Giuseppe Lami/ANSA via AP

Inter Milan back in the Champions League after late heroics (video)

Leave a comment

It’s been more than a half-decade since Inter Milan qualified for the UEFA Champions League, an infamous run that ended on Sunday.

Inter scored twice in the final 13 minutes to beat fifth-place Lazio and advance into the Top Four via head-to-head record.

[ MORE: Man Utd youngster gets USMNT call-up ]

Lazio held 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but could not get the job done at home, collecting red cards in the 79th minute and stoppage time.

Uruguayan midfielder Matias Vecino scored his third goal of the season, redirecting a corner kick home in the 81st minute, as Inter clinched fourth place in Serie A.

Real Madrid draw Villarreal; Bale makes case to start UCL final

AP Photo/Paul White
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid showed Liverpool its strengths and weaknesses a week before their Champions League final.

Madrid squandered first-half goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in drawing at Villarreal 2-2 on Saturday in its last match before attempting to win Europe’s most coveted trophy for a third year in a row.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane aligned what could be his starting 11 for the final against Liverpool, except for giving 20-year-old son Luca Zidane his competitive debut in goal.

Zidane left striker Karim Benzema on his bench in favor of starting Ronaldo and Bale alone up front and playing Francisco “Isco” Alarcon along with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as playmakers in front of holding midfielder Casemiro.

Madrid showed the same dominant form that has taken it to another Champions League final in the first half at Villarreal.

But after Ronaldo and Modric were replaced by Benzema and Lucas Vazquez with half an hour remaining, Zidane’s bunch displayed the same complacency and faulty defending that scuttled its Liga title defense months ago.

The draw in the final round meant Madrid finished the Spanish league in third place behind Atletico Madrid and champion Barcelona.

Bale opened the scoring with a solo effort in the 11th minute, and Ronaldo headed in a superb cross by Marcelo just after the half-hour mark.

Fifth-place Villarreal outplayed the visitors in the second half and leveled through goals by substitutes Roger Martinez in the 70th and Samuel Castillejo in the 85th.

“We played a very, very good first half, with determination, scoring goals, but the second half was the exact opposite,” Zidane said. “The important thing is that we didn’t have any injuries and can now rest well for next weekend. We are only thinking about winning the final.”

Bale, who struggled for most of the season to make Zidane’s first-choice 11, has finished the season strong and appears to have earned a spot in the Champions League final.

His opener against Villarreal, created when he let Modric’s pass run through as he spun around his marker, was his 14th goal in the last 10 rounds.

“Gareth has never given up,” Zidane said. “He has trained well. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that now he is scoring.”

Ronaldo’s goal was his 26th in the league. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leads the competition with 34.

Castillejo snatched the draw after he raced behind Marcelo to receive a lobbed pass from Rodrigo Hernandez. Luca Zidane, who normally plays for Madrid’s reserve team in the third divison, stopped his initial chipped shot but Castillejo slotted the rebound into the open net.

Saudi Arabia midfielder Salem Al Dawsari made his Liga debut as a second-half substitute for Villarreal.

Pep Guardiola says Man City won’t be big spenders any time soon

Getty Images
2 Comments

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola says there won’t be nearly as much spending at the Etihad Stadium in future transfer windows.

City spent big to bring a number of huge players to town, including six players who cost more than $35 million each (Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, Kyle Walker, Danilo, Bernardo Silva, and Ederson).

[ MORE: West Ham talks manager plans ]

But Guardiola says that’s simply the state of play in revolutionizing his club, and that he won’t have to do as much again.

From Sky Sports:

“We invested a lot of money and will invest less in the future, because instead of doing it in two or three transfer windows, we did it in one. We needed it for the age [of the squad].

“The fundamental success of this season is the quality of the players. People say you won because you invest a lot, they are right.”

It’s a good bet that City will buy another center back soon with Nicolas Otamendi (30) and Vincent Kompany (32), though those certainly aren’t ancient ages for the position. A Fernandinho understudy may also come through the door, but there are also a number of young players returning from loan (Look out for Pablo Maffeo, a big part of Girona’s surprising 11th place La Liga finish, especially).

But Guardiola’s right: The club will not have to take any big swings, and so many young players will grow simply due to understanding his system.

Which Champions League group stage slots are already sewn up?

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
Leave a comment

The seasons of Europe are winding down, and we know more than a few names who will automatically qualify for the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League group stages.

Joining the holders — Real Madrid or Liverpool — will be the champions of the Top Ten rated leagues in Europe, as well as six runners-up from associations, four third-placed teams from associations 1–4, four fourth-placed teams from associations 1–4, and the Europa League title holders.

[ MORE: Rooney’s proposed DC move has good precedence ]

Some notes:

*If the UCL winner qualifies via the league, then the Czech Republic’s (11th overall) champion makes the group stage.

#If the UEL winner qualifies via the league, then France’s (5th overall) third-place team makes it.

UCL Champion: Real Madrid or Liverpool
UEL Champion: Atletico Madrid or Marseille

Top Four from England
Man City
Manchester United
Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool and/or Chelsea

Top Four from Germany
Bayern Munich
Schalke
(Two of) Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen, RB Leipzig

Top Four from Spain
Barcelona
Atletico Madrid
Real Madrid
Valencia

Top Four from Italy
Juventus
Napoli
(Two of) Roma, Lazio, Inter Milan

Top 2-3 from France#
Paris Saint-Germain
(Two or three of) Lyon, Monaco, Marseille#

Top Two from Russia
Lokomotiv Moscow
Spartak Moscow, CSKA Moscow, or Krasnodar

Champions
Portugal: Porto
Ukraine: Shakhtar Donetsk or Dynamo Kyiv
Belgium: Club Brugge, Standard Liege, or Anderlecht
Turkey: Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, Basaksehir, or Besiktas
Czech Republic*: Viktoria Plzen or Slavia Praha

Who can finish where on the table on Championship Sunday?

AP Photo/Rui Vieira
2 Comments

The Premier League has one match day left, with 10 matches on 10 different NBC family stations beginning at 10 a.m. ET Sunday.

[ MORE: Championship Sunday TV schedule ]

We know Man City and Man Utd will finish first and second, but only two other table positions (sixth and seventh) are locked in place.

Bold teams are locked into their table positions.

1. Manchester City (97 pts, at Southampton)
2. Manchester United (78 pts, vs. Watford)

3. Tottenham Hotspur (74 pts, +37 GD, vs. Leicester)
Highest potential finish: 3rd
Lowest potential finish: 4th

4. Liverpool (72 pts, +42 GD, vs. Brighton)
Highest potential finish: 3rd
Lowest potential finish: 5th

5. Chelsea (70 pts, +27 GD, at Newcastle)
Highest potential finish: 4th
Lowest potential finish:

6. Arsenal (60 pts, at Huddersfield Town)
7. Burnley (54 pts, vs. Bournemouth)

8. Everton (49 pts, -12 GD, at West Ham United)
Highest potential finish: 8th
Lowest potential finish: 9th

9. Leicester City (47 pts, -3 GD, at Spurs)
Highest potential finish: 8th
Lowest potential finish: 9th

10. Newcastle United (41 pts, -11 GD, vs. Chelsea)
Highest potential finish: 10th
Lowest potential finish: 15th

11. Crystal Palace (41 pts, -12 GD, vs. West Brom)
Highest potential finish: 10th
Lowest potential finish: 15th

12. Bournemouth (41 pts, -17 GD, at Burnley)
Highest potential finish: 10th
Lowest potential finish: 15th

13. Watford (41 pts, -19 GD, at Man Utd)
Highest potential finish: 10th
Lowest potential finish: 15th

14. Brighton and Hove Albion (40 pts, -16 GD, at Liverpool)
Highest potential finish:10th
Lowest potential finish: 16th

15. West Ham United (39 pts, -22 GD, vs. Everton)
Highest potential finish: 10th
Lowest potential finish:17th

16. Huddersfield Town (37 pts, -29 GD, vs. Arsenal)
Highest (realistic) potential finish: 15th
Lowest potential finish: 17th

17. Southampton (36 pts, -18 GD, vs. Man City)
Highest potential finish: 15th
Lowest potential finish: 18th

18. Swansea City (33 pts, -27 GD, vs. Stoke City)
Highest potential finish: 17th
Lowest potential finish: 20th

19. West Bromwich Albion (31 pts, -23 GD, at Crystal Palace)
Highest potential finish: 18th
Lowest potential finish: 20th

20. Stoke City (30 pts, -34 GD, at Swansea)
Highest potential finish: 18th
Lowest potential finish: 20th