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☆☆☆ UEFA Champions League 2016-17 ☆☆☆



Leicester captain Morgan 50/50 for Atletico return

Jon Fisher
Apr 14, 2017 12:46:29

Foxes boss Craig Shakespeare is hoping his captain will make a return for the second leg against the LaLiga side at the King Power Stadium

Wes Morgan has been ruled out of Leicester City's trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday and is rated at only 50/50 for their Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Captain Morgan, an inspirational leader in the Foxes' remarkable Premier League title success last season, has not played for a month due to a back injury and will not be rushed back for the weekend meeting at Selhurst Park.

But, with relegation all but staved off following Craig Shakespeare's appointment as manager until the end of the season, overcoming a 1-0 deficit to Diego Simeone's Atletico in their last-eight tie is now the priority.

Shakespeare told a news conference: "Wes trained on Thursday but not with the squad. He's 50/50 for Atletico but won't feature against Palace.

"We'll only put him in if he's ready. There'll be a conversation with Wes and the medical staff but we won't take a gamble.

"He's captain and sometimes you lead by example and sometimes you have a quiet word in an individual's ear. He does that really well."

With Morgan's fellow central defender Robert Huth suspended for the Atletico clash, Shakespeare may take the chance to shake things up against Palace with Daniel Amartey under consideration for a defensive berth.

Shakespeare added: "If I think it's a benefit [he could play there]. Players are adaptable and some can play multiple positions and Daniel's one of those.

"But I need to assess them all. We had a light session on Thursday and I need to see what the injury situation is. We need to be competitive, we still need the points."

Palace will present a stiff challenge with their own bid to escape relegation boosted by a 3-0 thrashing of Arsenal on Monday.

And Shakespeare is well aware of the threat posed by a side led by Sam Allardyce, under whom he worked as part of the England set-up last year.

"Their upturn in form doesn't surprise me," said Shakespeare. "Having seen Sam work at close quarters I know how diligently he looks at the opposition.

"With the individual ability of their wingers, Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend, our full-backs will have to work hard to keep them quiet."




Police charge suspect with Dortmund bus attack, allege financial motivation

21 April 2017 08:57

A 28-year-old man has been charged in relation to the attack on Borussia Dortmund's team coach, the Federal Prosecutor's office in Germany has confirmed.

The suspect, identified as 'Sergej W', is of dual German and Russian nationality and has been charged with attempted murder, causing an explosion and inflicting dangerous bodily harm.

Letters found at the scene of the crime with apparent "links to so-called Islamic State" initially prompted police to focus on "two suspects from the Islamist spectrum", but the Federal Prosecutor's office alleges that 'Sergej W' was motivated by financial gain after buying 15,000 shares in the club.

"If the shares of Borussia Dortmund had fallen massively, the profit would have been several times the initial investment," a statement said, before adding that such a slump would have occurred if players had been seriously injured or even killed.

The suspect booked a room at the same L'Arrivee hotel where Dortmund players were staying, between the periods April 9 to 13, and April 16 to 20, with it unclear at the time of booking when Thomas Tuchel's men would be playing their home tie, and had a room overlooking the street where the explosions occurred.

Three blasts took place as the bus was travelling to Signal Iduna Park for the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Monaco on April 11, with defender Marc Bartra requiring surgery on his right wrist as a result of the attack.

The incident caused the match to be postponed by a day.




Atletico fans would rather lose in semis than face Real Madrid final - Schuster

20 April 2017 18:51

Atletico Madrid supporters would rather go out in the Champions League semi-finals than suffer the prospect of a potential third final defeat to rivals Real Madrid, according to Bernd Schuster.

Former Real head coach Schuster, who also represented Atletico in his playing days, has a feeling the two Madrid sides will be drawn to face each other in the semis.

But if they are kept apart when the last-four draw takes place in Nyon on Friday, he thinks supporters of Diego Simeone's side would be dreading the prospect of progressing to face Real, who beat them in both the 2014 final and last season's showpiece.

"Some of my Atletico-supporting friends have told me they would rather lose in the semi-finals than play Real Madrid in another final," Schuster told Marca.

"But I am convinced we will have a derby in the semi-finals.

"Real Madrid have more squad depth and that is very important in a long season.

"Having the best squad doesn't always bring you success, but Zinedine Zidane knows how to get the best out of this team.

"They played great in the tie against Bayern Munich and are a worthy semi-finalist."

#RMCity @GarethBale11 returned to group training today as the team began preparations for #ElClasico ! #HalaMadrid pic.twitter.com/kFbBiYNWWt
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) April 20, 2017

Juventus and Monaco are the other semi-finalists, but Real's immediate attention is on El Clasico, with Zidane's side hosting Barcelona at Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.

"If Barcelona lose then they can say goodbye to LaLiga," added Schuster.

"Barcelona come into it on the back of their Champions League elimination, but that will be behind them by the time they take to the field.

"In the Bernabeu, though, Real Madrid are the favourites. Neymar is a very important loss for Barcelona and I'm sure they will feel it."




Klopp: Champions League prospects helping Liverpool in transfer market

22 April 2017 03:32

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said the prospect of Champions League football is helping the club in their attempts to strengthen in the transfer market.

Europe's premier club competition is set to return to Anfield for the first time since 2014-15 and for only the second time in eight seasons, with Liverpool third in the Premier League.

Liverpool are two points ahead of fourth-placed Manchester City, who have a game in hand.

But Klopp believes Liverpool have become a much more attractive option for players.

"I think that Liverpool at this moment is a really interesting project for players. It's a fantastic club, it's a good situation where we really can see the progress of the team," he said.

"The talks we've had so far are very positive. That doesn't mean it will all work out, but they are really positive, and they all see the progress. That's good.

"We cannot say 100 percent that we will play Champions League football next year. I'm not sure, but I would say together with Tottenham, the average age of the team is such that there's still a lot to come.

"We feel in a good way, and if a player wants to be part of this way, then it's easier to make this decision this year than last year."

Klopp's Liverpool play host to Crystal Palace on Sunday.



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Pogba might regret leaving Juventus for Man Utd - Barzagli

Stefan Coerts
Apr 25, 2017 8:08:55 AM

The defender thinks his former team-mate would like to have been part of the Turin giants' good run in the Champions League

Andrea Barzagli believes Paul Pogba might regret his decision to leave Juventus for Manchester United after his former club's fine performances this season.

Pogba left Turin for Old Trafford in a record-breaking transfer ahead of the 2016-17 campaign but has failed to live up to his price tag since returning to Manchester.

Juventus face Monaco in the semi-finals of the Champions League, meet Lazio in the Coppa Italia final and are on track to win their sixth consecutive Serie A title.

Barzagli acknowledges Pogba could not have foreseen Juventus' European success but believes their run to the last four could be tinged with regret for the France international.

"I saw Pogba the other day via video chat. He was happy that we reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and is cheering for us," Barzagli told Tuttosport.

"Whoever leaves this group will always be part of it. Our biggest strength over the past few years has always been the team.

"On the other hand he would surely have liked to be there.

"But they are decisions you make. Nobody can expect to leave and then see your team reach the final four of the Champions League next season."

Pogba, meanwhile, has already lifted the EFL Cup with United and is still in the race for Europa League glory.




Mourinho: Finishing above Guardiola means nothing

26 April 2017 16:27

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho insists he is not motivated by the prospect of finishing above Manchester City simply to claim bragging rights over Pep Guardiola.

The 54-year-old remains the only coach to have finished a league campaign ahead of Guardiola during the Catalan's stellar career in the dugout, with Mourinho's Real Madrid having pipped Guardiola's Barcelona to LaLiga in 2012.

That record is poised to be broken this year, with City sitting behind Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool in the Premier League table with just six matches to play, while a defeat to United in Thursday's derby would see them slip two points behind their city rivals.

Mourinho, however, claimed ending the season above City will not matter in the least if United are unable to claim a top-four spot in the process.

"It means nothing," he told a news conference. "If we finish fifth and they finish sixth, we are above them, and it means nothing. But if they finish third and we finish fourth, they are above us but it means a lot.

"It's not about Pep, it's not about City, it's about objectives. We want to try to play Champions League football and we still have two doors open [the league and the Europa League]."

"He's not going to give up and he's going to fight."

Jose Mourinho on @Ibra_official... pic.twitter.com/z61sYWeA88
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 26, 2017

United are facing a minor injury crisis ahead of the trip to the Etihad Stadium, with Mourinho confirming on Wednesday that Paul Pogba is not fit enough to feature.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Juan Mata are also unavailable, leaving the visitors short of options for the encounter.

The long-term future of Ibrahimovic remains in doubt, with the striker unlikely to return following knee surgery until the beginning of next year and his contract due to expire at the end of this season.

Mourinho insists he is not concerned about the 35-year-old's long-term plans, though, and is simply anxious for him to recover as well as possible.

"I'm not interested in it, I don't care about it. I just want the difficult surgery to go [well]," he said.

"We think he is in fabulous hands. The next step will be something that he really wants, which is what I was saying before the injury. He's much more important than myself, what I want. I always want the players to be happy, to choose their future and I think this is what is going to happen.

"The future is a big surgery, a long period of recovering, but the future is also in the hands of a very strong guy. He wrote immediately on social media that he will stop when he wants, not when people think. So it looks for me that he is not going to give up and I'm really pleased with that.

"He fought all his life. I don't see a reason for not fighting."




Atletico Madrid not afraid of Real Madrid, Torres claims

27 April 2017 19:30

Fernando Torres has fired a warning shot to Real Madrid ahead of their Champions League semi-finals, insisting Atletico Madrid are not afraid of anyone.

Atleti have been beaten by Madrid in two of the last three Champions League finals - losing last year's decider on penalties in Milan - while Zinedine Zidane's side have taken four points from the two LaLiga matches between the sides this season.

Diego Simeone's men are 10 points behind Madrid in the Liga table but Torres insists Atletico will be up for the fight, despite heading into the tie as the underdogs.

"It is true that there is a favourite - and at that time Barcelona were the favourites against Chelsea - and Real Madrid are the favourites against anyone," Torres told an Atleti Foundation event, recalling the 2012 semi-final.

"It serves as motivation, because we know who we are and we can compete against anyone. We are not afraid of anyone. It will be very difficult, but we have the confidence that we can reach another final with humility and sacrifice.

"One moment can change everything so you have to be prepared. [Against Barcelona] I was not in the starting line-up bit in the end I scored the key goal."

ATM Flash @Torres during the presentation of the III ‘Football&English Immersion' Campus: "English opens many doors and it's education." pic.twitter.com/k81NdSWfZS
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) April 27, 2017

Torres suggested the winner of the semi-final will be the team that wants the victory the most, insisting Atletico will not be feeling the pressure ahead of Tuesday's first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"Real are a team that always have huge depth and they have young players with hunger," Torres added. "This illusion of youth compensates for their lack of experience and it's the Madrid players who are playing less that are doing better.

"The only pressure comes from within. We are up against a great team and the goal is to win and reach a Champions League final.

"Over the last few years, we've become used to playing for these huge goals and the team won't feel any more or less pressure for facing Real in a semi-final. It depends on how much we want it."



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Higuain not measuring himself against exploits of Madrid talisman Ronaldo

Iain Strachan
May 5, 2017 12:09:57

The Portuguese's hat-trick on Tuesday did not inspire his former Blancos team-mate to respond for Juventus a night later in the Champions League

Gonzalo Higuain insists his brace against Monaco was not a response to the hat-trick netted by former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo as a likely Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus looms large.

A treble from Ronaldo against Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday means Zinedine Zidane's holders are widely expected to secure a place in the decider in Cardiff next month.

Higuain, who played alongside the Portugal forward in the Spanish capital from 2009 to 2013, struck twice as Juve registered a commanding 2-0 victory at Monaco in the other semi-final a day later.

Asked by Corriere dello Sport if his exploits at Stade Louis II were inspired by Ronaldo's efforts, Higuain replied: "No, I try to do my best without thinking of others.

"We are close to an extraordinary goal and we only have to take care of ourselves."

Barring remarkable recoveries from Atletico and Monaco, a clash between Madrid and Juve in the final would represent a reunion for Bianconeri pair Higuain and Sami Khedira with their old team-mates.

"It definitely would be a special situation because I played in Madrid for seven years," said Higuain.

"But first, I insist, the final must be reached."

Juve, who lost the 2015 Champions League final to Barcelona in Berlin, are closing in on an unprecedented sixth successive Serie A title and have also reached the decider of the Coppa Italia against Lazio, raising the prospect of Massimiliano Allegri's side securing a hugely impressive treble.

"We realise how strong we are, we know we can fight against anyone," said Higuain.

"We are close to three important goals and we hope to reach them.

"It's time to give it [our] all. We hope it will become a dream season. However, in [the] Champions [League], the return [leg] hasn't happened yet. Monaco is strong and the tie isn't over yet. We have to be calm, we have not won anything yet.

"In fact, we are very focused on the championship. We hope to beat Torino and close out the Scudetto as soon as possible," he added, referring to the impending Turin derby on Saturday.




Luis Enrique: It´s biased to focus on Real Madrid´s Champions League success

5 May 2017 15:13

Luis Enrique feels Real Madrid's Champions League dominance does not mean the club have enjoyed a more successful spell than Barcelona under his leadership.

A star for both teams during his playing days, the Asturian coach will leave Barca at the end of the campaign, having guided the Catalans to two LaLiga titles, two Copa del Rey wins and one Champions League crown, with this season's championship still up for grabs.

Madrid have not finished on top of LaLiga since 2012, but they have won two of the last three Champions Leagues, beating local rivals Atletico Madrid in the final in 2014 and 2016, either side of Barca's 2015 triumph.

Zinedine Zidane's holders look set to reach another final this term, having beaten Atletico 3-0 in the first leg of their semi-final at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Barca's coach is not interested in comparing the teams' recent European records.

"That's a statistic, it shows how strong Real Madrid are as a club," he said when asked about the prospect of Los Blancos progressing to yet another decider.

"It's a little biased to look just at what they've done in the Champions League. You can look at what Barca have done as well, we have reasons to feel positive.

"I focus on what I can control, our club, our team. Every club has different main rivals that you focus on more than any others and maybe that's what you're gauged against. Focusing on my own team works well for me.

"I'm really only focusing on what Barca do. I don't want to analyse what other teams are doing. I focus on my team. If we win a title, then great. Let's see what happens."

Check out the best photos from today's training session: https://t.co/2c0b6oAdS2 #ForçaBarça pic.twitter.com/Zom2CfHfij
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 5, 2017

Madrid may yet deprive Barca of the league title. Although the reigning champions are top, Zidane's men are level on points in second spot and have a game in hand approaching the dramatic conclusion to 2016-17.

"We need to win every game to have any hope of winning the league," said Luis Enrique.

"Primarily it depends on ourselves and what we do.

"Our first year we won the league in the penultimate game, last year it was the last game. This year it looks like it will go down to the last game. If anybody knows what will happen, please tell me.

"It's the same story at the end of every season. They've been tight run-ins, one team edges ahead, one edges behind. You need to let these things effect the players as little as possible… [because they are] trying to cope with the pressure."

Luis Enrique indicated captain Andres Iniesta is nearing a return to fitness after the midfielder missed the derby win over Espanyol due to an adductor injury.

"In principle he's been training for two days without any problems. He seems fine to me," added the coach.

Luis Enrique on Andrés Iniesta: "He has been training well with the group for the last two days. He's in good shape" #FCBlive pic.twitter.com/vXFsGYoxDX
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 5, 2017

Iniesta is out of contract at the end of next season and has been tipped in some quarters to seek a transfer away from Camp Nou, with Luis Enrique unable to predict the stalwart's next career move.

"That's not a question for me to answer," he said.

"We all know how well he's done at this club, we've all enjoyed his football, but it's not for me to comment on."




'We can do this' - Man Utd star Pogba eyeing top four and Europa League win

Sacha Pisani
May 7, 2017 02:07:40

The midfielder is confident his side can still finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League next season

Paul Pogba has not given up hope of cracking the Premier League's top four, issuing a rallying cry to his Manchester United team-mates that they can still finish in the Champions League places.

Jose Mourinho's side are outsiders to claim Champions League qualification via domestic football though they remain in contention, four points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool with a game in hand ahead of Sunday's trip to Arsenal.

The Europa League, where United lead Celta Vigo 1-0 in the semi-finals, looms as the club's best chance of returning to the illustrious competition.

Pogba, however, is adamant the club – on a 25-match unbeaten run – are more than capable of finishing in the top four.

"Of course, we have to believe," Pogba told MUTV.

"Obviously, we want to do it and we can. Of course we're strong enough, we are Manchester United and we can do this.

"To be in the top four, our mind has to go there, and we also want to win the Europa League. We have to keep our heads on the challenge and the big objective; we want to achieve the big goals, not the small ones.

"We're confident of that. We're young and fresh."



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Atletico boss Simeone proud and motivated despite Champions League exit

Sacha Pisani
May 11, 2017 01:25:21

The Atletico manager could not fault his players or the fans following the final European fixture at the iconic Vicente Calderon

Motivation is not a concern for Diego Simeone, who expressed his pride after watching Atletico Madrid threaten to complete an improbable semi-final comeback against Champions League titleholders and city rivals Real Madrid.

Facing an uphill task following last week's forgettable 3-0 defeat away from home, Atletico fought back to win Wednesday's return leg 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon.

With a spot in next month's Cardiff showpiece on the line, Atletico produced a trademark and spirited display to leave Madrid sweating as Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann struck to see the hosts lead 2-0 by the 16th minute, but Isco hit back approaching half-time as the visitors secured a 4-2 aggregate triumph.

While Atletico were unable to gain some sort of revenge for their Champions League final defeats to Madrid in 2014 and 2016, head coach Simeone – a reported target for Serie A side Inter – could not fault his players or the fans following the final European fixture at the iconic stadium before moving to the Metropolitano next season.

"We gave our all. We've done so for the last few years. Years go by but the players keep on growing," Simeone said. "Waking up every day and planning games makes me motivated. We fought against the reigning champions. We learn from this and will improve from it.

"I'm happy and proud to have shown what we are all about. We fought, we're the third side in Spain, we've got to two Champions League finals. We had an awful result last week but we believed we could come back. Some people thought we were messing around but we weren't.

"The first 30, 35 minutes will remain with the people here for a long time. They took advantage of a mistake at the back for us to score a goal and this happens. The magic of the Calderon tonight will remain with me for a long time.

"I say what I feel. I feel proud. I think it's a success for the club to be at the top of the European game. We won the Europa League, Super Cup, Copa del Rey. We've grown a lot and we have little steps still to take."

He continued: "The first 25 minutes took a lot out of us and it was hard to keep that up. We had a great side up against us and they scored from our first error of the game.

"It was an almost perfect first half. It was brilliant from [Karim] Benzema but that's football.

"Our players have such big hearts and that they give so much is amazing. We need to clone them. Today [Wednesday] is an important day - we did not lose even though we are eliminated. It will allow us to continue growing.

"I don't think we didn't have the right attitude last week. We just weren't good enough at the Bernabeu. We are a side who depend on the team; Real Madrid are a side who depend on individuals and individuals can just have their moments. The side played well today and we were close to achieving something amazing.

"We can transmit emotions. The crowd today will still be there at the new stadium. The passion and illusion of the people is something you cannot change. Today home is the Calderon. Tomorrow it's the Metropolitano."




Ramos ready to shut down 'great friend' Higuain in Champions League final

Sacha Pisani
May 11, 2017 12:51:37

The Real Madrid captain will put friendship aside when his side take on Juventus in a bid to win back-to-back titles next month in Cardiff

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos will not give Juventus star Gonzalo Higuain "peanuts" in the Champions League final as he prepares to reunite with his former team-mate.

Higuain spent six years alongside Ramos at Madrid before leaving the Santiago Bernabeu in 2013, but the pair will come together again for the Cardiff showpiece on June 3.

But Ramos will put friendship aside as Madrid bid to win back-to-back Champions League titles.

"He's a great friend and we have a great relationship from when he was here," Ramos told beIN Sports.

"But I won't give away peanuts to Pipa inside the pitch."

Madrid advanced to their third final in four years after overcoming city rivals Atletico Madrid 4-2 on aggregate.

Ramos' men lost Wednesday's return leg 2-1 at the Vicente Calderon but still secured a ticket to the Welsh capital next month.

After last week's 3-0 loss, Atletico threatened to pull off an improbable comeback in their final European match at the iconic stadium thanks to quick-fire goals from Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann, but Isco's 42nd-minute strike extinguished those hopes.

"Nobody said it was going to be easy. I am proud of this team. When the match got complicated this team showed personality and went for the goal," Ramos said.

"I emphasise the personality of the team after 20 minutes with a very high pressure and we have obtained what we were looking for."


'Atletico Madrid will eventually win the Champions League' - Torres upbeat despite Real defeat

Sacha Pisani
May 11, 2017 07:53:41

The iconic striker believes the La Liga side are on the right track for European glory following another spirited display against their arch-rivals

Fernando Torres believes Atletico Madrid have taken a step towards one day winning the Champions League, despite losing to Real Madrid in the semi-finals.

After finding themselves 3-0 down following the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu last week, Atletico threatened to pull off an improbable comeback but could only manage a 2-1 win as they were eliminated 4-2 on aggregate.

Wednesday's clash was a chance for revenge against the defending champions, having twice suffered losses to Madrid in the final of the competition in 2014 and 2016.

However, veteran forward Torres is adamant Atleti are on the right track for European glory following their spirited display.

"We must be happy for the commitment the players showed, for their effort and their work, and for the relationship with the fans," the 33-year-old told reporters.

"We have all won tonight [Wednesday], we have taken another step in belief. [Winning the Champions League] is possible.

"I have witnessed very different stages at Atleti, and this is the beginning of something big."

"This is not our ceiling, we are in one of the great moments of our history," he added.

"Now we have to take another step, on another stage."