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

Real Madrid adds Marcelo to list of injured players

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid says defender Marcelo has joined its growing list of injured players after tearing a muscle in his left leg.

Marcelo injured his leg during the second half of Wednesday’s 1-0 home loss to Real Betis. The club did not specify how long he would be sidelined.

Madrid was already without Marcelo’s backup, Theo Hernandez, who is recovering from a shoulder injury. Striker Karim Benzema, midfielders Toni Kroos and Mateo Kovacic, and defender Jesus Vallejo are also out with injuries.

Madrid has gotten off to a slow start after two draws and a loss in three home matches. With only two wins from five matches, it is seven points behind leader Barcelona.

On Saturday, Madrid visits Alaves, which has lost all five of its matches this season.

STREAM, TV: Full Premier League schedule

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The Premier League season is in full flow and plenty of tasty games are coming your way in Week 6.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The full TV schedule for this weekend is 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.

Kicking things off on Saturday is a big London derby at the London Stadium between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as the Hammers aim to make it three home wins on the spin against Spurs.

Manchester City then host Crystal Palace at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Roy Hodgson looks to grab his first points as Eagles boss and Pep Guardiola‘s men aim to stay top of the table.

At the same time Stoke City host Chelsea at the bet365 Stadium (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) with Mark Hughes‘ Potters aiming to add the reigning champs to their big scalps at home so far this season after beating Arsenal and drawing with Man United.

To round things off on Saturday, Leicester City host Liverpool at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as Jurgen Klopp hopes Liverpool’s defensive issues dissipate.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

Sunday sees one game with Brighton & Hove Albion hosting Newcastle United at the Amex (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the two newly-promoted teams squaring off.

Week 6 ends with Arsenal hosting West Bromwich Albion on Monday at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Can Arsene Wenger‘s men get back on track?

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

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: West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Chelsea – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Huddersfield – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Liverpool — NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
11 a.m. ET: Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Newcastle United – NBCSN [STREAM

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. West Bromwich Albion – NBCSN [STREAM]

Eric Wynalda for US Soccer president?

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“President Eric Wynalda” has a ring to it, right?

It isn’t clear if the current Fox Soccer analyst, coach and Hall of Fame former U.S. national team striker will challenge 11-year incumbent Sunil Gulati for the title as U.S. Soccer President in an upcoming vote in February 2018 but it certainly seems like the 48-year-old is thinking about it.

Boston-based attorney Steve Gans has said he will challenge Gulati for the position as the leading man in U.S. soccer’s governing body, while a New Englanders John Motta and Paul Lapointe are both said to be considering a bid to challenge the previously unchallenged Gulati.

In an interview with the Guardian former USMNT forward Wynalda had this to say about his intentions to change things at the top of the USSF.

“I’ve stood back for two decades waiting for things to get better,” Wynalda says. “What I’ve realized is that there is not a whole lot of people who are willing or even wanting to invoke change. Out of moral obligation, I think I’m finally at the point where I’m asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ I don’t want to tweet something or write an article or start a fight. I want to roll up my sleeves.”

Wynalda also had some pretty scathing words about Gulati who he says has an “agenda is to stay in power and that is it.”

I don’t think it is healthy [to have someone in charge for 11 years] unless there is a clear vision or a plan,” Wynalda says. “Right now, it is just one guy who not only professes to be the smartest guy in the room and has an answer for every single question you throw at him but he has an agenda and that is why there is a lot of people saying enough is enough. His agenda is to stay in power and that is it.”

Would Wynalda get your vote?

Following the Jurgen Klinsmann debacle and a bad spell for Bruce Arena which has the USMNT struggling to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, plenty of supporters of the game in the U.S. believe changes to the way the game is governed at the top may bring about positive change.

February is a long way away but it’s not too far-fetched to say that if the U.S. do not qualify for the World Cup in Russia then Gulati will have opponents lining up to try and replace him as the main decision maker.

Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi nominees for FIFA prize for 3rd year

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LONDON (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar are the contenders for FIFA’s top player award for the third straight year.

The nominations for the FIFA Best awards were announced Friday in London, where the ceremony will take place next month. Ronaldo is favored to join Messi as a five-time winner.

While Ronaldo won the Spanish league and Champions League last season at Real Madrid, Messi and Neymar only collected the Copa del Rey title with Barcelona.

Off the field, the three players have all been embroiled in tax cases in Spain over the last year.