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UCL: Ranking each 2017/18 group from easiest to most difficult


It’s always to play the “which team has the hardest or easiest group?” game before UEFA Champions League play has even kicked off.

[ MORE: UCL draw — Group H features Real, Dortmund and Spurs ]

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do here today.

Thursday’s draw featured many twists and turns, just as every other year does, but there’s little debating which groups will be the most challenging for the 2017/18 group stage.

[ MORE: Ibrahimovic move helps Man United’s aspirations in 17/18 ]

Below, we’ll rate and take a look at which groups present the biggest threat to the teams in them starting with the easiest and working our way down to the most difficult.

(Scale is 1-10 with 1 being the easiest and 10 presenting the biggest challenge)

Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, FC Basel, CSKA Moscow

(Rating: 2)

Other than the travel to Russia, Manchester United should have little problems with their group. Benfica is a side worth watching out for given their track record in the UCL, which includes reaching the knockout phase in the last two seasons.

Group B: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic

(Rating: 4)

There’s no doubting who the two heavyweights are in this group, so it’s a massive uphill climb for Anderlecht and Celtic if they want to pull off any upsets. Chances are though, both clubs will be vying for a place in the Europa League.

Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiakos, Sporting Lisbon

(Rating: 4.5)

Barca and Juventus will be the two sides most people are looking at — and rightfully so. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Sporting or Olympiakos advances, but both clubs present difficult fixtures when playing at home, so they could quietly make some noise.

Group E: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

(Rating: 5)

Liverpool got the group it wanted and needed as the Premier League side re-joins the UCL this season. Sevilla has had loads of success in the Europa League, winning three of the last four years, but the Champions League is a different animal.

Group C: Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, AS Roma, Qarabag

(Rating: 6)

On paper this should be a tricky group given the three big names, but Roma is a very different side than they were last year. They don’t boast the attacking threats that they once did, and Atletico and Chelsea should be able to handle themselves, despite having to make tough trips to Azerbaijan to face Qarabag in their inaugural UCL season.

Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord

(Rating: 7)

This group is a lot tougher than it looks. Feyenoord won’t have much expected of them, but the Dutch side proved last season in domestic play that they can be a force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, Napoli and Man City present dangerous attacking fronts and will be the ones that are expected to reach the last 16.

Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besitkas, Red Bull Leipzig

(Rating: 7.5)

This could very well be the most underrated group given the names in it, but don’t sleep on any of these four clubs. Monaco should be the favorite to win Group G, but given all the losses they’ve suffered this summer in the transfer market it’s simply a different team from the 2016/17 season. Also, watch out for RB Leipzig in its first UCL appearance.

Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham Hotspur, APOEL

(Rating: 9.5)

As far as English sides go, Spurs really got the short end of the stick with this draw. While APOEL will likely be the club that has to receive the brutal beatings from all three contenders, Spurs will have the challenging task on its hands of trying to finish above Real and Dortmund, who have both found success in the competition as of late.

Burnley 1-0 Stoke City: Barnes’ late strike guides Clarets into top four

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Don’t look now, but the Clarets have climbed into the Premier League top four.

Burnley found a way Stoke City late on Tuesday, picking up a 1-0 win at the Turf Moor behind Ashley Barnes‘ late finish.

[ MORE: Gremio reaches Club World Cup final, awaits Real Madrid or Al Jazira ]

The Clarets, who have now secured 31 points over their first 17 matches this season, leapfrogged Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham with the victory. However, all three sides will be in action on Wednesday.

Steven Defour nearly put Burnley ahead on 69 minutes, when the front man tested Stoke keeper Jack Butland — who had to make a sprawling save to his right.

While Stoke mustered up several quality chances, it was Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s blast in the first half that nearly found the top left corner.

Next up for Burnley will be a date against Brighton on Saturday, while Stoke travels to Huddersfield the same day.

Club World Cup wrap: Gremio reaches final, Urawa takes fifth place

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One half of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup final was decided on Tuesday as Brazilian side Gremio topped Liga MX champions Pachuca.

Second-half substitute Everton proved to be the difference for the Brazilians, with the attacker scoring in extra time to lift Gremio.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

Pachuca’s chances of completing a comeback were extinguished with 10 minutes remaining in extra time, as Víctor Guzman was sent off upon picking up his second yellow card of the semifinal.

Meanwhile, Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds captured fifth place in the tournament after narrowly topping Wydad Casablanca, 3-2.

Despite going behind early, Urawa responded almost immediately in the first half, before building its lead to 3-1 at the hour mark.

A late penalty kick from Reda Hajhouj gave Casablanca a glimmer of hope in the dying moments, however, the Moroccan-based club couldn’t find a way to equalize.

Gremio will await either La Liga giants Real Madrid or Al Jazira in the Club World Cup final, which will be played on Saturday. The loser of that match will take on Pachuca in the third-place game.

Below are the scores from Tuesday’s FIFA Club World Cup matches.

Gremio 1-0 Pachuca (after extra time)

Wydad Casablanca 2-3 Urawa Red Diamonds — Fifth-place match

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]