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2018 World Cup team preview: France

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Getting to know France: Les Bleus come into this tournament as one of the favorties after they came so close to winning EURO 2016 on home soil. In Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann they have one of the most feared strike partnerships in the tournament.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Didier Deschamps led this young side to the quarterfinals in 2014 and the European Championship final in 2016, but he will be expected to take them to at least the World Cup semifinals this time around. The captain of the French national team for their only World Cup win in 1998 has his work cut out. Find out more about France’s history, here.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 


What group are they in? Group C with Australia, Peru and Denmark. France are the overwhelming favorites to win the group but they will be cautious of Denmark and Peru in particular given their strong defensive unit and gamechangers in Christian Eriksen and Paolo Guerrero respectively. Still, a very decent draw for France.


Game schedule – Group C – Full 2018 World Cup schedule, here

Saturday, June 16: France v Australia, Kazan 6am, ET
Thursday, June 21: France v Peru, Ekaterinburg 11am, ET
Tuesday, June 26: Denmark v France, Moscow (Luzhniki) 10am, ET


Projected lineup (4-3-3) – Check out the 23-man squad list in full

—– Lloris —–

— Pavard — Varane — Umtiti — Mendy —

—— Matuidi —— Kante —— Pogba —— 

—— Mbappe —— Griezmann —— Dembele ——


Star player: Antoine Griezmann – The leading scorer in EURO 2016 has excelled at Atletico Madrid in recent years as there’s no surprise the likes of Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United have all been linked with the feisty forward. Griezmann, 26, is entering his prime and a fine showing at the World Cup would see his value saw further. He has 20 goals in 53 appearances for France but he leads the line superbly and along with Mbappe and Dembele they can interchange across the front three and rip teams apart.


Manager: Didier Deschamps – A second World Cup as manager of France will see expectations much greater than four years ago in Brazil. Deschamps has built this French team into a young, energetic side and several of the players who starred last time out are still in the squad. That said, if Deschamps doesn’t deliver at least a semifinal berth then the likes of Arsene Wenger and Zinedine Zidane are being lined up to take charge of France this summer. That’s harsh but Deschamps knows all of his hard work since taking charge in 2012 depends on how his team play this summer.


Secret weapon: Olivier Giroud – He may feel a little hard done by not to start most games for France given his superb scoring record for his country (31 goals in 73 games to rank fifth all-time) but Giroud is deadly off the bench. Imagine being a defender and locking down Griezmann, Dembele and Mbappe for 75 minutes, only to then see Giroud coming on to bulldoze headers at goal? He’s the perfect Plan B and France must use him wisely.

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Prediction: This feels like the right moment for France to win a big tournament again. They came so close to winning the European Championships in 2016 and they certainly have the attacking and midfield talent to go far. The only concern is in defense with Hugo Lloris making some big areas in the second half of the season at Tottenham, plus young defenders perhaps a little untested at the top level. France should get to the semifinals based on their talent alone but they are capable of having a dramatic collapse as we saw in 2002 and 2010.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Spurs need W

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Tottenham Hotspur’s UEFA Champions League dreams aren’t quite hanging by a thread, but anything less than six points from their next two matches will leave them all but dead.

Spurs and PSV Eindhoven begin a home-and-away run in Group B on Tuesday, with both sides 0-2 from matches against Barcelona and Inter Milan.

[ MORE: PL club power rankings ]

The Premier League side showed better than its Eredivisie hosts, but that matters little as both sides hope for a double while Barca and Inter square off in Spain and Italy over the next fortnight.

Eric Dier is hopeful that Spurs’ away form can carry over to the Netherlands:

“We’ve done well away from home so far this season. We’ve had some tough away games. Last weekend at West Ham was another and we managed to get another win. We feel very good at the moment. We have to try to continue that feeling tomorrow.”

Liverpool, meanwhile, has to get off the UCL mat following a stunning late loss in Napoli. The Reds are hopeful that a pair of matches against the weakest side in the group, Red Star Belgrade, does the trick.

At Anfield for the first match, Liverpool will be atop the group if it manages a win while PSG wins or draws Napoli in France.

American winger Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund open their pair of matches with Atletico Madrid as well, and the opener comes at the Westfalenstadion. The other group match sees Thierry Henry’s AS Monaco away to Club Brugge and hoping for a an almost necessary three points.

Finally, there’s the chaotic Group D, with Porto and Schalke opening Wednesday atop the group. USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie and Schalke are at Galatasaray, while Porto visits desperate Lokomotiv Moscow.

Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco has prepared his men as best he can for Turkey:

“During the training session we had soundbites from Galatasaray’s last home game playing through the Veltins Arena’s sound system, in order to give the players a taste of what to expect,” Tedesco said.

Schedule
PSV Eindhoven vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge vs. AS Monaco — 12:55 p.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Inter Milan — 3 p.m. ET
Liverpool vs. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Borussia Dortmund vs. Atletico Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Napoli — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray vs. Schalke — 3 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Porto — 3 p.m. ET

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 9

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This is getting good.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League club power rankings ]

Five teams sit within two points of the Premier League lead following nine weeks of play, and Champions League midweek action will only raise the potential for tumult atop the table.

And there are a number of eyebrow-raising litmus tests for mid-table sides once we reach another weekend of PL play.


20. Huddersfield Town — Scorers of four goals through nine matches, the Terriers were stout but non-threatening against Liverpool. Better needed, and fast, with points for the taking in their next six PL fixtures.
Last week: 20
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

19. Newcastle United — The weekend’s loss to Brighton and Hove Albion was the first one in some time which couldn’t be written off due to opponent or injury. That the Seagulls were without Davy Propper and still controlled the midfield is not a good sign for Rafa Benitez‘s punchless attack.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 19

18. Fulham — Fulham has allowed 25 goals through nine matches.

Googles “Most goals allowed in Premier League season.” 100, Swindon Town, 1993-94. 

That’s history-making pace, Slavisa.
Last week: 18
Season high: 11
Season low: 18

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17. Burnley — A week after drawing Huddersfield at home, the Clarets were absolutely worked by Man City. That happens. Chelsea, West Ham, and Leicester are next.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

16. Cardiff City — Huge win for the Bluebirds, who clobbered Fulham to show a bit of hope to their supporters ahead of trip to Anfield.
Last week: 19
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Crystal Palace — Three-straight league losses and a slumping Wilfried Zaha have taken the shine off Roy Hodgson‘s tenure at Selhurst Park. A visit from high-flying Arsenal in next.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 15

14. Southampton — A visit from Newcastle provides Saints an inviting chance to experience breathing room from the relegation race.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. West Ham United — Andriy Yarmolenko‘s injury is a concern for an attack which was coming together. Two-straight losses, but a litmus test at Leicester City awaits the Irons.
Last week: 12
Season high: 9
Season low: 20

12. Leicester City — Maybe the most difficult team in the league to read on a week-to-week basis, the Foxes were a bit hard done by after taking a lead at Arsenal. See: West Ham for prognosis.
Last week: 11
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back wins have Chris Hughton‘s men envisioning a run up the table, and a win over Wolves would be wonderful for those ambitions.
Last week: 10
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

10. Wolves — A 2-0 home loss to Watford? We didn’t see that coming.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

9. Watford — Javi Gracia‘s men are capable of any result in the book on any given week. Can they built on win at Wolves by getting an expected win when Huddersfield visits?
Last week: 14
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

8. Everton — Three-straight wins on the road to Old Trafford, and a fixture worth circling on Sunday.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

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7. Bournemouth — There have been few stumbles this season for Eddie Howe‘s men, who simply must handle their business at Fulham this weekend.
Last week: 6
Season high: 6
Season low: 12

6. Manchester United — Where’s the mentality? That’s the question after a comeback win over Newcastle and draw with Chelsea yielded to Tuesday’s loss to Juventus. If Mourinho has hold of this crew, it’ll be just fine when Everton arrives on Sunday. If he doesn’t?
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

5. Chelsea — The draw with Manchester United keeps Chelsea unbeaten, but the Blues have just one win in their last four PL matches. A trip to Burnley three days after Europa League duty is next.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

4. Spurs — Four-straight wins, three away from home and three without conceding a goal. Hugo Lloris and Tottenham are breathing a bit easier and have until Monday to regroup and face Man City.
Last week: 7
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

3. Liverpool — Here’s the good news: Liverpool’s first “slump” of the year has cost them very little and includes a number of “gut it out” results. Expect the Reds to “get healthy” at Cardiff.
Last week: 4
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

2. Arsenal — A tricky week for the red-hot Gunners, who start a Europa League pair with Sporting Lisbon before visiting desperate Crystal Palace. Arsenal has now won 10-straight in all competitions under Unai Emery since losing its first two matches of the PL season.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 9

1. Man City — Kevin De Bruyne is back, and the Citizens are basically beating back anything in their path. A trip to Tottenham is next.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Champions League wrap: Dzeko dominates again; Real wins (just)

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Another terrific day in the UEFA Champions League saw goals, fine finishes, and star performances across Europe.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]


Roma 3-0 CSKA Moscow

Powerful striker Edin Dzeko scored twice and assisted Cenzig Under’s 50th minute marker as Roma joined Real Madrid on six points in Group G.

How about a little love for Dzeko, by the way? The Bosnia and Herzegovina striker has five goals for Roma in this season’s UCL, and has 17 goals and seven assists in 23 appearances for Roma in the competition.

[ READ: PST’s talk with Dzeko on Serie A chase ]

Manchester United 0-1 JuventusRECAP

A spirited second half wasn’t enough for Jose Mourinho’s men to overcome another sloppy start, as Paulo Dybala’s 17th minute goal holds up at Old Trafford.

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester CityRECAP

David Silva‘s star show could’ve produced 7 or 8 goals, but he’ll settle for the match winner as Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte also scored to send Man City atop its group.

Hoffenheim 3-3 Lyon

Talk about a back-and-forth affair.

Lyon led 1-0 and 3-2, in between overcoming a 2-1 deficit, but fell apart in stoppage time as Hoffenheim kept its UCL hopes alive via a Joelinton stoppage time finish.

Andrej Kramaric had the Bundesliga club’s other goals, while Bertrand Traore, Tanguy Ndombele, and Memphis Depay bagged goals for Lyon.

Hoffenheim and Shakhtar are three points back of Lyon and four behind Man City after three matches.

Real Madrid 2-1 Viktoria Plzen

Wobby Real built a 2-0 lead through Karim Benzema and Marcelo, but Slovakian midfielder Patrik Hrosovsky’s 78th minute goal gave the champions quite a fright at home.

Young Boys 1-1 Valencia

Michy Batshuayi struck first, but this one was all Young Boys. The Swiss side converted a 55th minute penalty through Guillaume Hoarau and out shot the La Liga side 18-8.

Ajax 1-0 Benfica

Dutch-born Moroccan right back Noussair Mazraoui scored in stoppage time to move Ajax level with Bayern Munich and in pole position to reach its first Champions League knockout round since 2005-06.

AEK Athens 0-2 Bayern Munich

Scoreless at halftime, Javi Martinez and Robert Lewandowski scored within a 3-minute run at Bayern. It was a fine leaping volley for Martinez.

Mourinho praises Manchester United effort, Juve center backs

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In case you haven’t heard, Jose Mourinho wanted defensive reinforcements this summer and Manchester United was largely unable to deliver any.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-1 Juventus ]

Was Mourinho slyly pointing the finger again after Juventus beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League?

Maybe, or maybe he just really admires Juventus’ center backs.

The United manager mentioned center back Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini no less than three times in his recap of the loss, praising The Old Lady as well as his own side’s effort. From the BBC:

“Juventus is a different level of quality, I have to be honest. A level of quality, stability, experience, know how. The base of the team they have Bonucci and Chiellini.

“That’s the base that allows them to play with the freedom in attack. ‘Lose the ball, no problem, we are here’. We could deserve a goal for the effort of the boys but it was not possible. I have no complaints with my boys. I have a positive feeling for their effort.”

Bonucci admitted that United tried to sign him from AC Milan this summer before the 31-year-old opted for a return to Juventus.

United hosts Everton and goes to Bournemouth in the Premier League before heading to Turin for a rematch with Juventus. After that, it’s the tiny matter of a Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium.