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Sami Khedira could miss six months with injury

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Real Madrid and Germany midfielder Sami Khedira may face up to six months on the sidelines thanks to an injury picked up in Germany’s friendly with Italy on Friday evening. That long absence could mean Khedira misses out on the chance to represent his country in Brazil 2014.

A collision with azzurri midfielder Andrea Pirlo, midway through the second half, left Khedira clutching his knee in pain. The German was taken to the hospital, where scans revealed a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament. The German Football Association has confirmed the ACL tear, and team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt stated that Khedira will need to undergo surgery. The doctor did state, however, that he hopes the midfielder will be healthy again for the start of the World Cup.

Khedira moved to Real Madrid in 2010, and has since had 89 appearances with the Spanish giants. He’s become a regular in the squad this season, appearing in 11 out of 13 of Real’s league matches and starting in all four Champions League games. Khedira is also a fixture in the German national side, with 44 caps and four goals for his country.Germany coach Joachim Löw concedes that Khedira’s injury and upcoming surgery are indeed a blow for the national team, but he remains hopeful that the midfielder will be part of the squad heading to Brazil: “[Khedira] is a great player on and off the pitch, he is always thinking positively and this will help and I am optimistic that he will be back in time for the kick-off of the World Cup. We wish him all the best and keep our fingers crossed that the surgery goes well and he can quickly get into rehab.”

UEFA Champions League Preview: Elites meet in Madrid; City’s big group stage test

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UEFA Champions League’s group stage continues on Wednesday, with Groups A through D completing the phase’s third round. With special focus on the day’s big match in Madrid, here’s a preview of the week’s final eight games:

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ELITES AND TITANS
Real Madrid (Spain) vs. Juventus (Italy)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Madrid (Santiago Bernabéu)

Real Madrid versus Juventus became the stage’s marquee matchup when the teams were drawn in the same group, but although the legacies of both sides rest among Europe’s elites, the teams current exist on subtly different levels. Whereas Real Madrid has made three straight Champions League semifinals, Juventus is still trying to find regain their European footing. They’ve yet to threaten for a UEFA honor since returning to Serie A.

Domestically, they’ve actually out-performed Real Madrid, winning five honors over the last two seasons (El Real: two), but this year’s Champions League has shown the extent of the teams’ continental divide. Real Madrid has cruised through opening matches against Galatasaray and Copenhagen, scoring 10 times while conceding once. Juventus have yet to win a game against the same competition.

It’s not breaking news to note Real Madrid are probably better than Juventus, but it is interesting to speculate on the extent of that divide. Where most of Juve’s recent acclaim is tied to their dominance in Italy, it’s worth noting that Italy’s prestige has fallen dramatically over the last five years. That drop in stature provides a completely different context to those five Italian honors. And with this year’s Serie A having already laid a few bumps in their road, Juventus is looking even more vulnerable that before.

“We always see our mistakes and try to work out solutions,” Juventus head coach Antonio Conte said, addressing Juve’s 4-2 loss this weekend to Fiorentina. “We try to improve and I think we have done these past two and a half years [under Conte]. It’s true we are making some individual mistakes we shouldn’t be. We are working on it and are sure we can move forward doing what we are doing.”

With that mindset, Juventus’s results may be a momentary downturn. It’s not like Real Madrid hasn;t had its own share of domestic hiccups. Yet in this battle of European titans, there’s one team that’s slightly more titanic than the other. Whereas the addition of Carlos Tévez was supposed to help Juventus push on, seeing an attack that features Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco, Angel Di Maria and/or Karim Benzema puts things in perspective. Right now in Europe, there’s elite, and then there’s super elite.

“They are potential UEFA Champions League winners, Conte says of Real Madrid, “but we will be positive; we have no fears.”

That’s not to say Real Madrid are unbeatable (clearly, they aren’t), but it does highlight Juventus’s task. Over the next 180 minutes, they’ll be trying to take down a team that’s on a distinctly higher level. And worse, because they stumbled in their first two rounds, Juventus may need to claim some points. If a talented Galatasaray gets their act together under Roberto Mancini, Juventus could be left to rue going the first three or four rounds without claiming full points.

Ins and Outs: Xabi Alonso’s still out for Real Madrid, but that’s it as far as their absences. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Fabio Coentrao and Raphaël Varane, all doubts this weekend, are eligible to be selected on Wednesday. For Juventus, Mirko Vucinic, Fabio Quagliarella and Stephan Lichtsteiner are all out.

source:  MANCHESTER CITY’S MOMENT OF TRUTH
CSKA Moscow (Russia) vs. Manchester City (England)
Kickoff: 11:00 a.m. Eastern, Moscow (Khimki Arena)

Until Manchester City claim a spot in the knockout round, there’ll always be doubts about whether they’ve made the changes necessary to transcend their previous failures. Bringing in Manuel Pellegrini’s nice, and a summer spend that brought Jesus Navas, Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic to Manchester can’t hurt, but until they’ve actually clinched a spot in the tournament’s second round, it’s all means without an end.

A Wednesday win over CSKA would be a huge step forward. The Russians are going to be City’s biggest obstacle to reaching the second round, an obstacle they’ll be through with in two weeks’ time. If City can take four points in these next two games, they’ll put one foot into the final 16. Get full points in Moscow, however, and the Citizens will have dealt their prime opposition a swift, potentially decisive blow.

“Neither team will qualify or be eliminated after the game,” CSKA head coach Leonid Slutsky explains, “but it will be crucial in terms of our hopes of making the knockout stage. The third and fourth matches in the group are always key.”

Consider the implications for City if they slip – if, with six points available over the next two games, they only get three. They’ll remain even with CSKA in Group D. Both teams have a game remaining with Bayern Munich, but CSKA’s is in Moscow. If City doesn’t out-point the Muscovites over the next two rounds, another crash out of Champions League becomes far more likely.

That’s the importance of Wednesday’s game. If they can’t get a point, they set out on a course that relies on fortune, upsets, or tie-breakers. Even if that gets them into the final 16, a team of City’s talent should still pulling away from CSKA, not competing with them.

source: Getty ImagesFAVORITES TRY TO PULL AWAY
Bayern Munich (Germany) vs. Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Munich (Allianz Arena)

Manchester United (England) vs. Real Sociedad (Spain)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Manchester (Old Trafford)

Anderlecht (Belgium) vs. Paris Saint-Germain (France)
Kickoff: 2:45 p.m. Eastern, Constant Vanden Stock Stadium (Brussels)

Three Wednesday games feature group favorites matched with teams sliding toward the bottom of their groups. With back-to-back wins in these next two rounds, those favorites and pave their paths to the knockout round.

For Bayern, Pep Guardiola’s trying to say the right, respectful things of his visiting minnows, but the emphasis is on the defending champions. Philipp Lahm’s expected to be back at right back, Bastian Schweinsteiger should resume a holding role, and the newly healthy Mario Götze will be back in midfield. How Bayern plays with something resembling their first choice team will be as interesting as their opposition.

With Manchester United, it’s all about the performance, with onlookers guaranteed to dissect the match looking for progress under new manager David Moyes. Hosting Real Sociedad, that progress won’t be measured in a win or loss. United’s expected to not only win but impress while doing so.

In Brussels, Paris Saint-Germain will try to maintain their perfect record against an Anderlecht side again struggling to make an impact in group stage. PSG coach Laurent Blanc has said a win is a “must,” a demand looking more toward the knockout rounds than Group C’s dynamics. If his team is going to accomplish it’s bigger goal (having a real impact in Champions League), they need to manage the smaller ones.

Others
All matches kickoff at 2:45 p.m. Eastern time.

The rest of the day’s matches feature teams hoping to position themselves for their group’s second spot. In two cases, those teams are seen as the second and third best sides in their groups, while the other duo will hopeto collect enough points to compete with Juventus in Group B.

  • Galatasaray (Turkey) vs. Copenhagen (Denmark), Turk Telekom Arena, Istanbul – Coming off a draw at Juve, the Turkish champions hope their new coach, Roberto Mancini, can help them push for a second straight appearance in the knockout round. That goal means getting the best of Copenhagen, with a home win on Wednesday crucial to their upset hopes. It’s uncertain how the Danes will cope with the Istanbul crowd.
  • Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), BayArena, Leverkusen – Two teams with similar levels of talent meet with vastly different Champions League experience. Mircea Lucescu’s Skakhtar side has been in this situation before, whereas a Leverkusen team that has less experience showed their nerves against Manchester United. Both teams are extremely dangerous going forward, potentially testing who blinks first. Will Sami Hyypiä be the first to protect his defense? Or will Lucescu feel the need to offset the threats of Stefan Kießling and Sidney Sam.
  • Benfica (Portugal) vs. Olympiacos (Greece), Estadio da Luz, Lisbon – Paris Saint-Germain’s going to win this group, but Benfica and Olympiacos are vying to claim Group C’s second knockout stage spot. Both teams have beaten Anderlecht and lost to PSG, results that could be replicated in the group’s last two rounds. How these two do against each other should decide who’s still in this tournament come February.

 

UEFA Champions League fulltime snapshot: Ball-hogging Paris Saint-Germain; efficient Real Madrid

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Stats are great adjectives, but particularly in soccer, they’re hardly ever nouns. They can be used to describe what you saw happen, but they can’t be trusted to fully describe what you haven’t seen. You have to know what caused the number.

Take today’s game in Belgium. Jupiler League champions Anderlecht more than doubled Olympiacos’s shots (18-8) and held 61 percent of the ball, yet they still lost by three goals. Does that mean the Belgians were unlucky? Hardly. And early goal from Konstantinos Mitroglou (his first of three) meant those numbers were always going to be lopsided, the Greek champions content to play without the ball, particularly with a lead. The final shots on goal were 4-4, but Anderlecht have no blame to being their visitors’ equal.

Then there’s the game in Paris, which saw Benfica put up comparable numbers to Paris Saint-Germain in shots (11-9) and shots on goal (6-4). But they were routed, 3-0. The possession number (71 percent for PSG) hints the hosts controlled the game, gave up some chances, but were set apart by the better execution going toward goal, and while that’s partly true, a better description of the match would cast PSG as dominant in the first half (going into intermission up three) while seeing Benfica even out the shots on goal during a mostly benign second period.

Among the other numbers that stood out today, Bayer Leverkusen bounced back from round one disappointment with a win over Real Sociedad, posting Wednesday highs of 25 shots and 11 shots on goal. PSG’s 71 percent possession was the day’s best, while Galatasaray were able to get two goals in Turin despite holding only 41 percent of the ball. And the day’s most lopsided scoreline, Real Madrid’s 4-0 win over visiting Copenhagen, saw los Blancos put only seven shots on frame.

Here are the rest of the day’s key numbers, courtesy of Opta and WhoScored.com:

Group Home-Road Score Shots Shots
on Goal
Possession
A Shakhtar Donetsk-Manchester United 1-1 6-4 2-1 57-43
A Bayer Leverkusen-Real Sociedad 2-1 25-11 11-7 44-56
B Juventus-Galatasaray 2-2 26-7 5-4 59-41
B Real Madrid-Copenhagen 4-0 23-11 7-5 61-39
C Paris Saint-German-Benfica 3-0 9-11 6-4 71-29
C Anderlecht-Olympiacos 0-3 18-8 4-4 61-39
D CSKA Moscow-Viktoria Plzen (Final) 3-2 18-12 6-5 48-52
D Manchester City-Bayern Munich 1-3 9-20 3-8 34-66

Spain: Derbi loss was so much more for Real Madrid

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Last year, Barcelona dropped points six times on the way to their title: four draws; two losses. The year before, Real Madrid posted the same record: 100 points; only six blemishes. In this new era of championship perfectionism, you have to go all the way back to Pep Guardiola’s first year on Barcelona’s sidelines (2008-09) to find a Primera Division champion who lost more than two games. Even that season, most of Barça’s losses came after they’d sewn-up the title.

That’s part of the context for Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss to Atlético Madrid. Carrying one draw into Saturday’s game, los Merengues already had an early, unexpected stumble. Now, after losing to one of the league’s two perfect teams, Carlo Ancelotti’s team is five points back in a league with no meaningful margin of error.

It sounds insane to be talking about title implications seven matches into the season, particularly with a team that sits 5-1-1 after Saturday’s loss, but that’s the absurdity of Spanish soccer. When you have a Barcelona team that’s adding new tricks to their playbook and an Atletico club that’s forged a surprise challenger, the margin looks even thinner than before. Coming off a season where they never meaningfully threatened Barcelona’s title run, we’re left wondering how much longer El Real can stay relevant.

For a club where la decima (a 10th European title) is the priority, domestic bumps can always be put in perspective. But having suffered their second straight home loss to the Atleti — their first in league since 1999 — this team’s struggles have been cast in a unique perspective. They’d already lost last year’s Copa del Rey to their cross-town rivals, and now falling at hope to team that sold Falcão this summer, there’s reason to believe what was previously unthinkable: El Real may be numero dos in the capital.

Given the talent disparity between the two sides, that’s a difficult proposition to accept, but at some point, results are the only thing that matter. Atlético is undefeated this season. The only blemishes among their results are two Supercopa draws to Barcelona (they ended up losing the competition on away goals). Through Liga and Champions League, Atlético remains one of the three perfect teams among Europe’s top five leagues. Those credentials transcend Saturday’s surprise.

They don’t have the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco or Sergio Ramos, but Atlético do have Diego Costa – Spain’s co-leading scorer whose form has enticed the Spanish national team to try to lure him away from Brazil. His early goal was set up by Koke, the 21-year-old attacker who’s now tied for the league lead in assists (six). With Thiago (midfield), Diego Godin (defense), and Thibaut Courtois (goalkeeper) forming one of the stronger bases of a Spanish defense, a side short on superstars is also lacks any obvious weaknesses.

source: Getty Images
Their Saturday loss to rival Atlético leaves Real Madrid five points back in Spain, but in a league that’s been won by 100-point seasons in back-to-back years, the margin for error is small. (Photo: Getty Images.)

But what they lack in star power — that enviable quality that underlies the Barça-Real duopoly — Diego Simeone’s making up in cohesion, with a stalwart defense and efficient, mostly counter-atttacking style making the Atleti into surprise contenders. Though the Argentine has led Atletico to Europa League and Supercopa triumphs since his arrival just under two years ago, nobody predicted this surprise challenge to Spain’s Big Two. Thanks to an almost trite more than the sum of their parts scenario, that’s exactly what Atlético’s done.

If Real could capture a little of that spirit, there may be hope for them to re-enter the title race. And Atlético’s quality could actually help them keep up, if their the Colchoneros are able to take league points off of Barça. But after today’s loss, El Real sit seven matches into the season having already dropped seven points. And for now, after losing to their cross-town rivals at the Bernabéu, they’ve lost their claim to being the best team in Madrid.

Elsewhere in Spain:

  • Real Valladolid 2-2 Málaga: A 76th minute goal by Bartlomiej Pawlowski salvages a result for Bernd Schuster’s side, with the point enough to carry Valladolid out of the drop.
  • Valencia 1-0 Rayo Vallecano: Jonás’s 37th minute goal completes Los Che’s turnaround. After losing their first three, they’ve taken three on the trot. Rayo, on the other hand, sit last in La Liga, allowing three goals per game.
  • Almería 0-2 Barcelona: More business-like than spectacular, Barcelona remains perfect. Lionel Messi picked up a goal and an injury.
  • Real Sociedad 1-1 Sevilla: Another disappointing result for La Real, whose winless run hits seven games. A second half goal from Antoine Griezmann pulled back Jairo’s early opener.
  • Osasuna 0-1 Levante: An 88th minute goal from Jordi Xumetra leaves Osasuna empty-handed from a match where they would have expected a result.
  • Celta de Vigo 0-1 Elche: Rebounding from mid-week disappointment, the visitors took full points thanks to Javíer Xumetra’s second half winner, Celta having lost three of four.
  • Espanyol 0-2 Getafe: Adrián Colunga scores in the 72nd, 93rd minutes to hand Espanyol their second straight loss, Getafe moving into eighth after their third win in four.
  • Real Betis 1-0 Villarreal: The Yellow Submarine had a chance to leap Real Madrid and take over third place. Instead, a 36th minute goal from Nosa hands Marcelino’s team their first loss since returning to the Primera Division.

Where they stand: Groups A through D after round one of UEFA Champions League

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A six-game season leaves very little margin for error. This can be easy to forget with Champions League because the group stage is so spread out, leaving too much time to fine solace in the two months teams have to recover. But if this were a league and one-sixth of the season (six or seven games) had done by, every headline about the team would include the word “panic.” The truth is surely somewhere in between.

A better, more nuanced way to look at it: There are certain matches you expect to win to get the points you need to advance. When that doesn’t happen, group stage becomes unforgiving. All of a sudden you’re staring at games you thought you could lose realizing you now need a result.

[MORE: Champions League Roundup: Upsets give way to goals.]

That’s where Real Sociedad is after today’s loss. Same with Galatasaray, Olympaicos, and Viktoria Plzen. Each team lost at home, meaning at some point (if they want to advance) they’ll need to go on the road to reclaim what they’ve lost.

Conversely, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Shakhtar Donetsk each created room for error. With road wins, they bought themselves one slip. Drop points at home later in the tournament, and they can lean on today’s result. In the case of Shakhtar, if you’re likely to be in a battle for a knockout round spot with the team you just beat, you’ve created a huge obstacle for your rival.

[MORE: European titans find from on Champions League’s first day.]

Beyond the standings, those are the scenarios you have to look at after match day one. It’s not so much where you sit right now. It’s more about whether you’ve taken points you shouldn’t have or dropped points you wanted.

Here’s where Groups A through D stand after day one of Champions League.

To each of these standings we’ve added a column labeled +/-: a crude attempt to track how many points a team has dropped at home (minus) or picked up on the road (plus). It’s a very crude attempt to gauge the extent to which teams are holding serve.

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Manchester United 1 1 0 0 4 2 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 0
Shakhtar Donetsk 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Bayer Leverkusen 1 0 0 1 2 4 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 0
Real Sociedad 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

Manchester United’s win was convincing, but they essentially held serve at home against Bayer. The Germans now know where they stand without dropping any significant points. Every team’s aware they could lose at Old Trafford.

Shakhtar, however, scored a huge win, particularly considering they were decidedly outplayed in the first half at San Sebastian.  After two second half goals, the Ukrainian champions snatched three road points against one of the teams they’ll compete with for (at least) second place. In the process, they dealt Real Sociedad a significant blow.

[MORE: Rooney’s double gives Moyes’s first Champions League win.]

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Real Madrid 1 1 0 0 6 1 5 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Juventus 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1 +1
FC Copenhagen 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1 -2
Galatasaray 1 0 0 1 1 6 -5 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

Gala’s plus-minus column reads -3, but they’re not the only team that’s going to lose at home to Real Madrid. There’s some chance that may even out over the course of the tournament.

Likewise, Juventus may be disappointed with their result, but the big picture’s more kind. They picked up a road point, and while they may have expected to get a win in Copenhagen, holding serve at home will likely get them into the knockout round.

[MORE: Ronaldo records hat trick in win at Gala.]

[MORE: Drogba injured, taken off in Istanbul.]

[MORE: Rib injury forces Casillas off early.]

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Paris Saint-Germain 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Benfica 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Anderlecht 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0
Olympiacos 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

This is what’s so crazy about PSG’s performance (and Shakhtar’s, for that matter). They were second best for 45 minutes but still even going into halftime, where they could have braced themselves to dig in and survive their road challenge. Instead, they go out and secure a multi-goal victory, turning a tolerable draw or loss into three road points.

On the other end of that is Olympiacos, whose loss isn’t as disastrous as Real Sociedad’s. PSG is the clear alpha in this group and could take points in their other road matches. If that happens, Olympiacos’s loss could turn out to like Anderlecht’s: Disappointing, but ultimately not a big deal.

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Bayern München 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Manchester City 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
CSKA Moscow 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 0
Viktoria Plzen 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

The problem for Plzen, who may be looking at Europa League (third place) as a viable goal, is not so much the loss today. It’s what happens when Manchester City goes to Russia. City could win there, to0, giving CSKA the same -3 road points Plzen were dealt today. But CSKA’s also capable of winning that game. Or at least drawing. Plzen may not have lost ground on City as much as they’ve potentially lost ground to CSKA.

For the Russians, today’s result was a rare loss from a team that’d gone undefeated through eight Russian rounds. But ultimately, this group isn’t going to be defined by results in Munich.

[MORE: Bayern dominant to open title defense.]

[MORE: Manchester City explodes for three quick second half goals.]