Getty Images

How does the UEFA Nations League work?

1 Comment

GENEVA (AP) Soccer’s newest competition kicks off this week in Europe with few knowing all the details of a complex format.

The UEFA Nations League certainly will get off to a good start: Germany hosts World Cup champion France on Thursday, England faces Spain on Saturday, Portugal plays Italy on Monday and Spain takes on Croatia on Tuesday.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

In simple terms, the competition involves all 55 European national teams, playing in small groups and separated into four tiers using promotion and relegation, and produces a champion at a mini-tournament next June.

It will also award at least one place at the 2020 European Championship to one of the lowest-ranked teams on the continent.

Because of the Nations League, traditional qualifying for Euro 2020 will start in March instead of the usual September following a World Cup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

UEFA believes all its member federations are getting something they like. Top-ranked nations want to play each other; the middle teams want winnable competitive games; low-ranked nations want hope of reaching major tournaments.

The North American soccer region now has its own version, while UEFA also designed a global version for about 220 teams which FIFA already has plans to adopt.

WHAT IS THE NATIONS LEAGUE?

A group stage involving 55 teams playing in four levels – Leagues A, B, C and D – from this week until November; a Final Four mini-tournament in June 2019 for the group winners of League A; playoffs in March 2020 in all four tiers to fill the last four Euro 2020 qualifying places.

The last detail is the incentive for European soccer’s smaller teams.

At least one League D team – possibly Azerbaijan, Belarus or Luxembourg, for instance – will qualify for Euro 2020.

WHY CREATE IT?

Few people seemed to like international friendlies which “really don’t interest anybody,” then-UEFA president Michel Platini said when launching the Nations League in March 2014.

Plus, the biennial format should be good for business.

“These matches are relevant for every single market so you optimize in each market,” UEFA marketing director Guy-Laurent Epstein has said.

UEFA hopes promotion of group winners and relegation of last-place teams up and down the four Nations League tiers will keep it dynamic.

GROUP STAGE

Groups of three or four teams play home and away on the usual national-team match dates protected by FIFA.

Teams in the top-two tiers – League A and B, each with four groups of three nations – still have dates free for friendlies against teams like Brazil and Argentina.

Lower-ranked teams are all booked up in the four-team groups of Leagues C and D.

FINAL FOUR

The four group winners from League A advance to a Final Four to decide the Nations League champion.

The semifinals, third-place game and final will be played in one nation from June 5-9. The host will be the winner of the Italy-Poland-Portugal group.

EURO 2020 QUALIFYING

The Nations League pushes back Euro 2020 qualifying into 2019, and affects the 10 groups to be drawn on Dec. 2 in Dublin.

Top-tier teams going to the Final Four must be in one of the five smaller groups of five teams. That clears their June schedule for the mini-tournament.

The other five Euro 2020 qualifying groups have six teams, using all the FIFA dates to play 10 games from next March through November.

The top two teams in each qualifying group automatically advance to Euro 2020. The remaining four places in the 24-team lineup will be decided in Nations League playoffs.

EURO 2020 PLAYOFFS

In March 2020, each Nations League tier will have a four-team playoff bracket with the winner advancing to Euro 2020.

Playoffs will be for teams that failed to earn a direct Euro 2020 entry through the qualifying groups. Playoff entries will go to Nations League group winners, or teams with the next-best record.

The League A playoffs could be filled by League B teams because most top-tier teams will advance through the traditional qualifying format.

The Euro 2020 draw will be in April, just a few weeks before the tournament begins in Rome.

POTENTIAL LOSERS

Top European clubs who liked to keep star players out of national team squads for friendlies are not delighted with extra competitive games on the calendar.

Even if national teams are not desperate to win the Nations League, the threat of relegation should mean strong teams are fielded.

Brazil, Argentina and other non-European nations also have fewer options for lucrative friendlies, especially in 2019.

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

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

Adam Davy/PA via AP
1 Comment

Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.

Transfer rumor roundup: USMNT’s Long to London, Newcastle linked with pair

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Could USMNT center back Aaron Long be headed to the Premier League?

The 26-year-old could join West Ham United’s stable of center backs, which includes Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Angelo Ogbonna.

Sky Sports says that the Red Bulls defender has drawn the interest of Lyon and Fiorentina, but been offered to the Irons should they match his $5 million release clause.

Unable to find a place with Portland and Seattle, Long spent a few seasons in the USL before earning a place with RBNY.

Now 11-times capped by the USMNT with two goals, Long could be bringing his talents to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Newcastle United has the chance to sign oft-injured Danny Welbeck on a free transfer.

The longtime Arsenal striker, weaned at Manchester United, scored five times in 12 matches last season in a return to injury woes following a 43-match season the prior year.

Newcastle is also being linked with a former defender. James Tavernier has gone on to captain Glasgow Rangers, and the 27-year-old would cost around $10 million.

Surely Steven Gerrard would want more for the defender, but prices haven’t met quality for Scottish Premiership players as we’ve seen with Kieran Tierney at Celtic.