Preview: UEFA Champions League play-offs – Arsenal wary of Turkish test

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The riches of the UEFA Champions League group stages is within touching distance for these 20 teams. Only 10 will make it.

Over the next week, a home and away leg in the UCL play-offs will determine which sides make it to the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition.

[RELATED: Latest Champions League news]

Premier League giants Arsenal are in action, as they face a tricky trip away to Turkey for the second season running. Last year the Gunners hammered Fenerbache to grab a place in the group stages and now they must head back to Istanbul to play Besiktas on Tuesday before welcoming them to the Emirates next Wednesday.

The Gunners will be without left back Kieran Gibbs who tweaked his hamstring against Crystal Palace on Saturday, while Per Mertesacker could be rushed back if Laurent Koscielny doesn’t recover from injury in time. As for Besiktas, they have former Chelsea striker Demba Ba up front, while Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson started in their last game against Feyenoord as the Turkish club won 5-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round. They are managed by former Croatian national team boss Slaven Bilic and the hostile atmosphere in the Ataturk Stadium will provide the Gunners with a stern test.

Can Arsene Wenger’s men prevail?

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Napoli and Atheltic Bilbao clash in what promises to be a monster tie between the Serie A and La Liga clubs. Rafael Benitez’s Napoli were within a whisker of getting out of their UCL group last term but Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal snuck through, while Bilbao will make their first appearance in the Champions League group stage since 1998-99 if they can get past their Italian opponents.

Other ties which standout on Tuesday is a Northern European battle between Denmark’s FC Copenhagen and Bayer Leverkusen from the Bundesliga, plus former European champions Steaua Bucharest will face Bulgarian champs Ludogorets.

On Wednesday five more UCL play-offs are in store as Ligue 1 side Lille and Portugese giants FC Porto square off, while reinstated Glasgow Celtic face Slovenian champions Maribor after the Hoops were let back in the tournament following Legia Warsaw’s administrative error. Zenit St Petersburg, managed by Andre Villas-Boas face Belgian side Standard Liege, plus Danish side Aalborg host Cyrpus’ Apoel Nicosia.

Below is the draw in full for the play-offs, with the first legs arriving this week, then the second legs coming up next week.

UEFA Champions League play-off first leg (second legs to be played August 26/27)

Tuesday
Besiktas vs. Arsenal
FC Copenhagen vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Napoli vs. Athletic Bilbao
Salzburg vs. Malmo
Steaua Bucharest vs. Ludogorets

Wednesday
Aalborg vs. Apoel Nicosia
Lille vs. Porto
Maribor vs. Celtic
Slovan Bratislava vs. BATE Borisov
Standard Liege vs. Zenit St. Petersburg

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. West Ham United

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  • West Ham one loss in last 8 PL matches
  • Liverpool won 4-1 in London on Nov. 4
  • Reds lead all-time 70W-37D-28L

Liverpool can move second in the Premier League if it handles its business against West Ham United at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds enter the day two points and two goals of differential behind Manchester United, and are a point ahead of fourth-placed Chelsea. The Red Devils and Blues meet on Sunday.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

A Mohamed Salah double led the Reds past the Irons in a London Stadium meeting earlier this season, but West Ham is a much different team under David Moyes.

Part of that is a firing Marko Arnautovic, who has seven goals and three assists in his last nine matches for West Ham.

The Irons announced the sale of Jose Fonte to Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang on Friday.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool’s Spanish training camp“As always with a training camp, you want the boys to be together the whole day. We are a lot together but not when we have time off so we had that time as well.  The weather was brilliant and everything was easier – if you have to do hard work, which we did there, it is easier if the weather plays in your cards and that was a change of circumstance after a long winter. ”

West Ham’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez on the Irons renewed season“We had our targets, but they changed. At the beginning of the season, we were aiming to qualify for European competition, but now we are fighting against relegation, but that is sport, that is football and part of life, so we need to accept it and try to be better and get out and see what’s going to happen next year. If we have all these players recovered, probably next year we are going to be fighting for a European position, you never know.”

Prediction

The Reds are hard to predict, but the lay-off between their Porto triumph in the Champions League and Saturday’s match should benefit Liverpool. 2-1 to the hosts.

Pochettino: Dembele “next to Ronaldinho, Maradona”

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Mousa Dembele‘s been appreciated as a midfielder for sometime, but the Belgian is getting as many rave reviews as any other non-scorer these days.

Tottenham’s middle man got the twice-over from his manager on Friday, as Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino prepares for Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

Calling Dembele a “genius,” Pochettino heaped praise on the 30-year-old.

“I’ve told you, I put him next to Ronaldinho, Maradona, Okocha – players I’ve been lucky enough to play with. For me he’s one of the unbelievable talents in the history of football.”

The temptation is to make a joke about Dembele being next to Ronaldinho and Maradona in the lobby of an awards ceremony, but the player has been dynamite for some time.

The advanced stats, for what they’re worth, aren’t incredibly kind to Dembele aside from his club-best 93 percent passing percentage and average of 2.2 successful dribbles per game. Still, it’s improbably hard to ignore the eye test, and Dembele passes that one every time.

Spurs are off to Selhurst Park for a Sunday match with Palace (Watch live at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fonte leaves West Ham after one year (for Dalian Yifang)

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Surely it was supposed to go a bit better than this: West Ham has moved center back Jose Fonte to the Chinese Super League.

Fonte, 34, is the latest member of Dalian Yifang, the Irons announced Friday. Reports say it’s a move for about $7 million.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

It ends an unexceptional 12 months for the center back, who made just 24 appearances for West Ham after engineering a move away from Southampton.

Fonte was publicly criticized by West Ham’s co-owner David Sullivan earlier this season as Sullivan said his children “begged him” not to sign Fonte and Robert Snodgrass last January. Ouch.

Injured for much of this season, Fonte was one of the Saints’ heroes as the club moved from the disappointment of League One to the Europa League.

Those heroics inspired this longform piece from Joe Prince-Wright.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Week 28 of the Premier League season is here and the main talking points are the battle for the top four and the ever-changing relegation situation.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

Remember: due to the League Cup final on Sunday, finalists Arsenal will host Manchester City on Thursday, Mar. 1 as they were also scheduled to play in the PL this weekend. That worked out smoothly.

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Stoke City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Swansea City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Watford vs. Everton – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM