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Champions League preview: Liverpool’s fate rests on Benfica-PAOK

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Four Premier League clubs will know who they could face in the group stage of the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League following the playoff round, which begins Tuesday with a trio of matches.

The most interesting tie of the bunch is Benfica against PAOK Salonika, starting Tuesday in Portugal.

[ MORE: Wenger speaks on future ]

PAOK is the biggest underdog in the playoff round, but Liverpool fans will be rooting hard for Razvan Lucescu’s Greek side. That’s because the Reds will joining Pot 2 of the UEFA Champions League draw if Benfica exits the tournament.

Frankly, many of the European hot shots would prefer Liverpool exit Pot 3. As it stands, the much-improved Reds would be a part of a horror group.

As it stands, these are the pots:

Pot 1: Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Juventus, PSG, Man City, Lokomotiv Moscow

Pot 2: Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli, Spurs, Roma

Pot 2 or 3: Liverpool

Pot 3: Schalke, Lyon, Monaco, CSKA Moscow

Pot 3 or 4: Valencia, Viktoria Plzen

Pot 4: Club Brugge, Inter Milan, Hoffenheim, Galatasaray

Of course, Liverpool could be a Pot 3 team and be the best club in its group should Lokomotiv Moscow, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Club Brugge join them.

But it’s also possible that you could get the Reds in a group with Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Inter Milan. Yikes.

So look for most non-English Pot 1 and 2 teams to want Benfica to fall victim to Pontus Wernbloom, Chuba Akpom, and Vieirinha’s PAOK.

Playoff round schedule
All times ET

BATE Borisov vs. PSV Eindhoven
3 p.m. Tuesday in Belarus
3 p.m. Aug. 29 in the Netherlands

Benfica vs. PAOK Salonika
3 p.m. Tuesday in Portugal
3 p.m. Aug. 29 in Greece

Red Star Belgrade vs. Red Bull Salzburg
3 p.m. Tuesday in Serbia
3 p.m. Aug. 29 in Austria

Young Boys vs. Dinamo Zagreb
3 p.m. Wednesday in Switzerland
3 p.m. Aug. 28 in Croatia

MOL Vidi (Videoton) vs. AEK Athens
3 p.m. Wednesday in Hungary
3 p.m. Aug. 28 in Greece

Ajax vs. Dynamo Kyiv
3 p.m. Wednesday in the Netherlands
3 p.m. Aug. 28 in Ukraine

CCL wrap: Stoppage-time GK goal saves Tigres; Henry’s Montreal grinds it out

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Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League nearly featured an upset for the ages.

It will have to be content with a finish for all time.

El Salvador’s Alianza came back from a 4-2 aggregate deficit to nearly knock UANL Tigres out of the CCL, but Tigres goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman provided a stoppage time goal to eliminate the upstarts.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Tigres will now meet Ronny Delia’s New York City FC, who had little trouble holding up its first-leg lead over San Carlos.

Thierry Henry’s Montreal had to sweat out a scoreless draw with Saprissa, but rode its two away goals to a date with either Seattle or Olimpia.

Guatemala’s Comunicaciones and Club America are the final match of Wednesday, kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

UANL Tigres 4-2 (5-4 agg.) Alianza

What a match. Down 2-1 after one leg, Tigres scored thrice in the first 23 minutes. Ex-West Ham man Enner Valencia struck first before Andre-Pierre Gignac score in the 17th and 23rd.

But Juan Carlos Portillo scored twice in nine minutes before halftime to put the away goals advantage in the Salvadorans’ corner.

Tigres out-attempted Alianza 19-6 but couldn’t get it done, and my goodness did it need shot No. 19 from its Argentine international backstop.

Great header for a goalie.

Montreal Impact 0-0 (2-2 agg.) Deportivo Saprissa

This was a dreadful match, but it won’t bother Titi too much; Henry’s men had just 31 percent of the ball and nearly scored anyway through Shamit Shome.

The Impact showed a lot of guts and discipline in frustrating the Costa Ricans, who were disappointed when Clement Diop made an incredible save in the 89th minute.

NYCFC 1-0 (6-3 agg.) San Carlos

Alexander Callens scored the lone goal of the contest, the damage done in Costa Rica last week.

Speaking of damage done, Delia had a “Welcome to CONCACAF officiating” moment.

 

Rankings the comeback potential of Champions League sides

UEFA Champions League
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Maybe Group H of the UEFA Champions League was very soft.

Chelsea and Valencia are in massive holes after 90 minutes of the Round of 16, and third-place Ajax is a 2-0 hole in its Europa League tie.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The other six teams’ disadvantages after one leg range from tricky to barely existent.

Let’s rate which teams have the best chances to climb back and earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

8. Chelsea (down 3-0 to Bayern Munich after home leg)

Robert Lewandowski’s injury hurts the Bavarians, but not three goals worth of hurt. And Serge Gnabry has been the one sounding death knells for London clubs.

7. Valencia (down 4-1 to Atalanta after away leg)

The away goal combined with the Serie A side’s relative inexperience in the competition gives Valencia a bit more hope than Chelsea.

6. Napoli (level at 1 with Barcelona after home leg)

On the plus side, Gennaro Gattuso’s men are level. That said, they allowed an away goal to Barca and have to go to the Camp Nou against a side yearning to make better UCL memories.

5. Real Madrid (down 2-1 to Man City after home leg)

Who knows what Pep Guardiola will launch at the Etihad Stadium, but giving him two away goals and a lead opens up his playbook? As for Zinedine Zidane, it was all so one dimensional at the Bernabeu. What’s he have cooking?

4. Tottenham Hotspur (down 1-0 to RB Leipzig after home leg)

Spurs have better UEL experience than their second leg hosts, though the striker problems looms over Jose Mourinho’s plans.

3. Liverpool (down 1-0 to Atletico Madrid after away leg)

It’s easy to imagine the Reds’ rebounding, and even Atleti will doubt its potential to keep Liverpool off the scoreboard at Anfield.

2. Paris Saint-Germain (down 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund after away leg)

Dortmund’s allowed plenty of goals this season, and PSG’s attack is stacked.

1. Juventus (down 1-0 to Lyon after away leg)

It’s difficult to imagine Juve playing as poor as they did Wednesday when they head back to Turin. The Old Lady knew something was wrong in warm-ups. They’ll address it, but can they keep Lyon off the board?

 

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Wolves, Man Utd look to advance

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Fifteen places remain up for grabs in the Europa League’s Round of 16 after Steven Gerrard’s Rangers handled Braga in Wednesday’s lone second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Notable names Porto, Benfica, and Ajax enter their second legs with hills to climb, while the three Premier League teams have varying degrees of advantage.

Manchester United v. Club Brugge

United enters the second leg at Old Trafford with an away goal advantage after the 1-1 draw in Belgium.

Luke Shaw says the Red Devils are driven by a desire to play for silverware, and the UEL joins the FA Cup as their lone opportunities to claim trophies this year.

“It is a massive ambition for me,” said Shaw, via The Manchester Evening News. “I was there for the Europa League final, and the feeling, even though I wasn’t on the pitch, was a feeling I have not felt and I wanted more of. I wasn’t involved and that is what is pushing me on even more to get into this final, and others. We should be in finals and we should be in all competitions until the end. We are very confident at the moment.”

Arsenal v. Olympiacos

The Gunners claimed a 1-0 result in Greece, and know a draw will be enough to bring Mikel Arteta‘s men to the Round of 16.

The manager was asked what’s different about his Gunners, now back in contention to qualify for Europe via the Premier League table.

“I think the team is progressing well, the club is in a better place,” Arteta said, via Football.London. “We are getting much more unity on the sections of the club and as well a great energy back from the fans every time we play at the Emirates and away from the Emirates. There are a lot of positive things but there are still things to improve individually, collectively and as a club and we are in that process at the moment.”

Espanyol v. Wolves

Wolves rang up a four-goal advantage at the Molineux, and that may give Nuno Espirito Santo a chance to use his depth for a rare time this season.

The boss has counted on players like Conor Coady, Rui Patricio, and Raul Jimenez in all tournaments, and he admits that it’s worn on the squad.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve not suffered,” said Espirito Santo via Wolves’ site. “It’s been tough with a tight schedule, very demanding on the players and I think the credit is on them – the way they compete, the way they prepare themselves to compete, but it’s tough, very tough. … The credit is for the players, it’s for the staff, but the players buying, believing and working very hard, is what makes things go well.”

Look out for Diogo Jota if he plays; The Wolves star has five goals in his past two matches.

Thursday’s second legs

12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs
Istanbul Basaksehir (1-3) v. Sporting Lisbon
Gent (0-1) v. Roma
Malmo (1-2) v. Wolfsburg
LASK (1-1) v. AZ Alkmaar
Porto (1-2) v. Bayer Leverkusen
Espanyol (0-4) v. Wolves
Basel (3-0) v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Manchester United (1-1) v. Club Brugge
Celtic (1-1) v. Copenhagen
Benfica (1-2) v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Red Bull Salzburg (1-4) v. Eintracht Frankfurt
Inter Milan (2-0) v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax (0-2) v. Getafe
Sevilla (1-1) v. CFR Cluj
Arsenal (1-0) v. Olympiacos

Juventus ‘could tell something wasn’t switched on’ in Lyon

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Juventus’ obsession with winning another European Cup has the club on edge after a 1-0 first leg loss to Lyon on Wednesday in the first leg of the Round of 16.

Stalwart defender Leonardo Bonucci, defender Danilo, and manager Maurizio Sarri were less than pleased with the performance.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Bonucci was spotted yelling at substitute midfielder Blaise Matuidi in warm-ups, and that was a prelude to a poor performance from most of the team.

“I didn’t tell Matuidi off, I told him the team includes those who are on the bench and we must all be ready to contribute,” Bonucci said, via Football-Italia. “I could tell something wasn’t switched on with the XI starters either. We’ve got to sort this out, as these are the things that make the difference.”

Sarri, the system man, is quite upset with his players after what he said was a lightning-fast training session on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why, I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly,” said the flummoxed ex-Chelsea man. “This is fundamental, we’ll keep working on it and sooner or later this concept will get into their heads.”

Sarri was happier with the ball movement in the second half, and will expect Juve to do the same in its home second leg.

Danilo had a decent day in the loss. He didn’t sugar coat the performance.

“We cannot just gift the first half to the opposition in such an important tournament. We are aware that we did that and need to work harder,” Danilo said.