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Champions League wrap: Celtic bounced; Benfica, Ajax through

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We’re one round away from the group stage following a busy Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League.

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Some big names will not be there, as former champions Celtic failed to get a result in Greece and Fenerbahce could not find a way past Benfica.

Spartak Trnava 1-2 AET (2-3 agg.) Red Star Belgrade

Quite a game, this one.

To start, the second leg saw both sides match the first leg’s result after just seven minutes. The Slovakian hosts scored through Marek Bakos in the 6th minute, but were level when El Fardou Ben Nabouhane scored the next minute.

No goals came over the final 83 minutes, but Nemanja Radonjic bagged a goal for Red Star in the 98th minute to send the Serbians through to the playoff round.

AEK Athens 2-1 (3-2 agg.) Celtic

Brendan Rodgers men have failed to reach the group stage after slipping behind 2-0 in Greece and finding only a Scott Sinclair goal over the final 40 minutes.

Rodgers has publicly criticized the board’s recruitment of players, with some speculating his time could be short at Celtic Park.

But the boss of the top Glaswegian team says the loss wasn’t about the behind the scenes, just poor defending.

“We’ve got to stop the cross for the first and the second is poor defending. We gave ourselves a chance and threw everything at it. I thought a lot of our build-up play was worth something from the game but you can’t defend that softly. I still felt this was a game in which we had more than enough to win but you have to defend better than we did. We gave AEK a lot of problems but you have to defend properly and we didn’t do that.”

Celtic will need to beat the winner of the tie between Latvia’s Spartaks Jurmala and Lithuania’s Suduva Marijampole — Suduva leads 1-0 heading into Thursday’s second leg — for the right to play in the Europa League’s group stage. Those matches are Aug. 23 and 30.

Ajax 3-0 (5-2 agg.) Standard Liege

Ajax boss Erik ten Hag was not content with its two away goal lead, and crushed its Belgian visitors with goals from Klaas-Jan Hunterlaar, Matthijs de Ligt, and David Neres.

MOL Vidi 0-0 (1-1 agg.) Malmo

American midfielder Romain Gall sees his UCL campaign end, an 11-minute substitute performance not enough to help his Swedish visitors to a winner. MOL Vidi — long called Videoton — moves onto the playoff.

Elsewhere
Dynamo Kiev 2-0 (3-1 agg.) Slavia Prague
BATE Borisov 1-1 (2-1 agg.) Qarabag
Spartak Moscow 0-0 (2-3 agg.) PAOK Salonika
Dinamo Zagreb 1-0 (3-0 agg.) FC Astana
Fenerbahce 1-1 (1-2 agg.) Benfica
Shkendija 0-1 (0-4 agg.) RB Salzburg

Playoff round
BATE Borisov vs. PSV Eindhoven
Young Boys vs. Dinamo Zagreb
MOL Vidi vs. AEK Athens
Benfica vs. PAOK Salonika
Ajax vs. Dynamo Kyiv

UEFA Champions League wrap: Ajax, Celtic, Malmo go through

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Third qualifying round match-ups are set for next week following nine UCL second legs on Wednesday.

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Malmo 1-1 (2-1 agg.) CFR Cluj

A 77th minute red card for the visitors short-circuited any hopes for a comeback after Malmo’s Arnor Ingvi Traustason equalized Damjan Dokovic’s opener. USMNT prospect Romain Gall was an unused substitute for Malmo.

Rosenborg 0-0 (1-3 agg.) Celtic

No goals in Norway, but that won’t bother Brendan Rodgers too much as Celtic books two legs with AEK Athens.

SK Sturm Graz 1-3 (1-5 agg.) Ajax

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s brace was sandwiched around Dusan Tadic‘s first goal in an Ajax strip, as the ex-Southampton man helped his new side to a next round date with Standard Liege.

Elsewhere
MOL Vidi 1-0 (1-0 agg.) Ludogorets Razgrad
FC Basel 0-3 (1-5 agg.) PAOK Salonika
Suduva 0-2 (0-5 agg.) Red Star Belgrade
Qarabag 3-0 (3-0 agg.) Kukesi
Midyjylland 0-0 (1-2 agg) Astana
HJK Helsinki 1-2 (1-2 agg.) BATE Borisov

Next week’s third qualifying round
Celtic vs. AEK Athens
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Shkendija
Red Star Belgrade vs. Spartak Trnava
Qarabag vs. BATE Borisov
Astana vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Malmo vs. MOL Vidi
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Benfica vs. Fenerbahce
Slavia Prague vs. Dynamo Kyiv
PAOK vs. Spartak Moscow

Report: Gerrard on Rangers shortlist ahead of Old Firm Derby

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Could Steven Gerrard‘s first foray into management come against his old manager and in one of the most heated derbies in the world?

The BBC is reporting that the Liverpool legend is on the shortlist for Rangers as the Glaswegian side prepares to hire a new manager in its bid to reverse Celtic domination of the Scottish Premiership and the Old Firm Derby.

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Brendan Rodgers has engineered a marvelous run of form for Celtic, who went unbeaten in the league last season. Rodgers is also a sought-after managerial candidate for bigger jobs in Europe, and may not be at Celtic if and when Gerrard is hired by its rivals.

Either Celtic or Rangers have won the Scottish top flight title dating back to 1984-85, when champions Aberdeen were led by some guy named Alex Ferguson.

Rangers are facing a Manchester United moment this weekend, traveling to Celtic Park for a Sunday derby against Celtic which would see their rivals clinch the Premiership with a win.

Celtic has a 10-point lead on Rangers and Aberdeen, and is extremely likely to win its seventh-straight Premiership title. The record for most consecutive Scottish titles is nine, shared by Celtic (1966-74) and Rangers (1989-97).

Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal

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After almost 22 years in charge, Arsene Wenger has called time on his Arsenal reign.

[ MORE: WENGER’S DEPARTURE ]

Wenger, 68, announced on Friday that he will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the current 2017/18 campaign despite having one year remaining on his contract.

Here is the statement from Wenger in full which was posted on Arsenal’s website with the heading “Merci Arsene” taking center stage.

“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” Wenger said. “I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I want to thank the staff, the players, the Directors and the fans who make this club so special. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”

The Frenchman is a man who revolutionized the Premier League when he arrived in 1996 and he will be remembered as a bastion of attractive, possession based soccer as his Arsenal team of the 2003/04 season, dubbed the “Invincibles,” will always be remembered for going through an entire PL season unbeaten en route to winning the title.

Wenger has won three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and seven community shield trophies during his time in charge of Arsenal, as well as leading them to 20-straight seasons finishing in the top four of the Premier League and 19 qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.

That run ended last season as they finished in fifth and in the past few seasons there have been fan protests with “Wenger Out” or “Wenger In” dividing the fanbase.

However, Wenger’s tenure can end on a high in the Europa League as Arsenal face Atletico Madrid in the semifinals and he is essentially three wins away from returning Arsenal to the Champions League.

Wenger has so far managed Arsenal for 1,228 games with 704 wins in all competitions. His final game in charge will be the Europa League final in Lyon, if Arsenal get there. But his final Premier League game in charge of Arsenal will be away at Huddersfield Town on May 13.

The focus will now switch to who will take over from Wenger this summer with the likes of Diego Simeone, Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers and Thomas Tuchel all linked with the job.

But in the more immediate future the final few weeks of the 2017/18 campaign in England will turn into an appreciation of Wenger and all he has achieved over the last two decades in charge of Arsenal.

Who are the favorites to take over at Arsenal?

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With Arsene Wenger announcing he will leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, the immediate focus switches to who will take charge of the Gunners beyond this season after almost 22 years of Wenger.

The bookmakers are having a field day slashing the odds of several managers previously linked with the job with nobody really knowing what direction Arsenal’s board will go with their next appointment.

Will they appoint an experienced manager? Or will it be a young coach with a fresh outlook a la Wenger back in 1996?

Here’s a look at the main contenders, according to Oddschecker.


Patrick Vieira (4/1) – Wenger spoke on Thursday about how Vieira has the potential to manage Arsenal but did mention now may be too early. The NYCFC manager has done a fine job in MLS but will Arsenal really hand the reins to their former captain and midfield general? Vieira’s appointment would be welcomed by fans who idolized him but maybe he is the man who should follow the man who replaces Wenger. That said, he is the early favorite to take charge of Arsenal.

Thomas Tuchel (5/1) – Out of work for 12 months, it was heavily reported that Tuchel had agreed to take charge of Arsenal a few months ago. The German coach did well at Borussia Dortmund as they won the German Cup and got the latter stages of the Champions League and he is known for giving youngsters a chance to shine. This would make a lot of sense given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, his former players at Dortmund, arriving at Arsenal in January and the likes of Mesut Ozil around.

Joachim Loew (7/1) – Although the German national team manager has a contract through the 2020 European Championships, later this summer, after the 2018 World Cup, could be the time when Loew steps down from the German national team. He has built a World Cup-winning squad and may feel like he has done everything he can with Die Mannschaft. Loew hasn’t had experience of coaching a club on a day-to-day basis and that may be something which will concern Arsenal’s board.

Brendan Rodgers (7/1) – The odds have been slashed on Celtic’s manager taking charge of Arsenal. The former Liverpool manager (who came so close to winning the Premier League title in 2013/14) has certainly rebuilt his reputation at Celtic and we all know that Rodgers loves to play an attacking style. That fits in seamlessly with what Wenger has built at Arsenal, but would Rodgers’ appointment excite the Arsenal fans? Probably not. Also, with Rodgers known for his teams struggling defensively, there’s a sense that he will just be another Wenger and little progress will be made.

Massimiliano Allegri (10/1) – The Juventus manager is being linked with Chelsea and Arsenal this summer and it is easy to understand why. Allegri has led Juve to three-straight Italian doubles with a solid defensive approach, something Arsenal need more emphasis on if they’re going to make it back to the top four. Allegri has also reached the UEFA Champions League final in two of the three seasons. Seems like it would be a good appointment to improve Arsenal’s defensive unit and play.

Carlo Ancelotti (10/1) – The veteran Italian manager has won everything and he has won it everywhere but he usually takes over established teams with stars delivering. That’s not the case at Arsenal right now. Ancelotti has delivered success at AC Milan, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but he will have to be trusted with a lot of cash to rebuild this Arsenal squad. The former Chelsea manager certainly knows the Premier League well after winning the title and the FA Cup in 2010, so there are no problems there.