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

Watch Live: West Ham v. Leicester City

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Friday Night Football under the lights in east London. Beautiful.

West Ham United host Leicester City on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as David Moyes takes charge of his first home game as Hammers boss.

Leicester and Claude Puel will play on the counter and look to Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez for inspiration at the London Stadium, while Moyes is putting all of his faith in Andy Carroll.

After a defeat at Watford in his opening game as West Ham boss last week, Moyes could really do with a win to kick-start his Hammers career.

As for Puel, he’s had one win, one draw and one defeat from his three PL games in charge of Leicester so far but the Foxes have shown plenty of promise in those outings.

In team news West Ham are missing Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez through injury so Carroll starts up top with Marko Arnautovic and Manuel Lanzini supporting him.

Leicester start with Mahrez just off Vardy with Demarai Gray once again starting out wide in a 4-4-1-1 formation.

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West Ham

Leicester

FIFA reminds World Cup-bound Peru about government meddling

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has reminded the Peruvian soccer federation of rules prohibiting interference by national governments, one week after the South American country qualified for its first World Cup since 1982.

FIFA says the letter reacts to the “current draft of the Peruvian Sports Law” presented to a congressional committee last month. FIFA says the proposed text to lawmakers includes “certain items that, if implemented, would contravene the FIFA Statutes.”

In serious cases, FIFA can suspend a country’s national and club teams, plus officials, from international competitions and meetings.

Peruvian officials are due in Moscow next week for the World Cup draw.

Peru is not likely to be facing any action, but FIFA has promised to “continue to monitor the situation.”

PL Preview: Man United v. Brighton

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  • United have scored 19 goals, 6 wins from 6 at home this season
  • Brighton unbeaten in 5 games
  • Zlatan, Pogba, Rojo all fit for United

Manchester United host newly-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Red Devils aiming to keep their 100 percent home record in the PL intact.

[ MORE: Mourinho hits back at critics

Brighton are on a five-game unbeaten run in their debut campaign in the PL and Chris Hughton‘s side have settled impressively as they sit in ninth-place in the table.

Jose Mourinho’s United sit in second place but are eight points behind crosstown rivals Manchester City who are settling a rasping early-season pace in the Premier League. United and City clash at Old Trafford on Dec. 10 so Mourinho’s men can’t afford any dropped points between now and then.

In team news United are without central defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, while Brighton have no new injury concerns.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on Pogba’s return to fitness: “Paul is still on this process where he cannot reach the fatigue limit, he cannot go more than 65 to 70 minutes because that’s when fatigue normally arrives and with so many matches consecutively we need to protect such an important player for us.”

Chris Hughton on Brighton’s mindset heading to Old Trafford: “There aren’t many teams at our level that are going to go there and win. You’ve got to play at a very high level and you’ve certainly got to have that bit of luck that goes with a win away from home at any one of the big clubs. But these are the days you’ve worked so hard for as a team and it’s what we got promoted for. What we hope to do is to make a good account of ourselves there and we hope we can do that.”

Prediction

I expect a big home win for United who are simply too powerful in attack for most PL clubs to handle. Sure, their direct approach gets criticized by many but they’re second in the PL table for a reason and Mourinho’s squad has extreme strength in depth in attack. 3-0 to the Red Devils.

Bookmakers odds on next USMNT boss

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After Sol Campbell (seriously) threw his hat into the ring to become the next U.S. men’s national team boss, now seems like a good time to check in on who are the current names being mentioned for the role.

Campbell told ESPN that he is interested in the vacant USMNT role as the former Arsenal and Tottenham star is currently the assistant coach of the Trinidad & Tobago national team.

“I think there is a lot of soul-searching [for the U.S. to do]. I think the main thing you’ve got to look at [with] America is where do they go now? They’ve invested a lot of money, and I think sometimes you’ve got to look in different area,” Campbell said. “You can’t always look in the same places. Yes, they want to keep it local, and they want to keep as much in USA with the players and the staff, but sometimes you’ve got to open up. I think there’s guys around the world who could contribute.”

“Maybe not [people] on their hit list, maybe not on the paper list, maybe not on the agent’s list, but guys who probably could help them in different ways on the field: attack-wise, defense-wise. Who knows? If they came to me, maybe I could help them out. Who knows? But I think they have got to start looking in different directions.”

Campbell’s coaching credentials are obviously limited but the former England international asking the U.S. to have a global coaching search isn’t asking for anything which hasn’t already been done. See: Klinsmann, Jurgen.

Of course, there is no imminent appointment expected with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) presidential race happening in February 2018, so appointing a new boss between now and would be a big mistake if the coach’s philosophy doesn’t fall in line with whoever is the leader of U.S. Soccer moving forward.

Still, via betting site Oddschecker, it’s very intriguing to see some of the names being linked with the USMNT job. Here are the odds on offer…


Sam Allardyce – 1/2 favorite
Caleb Porter – 8/1
Gregg Berhalter – 14/1
Jesse Marsch – 14/1
Laurent Blanc – 14/1
Patrick Vieira- 14/1
David Wagner – 16/1
Peter Vermes – 16/1
Bob Bradley – 20/1


Sam Allardyce has already put himself out there with regards to the USMNT job and his vast experience leading club teams from ruin to redemption could work well in this scenario, even if Big Sam’s knowledge of Major League Soccer and the USMNT is vastly inferior to MLS coaches in the running.

Caleb Porter leaving his role with the Portland Timbers has led to plenty of intriguing reports and rumors but is he really the right man to lead the USMNT?

Other MLS coaches linked with the position are Jesse Marsch who continues to overachieve with the New York Red Bulls, while Gregg Berhalter in his uncertain situation with Columbus Crew could be a good shout, especially with his brother Jay playing a prominent role at U.S. Soccer.

David Wagner’s past as a USMNT player will resonate strongly with many involved in the American soccer community but he’s unlikely to leave Huddersfield anytime soon, and then there’s Bob Bradley on the list. Quite why he’s on there as he builds LAFC ahead of their debut season in MLS in 2018 says it all about these bookies odds.

Take it all with a hefty pinch of salt and expect no movement for a while as the USSF presidential election takes center stage over the next few months. When that concludes and a successor (more than likely) is selected to replace Sunil Gulati, then we should expect a new head coach to be appointed by the USMNT.

With no World Cup next summer or competitive games until 2019, what’s the rush?

We are talking about a nation which is not only 24th in the FIFA world rankings, but also one where the sport is growing an you get the sense a fine crop of players are bursting to come through and the 2018 World Cup could be the catalyst for significant change in the USMNT playing squad.

Time needs to be taken to assess who the best man for the job would be and, right now, nobody jumps off the page as the leading contender. After the World Cup next summer plenty of international coaches will become available as they come to the end of their cycle or they’re fired. In my opinion, why not wait until the end? Having an interim boss in charge for a friendly match in January and two more in March and June isn’t the end of the world and gives the U.S. plenty of time to make the correct decision moving forward.

This next hire is crucially important to the future of the USMNT.