Associated Press

Europa League: Arsenal rolls, Chelsea cruises, Milan saves it late

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The Europa League group stage is nearing a finality, and while Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea had already confirmed safe passage to the knockout stage before Thursday’s matches, both had successful results.

Arsenal played in the early slate, with their game in Ukraine moved to Kiev from Poltava for safety concerns amid the tense political climate. The Gunners won 3-0 on a trio of first-half goals, with 18-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe opening the scoring just 10 minutes in. Many of Arsenal’s first-teamers, including Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira, and others stayed home and did not make the trip. That gave teenagers like Smith-Rowe, Joseph Willock, and Eddie Nketiah an opportunity to start, with Smith-Rowe’s opener leading the way as Willock also found the back of the net. Aaron Ramsey scored as well, bagging a penalty after being clumsily fouled by Igor Perduta.

Chelsea, meanwhile, stayed at home to welcome Greek side PAOK to Stamford Bridge, and the Blues cruised 4-0 after the visitors went a man down just seven minutes in. 31-year-old Ukranian international Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off in the early stages of the match for a last-man foul, tackling Olivier Giroud just outside the box. It took 27 minutes before Chelsea was able to break through, but Giroud would get the first of his brace with a pinpoint left-footed strike. Giroud would hit again before halftime, before Callum Hudson-Odoi ripped the third for the Blues and substitute Alvaro Morata finished it off in the 78th minute.

Villarreal drew 0-0 with Scottish side Rangers to put them in pole position of a crowded Group G. Rangers striker Daniel Candeias was sent off just before halftime for a second yellow, leaving the hosts in a position of peril, but they held on the rest of the way. All teams came into the matchday within two points of each other, and after Thursday’s results the Spanish club sits atop the group with seven points, while Rapid Vienna is also on seven after beating Spartak Moscow 2-1 in Russia, but the Austrian club has a far worse goal differential.

AC Milan – this season’s cardiac pack – came back from 2-1 down to beat Luxembourg club F91 Dudelange 5-2. They drew level in the 66th minute on an own-goal, and then stormed by with a trio inside the final 20 minutes. Hakan Calhanaglou got the winner in the 70th minute, while Fabio Borini added one late with 10 minutes to go. Milan has not officially secured advancement to the knockout round in Group F, but would need to lose to Olympiakos by three or more goals on the final day to see the Italian side out.

Meanwhile, Olympiakos ended up on the outside looking in with a 1-0 loss at Real Betis, which sent the Spanish side officially through Group F. Sergio Canales scored his third goal in his last four matches across all competitions to put Betis into the knockout stages.

Bayer Leverkusen secured advancement to the knockout stage after Mitchell Weiser rescued a 1-1 draw with Ludogorets Razgrad with a ridiculous 85th minute goal. The 24-year-old German struck a bouncing right-footed volley from an incredibly tight angle that snuck in under the crossbar to put Leverkusen on 10 points with a match to go.

Sevilla had a chance to secure a place in the knockout stage with a win in Belgium, but they were stunned by Standard Liege 1-0 on a goal from 20-year-old Mali international Moussa Djenepo who struck in the 62nd minute. Six minutes later, Sevilla saw substitute Pablo Sarabia sent off for a second yellow, and while they still finished with 70% possession, the Spanish side could not find a breakthrough. That leaves Standard and Sevilla level on nine points, although Sevilla still holds a far superior goal differential.

A messy Group I got no clarity as Jermaine Lens gave Besiktas a 3-2 road win over Sarpsborg with a 90th minute goal, leaving the top three teams in the group all within a point headed into the final day. Genk and Malmo drew 2-2, leaving Genk atop the group with seven points and a better goal differential, while Besiktas sits at seven as well and Malmo is behind them at six, and Sarpsborg is still in the mix with five.

The goal of the day came from Apollon Limassol, as David Faupala stunned Italian side Lazio with a bicycle kick just past the half-hour mark in Cyprus. The home side eventually won 2-0, but Group H has already been decided, with the Italian club already into the knockout round.

Elsewhere, French side Marseille suffered a disappointing defeat in Germany at Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0. The visitors had already been eliminated from the competition before stepping on the field, but they saw Serbian striker Luka Jovic bring his good Bundesliga form to Europe, with the opener inside the first minute. It got worse for the French club when Luiz Gustavo was credited with an own-goal when he put a back-pass in his own net as goalkeeper Yohann Pele was in a haze outside his own post.

Red Bull Salzburg won the battle of the Red Bulls as they defeated RB Leipzig 1-0 in Austria. Fredrik Gulbrandsen had the game’s only goal in the 74th minute which confirmed Salzburg’s way through to the knockout round, and left the German side in a precarious position in Group B, three points and two goals back of second-placed Celtic. Speaking of the Scottish club, Brendan Rodgers saw former Manchester City winger Scott Sinclair score the game’s only goal in a 1-0 victory for Celtic over Rosenborg in Norway.

Sporting CP put six past FK Qarabag in a 6-1 victory which included a brace from former Arenal midfielder Abou Diaby. Bas Dost opened the scoring just five minutes in, while former Manchester United veteran Nani also grabbed a goal 33 minutes in. The win officially saw Sporting qualify for the knockout stage behind Group E leaders Arsenal.

Dynamo Kiev beat Kazakhstani club Astana 1-0 to take control at the top of Group K, while Dinamo Zagreb played to a 0-0 draw with Turkish side Fenerbahce in a match between two teams that are already through into the knockout stage. Stade Rennes stayed in contention in Group K with a 1-0 road victory over Czech club FK Jablonec. French international Clement Grenier scored the lone goal in the 55th minute to pull Rennes within two of Astana.

FULL RESULTS:

Vorskla 0-3 Arsenal
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-0 FC Copenhagen
AC Milan 5-2 F91 Dudelange
Rosenborg 0-1 Celtic
Real Betis 1-0 Olympiakos
FK Qarabag 1-6 Sporting CP
Standard Liege 1-0 Sevilla

Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Ludogorets Razgrad
FC Astana 0-1 Dynamo Kiev
Fenerbahce 0-0 Dinamo Zagreb
FC Zurich 1-2 AEK Larnaca
FC Salzburg 1-0 RB Leipzig
Bordeaux 2-0 Slavia Prague
BATE Borisov 2-0 Vidi
Anderlecht 0-0 FC Spartak Trnava
Krasnodar 2-1 Akhisar Belediyespor

De Ligt not fazed by price tag after move to Juventus

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If you can’t beat them, buy them. That appears to be Juventus’ philosophy as it continues its quest for the Champions League title.

[ MORE: Pochettino might have left if Spurs won Champions League ]

In 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid against Juventus to eliminate the Serie A champion from Europe’s premier club competition. A few months later Juventus signed him.

This year Matthijs de Ligt scored the goal that eliminated Juventus from the Champions League in April as he captained Ajax to the semifinals. On Thursday, Juventus signed the Netherlands defender.

Juventus is an overwhelming favorite to win a record-extending ninth straight Serie A title but it is desperate to end its long wait for European success.

Since Juventus’ last title in 1996, it has finished runner-up five times in the Champions League.

[ MORE: Conte calls Lukaku an “important” part of his plans at Inter ]

“We want to win them all: this is the mentality of Juventus,” said De Ligt at his first news conference as a Juventus player on Friday. “I’m 19, I can still improve and I want to do that. It’s important to work hard every day and to learn, and I hope to become a better player.”

De Ligt became the most expensive defender in Serie A history when he completed an $85-million transfer from Ajax.

But the teen is not fazed at the price tag.

“Of course, when a club buys you for a big amount of money, there’s a lot of pressure, but pressure is normal in football,” De Ligt said. “I think pressure is the most important thing and if you want to be a good player, you have to deal with it.

“It’s not a big deal for me. I’ll just play my game, work hard and show it on the pitch. In the end, everyone will see how I deal with it, but it’s not going to be a problem.”

[ MORE: Report: Barcelona logs bid for Neymar ]

A photo emerged during the week of De Ligt wearing a Juventus shirt as a child and he admitted he grew up idolizing Juventus defender Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy to World Cup success in 2006.

“The photo of me in a Juventus shirt was taken when I was about six or seven, at that time Fabio Cannavaro was a defender that I admired,” he said. “I always had a good feeling about Juventus and I’ve always been a fan.”

Another reason De Ligt chose Juventus was because of new coach Maurizio Sarri, who replaced Massimiliano Allegri at the end of the season.

“I spoke to Sarri on the phone before coming, just to get to know each other,” De Ligt said. “He was one of the reasons that I wanted to join here, I’ve heard a lot of good things about him and I like his footballing philosophy and how he prepares his defense.”

Pulisic makes Chelsea debut, but Blues lose in Japan

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While much of the country was still asleep, well before 8 a.m. on the east coast of America, Christian Pulisic made his Chelsea debut in the Blues’ preseason friendly against Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale in Yokohama, Japan.

[ MORE: Pochettino might have left if Spurs won Champions League ]

Pulisic came on as a 65th-minute sub and didn’t have a huge impact on the game. Chelsea lost the game 1-0 on an 88th-minute header from former wonderkid Leandro Damiao. The Blues have won just one of their three preseason fixtures thus far.

Chelsea weren’t without chances in the game, though, but various combinations of Pulisic, Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Olivier Giroud proved to lack the finishing touch required on a number of occasions. Despite the result and his side’s poor finishing, manager Frank Lampard insisted he was happy with the overall performance.

David Luiz was named Man of the Match and handed a very peculiar award from shirt sponsor and tire company Yokohama.

Conte calls Lukaku an “important” part of his plans at Inter

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So much for diplomacy. Antonio Conte is downright recruiting Romelu Lukaku to join him at Inter Milan, and he’s doing it through the press for all to hear.

[ MORE: Pochettino might have left if Spurs won Champions League ]

The rumors linking Lukaku with a move away from Manchester United have been swirling all summer, but as of yet the two clubs haven’t been past the “bid(s) made and rejected” portion of proceedings. As such, Conte is prepared to go a step further in courting the 26-year-old Belgian, stating his longstanding admiration and calling him “an important players for us” — quotes from the BBC:

“You know I like this player. In the past, when I was Chelsea’s coach, I tried to bring him to Chelsea.

“As I said before, I like this player and consider him an important player for us to have a good improvement but at the same there is a transfer market.

“We know very well which is our situation at the moment and we will see what happens but for now Lukaku is a United player.”

Man United paid $96 million for Lukaku just two years ago, so it would be unwise to expect them to let him leave for anything short of $80 million, if Inter are lucky.

Pochettino: I might have left if Spurs won Champions League

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Mauricio Pochettino admits that might have left Tottenham Hotspur had the north London club found a way to beat Liverpool in last month’s UEFA Champions League final.

[ MORE: Harry Winks says trophies for Spurs are “round the corner” ]

In Pochettino’s mind, reaching the pinnacle would have caused everyone at the club — from the players, to the rest of the coaching staff, and even himself — to “behave differently.” If/when Pochettino wins his first major trophy as a manager, he won’t be one to rest on his laurels for more than a day or two — quotes from the BBC:

“When you touch the glory, you behave differently, the players behave differently, the challenge becomes different.

“If the result had been different, maybe you can think it is a moment to step out of the club and give it a possibility for a real new chapter with a new coaching staff.

“But, to finish like this? I am not a person who won’t face problems or avoids difficult situations.”

Fortunately for the long-term viability of the club, Pochettino is set to begin his fifth season as Tottenham manager. Still, though, Spurs’ best shot at a trophy remains in the cup competitions, with Manchester City and Liverpool seemingly set to lead the Premier League for the foreseeable future.

One player who might not be around long enough to enjoy any of Spurs’ future successes is Danny Rose. While the entire first team is in Singapore for preseason, Rose is back in London after being granted time “to explore prospective opportunities with other clubs.”

Pochettino says Rose has 10 days to sort out a transfer for himself — with PSG and Schalke both reportedly interested abroad — otherwise “he will be normal with the team” once they return to north London.