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UEFA Champions League: Who’s the favorite?

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Keeping in mind that the draw means everything, who should be considered the front-runner to win the UEFA Champions League?

Most bookmakers have Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City just ahead of Barcelona, with Real Madrid third, but something about that doesn’t feel right.

[ MORE: Barca-Chelsea recap | Chelsea reacts ]

It comes as little surprise that Sevilla and Roma are considered the longest shots, but that shows just how tricky these quarterfinals will be for favorites: There are no teams from leagues outside the Big Four, no club who beat up on their domestic opponents and slipped through due to simple draws.

The field fits fairly neatly into three groups: Longshots, hopefuls, and favorites. Do you agree with where we draw the lines?

Longshots

8. Sevilla – It’s difficult to pore over their matches against Manchester United and not see how another team would’ve found a way past La Liga’s mainstays. Even given their European tournament acumen, it’d be stunning to see a “no name” crew keep running without a favorable draw.

7. Roma – Beat out Chelsea for the group stage crown by keeping a trio of clean sheets at home against the Blues, Atletico Madrid, and Qarabag. Their road form in the tournament has been poor, however, and perhaps this is Roma reaching its experience and talent level for this particular rodeo (It’s worth noting Roma’s been better on the road than at home in Serie A). I Lupi cannot afford another first leg like the 2-1 loss in Ukraine.

Hopefuls

6. Liverpool –  Reds fans love an argument, especially when the quality of their side is questioned, but Jurgen Klopp‘s men have yet to be tested by a top side in this tournament. The closest they’ve come were 2-2 and 3-3 draws with Sevilla, and blowing out a Porto side which kept one clean sheet in a relatively weak Group G. That’s not to say the Reds don’t have the ammo — Naby Keita would be nice — to win the whole thing, but to place them any higher would be wishful thinking.

5. Bayern Munich – Can score on you from any numbers weapons and in every sort of way, but there’s something about the first go-round without Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso which gives us pause when it comes to rating Bayern higher than Juve. That’s not to say Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, and Javi Martinez cannot pull their weight in leadership, but Bayern just sits behind the Top Four.

4. Juventus – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Ruled out as over the hill, Juventus finds its league and tournament form as the season grows and meets its reputation with form down the stretch. Are you betting against The Old Lady?

Favorites

3. Manchester City – With loads of respect to Barca and Bayern, Man City is the deepest team in the tournament and their system is such a challenge for teams that don’t see it often. I can’t quite label them the favorites, even if I feel City is the strongest team in the tournament. Honestly: I love watching this team operate, but I’ve gotta see them do it here.

2. Barcelona – Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front, Andres Iniesta turning back the hands of time in the middle of the park while Samuel Umtiti rises to meet the levels of defensive stalwarts Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets. Canny and creative, will Barca seal La Liga too soon to keep its edge in the UCL?

  1. Real Madrid — No, they aren’t in fine form, nor is there real reason to believe they’d handle their business against City or Barcelona more than twice out of 10 outings. Well, no real reason besides experience. But this club has won the last two, and three of the last four. Even if you dropped their first six titles from the less challenging European Cup era, Real would still be second all-time in titles (to AC Milan’s seven). Team-wise, they might be fifth in the field for me, but I’ve learned that Real rarely disappears in this tournament.

Nothing to separate Portland and 10-man LAFC

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There was entertainment value in Los Angeles FC’s potential playoff preview with the Portland Timbers on Sunday in the City of Angels, but all that arrived was a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: Atlanta 1-1 Seattle ]

Both Giovani Savarese’s Timbers and Bob Bradley‘s nickname-free expansion club remain in the West’s Top Four. PLAFC remains unbeaten at home during their maiden voyage through Major League Soccer.

Adama Diomande came close for the hosts, who finished with 10-men when Lee Nguyen went studs-up on Sebastian Blanco‘s thigh for a pretty easy red card (though it took some time for Silviu Petrescu to produce the red).

VIDEO: France stars projected onto Arc de Triomphe

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If France’s players had any doubt about the level of import their World Cup title had back home, it was erased when their photos were projected onto one of the most celebrated monuments in the world.

The photos of Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and company made their way onto the Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, hours after France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup Final.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Arc de Triomphe honors those who died in the French Revolution and early 19th century wars, and sits above France’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

How humbling must it be for those players to grace such a heavy monument (both in weight and substance).

Dalic: In one day, Croatia went from lucky to unlucky

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Ante Cacic’s Croatia was on pace to miss out on the World Cup.

Zlatko Dalic’s Croatia rallied the troops to second place in their qualifying group, a playoff defeat of Greece, and a run to the World Cup Final.

Pretty decent stuff.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

And surely the 51-year-old will reflect on that, probably even this evening, but he’s more focused on a letdown after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to highly-favored France.

Key to the match was a penalty awarded to France when a partially-obscured Mario Mandzukic handled a ball inside the 18, leading to Antoine Griezmann’s pivotal goal.

The PK was awarded via VAR, and France went up 2-1 en route to a three-goal lead. From the AFP:

“I never comment on referees but in a World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Dalic.

“It in no way diminishes France’s win. We were a bit unlucky. Maybe in the first six games we were favored by luck and today we weren’t.

“I have to congratulate my players. Maybe today we played our best game at these championships. Against such a strong side as France you must not make mistakes. We are a bit sad but we must also be proud of what we’ve done.”

Croatia had two-thirds of the ball and doubled France’s shot attempts, and Dalic isn’t the least bit controversial in wondering whether the match is much different if that penalty goes unawarded by referee Nestor Pitana.

Atlanta comes back to draw 10-man Seattle (video)

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A scrappy if not downright venomous affair between the lowly Seattle Sounders and high-flying Atlanta United ended in a 1-1 draw in Georgia on Sunday.

The Sounders went ahead through a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty kick, awarded via VAR a la this morning’s World Cup Final, but Atlanta leveled the score with a highlight which show every bit of the game story.

[ MORE: FIFA awards Golden Ball, Golden Glove ]

Just check Josef Martinez’s barking at Stefan Frei, who made an uncharacteristic error on the play, after his 19th goal of the season (Nice cross, Julian Gressel).

Martinez needs nine more goals to break the MLS single season record, and he has 13 games to score them.

Jordan McCrary was sent off for Seattle in the 63rd minute for a second yellow, but Seattle navigated the final half hour or so to scoop up an unlikely point.

Atlanta still sits first with its earned point but opens the door for New York City FC to reach the top of the table when it plays its match-in-hand, while Seattle is now 11 points back of the West’s final playoff spot.