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UCL draw analysis: Chelsea, Spurs get worst of congestion

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We know the group mates for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League, but how do the fixtures play out for the five Premier League sides in the tournament?

[ MORE: Full UCL draw ]

Those answers, along with pre-draw expectations and the peers in their groups have us wondering whether the stocks of each are up or down.


Chelsea
Last season: Not in Europe
Best finish: Won 2011-12 Champions League

Fortune is… slightly down. As Antonio Conte begs for depth at Stamford Bridge, he’ll face two top sides. One faces a similar depth challenge in Atletico Madrid, while AS Roma may not have the top end force but is steady well past its regular 18. At least Qarabag will get some big money gate receipts.

As for the fixture list, woof. Chelsea has to go to Atleti three days before hosting Man City, it heads to Roma five days before hosting Manchester United, and goes to Qarabag three days before heading to Liverpool.

Tottenham Hotspur
Last season: Finished behind Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen in Group E
Best finish: Quarterfinalist, 2010-11 

Fortune is… way down. Spurs supporters deserved a better fate that Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, and APOEL Nicosia. It’s probably a dead heat between Spurs and BVB as to who finishes second and who goes to the Europa League.

How do the fixtures go for Spurs? They are home to Everton before opening up UCL play with a visit from BVB, but consider this fortnight (or so):

Oct. 17 – at Real Madrid
Oct. 22 – vs. Liverpool
Oct. 28 – at Manchester United
Nov. 1 – vs. Real Madrid

Holy smoke.

Manchester City
Last season: Lost to Monaco in Round of 16
Best finish: Semifinalist, 2015-16

Fortune is… steady-to-up. Many figured City was already built to win its group barring an absurd draw, and this is far from tricky. Napoli will give City a real hassle in terms of a group win, and Pep Guardiola will need to be very careful in how he sets up his back line. Neither Shakhtar Donetsk nor Feyenoord have the quality to pip City nor Napoli to second barring remarkable transfer work before the end of the deadline.

Man City two toughest matches — both versus Napoli — are fairly well insulated by Premier League fixtures, excepting a trip to Napoli on Nov. 1 which is four days before a visit from Arsenal. Keep in mind the visiting Gunners will have one less day’s rest because of Europa play.

Liverpool
Last season: Not in Europe
Best finish: Five titles (last in 2004-05)

Fortune is… up. It’s between Sevilla and Liverpool for top team in the group, and the Reds should probably be favored to win it. Neither Maribor nor Spartak Moscow will receive many second place predictions from pundits and fans.

The Reds fixture set-up could be worse, but starts rough with a visit from Sevilla which comes four days after Liverpool plays at Man City in the Premier League. A trip to Maribor is sandwiched between PL matches against Manchester United and Spurs, while Liverpool’s Nov. 21 trip to Sevilla is four days before a visit from Chelsea (who has one less day’s rest).

Manchester United
Last season: Won UEFA Europa League
Best finish: Three titles (last in 2007-08)

Fortune is… up. Big time. United has a history of getting friendly group draws dating back to Sir Alex Ferguson‘s days in charge of the club, and this is no different. Benfica is tricky in Europe, but CSKA Moscow and Basel should present little challenge to Jose Mourinho.

Burton Albion making League Cup semi “absolutely staggering”

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Burton Albion has never finished higher than 20th in the Championship, so getting to the League Cup semifinals followed a 1-0 defeat of Middlesbrough is pretty darn sweet to manager Nigel Clough and his men.

The Brewers were relegated to League One last season, finishing 23rd in the 24-team Championship.

[ MORE: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City]

Now, manager Nigel Clough has the club within a win of the League Cup Final. It’s their best major cup performance in a 68-year history.

From BurtonAlbionFC.co.uk:

“The scale of the achievement is absolutely staggering – for Burton Albion to get to the semi-final of a major cup competition. It’s very difficult to describe the feeling at this point.”

Sure the luck of the draw is involved — Burton has only drawn one Premier League team, and it was Burnley — but winning five cup matches is winning five cup matches.

Clough, the son of legendary manager Brian Clough, also sung the praises of Southampton loanee Jake Hesketh. The 22-year-old won the match with the game’s loan goal.

“We got the goal through Jake Hesketh. The most impressive thing was to win the tackle on the edge of the box and he was one of the few players tonight not to hit his shot over the bar, We bang on in training about hitting the bottom corners and he did.”

Whether or not Burton can hang with Premier League opposition in the final, this is a pretty monumental moment for the Brewers. Sitting 15th in league play, it will likely be the most memorable moment of the season.

River Plate loses on penalties to Al Ain at Club World Cup

AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
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AL AIN CITY, United Arab Emirates (AP) South American champion River Plate was upset by Al Ain FC in the Club World Cup on Tuesday, losing in a penalty shootout after the semifinal finished 2-2 following extra time.

Al Ain’s players converted all five penalty kicks, before goalkeeper Khalid Eisa saved Enzo Perez’s fifth shot for River to seal a 5-4 victory in the shootout.

[ MORE: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City ]

River endured the humbling loss to the team from United Arab Emirates less than two weeks after thrilling its fans with a memorable win over fierce Argentine rival Boca Juniors in the final of the Copa Libertadores.

Real Madrid plays Kashima Antlers on Wednesday in the other semifinal.

Marcus Berg put Al Ain ahead in the third minute before Santos Borre scored twice to give River the lead in the 16th.

Brazilian forward Caio pulled Al Ain level at 2-2 in the 51st.

Gonzalo Martinez had an opportunity to put River back in front from the penalty spot after Mohamed Ahmad fouled Milton Casco in the area. But Martinez hit the 68th-minute spot kick against the crossbar.

The final is on Saturday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Pep on Man City win, Sterling’s poor panenka, Mourinho sacking

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City needed penalties to outlast hosts Leicester City in the quarterfinals of the League Cup, but got the job done thanks in no small part to some laughable efforts from the Foxes.

[ RECAP: Leicester 1-1 (1-3 pens) Man City ]

Kevin De Bruyne and Marc Albrighton scored good-looking goals in regulation, and Oleksandr Zinchenko converted City’s third penalty after Leicester missed three-consecutive offerings at the King Power Stadium.

Man City’s only miss was an awful missed panenka from Raheem Sterling, but Guardiola was mostly okay with the outcome given their lineup.

Eric Garcia started and made his first team debut at age 17. Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz also started the match. Young goalkeeper Arijanet Muric starred for Man City, stopping two penalties in the win. From the BBC:

“A tough game, it is always difficult at Leicester. We played with a guy who is 17 years old and some injured players, it was a good game. … Raheem took that decision [to chip his penalty], unfortunately he missed it but that is OK.”

Guardiola was also asked about fired Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho. He feels compassion for his longtime rival.

“I am always sad for the manager when that happens. We are alone in that situation. I am close to all of the managers. You are sacked when results are not good. He doesn’t need me, he is so strong. I wish him all the best and he will be back soon.”

Man City is one win from a third League Cup final in four years, and will face either Burton Albion, Arsenal, Spurs, Bournemouth, or Chelsea. Next up is a visit from Crystal Palace on Saturday and another trip to Leicester on Boxing Day.

League Cup: Man City wins in PKs; Burton upsets Boro

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It took penalty kicks to separate Leicester City and Man City, while Middlesbrough was booed off the pitch after 90 minutes of an upset loss as the first two quarterfinals of the League Cup were played Tuesday in England.

[ MORE: Steffen wins USMNT award ]


Leicester City 1-1 (1-3, PKs) Man City

A bungling batch of penalties ended an entertaining quarterfinal at King Power Stadium, and the reigning champions are alive for their third League Cup in four years.

Christian Fuchs airmailed Leicester City’s second attempt of penalty kicks, but Raheem Sterling chipped his ensuing panenka over the bar for Man City.

It was three-straight misses when Man City’s Arijanet Muric saved James Maddison‘s tame low effort and then nabbed Caglar Soyuncu’s shot to cue up Oleksandar Zinchenko for the winner.

Before that, we learned that Kevin De Bruyne can ball.

Okay, that’s not news, though we haven’t been able to see it in sometime thanks to a pair of knee injuries.

De Bruyne had played just 251 minutes heading into Tuesday’s League Cup quarterfinal at Leicester City, though he’s looking plenty sharp.

Watch the Manchester City midfielder cut his mark with a clever back leg move, then sweep a shot through a defender’s legs and past the reach of Leicester backstop Danny Ward.

It’s delightful stuff. Watch it here.

No sooner had De Bruyne left the contest after 70 minutes, Leicester City restored the stalemate via Marc Albrighton. The veteran midfielder collected a Wilfred Ndidi over-the-top pass with style before lashing past Arijanet Muric.

Middlesbrough 0-1 Burton Albion

There goes Tony Pulis‘ Boro outfit thanks to a strike from Southampton loanee Jake Hesketh, as Burton Albion trumped the ol’ West Bromwich Albion coach at his own game.

The League One side is the only non-Premier League team left in the tournament, and will now face either Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, or Bournemouth in the semifinals.