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.

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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.

Daniel Levy calls for all players, clubs to cut wages

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Tottenham chairman has called for Premier League players and staff to take wage cuts to help clubs cope with the suspension during the coronavirus pandemic.

Levy revealed 550 off-pitch staff at Tottenham have taken pay cuts as he pointed to the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich as their players and officials had taken wage cuts in order to make sure every individual at the club was paid and costs did not spiral out of control during the suspension of leagues.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Levy confirmed that the “club’s operations have effectively ceased” and “has an annual cost base running into hundreds of millions of pounds” before adding that clubs and players should do their part as clubs, leagues and players’ unions meet on Wednesday in England to work out a way forward.

“We hope the current discussions between the Premier League, PFA and LMA will result in players and coaches doing their bit for the football eco system,” Levy said.

Tottenham’s chairman also explained exactly what Spurs are doing to help them deal with the new financial reality all soccer clubs are facing, as the UK government is paying 80 percent of wages of staff who have been furloughed (basically told they still have a job but aren’t needed right now) by their employers.

“We have seen some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus take steps to reduce their costs. Yesterday, having already taken steps to reduce costs, we ourselves made the difficult decision – in order to protect jobs – to reduce the remuneration of all 550 non-playing directors and employees for April and May by 20 per cent utilising, where appropriate, the Government’s furlough scheme. We shall continue to review this position,” Levy added.

Soccer will of course have to adjust to its new reality and the longer the suspension goes on, tougher decisions will have to be made about players and staff taking significant pay cuts to help keep costs down with no matchday revenue coming in. Tottenham’s stadium is being used to help prepare food for vulnerable people in the local and it has been offered to the NHS to be used any way it can help.

Plenty of clubs across the Premier League have vowed to pay temporary staff used on matchdays but many are making use of government help with wages and many are doing plenty for their local communities too. These are unprecedented times and players and clubs are stepping up to make sure the most vulnerable are looked after.

Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”