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EURO 2016 preview, Group E: Belgium’s favored, but anything is possible

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Belgium

Game schedule

Star player: Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) — A wizard in playmaking, “KDB” has all the tools to be the star of the tournament.

[ EURO PREVIEWS: Group A | B | C | D ]

Belgium finally meets its potential in cruising through Group E and deep into the tournament for its first big final since 1980’s loss to West Germany in Italy.

Or the Red Devils become known as the big engine that couldn’t, failing to live up to expectations again despite a massive array of weapons.


Italy

Champions in 1968, runners-up in 2000 & 2012. Unbeaten in two-straight qualifying cycles.

Game schedule

FLORENCE, ITALY - JUNE 01: Daniele De Rossi (L) and Gianluigi Buffon chat during the Italy training session at the club's training ground at Coverciano on June 01, 2016 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Daniele De Rossi (L) and Gianluigi Buffon (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Star player: Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon (Juventus) — He’s one a thing or two in his lifetime, and is a steady presence in the back for Gli Azzurri. 

Antonio Conte’s teams are hard to break down, and Simone Zaza and Lorenzo Insigne break out as stars of the tournament in a deep Italy run.

Yet perhaps the 4-1 and 3-1 losses to Germany and Belgium are harbingers of what’s to come, and Italy allows Ireland or Sweden past it and into the knockout rounds.


Republic of Ireland

Second-straight Euro, third overall. Haven’t escaped the group stage.

Game schedule

DUBLIN, IRELAND - OCTOBER 11: Robbie Keane of Republic of Ireland applauds the fans during the EURO 2016 Qualifier match between Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar at Aviva Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Star player: Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy)– The side’s all-time caps winner (143) and goal scorer (67).

Rebounding from a brutal three-and-out Euro 2012, Ireland follows the lead of Keane in busting through Italy and Sweden to finish runners-up in the group.

A suspect defense, slow in the middle, and with players out of position, concedes far too often again as Ireland bows out quickly. Keane has not scored against a side not called Gibraltar since 2013, and that streak continues in another bad tournament for Ireland.


Sweden

Sixth Euro, have failed to get out of the group stage in three of last four.

Game schedule

SOLNA, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14: Sweden 10 Zlatan Ibrahimovic durring a European Qualifier Play-Off between Sweden and Denmark on November 14, 2015 in Solna, Sweden. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

Star player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (unattached). Perhaps you’ve heard of him?

Buoyed by its in-form superstar and the ability to perform in relative anonymity because of him, Sweden sneaks out of the group and knows that, in a one-off, it has Zlatan.

Too many questions, on defense and in supplementary attack hamper Sweden’s ability do much and the group stage is all it gets.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: Italy and Belgium get into the knockout rounds, but not without hiccups.

Marquee match: Belgium and Italy set the tone for the group, and perhaps the expectations for all four teams, when they meet in Lyon on June 12.

Top players to watch:

  1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden
  2. Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
  3. Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
  4. Mousa Dembele, Belgium
  5. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium

Pogba contract talks to begin after season ends

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Pogba contract update: For all the talk of Paul Pogba leaving Manchester United this summer, last summer and the summer before that one, the 27-year-old midfielder now appears ready to commit to the Red Devils for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Dembele to Man United; Promes to Arsenal ]

According to a report from Sky Sports, not only is Pogba happy at Man United these days, but he also expects negotiations over a new contract to begin after the club’s Europa League run ends. United are set to face Sevilla in the quarterfinals on Sunday, with the final looming large next Friday, Aug. 21.

“Pogba is happy at United and he’s expecting them to open contract talks once their Europa League campaign is over.

“His current deal runs out next summer but United always insert this year option so they don’t get caught out with free transfers.

“It should be said United are in a better position to negotiate with Pogba and the returning Dean Henderson, as it stands from Sheffield United, following the departure of Alexis Sanchez and all of the money his wages have now freed.

“There appears to be a willingness from all parties to get around the table as far as Pogba is concerned.”

The part of the report referring to Sanchez’s now-offloaded contract is of the utmost importance. Not only was the transfer itself — and the Chilean’s time at Old Trafford — an incredible flop, but his massive (reported) $500,000-per-week contract was a huge obstacle for the club when it came time to sign new players and/or negotiate new contracts with players already at the club.

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

It’s not just the Pogba contract which needs resolving in the coming months, but budding superstar Mason Greenwood is almost certain to get another pay rise following his standout performances over the second half of the 2019-20 season. The 18-year-old signed a new contract back in October, but he will likely be rewarded — and locked down — with the longest possible terms as United move to fend off any interest from other clubs in the Premier League and around Europe. Without the Sanchez money off the books, taking care of such business would have been that much more difficult.

LIVE, PSG-Atalanta: How to watch, team news, key battles

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The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus intriguing ties between Atalanta and PSG, plus RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.

[ MORE: Man City beat Real Madrid ]

In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16. Bayern v. Barcelona should be all-out attack, while Atletico v. Leipzig will be full of grit and Atalanta and PSG could end up 6-5 to either team as two free-flowing attacks collide.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.

Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League quarterfinals

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Kylian Mbappe makes the bench after suffering an ankle injury just over two weeks ago. He was previously expected to be altogether ruled out for Wednesday’s game. It will be interesting to see whether or not he is truly available should PSG need him to come on late in the game.


Key battles

Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera

Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.

RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa

This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.

Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba

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Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.

Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay

Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.

Ranking new Premier League kits: 2020-21

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Premier League kit rankings are absolutely one of our favorite things to do each summer.

New kits have been dropped by plenty of Premier League clubs ahead of the new 2020-21 season, with fresh looks galore.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Some teams have kept it simple, while others have gone for something very different.

With big name kit suppliers arriving on new deals at clubs, there will be some very different looks for next season and beyond.

Check out our 2020-21 Premier League kit rankings from the shirts released, so far.


1 – Sheffield United: Absolutely stunning design. Simple and striking at the same time. Love it. The away kit is a beauty too.

2 – Southampton: Classy retro kits to celebrate their 135th anniversary, as Saints return to their original look.

Southampton

3 – Aston Villa: Clean, sharp look and you can’t go wrong with claret and blue. Love the larger badge too.

 

4 – Arsenal: Loving the retro vibes and yet another fine Arsenal kit.

 

5 – Brighton: Gone for an all blue number with white pinstripes. This is very good and a big chance from the bigger blue and white stripes. Retro, again.

6 – Tottenham Hotspur: Very sleek look and Spurs have kit it simple. Like the away kit, a lot.

7 – Manchester United: Nice little design throughout the kit which adds something extra.

8 – Liverpool: New Nike kits for the first time in history. The teal trim looks smart. Kept it simple and safe.

9 – Wolves: Another team which has gone for the retro look and it works.

 

10 – Man City: A little too much going on with the home and away kits for some, but a sleek look and adventurous from Puma.

11 – Everton: Hummel are underrated and the home kit has a nice retro look to it, and a return to the yellow away jersey is nostalgic too.

12 – West Ham: The Hammers are celebrating their 125th anniversary in style. Very nice. Classic look with a massive badge. Maybe a bit too plain?

13 – Chelsea: The new sponsor logo and the size of it has been ridiculed and it does ruin the very snazzy looking kits.

14 – Similar look for Leicester and this is a nice design. Big fan of the sleeves.

 

15 – West Brom: The barcode stripes are slightly jarring but the colors, badge and design are good.

 

16 – Newcastle United: Does what it says on the tin. Black and white stripes, and that’s it.

17 – Crystal Palace: Oh, no. These are just not what I expected. Why move away from the sash? What’s the deal with the central stripe?

Barcelona v. Bayern Munich: How to watch, team news, start time, odds

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich is a massive UEFA Champions League quarterfinal on Friday (start time, 3pm ET) and here is everything you need to know ahead of the clash in Lisbon, Portugal.

Many believe the 2019-20 Champions League winner will be one of these two teams, as they face the winner of Manchester City v. Lyon in the semifinal.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Barcelona and Lionel Messi have the disappointment of losing their La Liga title in recent weeks to spur them on in the Champions League, while Bayern Munich swept all before them in Germany this season with Robert Lewandowski scoring 53 goals in 44 games in all competitions.

After just a few months in charge, Barca boss Quique Setien likely needs to win the Champions League to keep his job as Messi is firing in attack but Barca are still suspect at the back. As for Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick, who has masterminded a masterful turnaround since taking charge last November, he and the Bayern hierarchy will see this as the Bavarians’ best chance to win the Champions League since they last did so in 2013.

[ MORE: Key battles in UCL quarterfinals ]

Below you will find all of the details you need on Barcelona – Bayern Munich in what is set to be the game of the Champions League season so far as both teams love to attack.


How to watch, stream Champions League: Barcelona – Bayern Munich

Dates: August 12, 3pm ET kick off
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Barcelona will likely be without the injured Ousmane Dembele who hasn’t featured since having surgery on his hamstring in February, but could be part of the squad.

Bayern are without Benjamin Pavard who has an ankle injury, but apart from that they have a fully fit squad to choose from as Alphonso Davies sat out of training with a slight adductor problem but is expected to be fit.


What they’re saying

Antoine Griezmann on Barcelona’s mindset: “We are looking forward to it, we have worked well tactically and we are ready to play the game. We know it will be difficult, but we know what we have to do to qualify for the semifinals. It will be a very good match. We hope to take advantage of the quality we have. We are in a good moment and we can play a good game. We have to be together, up front and at the back, and try to have the ball as much as possible.”

Hansi Flick on the style of play he wants from Bayern: “Defensively to win the ball – and offensively, purposefully and consistently to score goals. The intensity of our actions is crucial. We also want to play attractive possession football. The most important thing is that we see ourselves as a team and that everyone knows what their task is. Every player has to get involved and be able to rely on his neighbor on the pitch. This is extremely important to us.”


Odds – Full matchweek odds

It is not often that Barcelona (+235) are the underdogs but they are here, and that shows you how good Bayern Munich (+115) have been in recent months. Bayern will be wary of Messi but with Lewandowski banging in goals for fun and a stable midfield and defensive unit behind him, the Bavarian giants are the favorites for a reason. The tie at +255 provides value and this should be a goal-fest.


Prediction

If this turns into a straight shootout, you would probably fancy Barcelona to advance with Luis Suarez, Messi and Antoine Griezmann in attack. But Bayern will keep it tight, look to slow play down and then launch counters which Lewandowski can finish. I think this game will be stretched and become the attacking feast all neutrals are hoping for, but the Germans are just a more ruthless and solid team right now. Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich.