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CL preview: PSG and Barcelona visit Italy, Atletico hosts Dortmund

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There’s a star-studded lineup on Tuesday in the Champions League, and one of the biggest stars could make his return earlier than expected.

Lionel Messi was included in the Barcelona squad that visits in-form Internazionale on Tuesday, and while he’s not expected to start, he could make his return from a broken arm that has kept the superstar out for the last two weeks. Messi was expected to miss more time, but was included int he squad despite confirmation that he is training despite not yet receiving clearance from the medical staff to play.

With or without Messi, Barcelona visits Inter in a scintillating matchup of in-form sides. Barcelona leads La Liga and hasn’t lost in any competition since a late September miss at Leganes. Meanwhile, since a mid-September loss to Parma, Inter’s only defeat has come to this Messi-less Barcelona team in the reverse fixture two weeks ago. They have beaten good teams such as AC Milan, Lazio, and Tottenham over that time. A draw or win would confirm Barcelona as through to the next round, while a win for Inter would do the same, although both teams appear all but clearly on their way.

Mauro Icardi was rested for the 5-0 thumping of Genoa last time out, but the Argentine has five goals in his last three Serie A matches and is white-hot form. Meanwhile, Luis Suarez is on a similarly torrid streak, with six goals in his last three league games, including an El Clasico hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Napoli hosts Paris Saint-Germain. Napoli brings good goalscoring form into the match, with at least two goals in four of its last five matches across all competitions. PSG is steamrolling the French league again, but sits third in Group C and desperately needs a win to feel better about advancing. Kylian Mbappe did not score in the 2-2 draw the last time these teams met, but has bagged seven goals in his last four Ligue 1 matches and hopes to bring that form with him into Champions League play.

Borussia Dortmund heads west to visit Atletico Madrid with both teams far and away the leaders in Group A. Similarly to the Barcelona vs. Inter game, a draw or win would see the German side officially advance, while Atletico would go through with a win or potentially could confirm advancement with a draw plus help. England youngster Jadon Sancho is the man to watch in Madrid, having pushed Christian Pulisic for Dortmund minutes thanks to his ridiculous form, with four goals in the 18-year-old’s last four matches across all competitions, including a tally in the 4-0 Dortmund win over Atletico in the reverse fixture two weeks ago.

Liverpool travels east to Serbia to take on Red Star Belgrade, leaving Albanian-born Xherdan Shaqiri behind “to avoid any distractions” with the political discord between the parties and “focus on football.” The Reds hammered Red Star at home, but playing in Eastern Europe is a different prospect. Liverpool needs all the points it can grab with PSG and Napoli hot on its heels, and can put pressure on the rest of the group with an early 12:55 p.m. ET kick.

Tottenham hosts PSV Eindhoven at Wembley Stadium in dire need of a result, with just one point through three matches in group stage play. Spurs likely need to win at least two of the next three to have any hope of reaching the knockout stage, and with Barcelona and Inter the two remaining opponents, this is as much of a must-win as it comes. Still, Spurs are winless in their last five European matches and will be without captain Hugo Lloris after he was sent off in the dying minutes of the reverse fixture. That’s just the beginning of Mauricio Pochettino‘s squad troubles, with Danny RoseEric DierMousa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Victor Wanyama all out injured.

AS Monaco and Club Brugge both meet in France needing a win to have any hope of catching the Group A leaders. Schalke hosts Turkish side Galatasaray with Group D still completely up in the air. On the other side of Group D, FC Porto welcomes Russian side Lokomotov Moscow to Portugal.

Emery praises Arsenal teen: “His personality is very important”

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Unai Emery played the kids in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Qarabag on Thursday at the Emirates Stadium, as the Gunners claimed the top spot in their group.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 1-0 Qarabag ]

Bukayo Saka, Carl JenkinsonJoe WillockEddie Nketiah, and Zech Medley all got meaningful playing time for the Gunners, and Emery specifically liked Saka (17).

Emery, like Arsene Wenger, believes very much in getting experiencefor his kids.

From The London Evening Standard:

“We have a responsibility to every young player to give them chances to train with us,” Emery told Standard Sport. “We are very demanding of ourselves in his performance. We give them these chances in the games like today when we can do that. They show us positive things in every match.

“Today Saka played with a good performance, with a very big personality. We were speaking at half-time, they were trying one-on-one against the opposition. Not every action was good for us but his personality is very important, continuing in the second half to try to do one-on-ones and break lines with his quality.”

Will anyone have made enough of an impact to get some time in the Premier League? We’ll see, but remember that this Gunners system has sent Reiss Nelson on loan to Hoffenheim.

Also, to put this in perspective: Saka was born six days before Sept. 11, 2001. This class of youngster in the Arsenal system is coming, and coming fast.

Europa League roundup: Arsenal wins; Rangers, AC Milan bounced

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Twenty-four games in about four hours: It’s the Europa League group stage, and it’s reached its conclusion.

[ MORE: Mourinho: “Job done” in UCL ]

A very young Arsenal claimed its group, Celtic bunkered down but couldn’t advance to the knockout rounds, and rivals Rangers couldn’t quite find the offense needed to complete a promising UEL campaign.


Rapid Vienna 1-0 Rangers

Steven Gerrard‘s promising first European campaign as first team manager has ended thanks to a goal from sub Dejan Ljubicic in Austria. A very even game, Rangers could not find a way past Richard Strebinger.

Arsenal 1-0 Qarabag

Alexandre Lacazette‘s 17th minute goal gave the Gunners a leg up on the group lead in a game with a bunch of unusual faces on the pitch. Carl Jenkinson, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, and Saka Bukayo were among the starters, and Lacazette left for Zech Medley in the 63rd minute as Arsenal saved its best for a trip to Southampton on Sunday (No offense to Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny, who went 90 minutes each).

MOL Vidi 2-2 Chelsea

We’ve already shown you Willian’s terrific free kick, and this match in Hungary was plenty entertaining for a relatively inconsequential outing. Ethan Ampadu scored an own goal two minutes after Chelsea took the lead, and MOL Vidi led 2-1 when Olivier Giroud restored the stalemate in the 75th.

Celtic 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg

The visitors dominated and finally found a way past goalkeeper Craig Gordon through a 67th Moanes Dabbur marker. Celtic went down two with Fredrik Gulbrandsen adding to the score line.

RB Leipzig 1-1 Rosenborg

Matheus Cunha’s goal just after halftime looked to have prodded RBL above Celtic and into the Round of 32, but Tore Reginiussen leveled for the Norwegian side.

Olympiacos 3-1 AC Milan

Gennaro Gattuso’s men are out of Europe after a four-goal second half.

Elsewhere
Villarreal 2-0 Spartak Moscow
Lazio 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Sevilla 3-0 Krasnodar
Marseille 1-3 Apollon Limassol
Rennes 2-0 Astana
PAOK 1-3 BATE Borisov
Genk 4-0 Sarpsborg
Dynamo Kiev 0-1 Jablonec
Besiktas 0-1 Malmo
Akhisar Belerdiyespor 0-0 Standard Liege
Slavia Prague 2-0 Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Copenhagen 0-1 Bordeaux
Dinamo Zagreb 0-0 Anderlecht
Sporting Lisbon 3-0 Vorskla Poltava
F91 Dudelange 0-0 Real Betis
Ludogorets Razgrad 1-1 FC Zurich
AEK Larnaca 1-5 Bayer Leverkusen
Spartak Trnava 1-0 Fenerbahce

FIFA won’t be bound by politics over sharing Qatar World Cup

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Political tensions won’t prevent FIFA from deciding whether to place some World Cup games outside Qatar, the head of world soccer’s governing body said Thursday.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino used a summit of soccer nations in Qatar to gather support for his mission to add 16 teams to the 2022 tournament – a move that would require the tiny, energy-rich nation sharing games in the region.

[ MORE: Gerrard proud of Rangers in exit ]

That would be complicated by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cutting ties with Qatar in 2017 in an ongoing political dispute that prevents flights between Doha and the boycotting countries.

Qatar won a vote in 2010 to host the World Cup with 32 teams and is only building eight stadiums. A 48-team tournament is already planned for 2026 in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but Infantino wants to fast-track that expansion and add 16 more games for the first World Cup in the Middle East.

“Is it feasible to do it only in Qatar? Difficult probably,” Infantino said. “Is it feasible to have a few games being played in neighboring countries? Well, maybe this is an option, of course.

“I’m not that naive not to know not to read the news and not to know what is going on. But now we are in football, we are not in politics, and in football, sometimes the dreams come true.”

Given 32 teams compete for the World Cup and there are 211 nations in FIFA, adding more slots in 2022 is likely to be embraced by the members given they have already approved expansion of the event beginning in 2026.

Infantino used a trip to Doha in October to ask the emir of Qatar if he would consider allowing matches to be shared with nations that are part of an economic and travel boycott against his country.

“If there is something that I could do which is good for football worldwide, then we should look at it,” Infantino said at a news conference in Doha before heading to Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup. “I have the chance and I’m lucky enough to be able to look into that without having to be bound by any political considerations, but looking at it from a purely sporting perspective.”

Infantino did use a speech to politicians at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina last month to discuss using the World Cup in 2022 to bring countries together by spreading games beyond Qatar.

The 2022 tournament is already being cramped into a 28-day window to minimize the disruption to top European leagues because it was moved from June and July to November and December due to the extreme heat.

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

Gerrard proud despite Rangers exit from Europa League (video)

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Steven Gerrard‘s promising first European campaign as first team manager has ended thanks to a goal from sub Dejan Ljubicic in Austria.

A very even game, Rangers could not find a way past goalkeeper Richard Strebinger.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“In terms of the performance, I can’t fault the players,” Gerrard said to BT Sport. “They gave me everything. In what we had available, they’ve done extremely well. The whole journey, I’m so proud of the team.

“We’ll come again in Europe. Next year we’ll be better cause we’ll have some better players with us and the young lads in the group with learn and grow. We’ll be together for 18 months instead of six.

Gerrard says he wants Rangers to bring the same intensity back to the Scottish top flight, where the Glasgow side are two points back of rivals Celtic. Rangers have played one more game than Celtic.