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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.

Toni Kroos signs new contract at Real Madrid

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German midfielder Toni Kroos has extended his stay at Real Madrid.

Kroos, 29, has signed a new contract at the Santiago Bernabeu which means he will be there until at least 2023, as the former Bayern Munich midfielder will close in on almost 10 years as a Real player.

The silky central midfielder who delivers stunning set pieces for club and country spoke on Monday in a press conference arranged by Real Madrid.

He has won three Champions League trophies and a La Liga title at Real, and although this season was easily their worst since he arrived at the club, locking the German down to a long-term deal makes sense.

Luka Modric’s future has been uncertain despite the Croatian midfielder, now 33, picking up the Ballon d’Or this year and the likes of Casemiro and Isco have had campaigns to forget.

With Zinedine Zidane back in charge of Real and their horror 2018-19 campaign over (it ended, typically, with a 2-0 home defeat to midtable Real Betis) it is all about moving on as quickly as possible at Real.

Kroos will be a key part of their future.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.