10 things learned as Premier League fans return

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LONDON — This was the day Premier League fans returned to stadiums. The day they had been waiting for. The day they hoped for. And it was brilliant to witness it with my own eyes.

March 9 was the last day a Premier League game had fans in attendance. 271 days later, on December 5, fans returned. Other leagues across Europe have had fans return, but England’s top-flight has been banned, until now as the UK government changed their rules this week.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

The 2,000 Chelsea fans (at times it sounded like 20,000) allowed in to Stamford Bridge cheered their players at every chance they got, and booed Leeds’ players at every chance they got. Old friends said hello again in the street outside their favorite pre-game pub. Staff members reunited. It was emotional. Certain moments left goosebumps.

Overall, it provided a warm fuzzy feeling that even though it will take a while to return to normality. It’s on the way back. The Premier League fans return was an emotional moment for everyone.

Having attended plenty of games in empty stadiums during the pandemic, I can tell you this made a huge, huge difference to the overall atmosphere and the intensity of the game. At times it felt like 20,000 fans were present instead of 2,000.


Normality returns

Outside the stadium it was like a regular Saturday in west London. Lots, and lots, of traffic. People doing their shopping, sat in pubs watching sports on TV and sat outside restaurants with heaters on newly-built terraces due to the pandemic. But outside pubs, fans were meeting up again for pre-match pint: ‘how are you mate!?’ and ‘It is great to see you again!’ The buzz in the air transmitted from the street outside the stadium to the pitch.


Players were loving it

The look on the faces of the Chelsea players when they came out just before kick off said it all. I was lucky enough to be sat right behind the Chelsea bench, and Jorginho was joining in the singing. Cesar Azpilicueta was clapping. Christian Pulisic and Tammy Abraham were smiling. Players are professionals and have played in empty stadiums for nine months, but there’s no doubt they absolutely loved having fans back.


Fans dished out banter

The Chelsea fans behind the goal were goading Illan Meslier: ‘Your mom hates you’ and ‘What are you doing with your feet?’ were just a few of the comments. Bit harsh. Chelsea fans were also not happy with the referee at times and it was just like old times. Chanting against opponents and the officials is an age-old tradition. Premier League fans are known for their ruthlessness and passion and it was on show here.

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Still quiet at times

Stamford Bridge, like most Premier League stadiums, is a big old venue. During spells when fans weren’t chanting you could hear the water system inside as the drains flushed. Hand dryers from nearby toilets were going off. Sounds from door slamming and radios from stewards were going off. Even though there was a lot more noise than there has been, little moments still stuck out to remind you that we are in a pandemic and there are still moments of eerie silence.


Reminders for fans to follow the rules

There was a reminder over the PA system to stop fans from ‘persistent standing’ which is against the COVID-19 rules. It only happened once, after 15 minutes, and that was it. Fans seemed to follow all of the rules closely and were spaced out enough for there to not be any big issues.


Everyone is happy fans have returned

“Really, really nice to be back! I didn’t think they would be this loud!” said a Chelsea staff member dishing out cups of tea at half time. “It’s comforting!” It really was. The background noise of chants going on was soothing, calming and reminded everyone of pre-COVID times. Plenty of staff members were back for the first time too and greetings, elbow bumps and nods were plentiful.


Intensity of the game improved

There was just more energy throughout the game. Both teams played at a high tempo, and both usually do, but there was more drive, more enthusiasm and more direction with fans present. After being at plenty of games during the pandemic, the intensity was a lot lower without fans. 100 percent.


Fans get close-up experience

They got to hear Luke Ayling telling Leeds’ Jack Harrison to ‘slow the f*** down’ and walk when he was subbed off so they could have a breather. They got to hear Diego Llorente yelp in pain and then heckle him the rest of the game. Chelsea’s fans were allowed to interact with players, knowing the players could hear them very clearly, and it created a great atmosphere. They were so involved. You got the sense that the Leeds players didn’t mind being heckled, because at least fans were there to heckle them, but it did have an impact.


Home advantage returns

Even though it is only 2,000 fans, when they got on the back of an opposition player you sensed it got to them. Llorente and Raphinha went missing in the second half once the Chelsea fans had a go at them. Home advantage hasn’t been a thing during the pandemic period, but now it is. Fans roared on their players late in the game and they responded. Reece James stuck to his task and defended well, getting a huge ovation. It helped get Chelsea over the line. “They had an influence,” Marcelo Bielsa said when asked about the fans. They certainly did.


Hope has arrived for the future

For me, the Premier League fans return experiment worked so well in the stadium and in the streets outside that it is only a matter of time that regulations are further relaxed. If London is moved down from Tier 2 to Tier 1 restrictions by the UK government, 4,000 fans will be in attendance under their current rules. That would be easily doable. The Premier League and its clubs want up to 25-30 percent capacity at stadiums, and that may be a push but it could happen soon. Fans returning on this small scale provided hope that it can be done safely. Time will tell if that is the case, but precautions seemed to limit any real danger, and everyone enjoyed it.

Potter’s strong start continues as Chelsea cruise past AC Milan

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Chelsea vs AC Milan recap: Graham Potter’s Blues turned in their best performance to date (by a long, long way) as they cruised past reigning Serie A champions AC Milan, 3-0, at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Wesley Fofana, who later in the first half went off injured, opened the scoring by opening his Chelsea account in the 24th minute. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored for the second straight game to make it 2-0, and Reece James added the third just after the hour mark.

Chelsea were smooth and comfortable in possession (to be expected of a Potter-coached side), while giving AC Milan next to nothing (just three shots in 90 minutes) defensively, as they often tried to do under previous boss Thomas Tuchel.


What we learned from Chelsea vs AC Milan

Chelsea squad better suited to Potter’s style than Tuchel’s

It’s easy to say that based on the results alone (2W-1D-0L), but it only takes a quick scan up and down the squad list to see that the vast majority of the players currently at the club are ill suited to counter-attacking football, both with and without the ball.

Aubameyang is notoriously blessed with the straight-line speed required to get in behind opposing defenses (he played just one game under Tuchel, remember), but the other attackers (Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic) are all technical players who thrive in combination play and sustained possession. Much of the same is true for the midfield, where N’Golo Kante is no longer able to cover every blade of grass, and Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic were miscast as mostly stationary protection for the backline, where there are nothing but ball-playing defenders (both central and wide).

Everyone appear much happier as they express something better resembling their truest selves as players, and the results will only add to those good vibes currently emanating from west London.

Follow @AndyEdMLS


How to watch Chelsea vs AC Milan live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 3pm ET, Wednesday
TV Channel: TUDN, Paramount+
Online: Updates via NBCSports.com


Key storylines

Chelsea grabbed a late, and controversial, win at Palace at the weekend and they’re creating more chances in attack and are slowly getting used to Graham Potter’s tactics. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is off and running as he scored at Palace too and Chelsea continue to look solid defensively. Potter has also seen his injury issues subside as the likes of N’Golo Kante, Edouard Mendy and Marc Cucurella are all expected back soon. As for Milan, they have had a workmanlike start to the Serie A season and sit in fifth place but are just three points off the top and their squad is looking very deep.


In-form players to keep an eye on

Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher scored a beauty to win the game at Palace and he will be flying high, while Aubameyang looked sharp and grabbed his goal at the weekend as he proved he can lead the line in this revamped Chelsea side. Reece James has been in sensational form at right back. For Milan, Olivier Giroud is their top goalscorer this season with five goals in all competitions and Rafael Leao is just behind him with four. Sandro Tonali makes Milan tick in central midfield and will look to dictate the tempo of this game.


The lowdown on AC Milan

With Giroud leading the lead and Chelsea academy product Fikayo Tomori anchoring the defense, there are a couple of ex-Chelsea players who will be desperate to prove a point against their old club. Aside from that storyline, Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has created a dynamic, hard-working side who are very tough to break down and have individual quality to score plenty of goals from counters and set pieces. That will concern Chelsea as defensively they’ve struggled on those two areas.


Chelsea team news, injuries, lineup options

This game may come too soon for Kante, Mendy and Cucurella to start but Potter will be delighted they are almost fit, while Gallagher, Broja and Pulisic are all pushing hard for minutes. Will Thiago Silva and Wesley Fofana start at center back again? Or will Koulibaly come in to give Silva a break?



Man City hammer Copenhagen 5-0, Haaland scores two more goals

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Man City vs Copenhagen recap: Erling Haaland scored two more goals to bring his season tally to 19 in 11 games as the two-time defending Premier League champions hammered Danish side Copenhagen 5-0 at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

Haaland scored goals no. 1 and 2 for Manchester City before Pep Guardiola brought him off at halftime, up 3-0 following an own goal (caused by Haaland) not long before the break. Riyad Mahrez added the fourth from the penalty spot and Julian Alvarez bagged his first UCL goal to complete the scoring.

That’s three wins from three games for Man City in the UEFA Champions League group stage. Their lead over 2nd-place Borussia Dortmund remains three points after the Bundesliga side also won on Wednesday. City and Dortmund will meet in Germany on matchday 5.


What we learned from Man City vs Copenhagen

Total and complete dominance, as expect, from Manchester City

Copenhagen attempted all of two shots in 90 minutes on Wednesday, the first of which didn’t come until the 72nd minute, at which point Man City had already attempted 24. Haaland took four himself, in just 45 minutes, as the midfield playmakers (Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo on Wednesday) continue to simply feed the monster.

Whereas possession used to aimlessly loiter around the penalty area, Manchester City now look to exploit the space in behind the defense anytime it presents itself. The runs that Haaland makes — perhaps the best part of his game, by the way — pose a constant and eternal threat to opposing defenses, particularly when Kevin De Bruyne is pulling the strings, leaving most anyone and everyone in their path (and their wake) wondering what exactly you’re supposed to do.

If anyone has ideas, please share them.

Follow @AndyEdMLS


How to watch Manchester City vs Copenhagen live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 3pm ET, Wednesday
TV Channel: TUDN, Paramount+
Online: Updates via NBCSports.com


Key storylines + in-form players to keep an eye on

This time, we can combine the “key storylines” and “in-form players” sections: It’s Phil Foden and Erling Haaland.

Let’s focus on the latter.

Erling Haaland is threatening to put up season numbers that would seem impossible were we not to have experience Lionel Messi’s 2011-12 season at Barcelona. That season saw Messi score 50 goals and 19 assists in La Liga while adding 20 more goals and nine assists in other competitions.

The match total? 53.

That works out to 1.4 goals and 0.4 assists per game.

Haaland? So far he has 17 goals and three assists in 11 matches, good for… 1.54 goals and 0.27 assists per game.

So, yes, Haaland is currently on his “Messi prime” grind.


The lowdown on Copenhagen

Copenhagen enters this match hoping that star goalkeeper — ex-Brighton starter — Mathew Ryan can help shut down an incredible City attack.


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

John Stones (thigh), Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), and Kyle Walker (muscular) are set to miss the match, while Rodri (lower leg) faces a late fitness test.

UEFA Champions League: How to watch, predictions, updates, scores, schedule, fixtures

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The 2022-23 UEFA Champions League group stage is here and we are ready to roll between now and November.

With a congested schedule due to the 2022 World Cup kicking off in November, we will have midweek Champions League action every week between now and early November (aside from the international break in late September).

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Can Real Madrid win back-to-back Champions League titles? Or will the Premier League giants continue to reach the final (at least one PL team has reached four of the last five finals with two all-English finals in the last four) and go one better this season?

Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Inter Milan are together in the “group of death,” while Tottenham were handed a (relatively) easy draw with Eintracht Frankfurt, Sporting CP and Marseille in Group D. Manchester City will face perennial European noise-makers in Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla in Group G, while PSG and Juventus were paired up in Group H.

Rangers are back in the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2010, joining bitter Glasgow rivals Celtic to give the Scottish Premiership two clubs in the UCL group stage for the first time in 15 years.

Elsewhere, Benfica, Copenhagen, Dinamo Zagreb, Viktoria Plzen and Maccabi Haifi made it through the playoffs, while this is the first time the Bundesliga has had five teams in the group stage after Frankfurt won the Europa League last season to qualify.

Below is everything you need following the UEFA Champions League group stage.


UEFA Champions League schedule, dates, how to watch

Dates: Group stage to be played September to November
Online: Live updates via NBCSports.com
How to watch: TUDN, Paramount+


Champions League group stage fixtures (all kick off times ET)

Matchday 3

Tuesday, 4 October
Bayern Munich 5-0 Viktoria Plzen
Marseille 4-1 Sporting CP
Liverpool 2-0 Rangers
Ajax 1-6 Napoli
Porto 2-0 Leverkusen
Club Brugge 2-0 Atletico Madrid
Inter Milan 1-0 Barcelona
Eintracht Frankfurt 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Wednesday, 5 October
Salzburg vs Dinamo Zagreb (12:45)
Leipzig vs Celtic (12:45)
Chelsea vs AC Milan (3:00)
Real Madrid vs Shakhtar (3:00)
Man City vs Copenhagen (3:00)
Sevilla vs Dortmund (3:00)
Juventus vs Maccabi Haifa (3:00)
Benfica vs Paris (3:00)


JPW’s Champions League predictions – Matchday 3

Tuesday, 4 October
Bayern 4-1 Plzen
Marseille 2-2 Sporting CP
Liverpool 4-2 Rangers
Ajax 2-2 Napoli
Porto 1-2 Leverkusen
Club Brugge 1-2 Atletico
Inter 1-1 Barcelona
Frankfurt 1-2 Tottenham

Wednesday, 5 October
Salzburg 2-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Leipzig 3-1 Celtic
Chelsea 2-1 AC Milan
Real Madrid 3-1 Shakhtar
Man City 4-1 Copenhagen
Sevilla 2-1 Dortmund
Juventus 3-1 Maccabi Haifa
Benfica 1-4 Paris


Matchday 1

Tuesday, 6 September
Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 Chelsea — Highlights, Tuchel’s furious response
Dortmund 3-0 Copenhagen — WATCH: Reyna’s two assists
Salzburg 1-1 AC Milan — Dest makes Milan debut off bench
Celtic 0-3 Real Madrid — Carter-Vickers’ Bhoys eventually falter
Leipzig 1-4 Shakhtar — Ukrainians off to rollicking start
Sevilla 0-4 Man City– Highlights, Guardiola’s glowing reaction
Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Juventus — McKennie scores in loss
Benfica 2-0 Maccabi Haifa — Cohen makes 3 saves in loss

Wednesday, 7 September
Ajax 4-0 Rangers — Dutch giants hammer Gers as Alvarez gets ball rolling
Frankfurt 0-3 Sporting CP — Portuguese giants led by Edwards’ opener
Napoli 4-1 Liverpool — Highlights as Klopp’s boys run ragged
Atletico 2-1 Porto — Griezmann scores 101st minute winner amid late drama
Club Brugge 1-0 Leverkusen — Sylla seals big win for Belgian champs
Barcelona 5-1 Plzen — Lewandowski hat trick leads rout
Inter 0-2 Bayern — Sane unplayable as Bayern ease to win
Tottenham 2-0 Marseille — Richarlison the late hero on his UCL debut

Matchday 2

Tuesday, 13 September
Plzen 0-2 Inter — Goal, assist for Dzeko in win over 10-man hosts
Sporting CP 2-0 Tottenham – Conte rues details plus video highlights
Liverpool 2-1 Ajax –Klopp relief at rebound win; Video highlights
Porto 0-4 Club Brugge — Four different scorers highlight blowout
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Atletico Madrid — Frimpong sets up two late goals
Bayern Munich 2-0 Barcelona — Wasteful finishing haunts Lewandowski return
Marseille 0-1 Eintracht Frankfurt — Late first-half Lindstrom goal the difference

Wednesday, 14 September
AC Milan 3-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Shakhtar 1-1 Celtic
Chelsea 1-1 Salzburg – RECAP & HIGHLIGHTS
Rangers 0-3 Napoli
Real Madrid 2-0 RB Leipzig
Man City 2-1 Dortmund – RECAP & HIGHLIGHTS
Copenhagen 0-0 Sevilla
Juventus 1-2 Benfica
Maccabi Haifa 1-3 Paris Saint-Germain


Matchday 3

Tuesday, 4 October
Bayern vs Plzen (12:45)
Marseille vs Sporting CP (12:45)
Liverpool vs Rangers (3:00)
Ajax vs Napoli (3:00)
Porto vs Leverkusen (3:00)
Club Brugge vs Atletico (3:00)
Inter vs Barcelona (3:00)
Frankfurt vs Tottenham (3:00)

Wednesday, 5 October
Salzburg vs Dinamo Zagreb (12:45)
Leipzig vs Celtic (12:45)
Chelsea vs AC Milan (3:00)
Real Madrid vs Shakhtar (3:00)
Man City vs Copenhagen (3:00)
Sevilla vs Dortmund (3:00)
Juventus vs Maccabi Haifa (3:00)
Benfica vs Paris (3:00)


Matchday 4

Tuesday, 11 October
Copenhagen vs Man City (12:45)
Maccabi Haifa vs Juventus (12:45)
Dinamo Zagreb vs Salzburg (3:00)
AC Milan vs Chelsea (3:00)
Shakhtar vs Real Madrid (3:00)
Celtic vs Leipzig (3:00)
Dortmund vs Sevilla (3:00)
Paris vs Benfica (3:00)

Wednesday, 12 October
Napoli vs Ajax (12:45)
Atletico vs Club Brugge (12:45)
Rangers vs Liverpool (3:00)
Leverkusen vs Porto (3:00)
Barcelona vs Inter (3:00)
Plzen vs Bayern (3:00)
Tottenham vs Frankfurt (3:00)
Sporting CP vs Marseille (3:00)

Matchday 5

Tuesday, 25 October
Salzburg vs Chelsea (12:45)
Sevilla vs Copenhagen (12:45)
Dinamo Zagreb vs AC Milan (3:00)
Celtic vs Shakhtar (3:00)
Leipzig vs Real Madrid (3:00)
Dortmund vs Man City (3:00)
Paris vs Maccabi Haifa (3:00)
Benfica vs Juventus (3:00)

Wednesday, 26 October
Club Brugge vs Porto (12:45)
Inter vs Plzen (12:45)
Napoli vs Rangers (3:00)
Ajax vs Liverpool (3:00)
Atletico vs Leverkusen (3:00)
Barcelona vs Bayern (3:00)
Tottenham vs Sporting CP (3:00)
Frankfurt vs Marseille (3:00)

Matchday 6

Tuesday, 1 November
Porto vs Atletico (18:45)
Leverkusen vs Club Brugge (18:45)
Liverpool vs Napoli (21:00)
Rangers vs Ajax (21:00)
Bayern vs Inter (21:00)
Plzen vs Barcelona (21:00)
Sporting CP vs Frankfurt (21:00)
Marseille vs Tottenham (21:00)

Wednesday, 2 November
Real Madrid vs Celtic (12:45)
Shakhtar vs Leipzig (12:45)
Chelsea vs Dinamo Zagreb (3:00)
AC Milan vs Salzburg (3:00)
Man City vs Sevilla (3:00)
Copenhagen vs Dortmund (3:00)
Juventus vs Paris (3:00)
Maccabi Haifa vs Benfica (3:00)


Knockout stage dates

Round of 16 draw: 7 November
Round of 16: 14/15/21/22 February & 7/8/14/15 March 2023
Quarter-final and semi-final draw: 17 March 2023
Quarter-finals: 11/12 & 18/19 April 2023
Semi-finals: 9/10 & 16/17 May 2023
Final: 10 June 2023


Champions League group stage standings

Group A
Napoli — 6 points (+6 GD)
Ajax — 3 (-2)
Liverpool — 3 (+3)
Rangers — 0 (-7)

Group B
Club Brugge — 6 (+5)
Bayer Leverkusen — 3 (1)
Atletico Madrid — 3 (-1)
Porto — 0 (-5)

Group C
Bayern Munich — 6 (+4)
Barcelona — 3 (+2)
Inter Milan — 3 (0)
Viktoria Plzen — 0 (-6)

Group D
Sporting CP — 6 (+5)
Tottenham Hotspur — 3 (0)
Eintracht Frankfurt — 3 (-2)
Marseille — 0

Group E
AC Milan — 4 (+2)
Dinamo Zagreb — 3 (-1)
Red Bull Salzburg — 2 (0)
Chelsea — 1 (-1)

Group F
Real Madrid — 6 (+5)
Shakhtar Donetsk — 3 (+3)
Celtic — 1 (-3)
RB Leipzig — 0 (-5)

Group G
Manchester City — 6 (+5)
Borussia Dortmund — 3 (+2)
Copenhagen — 1 (-3)
Sevilla — 1 (-4)

Group H
Paris Saint-Germain — 6 (+3)
Benfica — 6 (+3)
Juventus — 0 (-2)
Maccabi Haifa — 0 (-4)


Ukraine to join Spain-Portugal host bid for 2030 World Cup

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NYON, Switzerland — Hosting World Cup matches in 2030 would be “the dream of people who survived the horrors of war,” Ukrainian soccer federation president Andriy Pavelko said Wednesday after his country launched a joint bid with Spain and Portugal.

The leaders of the three soccer federations joined together at UEFA headquarters to present a campaign they hope will connect people beyond the world of sports.

“This is the dream of millions of Ukrainian fans,” Pavelko said at a news conference, “the dream of people who survived the horrors of war or are still in the occupied territories and over whom the Ukrainian flag will surely fly soon.”

Pavelko said the project is backed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

[ MORE: Premier League Golden Boot race ]

The expected Spain-Portugal bid, which has been in the works for more than three years, previously was made UEFA’s preferred candidate. FIFA will vote on the host in 2024.

“Now it’s not the Iberian bid, it’s the European bid,” Spain soccer federation president Luis Rubiales said at the launch. “Together we represent the power of transformation football has in society.”

No details were given about how many games at the 48-team World Cup would be staged in Ukraine or in which cities. The Olympic Stadium in Kyiv hosted the finals of the 2012 European Championship and the 2018 Champions League.

The European bid is expected to face a South American candidacy with co-hosts Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Saudi Arabia, which has built close ties to FIFA and its president, Gianni Infantino, has been preparing a multi-continent bid potentially including Egypt and Greece. It is unclear how Greece would be approved by UEFA to be part of that.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]