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Hazard, Van Dijk, Kante named in UEFA’s Team of the Year

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Three Premier League players were included in UEFA’s Team of the Year, voted on by more than 1.8 million fans on the confederation’s website.

Chelsea stars Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante along with Virgil Van Dijk headlined the group, which included four Real Madrid players and a former one in Cristiano Ronaldo. Luka Modric ran away with the most votes in this year’s Team of the Year, garnering 1.15 million, more than Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Hazard earned 97,000 votes, Kante recorded more than 89,000 and Van Dijk had nearly 78,000.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Of course, it’s a fan vote, but surely there were a few snubs. There’s no place for Mohamad Salah, Harry Kane or Kevin De Bruyne, all stars on the world stage who had great years. Kane and de Bruyne, especially, both led their nations to the World Cup semifinals in addition to success with their club teams.

However, it’s well deserved for someone other than Ronaldo and Messi to take top billing, and also great to see Kante get the recognition he deserves as the destroyer in Chelsea’s midfield. This season, he’s playing a new role and he’s still showing how great of a passer and box-to-box midfielder he is.

Let us know about what you thought of the Team of the Year vote in the comments below.

UEFA chastises Serie A for handling of Koulibaly racist chants

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UEFA has publicly denounced the in-game handling of racist chants directed at Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly this week during a Serie A match between Napoli and Inter Milan at the San Siro.

Home Inter fans directed repeated racist chants towards Koulibaly, including monkey noises, despite multiple announcements over the stadium loudspeaker imploring the fans to stop. The UEFA report says that three announcements were made, and confirms that protocol was not followed, stating that the game should have been suspended.

“We are very concerned by this unacceptable racist incident and by what appears on the surface to be a failure to respect the widely-recognised three-step anti-racism protocol,” said UEFA in a joint statement with the players’ union FIFPro. “Koulibaly was subject to racist chanting and, despite announcements made by the stadium speaker, the chants did not stop. Moreover, it seems that Napoli’s coaching staff had already informed the referee several times of racist chants.”

As punishment for the chants, Inter was told it must play its next two home matches in a completely empty stadium.

Referee Paolo Mazzoleni eventually sent Koulibaly off for sarcastically applauding a decision, earning him a second yellow card. Koulibaly was given a two-match ban for his actions.

UEFA’s statement was made in the aftermath of Italian Football Federation chief Gabriele Gravina saying the referee followed protocol correctly, and claiming that Napoli pulling its players off the pitch would cause a “negative result” to be handed down. “Mazzoleni applied the rules perfectly,” Gravina told Sky Sports Italia after the game. “If players left the field then it would break the rules, followed by a negative result for their team. Let’s not forget that there are rules, which need to be improved. If not then it would be like the Wild West.”

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti claimed after the match that he would pull his players off the field should this happen again, even if it resulted in forfeiture of the match. There are also reports that the Italian Federation is considering suspending Serie A after the actions at the San Siro. There was also pre-match violence which resulted in the the death of an Inter fan as well as a stabbing of four Napoli fans. The federation did announce, however, that Saturday’s fixtures would go on as planned.

UEFA Champions League last 16 draw

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The draw for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League took place on Monday and it was a mixed bag for the four Premier League clubs.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City will play Schalke, while Manchester United were handed a tough draw after finishing second in their group as they face PSG.

Tottenham have also been handed a tough, but very likeable draw for the neutral, as they’ll play Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund. And Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will be heading back to Germany as the current PL leaders will play Bayern Munich.

Below is the draw in full, as the first legs will be played on 12–13 & 19–20 Feb. 2019 and the second legs on 5–6 & 12–13 Mar., 2019. The teams drawn first in the list below will play the first leg at home, with the second legs away.

And remember, VAR will be used in the UCL for the first time for all knockout round games. Get your VAR hand signals ready…

Last 16 draw for UEFA Champions League, 2018-19

Schalke v. Manchester City
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Manchester United v. Paris Saint-Germain
Tottenham Hotspur v. Borussia Dortmund
Lyon v. Barcelona
Roma v. Porto
Ajax v. Real Madrid
Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

AC Milan escapes FFP ruling with just suspended European ban

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AC Milan has escaped harsher Financial Fair Play punishments with the ruling handed down by UEFA on Friday. The European governing body announced that Milan’s punishment is highlighted by a one-year European ban in the 2022/23 and 2023/24 seasons, but that punishment is suspended and will not be imposed unless the club fails to break even over the course of the next 2.5 seasons through June of 2021.

UEFA also included a $13.5 million “fine” plus a European play squad restriction, both of which are imposed immediately. AC Milan will have that monetary sum withheld from its total European tournament prize haul, and the club will be restricted to a 21-player squad in Europe for the next two full seasons. The squad restriction is probably the harshest part of the punishment, leaving them with less wiggle room than the usual 25-player submission to account for injuries and mid-tournament player transactions.

Milan also escaped without a transfer ban, another possible punishment for clubs who breach Financial Fair Play rules.

The decision comes after UEFA handed down a rigid two-year European ban last summer, but the club appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won. The Court’s decision, which came this past July, said that the club’s finances had greatly improved under new ownership, and as such, they required a “proportionate disciplinary measure.”

The new ruling says the club can again appeal the decision, if they wish.

Milan was initially flagged for breaching FFP rules after spending a massive $200 million in the summer of 2017 under Chinese owner Li Yonghong, bringing in players like Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Lucas Biglia, among others. Yonghong was forced to sell after he failed to make a loan payment, and the club was taken over by U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management Corporation.

UEFA: Third European club competition, UEL2, kicks off in 2021

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Move over, Champions and Europa Leagues, there’s a new European club competition coming to the continent in 2021.

[ MERSEYSIDE: Insane late goal gifts Liverpool derby win over Everton ]

UEL2 — it’s a “working title” — has been rumored for a some time now, and was formally approved and announced by UEFA at the confederation’s competition meetings in Dublin on Sunday.

Just like the Champions League, 32 teams will compete in the group stage with 16 advancing to the knockout rounds. An additional knockout round will be played prior to the round of 16, featuring matchups of second-place teams and third-place Europa League sides dropping down into the UEL2 — not to dissimilar to the UCL-to-UEL, in order to create even more fixtures.

[ NORTH LONDON: Merciless Arsenal pounds Spurs ]

Winners of the UEL2 will book their place in the UEL for the following season, a la Europa League winners qualifying for the UCL. No further changes will be made to the format or operation of the UCL or UEL.

Games will be played on Thursdays, alongside the UEL, with an additional time slot to be created, in order to put more of the games on television and secure a more lucrative TV contract.

[ WEST LONDON: Early lead enough as Chelsea blanks Fulham ]

The idea is that more continental competitions featuring more teams will be better for mid-table sides around Europe, as they’re able to get in on the European action, when in reality it will merely cause the fixture list to pile up ever so quickly for those very mid-table teams.

In the end, the UEL2 will only widen the gap between the haves and have-nots within their domestic leagues. Take the Premier League for example, where the Manchester and London giants have the financial wherewithal — thanks to UCL TV and prize monies — to sign an extra $100 million worth of players to sustain simultaneous competition across four fronts. UEL sides — the annual non-top-six entrants, at least — already aren’t able to do the same, because the money simply isn’t there. Now, imagine how much more stress the UEL2 will put on teams 8 through 10.