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UEFA Champions League qualifying preview

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Six slots remain in the UEFA Champions League’s 2019-20 group stage, and the 12 teams hoping to fill them begin the final round of qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday.

There are a pair of Americans in the bunch of hopefuls, with Sergino Dest of Ajax and Ethan Horvath of Club Brugge in action on Tuesday.

The fortunes of those players have changed dramatically in recent months.

[ MORE: Julian Green flying high ]

Horvath, 24, was the starter for 34 matches across all competitions last season and the first two matches of this domestic season but has seen nothing but bench since Brugge scooped up Simon Mignolet from Liverpool.

Will Mignolet allowing three goals to Dynamo Kiev have changed anything for manager Philippe Clement? Seems unlikely, but we’ll still keep an eye on the lineup against Austrian side LASK. Ghanaian national teamer Samuel Tetteh is an intriguing player for the hosts, on loan from Red Bull Salzburg.

Dest is still 18 until November and has started Ajax’s last two games at right back. He made his debut at left back in a 2-0 defeat of PSV Eindhoven to start the season, and Ajax is 4-0 with him on the field this season.

While we’re talking Yanks in the UCL, the group stage already has Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Lille’s Timothy Weah, RB Leipzig’s Tyler Adams, and Red Bull Salzburg manager Jesse Marsch.

Canadian winger Alphonso Davies is with Bayern Munich.

Full schedule

All matches at 3 p.m. ET

Tuesday
APOEL Nicosia v. Ajax
CFR Cluj v. Slavia Prague
LASK v. Club Brugge

Wednesday
Dinamo Zagreb v. Rosenborg
Olympiacos v. Krasnodar
Young Boys v. Red Star Belgrade

Wolves on VAR review of golazo: “I was hoping to stay happy”

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Nuno Espirito Santo issued the definitive quote of the VAR era after Wolves’ equalizer withstood video review in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Monday at the Molineux.

“I was hoping to stay happy.”

[ RECAP: Wolves 1-1 Man Utd ]

Espirito Santo saw VAR dramatically play a role in Wolves fortunes for the second-straight week, and the manager was not too happy with it on opening weekend when Willy Boly‘s handball was found to have assisted Leander Dendoncker‘s goal.

This time, VAR held up its end of the bargain in Wolves favor, as the cross that led to Ruben Neves’ incredible goal was found to be onside. From the BBC:

“I don’t know how they will solve it – it’s the emotion, you celebrate a goal so much and then you stay in silence. Don’t take that away from the people.”

The problem, of course, is money. So much is riding on qualifying for Europe, staying in the Premier League, etc. When sports became a big business, and managers aren’t complaining about their salaries, the science overtook the spirit.

Espirito Santo is correct that the wait to confirm a goal takes away from the joy of sport. It also will deny of us of the next “Hand of God” (and England would not have won its lone World Cup had goal line technology been around).

But ultimately, it will keep the correct score on the board. And that matters.

Pukki hat trick leads Norwich past Newcastle

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Norwich City gave its fans a day to remember in the Premier League, as Teemu Pukki scored a hat trick in the first top flight game at Carrow Road since 2016.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Saturday’s match finished 3-1, with Jonjo Shelvey scored a craft late concession for Newcastle but not enough to take any pressure off already-embattled manager Steve Bruce.

Former Atlanta United playmaker Miguel Almiron struggled for the second-straight week and record-signing Joelinton limped off the pitch for Newcastle.

Norwich hosts Chelsea next week while point-less Newcastle is away to Spurs.


3 things we learned

1. Top Teemu since Selanne: Preseason questions about whether the 29-goal Finn could bring his scoring prowess to the Premier League. Four goals in two matches answers that, and the quality of each lives outside of Fortune.

2. Steve Bruce gives doubters fuel: The Magpies’ already-embattled boss dropped young Sean Longstaff to the bench, but it’s not just about personnel; Newcastle looked unfit to rival a newly-promoted team from Moment No. 1. That’s terrible stuff.

3. Sweet revenge for Krul, Hanley: Former Newcastle No. 1 goalkeeper Krul and former Championship backup Hanley were in firm control even with Shelvey’s stoppage time goal.

Man of the Match: Teemu Pukki


The Magpies showed little promise during the match, as Almiron was a non-factor and Norwich boss Daniel Farke had his men ready to pound Joelinton when he dropped deep to find the ball.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

There were plenty of questions about Pukki before the season, but he had to play with Josip Drmic injured. The Finn lashed a gorgeous volley home for his opener, and dribbled to create space on his second and third goals.

Shelvey’s work to create a late goal for Newcastle was not his usual banger from distance, rather some deft movement to assure the Magpies a place on the score sheet.

Pulisic believes Chelsea “on a good path” despite early defeats

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Christian Pulisic has pushed for renewed faith in Chelsea despite the club’s two early defeats, calling for fans to believe in Frank Lampard, back Tammy Abraham, and trust that the Blues are “on a good path.”

The Blues were beaten 4-0 by Manchester United in the Premier League opener and followed that up with a defeat to Liverpool on penalties in the UEFA Super Cup after a 2-2 draw. Chelsea must pick itself up for the club’s home opener against Leicester City on Sunday, and Pulisic believes the good Fortune will come their way soon.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

“It was harsh on us,” the American said to Evening Standard journalist James Olley after the loss to Liverpool. “A few things just didn’t go our way, a few decisions and in the end, to lose on penalties, that’s just how it goes. But we can be really proud of how we played. I don’t feel that we had a fair result at Old Trafford either. We’ve been creating enough chances to win these games and we just have to keep going and keep fighting.”

Pulisic was a substitute against Manchester United but made his full debut against Liverpool and assisted the game’s first goal with a brilliant burst down the middle and pass to Olivier Giroud. He was brought off for young Mason Mount and therefore did not participate in extra time or penalties. Tammy Abraham came on for Giroud and was fantastic, earning the penalty that leveled the game in extra time, but his penalty was saved to give Liverpool the win. Pulisic knows that’s how things go sometimes, and that the performance is far more encouraging than the poor penalty is upsetting.

“We said to him ‘It’s penalties, man – somebody has to miss’,” Pulisic said. “He’s going to get his head up. Obviously it’s tough but penalties are like that. He can deal with it and he’ll be fine. He’ll move on, he’ll score a goal in the next game and everything will be forgotten. We’re there for him.”

He also believes in Frank Lampard, who has showed growing pains in his young Chelsea managerial career but was improved in the Liverpool match and has won over his players in a short time. “It’s been great working with him,” Pulisic said of Lampard. “We’ve learned a lot so far and I think you can see the team forming. We have a lot of great players which makes it easier. We’re on a good path.”

Chelsea has hit the post three times in the two matches thus far, and twice they had a goal ruled out for offside, including one by Pulisic who thought he had picked up his first Chelsea goal. They now take on Leicester City in a critical match for both clubs, with each side looking for a first win of the campaign to avoid lingering fears of a disappointing season to come.

Top PL storylines: Matchweek 2

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The Premier League season is officially under way and already Manchester City is on top of the table after just one week, having taken down West Ham by a blistering 5-0 scoreline that could be even more.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ] 

With the first week under our belt, here are the top storylines as clubs look to keep the ball rolling, or in the case of teams like the Hammers, Norwich City, or Watford, turn their fortunes before falling too far behind.


Chelsea looks to build on midweek showing

  • Chelsea v. Leicester City, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

For long stretches of the midweek Super Cup, Chelsea looked the better side against Liverpool. While the Champions League title holders eventually won the match on penalties after a 2-2 draw, the Blues look much improved from their opening week drubbing at the hands of Manchester United.

Frank Lampard still has improving to do as a manager, indicative of his slow reaction to a second half surge by Liverpool, but the Blues boss could hand Christian Pulisic his full Premier League debut after leaving the American on the bench against Manchester United. It’s not perfect, and Chelsea has a long way to go to be a truly competitive force at the top of the Premier League table, but marketable improvement at this stage in the season is always a welcome sight.


Spurs gets crack at defending champs

  • Man City v. Tottenham, Saturday, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC

Tottenham began its new season with a 3-1 comeback win over newly promoted Aston Villa, and while it took time for the Champions League finalists to gain a foothold in the match, the final result will encourage Spurs fans as they get an early shot at Manchester City. It’s likely a little too early for Giovani Lo Celso or Ryan Sessegnon to make a full debut, but Tanguay Ndombele got off to a good start with a goal against Villa and the new-look Spurs will likely provide Man City a serious test.

City was explosive against West Ham as Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus were both spectacular, but Bernardo Silva could be brought into the side after finding the substitutes bench in the opener, as could Sergio Aguero.


Early relegation six-pointer?

  • Norwich City v. Newcastle United, Saturday, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

Many Premier League projections, including some of our own here at Pro Soccer Talk, have Norwich City and Newcastle both in various stages of the relegation picture. It’s possible that this early match could prove vital in helping shape the bottom of the table.

If so, the matchup could be an entertaining one. While these two sides combined for just one goal between them last weekend, they were both positive going forward in spells. The last four matchups between these two teams have produced a total of 24 goals, and the last time they faced off in Premier League competition, they were both eventually relegated. It may be early, but they all count the same.


Arsenal stars could return

  • Arsenal v. Burnley, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac still have safety and security issues to sort out – a worrying prospect for players just looking to ply their trade on the pitch – but they’re back in Arsenal training and could return to the matchday squad after missing out on the opening weekend.

With the pair potentially in the fold, it will give the Gunners a boost after looking bright but wasteful in the early 1-0 win over Newcastle. Ozil could come in for Reiss Nelson while Kolasinac would replace the deputizing Nacho Monreal. David Luiz could also make his Arsenal debut with Calum Chambers possibly making way, giving Arsenal a much more complete lineup than last week. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the game’s only goal in the season opener, and he is tipped to strike many more times this season in a likely Golden Boot challenge.


Wolves looks to again trouble Manchester United

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Manchester United, Monday, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Manchester United looked stellar in the opening weekend against Chelsea, but they’ll take on a pesky foe in Week 2 as they look to keep the momentum going. Wolves picked up four points off Manchester United last season as they proved difficult for many top sides to deal with throughout the season.

Most importantly, the Red Devils will need to deal with Raul Jimenez who has picked up where he left off last season with four goals in Europa League play to start the campaign, although he – along with the rest of the Wolves squad – was held off the scoresheet in the Premier League opener against Leicester City. That 0-0 draw was drab as Wolves appeared tired after early European play, but the home side will feel they can hit Manchester United on the counter Monday as they did a number of times last season.