there’s history to prove the Birmingham team deserves a winner, but manager Paul Lambert has struggled as much as his predecessors and almost had the ignominy of seeing his club relegated for the first time in its history. He’s on the hot seat, and the return to health and form of Christian Benteke is a massive concern.

3. Burnley
Last championship: 1959-60
Years in Premier League: 2/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Clarets
Location: Lancashire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Blackburn Rovers (championship)
Comparisons: Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Chiefs
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The Clarets have enjoyed local support regardless of what league they’ve fallen into — a headline on a bio I looked into was labeled ‘Decline and Near Oblivion’ — and fans know what they are up against in attempting to survive a season in the Premier League. Still this is a 130-plus year-old club with a rich, rich history. Rooting for Burnley to stay up is a hobby most PL buffs could get into… can you?

source: Getty Images4. Chelsea
Last championship: 2009/10
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Blues
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, QPR
Comparison: Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins
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Team’s loaded. LOA-DED. They have four EPL titles and some Champions League glories as well, and look fit to build on that this season. Maniacal genius Jose Mourinho enters season No. 2 with his own cast of characters, a process that began in earnest with the pick-up of midfielder Nemanja Matic last January. Here’s what I said last year, “Honestly, if the Blues put the pedal to the floor this year, they have the talent and depth to put up some record-setting or tying marks in wins, goals, goals allowed… everything.” That was wrong, but it hasn’t changed for this year; The addition of Diego Costa makes them a viable contender for the PL title and Europe.

You could do worse than choosing a club in London, as it is an incredible city to visit. Aside from my distaste for John Terry, they are a decent choice. Chelsea is going to be good — if not great — for a long, long time.

5. Crystal Palace
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 7/23
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon
Comparisons: New Jersey Devils, Memphis Grizzlies
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Palace is a truly intriguing option. They seem to be a real working-class London club, a statement backed up by the management of Tony Pulis. I love their modern crest, though they aren’t new jacks. Australian mid Mile Jedinak is a great man to have in the middle of the park, and the addition of Brede Hangeland will make them even harder to play against this season.

6. Everton
Last championship: 1986-87
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science
Location: Liverpool
American players: GK Tim Howard
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos
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It’s hard not to like Everton, especially under borderline genius Roberto Martinez. Provided Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman don’t drop off, and we see continued development for Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, Everton will compete again for a UEFA Champions League slot. With a classy kit/color scheme and a fun rivalry with Liverpool, they are a good choice for new fans. Plus…. American World Cup hero Tim Howard is their longtime starting netminder.

7. Hull City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/23
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Kingston upon Hull
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Grimsby Town, Scunthorpe United
Comparisons: Toronto Raptors, Cincinnati Bengals
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Hull under Steve Bruce is an interesting club in that you really never know what you are going to get. The Tigers ran to the FA Cup final and gave Arsenal a scare before ultimately going down to defeat. They’ve already used their first European run to get into the playoff round by beating Trencin, and now have a winnable set-up against Belgian club Lokeren. They are true underdogs, not only in Europe but in England. If you can put up with owner drama — Assem Allam wants to change the team’s brand — you can probably enjoy rooting for a smaller club like Hull.

8. Leicester City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 9/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Foxes
Location: Leicester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Comparison: Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Orioles
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Leicester — or Lie-cester, as Ted Lasso would say — rolled through the Championship last season on 102 points, more than any team outside of Newcastle in the past decade. The Foxes are four-time FA Cup and three-time League Cup winners, and I personally dig the ‘Foxes’ nickname. Forty-six of their 108 seasons in football have been in England’s top flight, and it would be cool to see Leicester stick around for a while.

source: Getty Images9. Liverpool
Last championship: 1989-90
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Reds
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Everton, Manchester United
Comparison: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Flyers
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Really, it’s fair to call Liverpool the most storied club in the EPL, both title-winning (they have 18) and horrific (their supporters have been involved in two of the biggest tragedies in football history). Like Manchester United, now is a time to jump on board the Liverpool train if you want to join a big club. Liverpool has its return to the UEFA Champions League this year and came oh, so close last season before slipping up in the season’s penultimate fixture. And now, with Luis Suarez gone, perhaps there’s less villainy to choosing the Reds.

10. Manchester City
Last championship: 2013/14
Years in Premier League: 18/23
Nickname: Citizens
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Angels
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Manchester City is a cluster of fun. They have great money, talent and depth, and if you like Oasis you’re in even more luck (The Gallagher Brothers are massive fans). If you pick Man City now, you’re joining a good deal of perceived bandwagoneers — rightly or wrongly — but if baby blue is your hue, don’t let anyone convince you it’s any worse than choosing any other of the giant clubs in the world. Soccer’s money now. We have to deal with it. The reigning champs and winners of two of the last three, City will be a big club for a long time barring unforeseen advances in energy manipulation. Also consider that there will be a natural connection to NYC FC in MLS.

11. Manchester United
Last championship: 2010-11
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Red Devils
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City
Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots
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Now is an okay time to get on board with Manchester United and not just feel like you’ve jumped on a bandwagon. You’re a new soccer fan, and the team was a relative shambles last year. New manager Louis van Gaal has a great resume and the club is and will be loaded. United has England’s best talent (Wayne Rooney) and Holland’s captain in Robin van Persie. It will take just a couple great signings, center back and physical midfielder, for an immediate boost back into UEFA Champions League competition.

source: Getty Images12. Newcastle United
Last championship: 1926-27
Years in Premier League: 21/23
Nickname: Magpies
Location: North England
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Sunderland, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Bills
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Call them a combination of the Chicago Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, as Newcastle is a rich club that has only been the bridesmaid for years upon years. One of the biographies on the team’s history — and a great read at that — is entitled “Fifty Years of Hurt” (Yup). My goodness have they had hard luck and heartbreak along the way. This club has taken an absolute beating yet continues to find ways to rebound, most recently with a decent performance during their return to the top flight in 2010/11. It’s a miserable team to support, let’s be honest, but head butting manager Alan Pardew has a slew of new talent this season, and is set to tease his fans with another Top 10 run.

13. Queens Park Rangers
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 7/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Hoops, The R’s
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brentford, Chelsea, Fulham
Comparison: New York Mets, Brooklyn Nets
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Harry Redknapp guided the club into the Championship and then back into the Premier League in two years time, though his big budget and playoff success were bigger components than consistency. The opinionated boss should have no trouble adapting his veteran club to the Premier League, but could face problems if he struggles to do so. In talking to a QPR blogger for a piece I’m working on, he maintained that Loftus Road is the “most vocal ground in the country” on its best days, and that the club’s jersey is the best going. Judge for yourselves, but a London club, as stated before, does provide great travel opportunities.

14. Southampton
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 16/23
Nickname: Saints
Location: Southampton
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Comparison: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Athletics
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A club that has seen major glory, including an FA Cup win, but also been through the depths of despair following a relegation and administration allllllll the waaaaaay down to League One… now into a third-straight season in the Premier League. But wait!! The Saints have sold a bevy of their young talent and move forward with a bunch of question marks. Many are tabbing them as relegation favorites, but experienced players like Fraser Forster and Shane Long have joined an influx of new PL talent for manager Ronald Koeman. Hold on, this will be an interesting year to ride the St. Mary’s Express.

source: AP15. Stoke City
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 7/23 (Return 2008-09)
Nickname: Potters
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
American players: DF Geoff Cameron, MF Brek Shea
Biggest rivals: Port Vale
Comparison: Green Bay Packers (without the titles), Portland Trailblazers
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Loads of respect for the fans of Stoke, a club that has smartly moved up the Premier League pecking order. Moving from Tony Pulis to Mark Hughes carried a few bumps in the road, but the Potters were really moving by the end of last season. Bringing in defender Phil Bardsley and Barcelona attacker Bojan Krkic help both ends of the pitch, while they carry under-the-radar players Marko Arnautovic and, yes, the USMNT’s Geoff Cameron. As a new fan, you can adopt Stoke City and feel pretty decent about not hopping the major club bandwagon but also not worrying about falling out of the league.

16. Sunderland
Last championship: 1935-36
Years in Premier League: 14/23
Nickname: Mackems, Black Cats
Location: Sunderland, Tyne-upon-Wear
American players: FW Jozy Altidore
Biggest rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Sacramento Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs
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There’s decent tradition in Sunderland to go with a good manager in Gus Poyet, but it’s incredible that they even survived their moribund last season. American forward Jozy Altidore can still play a big role in their season, and their new relationship with DC United is also cause for raised American eyebrows. Another fun fact: their nickname isn’t an actual word (Mackem is short for Make Them, abbreviated).

17. Swansea City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/23
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Location: Wales
American players: MF Kristian Scott (reserves)
Biggest rivals: Cardiff City
Comparison: Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Suns
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A big time rugby area, Swansea is also indicative of the a travelers dream: friends have told me it’s a gorgeous place to visit. They’ve played a good deal of free-wheeling football and I certainly wouldn’t mind supporting the Swans under Garry Monk, a longtime club man who kept the team alive last season. Sure, they dealt with a bevy of training ground drama, but Swansea has the feel of a club that could stay up for a while.

18. Tottenham Hotspur
Last championship: 1960-61
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Spurs
Location: London
American players: GK Brad Friedel, DF DeAndre Yedlin (next season)
Biggest rivals: Arsenal
Comparison: Washington Capitals, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys
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Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, a cool-albeit-goofy logo and they play in London, so visiting them is an A-plus idea. Tottenham hates Arsenal, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well. Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players: Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela among them. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and his American backup, Brad Friedel. There’s really a terrific tradition in North London and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.

19. West Bromwich Albion

Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 9/23
Nickname: Baggies, West Brom
Location: West Midlands
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton
Comparison: Milwaukee Brewers, Indiana Pacers
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I’ll let Wikipedia show you why I have respect for the fans of this club:

“Albion have always enjoyed loyal and passionate support… Supporters of the team celebrate goals by bouncing up and down and chanting “Boing Boing”. This dates back to the 1992–93 season, when the team was promoted from the new Second Division. In recent years fans of the team have celebrated the end of each season by adopting a fancy dress theme for the final away match, including dressing as vikings in 2004 in honour of Player of the Season Thomas Gaardsøe. In 2002–03 Albion’s fans were voted the best in the Premier League by their peers, while in the BBC’s 2002 “national intelligence test” Test the Nation, they were found to be ‘more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters, registering an average score of 138′.”

source: Getty Images20. West Ham United
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 19/23
Nickname: Hammers, the Irons
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Millwall, Leyton Orient
Comparison: Philadelphia 76ers, Oakland Raiders
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The Irons are forever blowing bubbles, but in recent years have had to worry about blowing their season. West Ham is a proud club that has played some boring soccer under boss Sam Allardyce. To be fair, their last few seasons have featured injuries to big purchase Andy Carroll, and this year they’ve added Enner Valencia to what should be an okay attack should Kevin Nolan stay in form, healthy and unsuspended.

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”