PRO SOCCER TALKPST Select Team

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea debut; Red Bull Derby (of sorts)

Leave a comment

The Europa League group stage begins Thursday, with two London giants taking part in a relatively unfamiliar competition.

[ MORE: Full Europa League schedule ]

Both Arsenal and Chelsea have played in the tournament finals in recent years, but for the most part are Champions League mainstays.

This season, however, it’s the UEL leading one to Greece and the other to a visit from a Ukrainian side.

Both are involved in our five matches to monitor amongst the 48-team field on Day 1.

5 (tie). Villarreal vs. Rangers / Celtic vs. Rosenborg

The Old Firm rivals with plenty to prove kick off their group stages on Wednesday, in turn saying something for Scottish football.

For Steven Gerrard‘s Rangers, that means the chance to make good on their first full European tournament since the 2010-11 Europa League. They took the long way, winning four qualifying rounds to earn these nights. Now what? Perhaps their toughest test yet in Villarreal.

For Brendan Rodgers‘ Celtic, it’s an opportunity to show that while the Champions League has been a bit too rich for their blood, a Europa League group stage with Austrian, German, and Norwegian competition isn’t a problem for the best team in Scotland.

4. Arsenal vs. Vorskla Poltava

Forget the opposition: Unai Emery sees the Europa League as the opportunity to put more silverware in the halls of Arsenal HQ. From Arsenal.com:

“Every title for us is very important. In 2000, Arsenal played the final against Galatasaray but didn’t win. And also, Arsenal played the final in 2006 in the Champions League and also didn’t win. In my career, the ambition is very important for continuing to improve and continuing to achieve the objectives in my career personally and with the team. I want to play for every title going forward.”

There’s no reason to expect anything but a win for the Gunners against a team in just its second European group stage.

3. Marseille vs. Eintracht Frankfurt

Frank McCourt’s Olympique Marseille still doesn’t sound quite right, so let’s go with the manager. Rudi Garcia’s Olympique Marseille has a lot of weapons, including a trio of World Cup winners in Steve Mandanda, Florian Thauvin, and Adil Rami. Their Bundesliga visitors feature a Mexican national teamer (Carlos Salcedo) and an American (Timothy Chandler), but eyes will be trained on a Frenchman: Sebastian Heller has three goals and an assist in three league appearances this season.

2. PAOK vs. Chelsea

With all respect to Vieirinha and Amr Warda, this shouldn’t be a major challenge for Maurizio Sarri‘s men. Yes, even with Eden Hazard, Mateo Kovacic, and David Luiz being rested in London.

But it gets our circle because Sarri has called it the most difficult challenge of their group stage. BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi (formerly Videoton) are the other members of Group L. From ChelseaFC.com:

“I have seen the four matches played by PAOK in the Champions League play-offs. My staff have seen the matches of the Greek championship. I think I know everything.

“We want to play with our characteristics, to control the match with our ball possession, but I know tomorrow will be difficult. They are a good team. They have won against Basel, Spartak Moscow, they drew against Benfica in Portugal. We have to do a very good match if we want to gain points.”

1. RB Leipzig vs. Red Bull Salzburg

UEFA would prefer to avoid matches like this, even presumably one-sided ones, as two clubs owned by Red Bull square off in a meaningful competition. The pair being in the same group will be even trickier when there are chances to affect the next round fate of their brother club (The clubs aren’t technically deemed to have the same ownership, but it’s difficult to conclude the relationship isn’t a healthy one).

VAR paves way for Marseille’s 4-0 victory in season opener

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Marseille crushed Toulouse 4-0 on Friday as the French league season opened with a video assistant refereeing (VAR) decision leading to the first goal.

Attacking midfielder Dimitri Payet scored in each half, with his penalty on the stroke of halftime awarded after a video review. Striker Valere Germain added a third goal, while winger Florian Thauvin struck two minutes into injury time.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-1 Leicester City ]

Alerted by VAR officials that defender Kelvin Amian had blocked a cross with his hand, Ruddy Buquet checked the images. Having initially signaled a corner, the referee changed his mind and pointed to the spot.

Payet, who missed France’s World Cup title victory last month after being injured in the Europa League final, sent goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet the wrong way.

He netted again in the 62nd minute with a neat volley after Reynet had blocked Bouna Sarr’s angled shot.

“The ball came to me quickly, I just tried to guide it in,” Payet told Canal Plus television. “The end of last season was quite hard for me … so I just want to enjoy myself and start the season well.”

Payet completely controlled the game and sent Germain clean through with a defense-splitting pass in the 75th minute but Reynet saved well.

Payet got an ovation from the Stade Velodrome crowd when he was replaced by Thauvin – a member of France’s World Cup squad – in the 82nd minute.

Germain then expertly controlled midfielder Morgan Sanson’s pass and curled the ball past Reynet in the 89th minute before Thauvin skillfully flicked the ball up with his heel and slotted in from close range to complete the rout.

Marseille finished fourth last season and missed out on a Champions League playoff spot by one point.

Jerome Pugmire is at http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

World Cup preview: France vs. Belgium

3 Comments

The two most exciting teams remaining in the field square off in the semifinals, when France and Belgium meet at Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood staying in Bundesliga ]

With apologies to Harry Kane and Mario Mandzukic amongst others on Croatia and England, the managers for France and Belgium have fleets of top-end talent to make selection a headache.

The 2 p.m. ET kickoff features some of the most prolific boots in the world of club soccer. Consider these numbers from last season:

France
Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid: 29 goals, 15 assists
Florian Thauvin, Marseille: 26 goals, 18 assists
Kylian Mbappe, PSG: 21 goals, 16 assists
Nabil Fekir, Lyon: 23 goals, eight assists

Belgium
Romelu Lukaku, Man Utd: 27 goals, 9 assists
Dries Mertens, Napoli: 22 goals, 12 assists
Eden Hazard, Chelsea: 17 goals, 13 assists
Michy Batshuayi, Chelsea + Borussia Dortmund: 21 goals, 3 assists
Kevin De Bruyne, Man City: 12 goals, 21 assists

Several of those players may not even be chosen for the XIs. It’s bonkers.

So defending will be oh-so-important, and both groups are coming off big asks in the previous round. Belgium bent but didn’t break in ousting Brazil, while France stopped Luis Suarez when it matched up with Edinson Cavani-free Uruguay.

There are more similarities, one of which is Premier League star goalkeepers who were at less than their best last season in Thibaut Courtois (Belgium) and Hugo Lloris (France).

And while Belgium’s Axel Witsel and Youri Tielemans are fine talents, the difference may come down to Ballon d’Or should-be finalist N'Golo Kante of France.

Who wins it?

Ligue 1: Monaco, Lyon qualify for UCL; Weah’s first start for PSG

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) — Memphis Depay scored a hat trick as Lyon came from behind to beat Nice 3-2 and qualify for the Champions League at the expense of Marseille in the French league on Saturday.

Lyon, which had a one-point lead over Marseille ahead of the last round, kept its lead intact and finished in third place behind Paris Saint-Germain and deposed champion Monaco. The first three teams in the French league qualified for the Champions League.

“Lots of joy tonight, everybody was very focused and motivated,” said Lyon forward Nabil Fekir, who is widely expected to leave the club this summer. “It caps an exceptional season.”

Alassane Plea scored Nice’s goals.

Depay scored all three goals in the second half.

Nice coach Lucien Favre confirmed he will leave the club in the offseason.


After losing the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday, Marseille missed out on the Champions League for the second time despite beating Amiens 2-1.

“We had a superb season but our efforts did not pay off,” Marseille top striker Florian Thauvin said.

Marseille ended fourth and will play the Europa League next season alongside Rennes and Bordeaux.


Monaco won at Troyes 3-0 and finished runner-up, 13 points behind PSG, which drew at Caen 0-0. The goalless draw guaranteed Caen stayed in the topflight while Troyes was demoted to the second division.

Monaco needed just one point to qualify for the Champions League but made sure it finished runner-up with a win. The Principality side was in complete control as Rony Lopes scored twice and Jordi Mboula sealed Troyes’ fate in added time.

Troyes finished 19th and joined last-place Metz in the second division.

Toulouse, which beat Guingamp 2-1, will have to win a playoff against a second-division club to remain in the topflight.

Elsewhere, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri won his last game in charge of mid-table Nantes, 1-0 over Strasbourg.


In the absence of Neymar, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe, PSG coach Unai Emery gave Timothy Weah — George Weah’s 18-year-old son — his first start in Caen.

Caen finished the season with only 27 goals, the worst total since Arles-Avignon was demoted with 21 in 2011.

LIVE, Europa League final: Marseille v. Atletico Madrid

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Europa League final takes place in Lyon, France on Wednesday (kick off, 2:45 p.m. ET) with Marseille and Atletico Madrid clashing for the second-biggest trophy in European club soccer.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ]

Atletico are the overwhelming favorites but Marseille have rode a wave of positivity towards the final as they aim to become the first French club to win a major European club trophy since they won the European Cup back in 1993. Although Paris Saint-Germain did win the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1995-95, it must be noted…

Marseille lost in the Europa League final (then known as the UEFA Cup) in 1999 and 2004 but the Ligue 1 side are hoping mercurial playmaker Dimitri Payet can deliver the goods, along with top scorer Florian Thauvin, a few hundred miles from home in what would be a big shock.

Victory would secure Marseille a place in the UEFA Champions League group stage next season with the French giants currently out of the UCL qualification spots in the French top-flight with one game to go.

Diego Simeone will not be able to coach his Atletico Madrid team from the sidelines in the final after his antics in the first leg of their semifinal victory against Arsenal and although Atleti have already secured their spot in the Champions League next season via a top four finish in La Liga, this is a competition they love after winning it in 2010 and 2012.

Antoine Griezmann is the danger man for Atleti (who lost to Real Madrid in both the 2014 and 2016 UCL finals) with the French international striker looking to end the season on a high back in his homeland, while Diego Costa will be sniffing around for goals, and trouble, as per usual…

Click on the link above to follow all the action from the Groupama Stadium live, while we will have analysis and reaction from the final right here on Pro Soccer Talk.


LINEUPS

%d bloggers like this:
Powered by WordPress.com VIP