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Arsenal, Schalke’s chances to pull away – UEFA Champions League Group B preview

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Group B is gearing up for the defining Arsenal-Schalke home-and-home that will take place on matchdays three and four, two games which should define Olympiacos and Montpellier’s hopes of getting out of group. In the interim, the favorites get Wednesday home games and a chance to move to a perfect six points:

Arsenal (England) versus Olympiacos (Greece)
Emirates Stadium, London, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

This is the third time in four tournaments Arsenal and Olympiacos have been met in the group stage, posting identical outsomes in 2009 and 2011. Arsenal won at home. Olympiacos won on the road. Since Wednesday’s match is in London, this case must be closed. Right?

Obviously not, though it’s difficult to come up with a reason Olympiacos will be successful on Wednesday where they’ve failed before. Having already lost at home (to Schalke on matchday one), the Greek champions may not be as strong as they’ve been in the past, even if they’ve started 5-0-0 (with an easy schedule) in league. Arsenal, on the other hand, have hinted this squad could be stronger than the ones that limped into previous group stages smarting from summer departures. While the Gunners again had their share of offseason defections, the additions of Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski have Arsenal performing at a higher level than they’ve achieved in recent autumns.

Two unsung parts of that improvement were on display this weekend against Chelsea, where Arsenal suffered their first loss of the season. Fullbacks Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson are quietly shaking off the yips that befall young players, and while they still lack consistency, their play has improved enough for their potential to shine through. They’ve both proved valuable contributors at positions where (thanks to Bacary Sagna’s injury) Arsenal looked weak. With those positions strengthened, a well-rounded team can focus on improvement over acquisition.

That well-rounded team will be without one of is vital pieces on Wednesday, with Abou Diaby out after picking up an injury Saturday against Chelsea. While Diaby is not Arsenal’s best player, he may be their least replaceable, the summer sale of Alexander Song leaving them without another physical presence in midfield. Arsène Wenger conceded as much on Monday, telling reporters “We don’t have many physical players but Mikel Arteta has shown he can be a great defensive midfield player.”

Can Olympiacos take advantage of a Arteta-Aaron Ramsey-Cazorla midfield? Of course they can, but with Arsenal likely to dominate possession, Olypimpiacos won’d get many chances to do so. Like all of Arsenal’s opponents, their best chance will be with set pieces and the hope Arsenal hasn’t figured out how to defend them since Saturday.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Schalke 04 (Germany) vs. Montpellier (France)
Arena AufSchalke, Gelsenkirchen, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

Montpellier may have found themselves after a rough start. Posting only five points in their first five Ligue 1 matches, the defending champions were giving off the impression of one-year wonders. Since, they gave a strong (albeit losing) performance against Arsenal before taking four points in league matches against Saint-Etienne and Reims. Though they’ve lost Olivier Giroud, a team with Younes Belhanda and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa could still be formidable.

That doesn’t shake the feeling that Champions League may be too much. This a team that skyrocketed to the top of France last year. Their actual level may be slightly lower, and without significant European experience to draw on, Montpellier may be out of their depth in a group with three quality, experienced sides.

Schalke, for example, are not considered a major threat in this competition, yet they’re still a team that went to the semifinals two years ago. Many of their pieces have changed (Manuel Neuer, Raúl, and José Manuel Jurado are gone), but the cupboard’s far from bare. Joel Matip and Kyriakos Papadopoulos have solidified the defense supporting a formidable front six: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in front of the trio of Jefferon Farfán, Lewis Holtby, and Tranquilo Barnetta; Roman Neustäder and Jermaine Jones in support.

That’s a pretty strong side, particularly when you stack it up against Montpellier’s, bringing us back to the original question: Are the French champions out of their depth? Looking at the rosters gives you that feeling, but if Rene Girard can continue his team’s improvement – including improving on their result against Arsenal – Montpellier may prove plucky once again.

Miss Tuesday’s Champions League coverage?

Ligue 1: Monaco, Lyon qualify for UCL; Weah’s first start for PSG

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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PARIS (AP) — Memphis Depay scored a hat trick as Lyon came from behind to beat Nice 3-2 and qualify for the Champions League at the expense of Marseille in the French league on Saturday.

Lyon, which had a one-point lead over Marseille ahead of the last round, kept its lead intact and finished in third place behind Paris Saint-Germain and deposed champion Monaco. The first three teams in the French league qualified for the Champions League.

“Lots of joy tonight, everybody was very focused and motivated,” said Lyon forward Nabil Fekir, who is widely expected to leave the club this summer. “It caps an exceptional season.”

Alassane Plea scored Nice’s goals.

Depay scored all three goals in the second half.

Nice coach Lucien Favre confirmed he will leave the club in the offseason.


After losing the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, Marseille missed out on the Champions League for the second time despite beating Amiens 2-1.

“We had a superb season but our efforts did not pay off,” Marseille top striker Florian Thauvin said.

Marseille ended fourth and will play the Europa League next season alongside Rennes and Bordeaux.


Monaco won at Troyes 3-0 and finished runner-up, 13 points behind PSG, which drew at Caen 0-0. The goalless draw guaranteed Caen stayed in the topflight while Troyes was demoted to the second division.

Monaco needed just one point to qualify for the Champions League but made sure it finished runner-up with a win. The Principality side was in complete control as Rony Lopes scored twice and Jordi Mboula sealed Troyes’ fate in added time.

Troyes finished 19th and joined last-place Metz in the second division.

Toulouse, which beat Guingamp 2-1, will have to win a playoff against a second-division club to remain in the topflight.

Elsewhere, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri won his last game in charge of mid-table Nantes, 1-0 over Strasbourg.


In the absence of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe, PSG coach Unai Emery gave Timothy Weah — George Weah’s 18-year-old son — his first start in Caen.

Caen finished the season with only 27 goals, the worst total since Arles-Avignon was demoted with 21 in 2011.

Leicester splash $29M to sign Porto, Portugal RB Pereira

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The summer transfer window only opened on Thursday, and Premier League clubs are already handling their pre-World Cup business — perhaps in an attempt to avoid the post-tournament inflation of fees and wages.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Man United to win 8th FA Cup | Three things ]

Leicester City announced on Saturday that Porto and Portugal right back Ricardo Pereira is moving to the King Power Stadium for a fee of $29.5 million. Pereira, 24, was named to Portugal’s 23-man squad for next month’s World Cup in Russia, where a strong showing could have easily lifted his price tag closer to $40 million and added another $10,000 to his weekly wages.

Having been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur just last summer — he seemed a natural replacement and reinvestment following Kyle Walker‘s move from Tottenham to Manchester City — ninth-place Leicester will rightly feel Pereira’s arrival is something of a massive coup for the club, given his considerable European experience — both in the Champions League and Europa League — so early in his career.

[ MORE: Conte’s tumultuous tenure at Chelsea (likely) ends with a trophy ]

Pereira previously played for current Leicester manager Claude Puel while on loan to Ligue 1 side Nice (2015-16 season), and has his new boss’s seal of approval.

“I’m delighted to have a player of Ricardo’s quality on board for next season,” Puel told the club website. “I remember him well from my time at Nice.”

Real Madrid draw Villarreal; Bale makes case to start UCL final

AP Photo/Paul White
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid showed Liverpool its strengths and weaknesses a week before their Champions League final.

Madrid squandered first-half goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in drawing at Villarreal 2-2 on Saturday in its last match before attempting to win Europe’s most coveted trophy for a third year in a row.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane aligned what could be his starting 11 for the final against Liverpool, except for giving 20-year-old son Luca Zidane his competitive debut in goal.

Zidane left striker Karim Benzema on his bench in favor of starting Ronaldo and Bale alone up front and playing Francisco “Isco” Alarcon along with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as playmakers in front of holding midfielder Casemiro.

Madrid showed the same dominant form that has taken it to another Champions League final in the first half at Villarreal.

But after Ronaldo and Modric were replaced by Benzema and Lucas Vazquez with half an hour remaining, Zidane’s bunch displayed the same complacency and faulty defending that scuttled its Liga title defense months ago.

The draw in the final round meant Madrid finished the Spanish league in third place behind Atletico Madrid and champion Barcelona.

Bale opened the scoring with a solo effort in the 11th minute, and Ronaldo headed in a superb cross by Marcelo just after the half-hour mark.

Fifth-place Villarreal outplayed the visitors in the second half and leveled through goals by substitutes Roger Martinez in the 70th and Samuel Castillejo in the 85th.

“We played a very, very good first half, with determination, scoring goals, but the second half was the exact opposite,” Zidane said. “The important thing is that we didn’t have any injuries and can now rest well for next weekend. We are only thinking about winning the final.”

Bale, who struggled for most of the season to make Zidane’s first-choice 11, has finished the season strong and appears to have earned a spot in the Champions League final.

His opener against Villarreal, created when he let Modric’s pass run through as he spun around his marker, was his 14th goal in the last 10 rounds.

“Gareth has never given up,” Zidane said. “He has trained well. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that now he is scoring.”

Ronaldo’s goal was his 26th in the league. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leads the competition with 34.

Castillejo snatched the draw after he raced behind Marcelo to receive a lobbed pass from Rodrigo Hernandez. Luca Zidane, who normally plays for Madrid’s reserve team in the third divison, stopped his initial chipped shot but Castillejo slotted the rebound into the open net.

Saudi Arabia midfielder Salem Al Dawsari made his Liga debut as a second-half substitute for Villarreal.

Vela’s latest golazo one-upped as LAFC lose late to Portland

AP Photo/Josie Lepe
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This much is certain about Los Angeles FC: there’s never — ever — a dull moment when Bob Bradley‘s expansion side is on the field.

[ MORE: Toronto FC score late to beat Orlando, get season back on track ]

Not only are the goals plentiful — for both sides (23 scored, 18 conceded in their first 11 games) — but they tend to be of the highest quality — again, for both sides.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to the Portland Timbers, a result which extends Portland’s winning streak to five games and sends Giovanni Savarese’s side third in the Western Conference, now just three points behind LAFC (with a game in hand).

LAFC fell 1-0 behind when Cristhian Paredes scored his first MLS goal in the 52nd minute, then a pair of world-class stunners saw the visitors pull level in the 74th and fall behind once again in the 81st.

[ MORE: Chelsea top Man United to win 8th FA Cup | Three things ]

First, the latest bit of curling genius from Carlos Vela…

It’s not the first — and almost certainly won’t be the last — time we’ve seen that exact goal scored by LAFC’s Mexican superstar. Only this time, Vela was immediately upstaged by Samuel Armenteros, who up to that point had been held without a goal in his first two-plus months in MLS. This is one way to formally introduce yourself to the Rose City faithful…

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