Champions League Tuesday preview: City in Russia, Roma hosts Bayern

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This week brings us some salivating Champions League matches as the group stage still hasn’t totally shaped out yet and a number of spots are wide open.

All kicks are at 2:45pm ET except a noon kick for the game in Moscow. We’ll break things down group by group:

GROUP E:

CSKA Moscow vs. Manchester City

City will be missing Frank Lampard as they head to Russia to face CSKA Moscow.  The home side talked some smack before the match, as striker Ahmed Musa called Manchester City “very weak this year.”

The match is a must-win for both sides, so the match could be a wide-open affair. Manchester City have just one point in two matches and risk falling six points back of a knockout round position. Meanwhile, CSKA have been defeated in both games thus far.

Roma vs. Bayern Munich

The Italians have eaten Serie A alive this season alongside Juventus, and Roma is poised to make a serious European statement. Their key will be ensnaring Xabi Alonso in the Bayern Munich midfield, who is funneling everything for the Germans and as a result picking up literally hundreds of completed passes a game.

It’s unsure if he will play, but former Roma midfielder Mehdi Benatia will be returning to the club where he made a name for himself. He has been a big part of Bayern’s success with the team picking up plenty of injuries to their back line.

GROUP F:

Barcelona vs Ajax

The Spanish giants are hoping to put their disappointing loss to PSG behind them and catch the Parisians by taking down a tough Ajax squad. The Dutch side has disappointed in recent years in Europe’s top competition, but have been inconsistent so far in both the Champions League and the Eredivisie.

Barcelona has to be careful not to look past Ajax towards their La Liga matchup with Real Madrid on the weekend which will mark Luis Suarez’s return.  Ajax manager Frank de Boer played four years at the Nou Camp.

APOEL vs Paris Saint-Germain

The French club has the unique perspective of top teams where the Champions League is far and away their most important competition. It’s netted them four points and a top spot in Group F, a point ahead of Barcelona coming into these matches. They can ill afford to slip, however, as APOEL has already drawn Ajax and worked hard against the Catalans.

source: Getty Images
Schalke will need Julian Draxler at his absolute best if they are to stake a leading claim to a knockout stage position ahead of Sporting.

Gobs of star players are missing for PSG, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Marquinhos, while David Luiz, Blaise Matuidi, and Thiago Silva are question marks, so this game has upset written all over it. Lots of pressure will be on Edinson Cavani to pick up the slack.

GROUP G:

Chelsea vs Maribor

The Blues take on Slovenian side Maribor hoping to take a firm hold of not just the Premier League but Group G as well. A win could put them four points clear at the top of the group, while even a draw would leave them no less than equal at the top.

Schalke 04 vs Sporting CP

Both sides will be looking to take hold of the second spot in Group G behind Chelsea in one of the more even matchups this week.  Schalke are missing a good group of players due to injury, including Jefferson Farfan. They’re still getting used to new manager Roberto Di Matteo’s style as well, and are one of the most inconsistent clubs this season, having pulled off stunning wins and horrific losses.

GROUP H:

Porto vs Athletic Bilbao

Porto look to hold onto their annual breeze into the knockout stage with a chance to go four points clear on the top as they take on winless Athletic Bilbao. The Portuguese trounced BATE Borisov 6-0 and drew 2-2 with Shakhtar Donetsk. Conversely, Bilbao have lost to Borisov 2-1. Take from that what you will.

BATE Borisov vs Shakhtar Donetsk

Shakhtar have been surprisingly defensive this Champions League campaign, with just 13 shots to their name over the first two matches, both of which ended in draws. They have a chance to buck that trend in Belarus.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic issues injury update ]

The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.

Transfer confirmed: Ferran Torres to Man City for $26 million

Ferran Torres to Man City
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Reports sending Valencia youngster Ferran Torres to Man City have been burning red-hot over the last 24 hours.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

Man City confirmed their capture of the 20-year-old — one of the brightest prospects in all of Europe — on Tuesday.

Torres, who came through the Valencia academy, tallied six goals and seven assists in 43 appearances (all competitions), including two of each in the Champions League, for Valencia this season.

He broke into Valencia’s first team back in November of 2017, at the age of 17, before establishing himself as a regular over the last two seasons.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

Reports out of the UK claim it will reportedly cost just $26 million to bring Ferran Torres to Man City, plus possible add-ons, as he had just one year remaining on his contact with Valencia. Torres reportedly met with City sporting director Txiki Begiristain earlier on Tuesday, adding further fuel to the fire that a move was imminent.

Torres seems an obvious replacement for recently departed winger Leroy Sane. He’ll join Raheem Sterling as one of only two natural wingers in Pep Guardiola’s squad, offering more tactical flexibility — not to mention, width — after City were fairly limited in the wide areas during the 2019-20 season.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Brentford - Fulham
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Fulham – Brentford: Team news is in with the two West London sides set to do battle for a place in the Premier League in the Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

We can hardly wait to find out who’ll claim the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season in the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.

Team news


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+