2017/18 UEFA Champions League

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UCL: Iniesta likely available for Barca ahead of massive Chelsea meeting

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Barcelona could receive a major lift ahead of its crucial UEFA Champions League second leg on Wednesday against Chelsea.

Midfielder Andres Iniesta looks set to return to the pitch after a recent injury layoff, which would prove vital for Ernesto Valverde’s squad selection in the Round of 16.

Iniesta has been out of action for over a week after sustaining a hamstring injury on March 4 against Atletico. However, the veteran was in training on Monday, which suggests that the Spaniard will be a role against the Blues.

The two sides are currently level at 1-1 after the first leg at Stamford Bridge in February, but Barca’s vital away goal courtesy of Lionel Messi has Valverde’s men in a good position.

Barcelona does have options behind Iniesta in the pecking order, including Andre Gomes and Ousmane Dembele, depending on how the Spanish leaders line up.

The La Liga side is without Philippe Coutinho in the UCL after the former Liverpool attacker appeared for the Premier League side earlier this season in the competition.

Gullit believes Conte can rescue Chelsea job with win vs. Barcelona

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Antonio Conte‘s time at Chelsea has quickly gone from jubilation in winning the Premier League to fury over the club’s inconsistency in England’s top flight in 2018.

The Italian manager has surely been on the hot seat for much of the current campaign, Conte’s second in charge in London, which began with an unexpected home defeat to Burnley in August 2017.

One former Chelsea manager believes that it won’t be a certainty that Conte is exiled from the club though, particularly if the Blues can pull off a massive victory at the Camp Nou against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.

“If he gets Barcelona out of the Champions League, then it will be very difficult to replace him,” Ruud Gullit told Omnisport, speaking at the 2018 Laureus World Sports Awards.

“He knows that, he knows also that the championship in England is difficult now to get. They know that as well.

“Manchester City have now won the EFL Cup so they have the confidence, it’s hard for them to lose any points [in the Premier League]… So the best thing is to focus yourself on the Champions League.”

Conte has been the subject of sacking rumors for several months now, however, owner Roman Abramovich and the club have opted to stick with the successful manager.

The 48-year-old has been linked with returning to Serie A or possibly the Italian national team as well, after talian Football Federation vice-president Alessandro Costacurta recently confirmed that Conte is on the shortlist to be named Azzurri boss after the European nation missed out on qualification to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Conte hopeful Chelsea can expose Barcelona’s defensive “weakness”

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Chelsea’s up-and-down 2017/18 season has proven to be significantly different from last year’s Premier League title-winning campaign, but the Blues are hopeful that they’ve found their form at the right time.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton in FA Cup quarters, Chelsea gets Leicester ]

Manager Antonio Conte and his club currently sit fourth in England’s top flight, and with a 19-point gap separating the Blues from leaders Manchester City, the Italian boss can turn his attention to the UEFA Champions League — which the competition picks back up for the London side on Tuesday.

It won’t be an easy task though, with Spanish giants Barcelona eagerly waiting in the knockout phase.

With a dynamic attack, led by Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, Conte believes that Chelsea must exploit Barca’s defensive “weakness” in order to have any shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

“We have been analyzing this team for a long time; we started one month ago and analyzed this team,” Conte said. “We are speaking about one of the best teams in the world. We have to try to have the perfect game and to try to make the best decisions also for this type of team.

“This is a different opponent. They have a fantastic characteristic with the ball, but they can have a weakness without the ball and we must try to exploit this.”

While Conte’s belief in his attack, which boasts plenty of quality players in its own right, is admirable and likely the difference in the Round of 16 clash, Barcelona’s back line has been stellar for most of this season.

The Blaugrana have conceded just 11 times in La Liga play, second to only Atletico Madrid — who has allowed nine goals. Barca currently sits ahead of the pack in Spain’s first division, boasting a perfect record in domestic play.

UCL Wednesday preview: Four spots up for grabs, Liverpool still in mix

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We’re almost at the point of the UEFA Champions League season where things really start to get interesting, but first, four final teams must work their way into the knockout stage field.

[ MORE: Will Chelsea’s slip up on Tuesday prove costly in the Round of 16? ]

Manchester United, Roma, Basel and Juventus all booked their places in the next round on Tuesday, while Bayern Munich closed out group play in style with a convincing win over Paris Saint-Germain.

On Wednesday, positions are open in Groups E through G, including two spots in E, which currently has Liverpool, Sevilla and Spartak Moscow vying for a place in the Round of 16.

In Group F, Manchester City has already eased its way into the knockout phase with a perfect record thus far, leaving Shakhtar Donetsk and Napoli left to fight for one spot in the UCL and the other transferring over to the Europa League.

Finally, Porto and Red Bull Leipzig each have a shot at the next round as they enter the final day of competition. Leipzig will face group winners Besiktas, while Porto takes on defending Ligue 1 champions Monaco, who have already been eliminated from advancing.

Here’s a look at the teams that have already qualified for the knockout phase.

Group A: Man United, Basel

Group B: PSG, Bayern Munich

Group C: Roma, Chelsea

Group D: Barcelona, Juventus

Group E: Two spots open

Group F: Man City, one spot open

Group G: Besiktas, one spot open

Group H: Tottenham, Real Madrid

Bayern fans unhappy with Champions League ticket prices

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich fans were unhappy with the price of tickets for their team’s match at Anderlecht in the Champions League.

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The fans held banners during Wednesday’s game saying, “Are your necks not full? Is your greed now finally satisfied?”

A Bayern fan group, Club Nr. 12, issued a statement saying Anderlecht had made 85 percent of the tickets available to the German club’s fans priced at 100 euros ($118).

“Even by the standards of the generally high-priced Champions League, this represents a new dimension for a first-round game,” said the statement, which thanked Bayern for supplementing the tickets so fans had could pay 70 euros ($82.50).

Many Bayern fans avoided the trip to Brussels altogether, while 91 percent of more than 2,500 Club Nr. 12 members said in a survey that ticket prices were “completely unacceptable.”

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Anderlecht spokesman David Steegen told The Associated Press that Bayern fans were charged “exactly the same price” as home fans who bought single tickets to the game. He said fans who bought a three-game Champions League bundle were offered a reduction.