UEFA Champions League playoff preview: Valencia, Celtic look to protect lead on road

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We’re two days away from the draw for the group stage of the 2015-16 UEFA Champions League, and three weeks from its first match.

Yet there’s still 10 spots up for grabs in that stage, as Manchester United, Valencia and Celtic headline a batch of 20 teams participating in the qualifying playoffs.

[ MORE: The crazy price for Neymar ]

The second legs are this week, and only two ties are divided by more than a goal. Let’s look at what’s cooking for the next two days.

Tuesday

Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu Korce (DZ leads 2-1) — The Albanian side takes to the road knowing it needs more than a win after giving up a pair of road goals to Zagreb in leg one.

Malmo vs. Celtic (Celtic leads 3-2) — Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths has been fantastic in the qualifying rounds, and will likely need to make his mark in Sweden after Malmo scored a pair in Scotland. Celtic will look to beat back ghosts of last year’s loss to Maribor, while Malmo overcame a first leg deficit last year against Red Bull Salzburg.

Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Basel (Tied 2-2) — The Swiss side is in danger after giving up two road goals to Eran Zahavi last week.

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Rapid Wien (Shakhtar leads 1-0) — The home side was among the darlings of last year’s tournament, and could be back in the group stage after stealing a first leg win in Austria.

AS Monaco vs. Valencia (Valencia leads 3-1) — Last year, Monaco shocked Arsenal. This year, a brutal draw means they need a minimum of a 2-0 win to advance, which is a tall ask against Valencia (though the Spanish side did just tell defensive force Nicolas Otamendi to Manchester City).

Wednesday

source: AP
(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Club Brugge vs. Manchester United (United leads 3-1) — Looks like a comfortable road leg for the Red Devils, as their late goal from Memphis Depay to Marouane Fellaini puts them in the driver’s seat to advance to the group stage.

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Lazio (Lazio leads 1-0) — This one had loads of promise. Miroslav Klose will miss Lazio’s return to his home country, as the Serie A side attempts to keep powerful Bayer from the group stage. Bayer was rampant in the second leg last season, beating Copenhagen 4-0.

APOEL vs. Astana (Astana leads 1-0) — Bauyrzhan Dzholchiev has the Kazakh side ahead after the home leg, but its Cypriot hosts have the experience of getting to the group stage on its side. Home field was key for APOEL in a 4-0 second leg against AaB last season.

CSKA Moscow vs. Sporting CP (Sporting leads 2-1) — It should be a wide-open affair in Russia, and both clubs have the firepower to stage a beauty in Moscow.

Partizan Belgrade vs. BATE Borisov (BATE leads 1-0) — Seemingly ageless Sasa Ilic would love to add to his legacy by helping the Serbian powers to a win, but BATE has the lead, a home shutout, and experience. BATE won a second leg vs. Slovan Bratislava 3-0 last season.

FC Cincinnati adds Ajax midfielder Siem de Jong

Siem de Jong
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FC Cincinnati got a much-needed bit of good news toward the end of a rough week in Southern Ohio.

Longtime Ajax attacker Siem De Jong has joined a talented FCC attack ahead of the club’s second MLS season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

De Jong, 31, came up through Ajax’s vaunted academy before transferring to Newcastle United, where he suffered through a series of miserable injuries including two collapsed lungs in 18 months.

He’s been capped six times with two goals for the Netherlands in his career and will join a revitalized Cincinnati attack with Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo.

“The system they want to play is quite similar to the Dutch system, and yeah, Ajax is probably one of the team’s that perfected it,” de Jong said. “Over the years I played there, I’ve learned a lot about this similar philosophy and trying to build up from the back in the Dutch style of play. That was one of the reasons why FC Cincinnati was a good fit for me. Hopefully I can help with the experience I’ve had over the years playing this style of football.”

De Jong scored three times in nine matches this season for Ajax, all of the goals coming in a cup match against third-tier Spakenburg. His other eight matches combined for just 118 minutes.

He may not be with FCC when the season starts as he waits on visa approval.

Man United held at Club Brugge (video)

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Man United were held to a 1-1 draw away at Club Brugge in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 tie as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side battled back from a sloppy start to stretch their unbeaten run to five games in all competitions.

Emmanuel Bonaventure (commonly known as Dennis) scored a beautiful opener to put Brugge ahead but United equalized through Anthony Martial and he also hit the post as the Red Devils looked more dangerous as both teams had chances in a tight, tense encounter.

The two teams met for the second leg at Old Trafford next Thursday, Feb. 27.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

Brugge almost scored with their first attack as Dennis caused havoc behind Luke Shaw and a combination of Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic cleared the ball from danger from close range.

Andreas Pereira fired in a low shot which Simon Mignolet saved well but moments later Brugge were ahead.

Nemanja Matic thought he had won a corner kick but a goal kick was given and former Liverpool goalkeeper Mignolet caught out the entire Man United defense with a long ball over the top to find Dennis who lobbed the ball over a stranded Sergio Romero and in.

Hans Vanaken, Mats Rits and Dennis then all went close to doubling Brugge’s lead as United’s defense was all over the place.

United did draw level before half time as a loose throw-in from Brugge caused their own problems and Martial powered towards goal and calmly slotted home to make it 1-1.

Brandon Williams missed a good chance and Mignolet then pushed Martial’s shot onto the post as United came alive after their opening goal.

In the second half Man United continued to improve as Diogo Dalot‘s cross found Jesse Lingard who flicked wide, while Martial and Juan Mata then combined but Brugge managed to block the danger at the last moment.

At the other end Dennis was denied as Romero saved well down low at the near post and late on Dennis bamboozled Harry Maguire before crossing for Odilon Kossounou who somehow scuffed his shot wide.

Man United finished with a flourish as new signings Odion Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes came on off the bench to try and help the Red Devils grab a winner and although they both looked lively, United couldn’t find a late goal.

VIDEO: Martial scores for Man United v. Club Brugge

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Anthony Martial scored once again for Man United and his goal in the Europa League Round of 32 first leg against Club Brugge was a beauty.

The Frenchman is standing tall in the absence of Marcus Rashford through injury as he has now scored in back-to-back games away from home.

Martial, 24, made the most of a slight defensive mistake from Club Brugge as he powered towards goal and kept his cool to slot home, while he also hit the post in the first half after Simon Mignolet got a slight touch on his curling effort.

When he’s on form he’s a joy to watch and after his towering header against Chelsea on Monday, Martial has done it again a few days later in Belgium. It is the third time this season he has scored in back-to-back games and he has now scored 14 goals in 30 appearances for the Red Devils, his best return since he scored 17 in his opening season at United in 2015-16.

Here is Martial’s goal at Club Brugge, as United need him to kick on and take this tally for the season to at least 20 goals if they are going to be successful.

LIVE, Europa League: Arsenal, Man United, Wolves in action

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The knockout rounds of the 2019-20 UEFA Europa League campaign is here and three Premier League teams are in action on Thursday.

Everything is set up for an epic day of first legs in the Round of 32.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Arsenal travel to Olympiakos who dropped down from the Champions League, while Wolves host La Liga strugglers Espanyol and Man United travel to Club Brugge who exited the UCL at the group stage after some impressive displays.

With a Champions League spot for next season up for grabs for the Europa League winners, there is always a little extra spice in this tournament from here on out, especially as plenty of giants have dropped out of the Champions League and joined the Europa League for the Round of 32.

Glasgow Celtic and Rangers both face tricky tests as Steven Gerrard‘s side face Braga and Neil Lennon’s Celtic head to Copenhagen.

Elsewhere there are plenty of mouthwatering ties at Jesse Marsch’s RB Salzburg drop into the Europa League and travel to Eintracht Frankfurt. Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan head to Ludogorets, while Ajax travel to Getafe after narrowly missing out on reaching the Champions League last 16.

Below is the schedule in full for Thursday’s games, while you can click on the link above to follow all the action as it happens.


Full Europa League schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Manchester United
Ludogorets v. Inter Milan
Copenhagen v. Celtic
Eintracht Frankfurt v. RB Salzburg
CFR Cluj v. Sevilla
Sporting Lisbon v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Benfica
Getafe v. Ajax

3 p.m. ET
Rangers v. Braga
Wolves v. Espanyol
Olympiacos v. Arsenal
Bayer Leverkusen v. FC Porto
AZ Alkmaar v. LASK
Roma v. Gent
APOEL Nicosia v. FC Basel
Wolfsburg v. Malmo