UEFA Champions League Roundup: Zenit, Porto through; Celtic sunk by late Maribor goal

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Five of the final 10 places in this year’s UEFA Champions League field were decided today – the first of two days which complete the competition’s final playoff round. Closing out their two-leg matches at home, APOEL Nicosía, BATE Borisov, Porto, and Zenit St. Petersburg built on positive results last Wednesday, while Maribor’s late goal at Celtic Park put the Slovene champions into the competition’s 32-team group stage.

Each loser moves into the group stage of UEFA’s Europa League, with the draw for each competition schedule to be held Friday in Monaco.

Zenit St. Petersburg hosted the day’s early kickoff, carrying a 1-0 lead from its first leg at Belgium’s Standard Liège. That lead was doubled through Salomon Rondón in the 30th minute, with 10-man Zenit adding two goals through Hulk  (pictured) after Viktor Faizulin’s late first half sending off.

In Cyprus, APOEL had its tie with Danish champions Aalborg under control by halftime, a dominant first half performance yielding goals from Vinicius and Tomas De Vicenti. Second half goals from Efstathios Aloneftis and Cillian Sheridan piled on the Danes, who head to Europa League after a 4-0 pasting in Nicosía.

BATE Borisov got first half insurance on the 1-1 edge they earned at Slovan Bratislava when Mikhail Gordeychuk scored in the 41st minute, capitalizing off strong work from Vitali Rodionov and Dmitri Likhtarovich to beat Dusan Pernis. Late goals from Segrey Krivets and Rodionov gave the Belarusan champions a 3-0 win and its first trip to Champions League since 2012-13, when BATE earned an upset victory over Bayern Munich.

In Warsaw, Celtic’s result will be seen as justice served. After last week’s 1-1 draw in Slovenia, Celtic — whose 5-1 (agg.) loss to Legia Warsaw in the last round was overturned after confusion over ineligible player — was on the verge of making another group stage, with the score 0-0 at Celtic Park entering the final quarter hour. But in the 75th minute, chaos in front of Craig Gordon’s goal devolved into a chance for Marcos Tavares, who put the Slovenes into the final 36.

And finally in Portugal, a strong start for FC Porto waned as Lille came into the first half, but four minutes after intermission, Alergian international Yacine Brahimi, building on the 1-0 lead the Dragons took out of France, struck a demoralizing blow. Firing his direct kick into Vincent Enyama’s top corner, the Porto attacker gave his team a 2-0 lead, with Jackson Martínez’s insurance 20 minutes later sending Julen Lopetegui’s team into Champions League proper.

Five more matches tomorrow will complete this year’s Champions League field, with Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen, Napoli, and Athletic Club among the teams competing for the last places in Europe’s premier club competition.

Scores and schedules:

Tuesday’s results

Zenit St. Petersburg 3-0 (4-0) Standard Liège
APOEL Nicosía 4-0 (5-1) Aalborg
BATE Borisov 3-0 (4-1) Slovan Bratislava
Porto 2-0 (3-0) Lille
Celtic 0-1 (1-2) Maribor

Wednesday’s matches
(with first leg results; all games kick off at 2:45 p.m. Eastern)

Malmö 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg
Ludogorets 0-1 Steaua Bucharest
Arsenal 0-0 Besiktas
Bayer Leverkusen 3-2 Copenhagen
Athletic Club 1-1 Napoli

Top 15 new signings in the Premier League, so far

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Do you remember back in the summer when Premier League clubs were splashing the cash, new players were flooding in and fans of every single team believed they’d just signed either the “next big thing” or a “superstar” for the 2017-18 season?

Yeah, about that…

[ VIDEO: PL Saturday roundup ]

Regardless of how many new boys have so far been duds after arriving at their new team in the summer transfer window, plenty of players have made very impressive starts to life at their new clubs.

With that in mind, below is a look at the top 15 new guys in the PL after they arrived at their new PL clubs in the summer.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – 14 goals in 18 games for Liverpool in all comps. has surpassed all expectations. A bargain at $45 million. Superb start.
  2. Ederson (Manchester City) – The missing piece of the jigsaw for Man City. Confident goalkeeper capable with his feet and eager to rush off his line.
  3. Richarlison (Watford) – Brazilian was an unknown before the season but youngster has five goals and two assists so far and has been a revelation.
  4. Kyle Walker (Manchester City) – $70 million for a right back? $70 million for a right back. Walker’s pace and power has added proper balance to City’s defense along with left back Benjamin Mendy before his unfortunate injury.
  5. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) – Spaniard has scored 8 goals and added 4 assists and is the main man at Stamford Bridge. $90 million well spent.
  6. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United) – 12 goals in all comps, 8 goals in 12 in the PL, yeah, Lukaku’s doing well. His recent drought a little worrying.
  7. Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) – Six goals and 1 assist, Lacazette has settled in very well at Arsenal. His runs open up space for Ozil, Sanchez.
  8. Pascal Gross (Brighton) – 5 assists and three goals this season for the German playmaker make him an absolute bargain for the new boys.
  9. Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham) – Colombian arrived with a big reputation but the 21-year-old is exceeding it. Calm, powerful center back.
  10. Harry Maguire (Leicester City) – Towering defender is an elegant ballerina on the ball. Now an England international and key for the Foxes after leaving Hull for $22 million.
  11. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town) – Australian makes Huddersfield tick after making his loan move from Man City permanent. Smooth on the ball.
  12. Mario Lemina (Southampton) – Stunning start to life at Saints curtailed by injury. Combative midfielder looks like a $20 million bargain from Juventus.
  13. Jack Cork (Burnley) – Shrewd pickup by Dyche with Cork’s early season form earning him an England call-up. Tidy, direct player with vast experience.
  14. Mikel Merino (Newcastle United) – His loan move from Dortmund was quickly made permanent and he has class as well as guile in midfield.
  15. Erik Maxim Choupo-Moting (Stoke City) – Has provided extra quality up top for Stoke with 3 goals and 3 assists. Superb free transfer.

Notable mentions: Chris Wood (Burnley), Jonas Lossl (Huddersfield), Benjamin Mendy (Manchester City), Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Kurt Zouma (Stoke City, on loan from Chelsea), Tammy Abraham (Swansea City, on loan from Chelsea)

Report: Mesut Ozil to return to Schalke

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Is Mesut Ozil heading home?

The German playmaker from Gelsenkirchen is said to be contemplating a return to his hometown club Schalke 04 next summer.

[ MORE: 3 things from Arsenal, Spurs ]

Ozil, 29, has just over six months left to run on his current Arsenal contract and is a free to talk to non-English clubs on January 1 about a free transfer on July 1, 2018.

After coming through Schalke’s youth system, Ozil helped the Bundesliga side challenge for the title in 2006-07 and reach the UEFA Champions League before moving on to first Werder Bremen after a contract dispute with Schalke, then Real Madrid following his star displays at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Perhaps Ozil feels like there is unfinished business at Schalke? Their president Clemens Tonnies wants Ozil to return home but admits it may be difficult financially.

“I still have a great relationship with Mesut,” Tonnies told German outlet Kicker. “We would definitely consider it [a return]. If it fits for both sides, it would be nice. The player could say that he returns to his roots, and that he plays football in this stadium and for those fans and the region once again. But it will certainly not happen next season.”

Schalke are enjoying somewhat of a resurgence this season with the club currently in second-place in the German top-flight and a young, talented squad impressing (shoutout to USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie!) ahead of their Revierderby clash with bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund this weekend.

Would this be a good move for Ozil?

Several of Europe’s biggest clubs have been linked with a move for the mercurial midfielder, while the likes of Arsenal’s Premier League rivals Manchester United are also said to be monitoring his situation closely, but it would seem he is closer than Alexis Sanchez to remaining at Arsenal beyond this season.

At the weekend Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger sung the praises of Ozil and fellow Arsenal contract rebel Alexis Sanchez, with Ozil having an assist on Arsenal’s opening goal and putting in a superb display in their 2-0 North London derby win against Tottenham Hotspur.

“The quality of the contract of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well, you know. I am convinced they love the club, they love the team but all the rest will be decided, when? I don’t really know,” Wenger said. “I’m not alone to master that. [Quality of the contract] is part of it. The whole thing has to be right, they have to be happy. I believe they love the club and they want to stay but there are other top clubs out there who offer good contracts as well.”

It is clear that Ozil and Sanchez have enjoyed being at Arsenal, for the most part, but perhaps Ozil’s love for another club, his boyhood team Schalke, will see him head back to the Veltins-Arena to finish up his playing days?

So often lambasted for not caring enough or working hard enough, you can’t argue with Ozil’s stats in the attacking third since he arrived at Arsenal in the summer of 2013. He has earned the right to decide where he goes next as he prepares to sign the biggest, and perhaps last, contract of his career.

That could be the sticking point for Schalke (especially with their president saying a move for Ozil is unlikely this summer) but if they don’t have to pay a transfer fee to bring home a local hero, surely it would be smart business to do it now rather than wait few years after he joins another club.

The myth that Schalke is some small Bundesliga club remains out there, even though they have one of the largest fanbases in Europe and are able to compete financially with the Bundesliga’s best.

Ozil heading home makes sense on many levels but we all know the deciding factor: $$$.

Louis van Gaal to take over at Everton?

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Bookmakers have slashed the odds of Louis Van Gaal becoming Everton’s new manager.

Van Gaal, 66, is now the second favorite to be the next permanent Toffees boss with Watford manager Marco Silva still the favorite to take charge at Goodison Park despite Everton having two bids for the Portuguese manager knocked back.

David Unsworth continues to lead Everton on an interim basis but with unimpressive results and performances, the jury is out on him being handed the job on a permanent basis.

LVG has been out of work since being fired by Manchester United in the summer of 2016, a few days after he won the FA Cup. The Dutchman and his unconventional methods led United to fourth and fifth place Premier League finishes in his two season at Old Trafford but he was often criticized by fans for their slow, predictable style of play.

Would van Gaal be a good fit for Everton?

His “name” would perhaps suit owner Farhad Moshiri who is looking to push Everton onto the next level and LVG’s penchant for developing young talent throughout his managerial career certainly aligns with Everton’s philosophy. Given the large number of talented youngsters they currently have (Ademola Lookman, Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate to name a few) this may not be the worst appointment in the world.

Is van Gaal a bit odd? Yes, he’s pretty nuts. Would he be hungry to prove everyone in England wrong? Yes, he would be. Are Everton a team which has hit rock bottom and can easily improve in the coming months? Yes, that’s true. The lack of current candidates for the job do suggest that Everton’s expectations are perhaps a lot higher than their currently playing squad (assembled by LVG’s nemesis Ronald Koeman) can achieve.

Given his experience at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man United, plus leading AZ Alkmaar, who had similar expectations to Everton, to a Dutch league title, perhaps the Toffees could do a lot worse than appointing LVG. That may be an unpopular opinion but if Everton can’t get Silva, can they really keep caretaker boss Unsworth in charge for much longer?

Plus, he’s always good value in press conferences and there would be plenty of added intrigue at Everton.

Niasse first-ever PL player to be charged with “deception”

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Oumar Niasse will go down in the history books. Not for a good reason.

[ RECAP: Palace 2-2 Everton

On Tuesday the English Football Association announced that Everton’s striker had succeeded in “successful deception of a match official” when winning a penalty kick for the Toffees at Crystal Palace on Saturday during their 2-2 draw.

In charging Niasse with simulation, he becomes the first-ever Premier League player to be sanctioned under new rules introduced in May.

Players in the lower-tiers of English soccer have already been banned for two games during this season for simulation and Niasse can either accept his automatic two-match ban or appeal the decision.

Niasse went down under minimal contact from Palace’s Scott Dann in the box and won a sixth-minute penalty kick which Leighton Baines scored. Niasse, who came close to joining Palace in the transfer deadline day in the summer, later scored an equalizer to make it 2-2.

The FA had the following to say about the decision to charge Niasse.

 “Incidents which suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation are referred to a panel consisting of one ex-match official, one ex-manager and one ex-player. Each panel member will be asked to review all available video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it was an offence of ‘Successful Deception of a Match Official.’ Only in circumstances where the panel are unanimous would the FA issue a charge.”

Niasse did go down very easily and was looking straight towards referee Anthony Taylor for a penalty kick, which he received. If he appeals, it’s unlikely he will win it.

There is no place in the game for simulation and although it won’t get two points back for Crystal Palace, hopefully these bans will stamp it out of the game.

I’m all for more of these bans being dished out to stamp out the problem of simulation.