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In progressing to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time, Leicester City preserved a golden thread stretching back all the way to last season’s miraculous Premier League title success.
The thread has worn close to breaking in recent weeks, with Leicester’s perilous slide towards the relegation zone costing popular manager Claudio Ranieri his job.
But after overcoming a 2-1 deficit to beat Sevilla in the Champions League last 16, the sense of fearlessness that became their hallmark a year ago has returned.
“They looked so fluid and had such amazing passion and determination,” the club’s former manager David Pleat told BBC Radio 5 Live after Leicester’s 2-0 win over Sevilla on Tuesday.
“I don’t think they would want either Real Madrid or Barcelona in the quarter-final. But who would have thought they would win the title last year? So whoever they face, who knows?”
As well as Barcelona and Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund also lie in wait in Friday’s last-eight draw.
Atletico Madrid and Manchester City are in pole position to join them ahead of the final two last 16 second legs later on Wednesday.
Asked who he hoped to avoid in the quarter-finals, Juve’s emblematic captain Gianluigi Buffon replied: “Leicester.”
The prospect of a genuine European superpower arriving at the King Power Stadium will further help to restore some of the magic dust that had been rubbed off amid Leicester’s domestic toils.
Eliminated from both cup competitions and fighting to keep themselves above the Premier League bottom three, the Champions League represents their only hope of prolonging last season’s fairytale.
Wednesday’s Daily Mail back-page headline said Leicester could “CARRY ON DREAMING”, while The Guardian said victory over Sevilla had seen Leicester “write a new fairytale”.
The Times said Leicester were “back in fantasy land”.
The great irony of Leicester’s resurgence is that it has taken the dismissal of Ranieri, architect of the title win, for the players to start playing like they had last season.
They had already found the Champions League to be well-suited to their preferred contain-and-counter strategy, however, having recorded four wins and kept four clean sheets during the group phase.
Ranieri tried to introduce greater sophistication to Leicester’s tactics, notably deploying Riyad Mahrez in a central role in the 2-1 first-leg loss to Sevilla, which was to prove his last game.
But the instant impact enjoyed by his successor Craig Shakespeare suggests Leicester’s players are both happier and more effective with the simple 4-4-2 formula used to such devastating effect last season.
“I think we have to play to our strengths,” said Shakespeare, Ranieri’s former assistant.
“You have to be concerned about the opposition, and know their strengths, but as a football club, we have to know our strengths.
“You saw that in abundance in the performance (against Sevilla), in terms of desire, but we can play a bit as well.
“(Beating Sevilla) epitomises what we’re about.”
Tactical factors only go so far in explaining the Leicester turnaround under Shakespeare, which started with successive 3-1 wins over Liverpool and Hull City.
The sight of Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki once again breathlessly harrying opposition centre-backs suggested the change has been as much psychological as anything else.
“There had to be something wrong there,” observed former England right-back Danny Mills, a Champions League semi-finalist with Leeds United in 2001.
“All those fans who thought it was a disgrace that Ranieri was sacked, they have got to eat some humble pie.”
With Leicester still only three points above the Premier League relegation zone, their players cannot afford to be distracted by dreams of European glory for too long.
But with the Champions League music guaranteed to boom out around the King Power on at least one further occasion this season, the Leicester fairytale may yet have more magic in store.
Gareth Bale hopes three tough months on the sidelines will have their recompense by helping Real Madrid’s bid for La Liga and Champions League glory and Wales’ hopes of reaching the World Cup.
Bale made an instant impact on his first taste of action for 88 days after damaging ankle ligaments as he fired home Madrid’s second in a 2-0 win over Espanyol on Saturday just 13 minutes after coming off the bench.
And the Welshman hopes he can match his fantastic form from the final three months of last season after suffering from injury problems earlier in the campaign.
“Every cloud has a silver lining, hopefully I am a bit fresher than maybe some others,” said Bale.
“It can work in my advantage to be out for a little bit, but the important thing now is to get back to 100 percent and playing well and to help the team.”
Victory took Real four points clear of Barcelona at the top of La Liga with a game in hand.
However, Zinedine Zidane’s men face an intense final few months of the campaign with 18 La Liga games and their defence of the Champions League still to play for.
Bale’s return is also a timely boost for Wales boss Chris Coleman ahead of his side’s crunch World Cup qualifier away to the Republic of Ireland on March 24.
“I plan not to get injured any more,” added Bale.
“Hopefully now I can keep building my fitness up over the next few weeks…hopefully I can be fit for Real Madrid as soon as possible to play 90 minutes, and obviously for Wales as well.”
Bale was given a hero’s reception on his return by the Santiago Bernabeu crowd.
And he admitted getting on the scoresheet was just a bonus to the joy of being back among the action.
“I was happy just to be on the pitch. To get a goal is an extra bonus and thankful to help the team and see the game off,” he continued.
“There has been some tough moments, but we have an amazing medical team here. Jaime Benito (physio) has been incredible for me, my family have been amazing, my fiancee, my kids.
“It’s been a difficult time but when you get a reception like that it makes it all worth it.”
Madrid face tougher tests over the next week with trips to Valencia and Villarreal to come.
And Bale insisted he isn’t expecting to be rushed back into the starting line-up by Zidane.
“I’ve been out for three months so it will take a few weeks to get back to 100 percent, it’s just about managing my game time.
“It depends how I feel game-by-game. Today was 20 minutes. I will speak with the manager about Valencia and Villarreal.”
However, Zidane admitted Bale brings special qualities that others can’t offer.
“We only have one Gareth Bale,” said the Frenchman. “We are happy to see Gareth back with the team. He is a special player, he gives us something different from the rest.”
Mesut Ozil applied the gloss to a ruthless Arsenal display with a second-half hat-trick in a 6-0 hammering of Ludogorets that put the Gunners on the brink of the Champions League knockout rounds on Wednesday.
Arsenal were cantering against the Bulgarian champions thanks to sublime first-half goals from Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott and a strike straight after the break from Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain before playmaker Ozil joined the party.
As Ludogorets crumbled, his well-taken goals in the 56th, 83rd and 87th minutes helped Arsenal to their biggest Champions League win since a 7-0 thrashing of Slavia Prague in 2007 and sealed their seventh successive win in all competitions.
Arsenal, who have fallen at the last 16 stage six seasons in a row, lead Group A on goal difference from Paris St Germain with both clubs on seven points. Ludogorets and Basel have one and are effectively playing heading for a Europa League berth.
“In the second half we took control of the game completely and could have scored more,” manager Arsene Wenger told reporters. “Ozil has got the taste to score goals.
“We want him to be a provider and a scorer and it looks like he has got that balance now.”
Sanchez struck after 12 minutes with a majestic lob over Ludogorets keeper Vladislav Stoyanov but until Walcott slammed home his eighth goal in 10 games from 25 yards shortly before halftime it was a surprisingly even game.
Ludogorets, featuring three Brazilians in their starting line-up, cut through Arsenal’s defence several times and should have been level through lively winger Wanderson who forced David Ospina into a sharp save before hitting the post.
The second half was a romp as confidence ebbed through an Arsenal side unbeaten since the opening day of the season.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, making his first start for a month, swept in from close range in the 46th minute and 10 minutes later Ozil raced on to Santi Cazorla’s long punt and finished coolly past the over-exposed Stoyanov.
With victory in the bag Sanchez and Walcott were both substituted but Ozil stayed on, first converting substitute Lucas Perez’s low cross, then burying a volley to become the fifth Arsenal player to score a Champions League hat-trick.
Despite the emphatic nature of Wenger’s 100th European win for Arsenal, the Frenchman admitted his side had ridden their luck.
“We maybe eased off a bit early in the first half, we were sometimes in danger and I would like to give credit to (David) Ospina who saved us twice,” Wenger said.
It could, however, have been a cricket score by the end.
“The only good thing is that this is not the heaviest defeat in the history of the UEFA Champions League,” Stoyanov said.
Arsenal will try to keep the pressure on PSG in the race for top spot when they go to Bulgaria in two weeks time.
Napoli could become the first team in Champions League history to qualify from their group after only three games on Wednesday, providing welcome relief from their recent troubles.
A home win over Besiktas, plus a draw in the other Group B game between Dynamo Kiev and Benfica, would guarantee last season’s Serie A runners-up a place in the last 16 for only the second time.
The match will also see Besiktas midfielder Gokhan Inler return to the club where he spent four years of his career. The former Switzerland captain has promised not to celebrate if he scores.
Napoli, unbeaten in their last 18 European matches, have six points from their first two games although their 4-2 home win over Benfica three weeks ago, when they scored four times in less than an hour, now seems a world away.
Maurizio Sarri’s side have lost both Serie A games they have played since, dropping to fourth in the table and falling seven points behind leaders Juventus.
They have also lost striker Arkadiusz Milik to a long-term knee injury and do not have an obvious replacement.
Manolo Gabbiadini was given the job against AS Roma on Saturday but the 25-year-old failed to make an impact and was jeered off when he was substituted after 57 minutes in the 3-1 defeat.
Another alternative would be to field Belgian international Dries Mertens as a so-called false number nine, a role he performed when he replaced Gabbiadini on Saturday.
“Dries does these things well, it’s a role he can play but of course we can’t expect him to be a centre-forward in the traditional sense,” Sarri said.
Napoli were playing flowing football early in the season but the plaudits have dried up as quickly as the goals for Sarri, who is facing criticism for failing to rotate his squad.
His players laboured on a warm afternoon against Roma, prompting critics to question why he does not give more fringe players a chance.
Midfielders Marko Rog and Amadou Diawara have yet to get on the field since they were signed in the close season while forward Emanuele Giaccherini has played a total of 19 minutes since he was signed from Sunderland.
Nineteen-year-old Diawara’s absence is especially surprising as he cost Napoli 14 million euros from Bologna.
Besiktas have drawn their opening two games in the group and are unbeaten in all competitions this season, apart from losing on penalties to Galatasaray in the Turkish Super Cup.
Barcelona battled back from a goal down and scored twice in the second half to overcome hosts Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-1 in their Champions League Group C match on Wednesday despite the absence of the injured Lionel Messi.
Second-half goals from substitute Arda Turan and Gerard Pique gave the Spaniards their second win in two group matches to top the standings, after their opening 7-0 demolition of Celtic.
The hard-working Germans had taken a surprising lead, scoring against the run of play, with Thorgan Hazard slotting in to complete a quick break in the 34th minute.
“We took a deserved victory and this was a reward for the effort made by the entire team,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique said.
“We dominated the first half and created several chances. We did not carve out as many chances after the break but overall it was a deserved win.”
Barcelona, who had Argentine Messi missing with a groin injury, are now on six points after their second group win.
The hosts, who managed just one shot on target have zero, after their second loss in the group ended an 11-match winning streak at home in all competitions.
Manchester City drew with Celtic 3-3 in the other group game to stay second on four points.
Enrique started with Andres Iniesta, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba and Ivan Rakitic, all of whom were rested in the 5-0 thrashing of Sporting Gijon at the weekend.
Despite the absence of Messi it was the Spaniards who stamped their authority on the game early on and carved out the first chance with Neymar’s shot from inside the box saved by keeper Yann Sommer after seven minutes.
Luis Suarez should have put them ahead three minutes later when he pounced on a defensive error but he saw his powerful left-footed shot sail narrowly wide.
The Uruguayan was also the recipient of a brilliant defence-splitting pass from Neymar but instead of rifling home he tried a cutback to Alcacer that was cleared.
Gladbach gradually grew in confidence and scored when forward Raffael, back from injury, gained possession in midfield and launched a quick break with Hazard tapping in from a Mahmoud Dahoud pass.
The Brazilian’s injury in the 48th minute and his substitution, however, took out most of their pace.
The introduction of Turan on the hour brought instant results for the Spaniards, with the Turk picking up a Neymar assist in the 65th and drilling the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Pique then pounced on a weak clearance by Sommer to tap in the loose ball and hand Barcelona a hard-fought victory.
If he really wants the once-again vacant England job Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal players provided the Frenchman the perfect showreel in a classy 2-0 defeat of FC Basel to move joint top of Champions League Group A on Wednesday.
Sam Allardyce’s self-inflicted demise after only 67-days in charge of the national team has inevitably given voice to those who say the FA should turn to Wenger — an almost de-facto Englishman after 20 years in charge of Arsenal.
Arsenal’s vibrant display against a club that has got the better of Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the competition in recent years will strengthen their calls.
Theo Walcott, discarded by Allardyce’s predecessor Roy Hodgson for the woeful Euro 2016 campaign, scored twice before the break as the hosts tore Basel apart.
Walcott combined superbly with Alexis Sanchez for both goals — the first a header from the Chilean’s cross after six minutes and the second a precise shot after a slick one-two with the south American wizard left Basel’s defence standing.
Had it not been for Basel keeper Tomas Vaclik, a rampant Arsenal could have been six up before halftime.
A pre-match poll on the BBC’s website had 66 percent of voters agreeing that Wenger should lead England out of the mess created by Allardyce’s downfall after he was secretly filmed making inappropriate comments in a Daily Telegraph sting.
Wenger said he had been surprised by the chain of events but declined to offer any clues as to what the future may hold once his current Arsenal contract runs out next year.
“I am 100 percent focussed on Arsenal until the end of the season and my priority will always be to this club,” Wenger said. “Nothing will change that.”
Wenger was also coy on whether the in-form Walcott deserved to be part of England’s starting lineup for their next World Cup qualifier against Malta this month.
“When you see the way he played tonight it’s hard to ignore him, but I will leave that to Gareth (Southgate),” smiled Wenger, referring to England’s stand-in manager.
He was more lucid on his side’s form.
“The only regret was that we did not score enough tonight considering what we created. Overall, some excellent football,” Wenger said. “The first half was top quality.”
They have now gone eight matches unbeaten since losing to Liverpool on the opening day of the season and against Basel continued where they left off in a 3-0 rout of Chelsea at the weekend courtesy of another first-half onslaught.
Walcott and Sanchez were irresistible but Arsenal’s threat came from all angles with Mesut Ozil tormenting and full backs Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin marauding forward.
Swiss Granit Xhaka, formerly of Basel, overshadowed his brother Taulant who, like his team mates, could not stem the flow of Arsenal attacks.
Vaclik denied Sanchez with an outstretched arm after he had been played in by Ozil while Bellerin and Alex Iwobi also should have extended the lead.
Basel threatened a couple of times after the break with Birkir Bjarnason, one of Iceland’s Euro 2016 heroes, curling a shot that Arsenal keeper David Ospina clawed over the bar.
Zinedine Zidane admitted he was frustrated at Real Madrid’s third straight draw after Andre Schuerrle’s late equaliser ensured a 2-2 stalemate at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Real’s serene run since Zidane took charge in January has hit a minor slump in the past week as Real dropped points against Villarreal and Las Palmas to snap a 16-game winning streak in La Liga.
The defending European champions were heading towards a first win in Dortmund at the sixth attempt in the Group F contest thanks to goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane.
But Schuerrle struck with three minutes left as Dortmund came back for a second time after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was credited with the goal which cancelled out Ronaldo’s early effort.
“The shame is it is three games in a row now which we have drawn,” said Real coach Zidane.
“The players played a geat match, the result is a difficult one to accept, because we deserved a bit more, but it’s not a bad result.
“I think in the first half we suffered a bit, because they pressed a lot and we knew it is a difficult place to come and play against a good team.
“I am very proud of the game we played, but when you concede three minutes from the end it hurts, especially given the effort the players put in.”
Germany winger Schuerrle came off the bench to rescue Dortmund’s unbeaten record against Real at their Signal Iduna Park stadium.
“We started very well and found enough space for our game, but in the last third, we took the wrong decisions,” said the winger.
“If you come back twice against Real Madrid, that’s a nice feeling. That will help the team to grow together.”
The 25-year-old finished with a heavily-strapped right knee and hopes to be fit for Saturday’s match against fellow Champions League side Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.
His coach said Dortmund did well to come back twice.
“It felt good to have twice been behind, but still not to have lost, but we could have done better,” said Thomas Tuchel.
“We lost control of the game in the second half, but we showed some good morale and reacted well after their second goal.”
Madrid took the lead when Ronaldo netted his 95th Champions League goal early on.
Aubameyang was credited with the equaliser just before the break as Keylor Navas fisted out a Raphael Guerreiro free-kick only for the ball to rebound back towards goal off Varane.
But the French international defender enjoyed second-half redemption when he stabbed home on 68 minutes before Dortmund levelled in the dying stages.
“All in all, we can live with the result, but it’s never nice to concede a late goal,” said Real’s Germany midfielder Toni Kroos.
“It’s a bit annoying, but a draw is a fair result overall.
“They were very strong and controlled the ball in the first half.
“They pressed us early and we didn’t see enough of the ball in the first 45 minutes to our taste, which we were able to correct.”
James Rodriguez, who along with Gareth Bale helped to set up Ronaldo’s opener, said the draw will act as a confidence boost.
“We leave here with very good sensations, which is different to the last two games,” said the Colombia playmaker.
“They always press a lot, it is a very difficult place to come and the fair result would have been for us to win.
“We’ve drawn in the last two La Liga games. We have another game on Sunday and we need to bounce back,” he added ahead of their Spanish league match at home to Eibar on Sunday.
Real’s next Group F outing is at home to Legia Warsaw next month, while Dortmund visit Sporting, who beat the Polish champions 2-0 on Tuesday.
Paris St Germain wasted the chance to ignite their stuttering start to the season when they were held to a 1-1 home draw by Arsenal in their Champions League Group A opener on Tuesday.
The hosts enjoyed a dream start when Edinson Cavani put them ahead in the first minute but PSG squandered numerous opportunities and paid dearly when Alexis Sanchez swept in an equaliser late in the second half.
Cavani headed home after just 44 seconds but PSG gradually let Arsenal fight their way back into the game until Sanchez fired home from just inside the box in the 78th minute.
Both sides ended with 10 men after Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and PSG’s Marco Verratti were shown red cards for an innocuous off-the-ball incident in stoppage time.
French champions PSG, who took only one point from their last two Ligue 1 games, next travel to Ludogorets while Arsenal will host Basel on Sept. 28. Basel and Ludogorets also drew 1-1.
“For a home game we would have preferred all three points especially since we played much better. We wasted chances but we played a good game,” said PSG’s Blaise Matuidi.
PSG were boosted by the return of centre back Thiago Silva who made his first appearance of the season after a hip injury.
Grzegorz Krychowiak started in midfield alongside Adrien Rabiot and Marco Verratti while Blaise Matuidi was fielded in an unusual position on the left wing to contain Hector Bellerin.
For Arsenal, Giroud started on the bench with Sanchez up front and Alex Iwobi on the right wing.
Cavani benefited from some loosing marking by the Arsenal centre backs to glance home Serge Aurier’s cross.
Angel Di Maria proved a constant threat, finding Rabiot in the box with a superb backheel and forcing Arsenal keeper David Ospina to a spectacular save direct from a corner.
Cavani missed a sitter in the 35th minute, shooting wide in front of an empty goal after going around Ospina.
Arsenal relied mainly on counter-attacking but started the second half by applying some pressure but lacked presence in the box with their fans chanting Giroud’s name.
The France striker came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 63rd minute as Sanchez went to the left wing.
PSG had two more clear chances in the 67th and 69th minutes through Aurier and Cavani.
The home side paid for their failure to kill off the game when Arsenal equalised in the 78th minute.
Alphonse Areola made a great save to deny Iwobi but the ball rebounded out and Sanchez was lurking to fire home.
Shortly afterwards Cavani missed another great chance when he failed to go around Ospina after collecting a through ball in the box, the keeper sticking out an arm to claw the ball away.
Iwobi came close to winning it for Arsenal in the 83rd but Areola stretched to his left to tip the ball away to save new coach Unai Emery’s blushes on his PSG Champions League debut.
“I think it’s a good point but we came here with our ambition and we wanted to have the three,” Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny said.
“But when we start like this it’s difficult to play.”
Bayern Munich crushed Champions League newcomers Rostov 5-0 with two goals from youngster Joshua Kimmich on Tuesday to kick off their Group D campaign and set a competition record with their 13th consecutive home victory.
The 21-year-old Germany midfielder struck twice in the second half after striker Robert Lewandowski converted a 28th-minute penalty and Thomas Mueller added another goal on the stroke of halftime to kill off any chance of a Russian comeback.
Kimmich’s two goals in eight minutes confirmed his fine scoring form after he grabbed his first league goal last week having netted in Germany’s World Cup qualifier earlier this month. Juan Bernat swept home Bayern’s fifth in the 90th minute.
The Russians, making their first group stage appearance, defended well for the first 20 minutes but were eventually overrun by the Germans, who beat Manchester United’s previous record of 12 consecutive home victories in the competition.
Bayern, who gave new coach Carlo Ancelotti a winning start in the competition, next play Atletico Madrid, who beat them in last season’s semi-finals and then PSV Eindhoven in their group.
The Bavarians dominated possession from the start but the Russian newcomers were disciplined at the back.
Operating with five defenders, Rostov forced the hosts to pass the ball outside the box looking for gaps and made them wait 21 minutes before the first chance fell to Lewandowski.
The Pole was awarded a penalty minutes later, sending Soslan Dzhanaev the wrong way to put his team ahead.
The Rostov goalkeeper came to the rescue 11 minutes later, denying Bayern a second goal when he punched away a point blank header by Mats Hummels.
Dzhanaev was helpless, however, when birthday boy Mueller, who turned 27, charged into the box to connect perfectly with a David Alaba cross in first half stoppage time.
The Germans picked up where they left off after the break with Kimmich, who was picked to start ahead of Xabi Alonso, timing his run to perfection and tapping in Douglas Costa’s cutback to kill off the game early in the second half.
The diminutive youngster, who enjoyed a meteoric rise last season to earn a spot in Germany’s Euro 2016 team, then rose high to head in substitute Bernat’s cross on the hour.
The Spaniard then turned scorer, slotting home in the final minute to complete a dominant performance by the Germans, who are bidding for their sixth European Cup.
Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar combined to devastating effect as Barcelona swatted Celtic aside 7-0 at the Nou Camp to lay down a marker in Champions League Group C on Tuesday.
Messi produced a stunning display, hitting a record sixth hat-trick in the competition to hand the 1967 winners their heaviest European Cup defeat.
He smashed home a pass from Neymar in the third minute and the Argentine maestro struck again in the 27th after Celtic’s Moussa Dembele had a penalty saved by goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Neymar curled in a free kick to stretch Barca’s lead in the 50th minute before crossing for Andres Iniesta to volley the fourth.
Messi then grabbed his third goal, overtaking Real Madrid greats Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas to reach six European Cup trebles.
Neymar laid on the sixth for Suarez and the Uruguayan completed the rout with his second strike in stoppage time, capping Barca’s biggest win in the competition.
“It was a spectacle from start to finish, the team enjoyed themselves and so did the supporters. It’s a great welcome back to the Champions League,” coach Luis Enrique told a news conference.
“We did so many things well. We were great in our pressing and in recovering the ball after losing it. We were intense and it’s a great night for the fans, rounded off by the record.”
Luis Enrique reverted to an almost full-strength team after his rotation policy backfired in Saturday’s shock 2-1 La Liga defeat at home to Alaves.
The hosts quickly asserted themselves as Neymar slid the ball into Messi’s path following a short corner and the Argentine took a touch in the area before scoring.
Barca continued to exert early pressure but were almost undone when Ter Stegen tripped visiting striker Scott Sinclair.
Despite scoring a hat-trick against arch-rivals Rangers at the weekend, the 20-year-old Dembele looked short of confidence when he took the penalty and Ter Stegen dived to his right to beat his shot away.
The German international has now saved three out of four penalties in the Champions League for Barca.
Luis Enrique’s men showed no mercy with their next attack, Neymar and Messi cutting Celtic’s defence to ribbons.
Neymar played a one-two with Messi before cutting the ball back for the Argentine to score.
Neymar got the goal his superb display warranted early in the second half, fizzing a free kick beyond Celtic’s helpless goalkeeper Dorus de Vries.
Torrential rain before kickoff meant Manchester City’s opening Champions League Group C clash with Borussia Moenchengladbach was postponed on Tuesday because of safety concerns.
The match will now be played on Wednesday at 1845GMT.
An downpour at 1530GMT was followed by persistently heavy rain, leading referee Bjorn Kuipers and UEFA officials to carry out an inspection of the pitch 50 minutes before the scheduled 1845GMT kickoff at the Etihad Stadium.
The pitch appeared to drain well when the rain relented soon afterwards but the game was called off about 20 minutes before it was due to start.
“Torrential rainfall across Manchester throughout the evening led to flooding in the areas around the ground, which forced the decision on safety and security grounds,” a statement from the club said.
It is the second time in a month Moenchengladbach have had a game called off owing to rain after a friendly against Inter Milan on Aug. 10 suffered the same fate.
City had a friendly with Manchester United in Beijing cancelled in July as a result of heavy rain.
“We are disappointed for the fans because 90 percent of them will probably not be able to watch the re-arranged game,” said Moenchengladbach midfielder Oscar Wendt.
“But if the decision had to be taken for safety reasons then we understand it and respect it.”
Pep Guardiola will return to the Nou Camp in the Champions League group stage after his new club Manchester City were drawn against his former Barcelona team on Thursday in one of the toughest of the eight groups.
Bayern Munich were given a quick chance to avenge last season’s semi-final defeat by Atletico Madrid after they were drawn together while English Premier League winners Leicester City will face Porto, Club Bruges and Copenhagen on their debut.
Elsewhere, holders and 11-times champions Real Madrid renew their recent rivalry with Borussia Dortmund.
Barca and City were drawn in Group C alongside Borussia Moenchengladbach and former European champions Celtic, with recent history clearly favouring the Catalans.
Spanish coach Guardiola, who won the Champions League twice with Barca, suffered a 5-3 aggregate defeat when he faced his old team with Bayern in the semi-finals two seasons ago.
City, who visit the Nou Camp on Oct. 19, met Barca in the round of 16 in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and lost both legs on each occasion.
Bayern, now under triple Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, and Atletico are clear favourites to progress from Group D which also features PSV Eindhoven and Russian league runners-up Rostov who are also group-stage debutants.
Ancelotti was cautious, however, pointing out that Atletico needed a penalty shootout to beat PSV last season and that Rostov eliminated Ajax Amsterdam in the playoffs this week.
“It’s a difficult draw and we have to be careful,” he said.
Real and Dortmund should go through from Group F at the expense of Sporting and Legia Warsaw, who are back in the group stage after a 20-year absence.
Dortmund knocked out Real in the semi-finals in 2013 but the Spanish giants came out on top the following season in the last eight.
“It’s difficult but attractive. Matches against Real are becoming classics for Dortmund. We are looking forward to meeting the holders,” said Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel.
Apart from the odd heavyweight clash, many of the groups look predictable, a criticism that has increasingly been levelled at the competition in recent years.
Leicester, the other newcomers among the 32 teams, and Porto will start as favourites in Group G even though the English side are taking part for the first time.
Porto are in the group stage for the 21st time, a record they share with Real and Barca, but the double champions from Portugal have won only three of their last 16 ties against English teams in the competition.
Paris St Germain and Arsenal, who are attempting to reach the round of 16 for the 17th time in a row, are the favourites in Group A against Basel and rank Bulgarian outsiders Ludogorets although the Swiss have caused upsets in the past.
Juventus, Serie A winners for the last five seasons, face Sevilla, Olympique Lyonnais and Dinamo Zagreb in Group H with the first three likely to battle for the top two places.
For the third season running Serie A has only two teams in the group stage. The other side, Napoli, will meet Benfica, Besiktas and Dynamo Kiev in Group B.
Group E is arguably the most evenly-balanced with CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham Hotspur and Monaco.
It has been widely reported in the media that organisers UEFA, under pressure from the big clubs to reform the competition, will change the format from 2018-19 to allow four guaranteed places for England, Spain, Italy and Germany.
UEFA, which has faced talk of a breakaway Super League, has said only that it is studying possible changes for the 2018-21 cycle.
Sunderland debutant Paddy McNair scored an 87th-minute own goal to earn Pep Guardiola a 2-1 victory in his first Premier League game as Manchester City manager on Saturday.
City took an early lead courtesy of Sergio Aguero’s penalty, but they failed to make their territorial dominance count and Jermain Defoe looked to have earned Sunderland a point with a second-half equaliser.
But with three minutes to play, Jesus Navas’s right-wing cross was helped on by fellow substitute Kelechi Iheanacho and McNair, who had only come on four minutes earlier, headed the ball into his own net from close range.
The Northern Ireland international signed from City’s cross-town rivals Manchester United earlier this week and his unwitting intervention denied David Moyes a creditable point on his bow as Sunderland manager.
City finished the opening day joint-top of the table with Hull City — surprise conquerors of champions Leicester City — but Guardiola will have been concerned by his players’ struggles to break Sunderland down.
The former Barcelona coach, who started with Willy Caballero in goal in place of Joe Hart, must now prepare his troops for Tuesday’s Champions League play-off first leg away to Romanian side Steaua Bucharest.
Guardiola awarded full debuts to centre-back John Stones, his 47.5 million pounds ($61 million, 55 million euros) signing from Everton, and Spanish winger Nolito, who lined up on the left.
He set his team out in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with full-backs Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy stepping into central midfield and holding player Fernandinho dropping between the centre-backs when City had the ball.
But the most eye-catching element of his first competitive team selection was the inclusion of Caballero, usually City’s reserve goalkeeper, instead of Hart.
Guardiola cast doubt on Hart’s City future on Friday, amid reports he wants to sign Marc-Andre ter Stegen from his former club Barcelona.
Van Aanholt was in the spotlight again two minutes later, but at the other end of the pitch, as his rash sliding challenge on Raheem Sterling gave Aguero the opportunity to put City in front from 12 yards.
Kevin De Bruyne saw a free-kick fisted clear by Vito Mannone, but despite pinning Sunderland back in their own half, the hosts created few chances from open play.
Indeed, had Caballero not produced a smart reaction save to thwart Defoe, Sunderland might have levelled before half-time.
With City continuing to toil in the second half, Guardiola made two changes, sending on Navas and Fabian Delph for Nolito and David Silva.
Wahbi Khazri and Adnan Januzaj came on for Sunderland, the latter roundly booed as he made his debut following a loan move from Manchester United.
Aguero hit a snapshot wide and De Bruyne saw another free-kick repelled by Mannone, before City were hit with a sucker-punch that Guardiola must have feared.
Former City midfielder Jack Rodwell was the architect, releasing Defoe with an incisive pass that afforded the one-time England striker time to drill a shot beneath Caballero.
Guardiola sent for Iheanacho and within seven minutes of coming on he had a hand in the winning goal as his touch from Navas’s cross sent the ball cannoning off the hapless McNair’s forehead and into the net.
Cristiano Ronaldo is hungry for even more silverware with Real Madrid after winning the Champions League on Saturday for the third time.
The prolific Portuguese did not look fully fit and was far from his best in the 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid but he slammed home his team’s decisive fifth penalty in the shootout to seal Real’s second Champions League final success over their local rivals in three years.
Ronaldo cited tiredness for his underwhelming display in the final, the last game of another gruelling season in which he played 48 competitive games and scored 51 goals, the sixth straight season in which he has netted over 50 times.
“I’ve played more than 4,000 minutes, and I was number one in the team, again, with the most minutes. That means a lot to me. It means I am still good,” Ronaldo said.
“In six years I’m scoring more than 50 goals, but I am asking for more. I am always at the top level. I just want to maintain that.”
Ronaldo also won the Champions League in 2008 with Manchester United and, after his seventh season with Real, he reiterated that he wants to finish his career at the Bernabeu.
“I feel good and I love to play for Real Madrid. I want to carry on,” he added.
Real forward Gareth Bale also converted his spot-kick in the shootout and provided the assist for Sergio Ramos’s opening goal.
“I thought I was going to be nervous but when I stepped up but to be honest I wasn’t nervous at all. It was only after when I got to the halfway line, I was like ‘Oh my God’,” he said.
“I was hoping they would miss and we would score but stepping up to the penalty I literally felt nothing.”
Bale said winning Europe’s biggest prize twice in his three seasons with Real Madrid vindicated his decision to leave Tottenham Hotspur for the Spanish giants in 2013 for a world record fee.
“That’s why I came to the biggest club in the world — to win Champions leagues but to win it is very difficult,” he added.
“To do it twice in three years is an amazing feat and we just have to try and build on this now.”
Captain Sergio Ramos believes Real Madrid are as hungry to beat Atletico Madrid in Saturday’s Champions League final as they were two years ago when they beat their neighbours to land a 10th European Cup.
It was Ramos who headed an injury-time equaliser to send the 2014 final into extra-time where Real overpowered a flattened Atletico 4-1 to end a 12-year wait for ‘La Decima’.
The defender said that night in Lisbon had done nothing to sate Real’s determination.
“If I was to write a film I would have scripted it like that but now we have to focus on this one and we have the same hunger, hope and excitement as we did before,” Ramos told a news conference on Friday.
“I wouldn’t change anything about the last final, destiny has been written and what has to happen tomorrow will happen.”
Atletico were caught out at the death in Lisbon and Ramos urged total concentration for his side on Saturday, warning that Diego Simeone’s outfit will be waiting to pounce on any momentary lapse from Real.
“Atletico are a team that will punish you in the one second you switch off, be it from a set piece or open play, so you have to have all your senses plugged in,” he added.
Simeone’s men are one of just two teams coach Zinedine Zidane has lost to since succeeding Rafael Benitez in January, the other being VfL Wolfsburg in the Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Zidane responded to that reverse by redeploying Brazilian Casemiro in defensive midfield, leading to a run of 12 straight league victories and the surge to a second final in three years.
“We are a bit better in every sense and, although that doesn’t mean anything in a final, we have done a huge amount of work,” Zidane said.
“I believe a lot in the work and what the players did to get here, it was phenomenal. We can’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, all we know is we’re prepared.”
Asked how his side would cope with Atletico’s intense style, Zidane added: “We’re going to run, run and run.”
Louis van Gaal is targeting two more victories in his Manchester United side’s final Premier League games of the season as they continue their quest for a Champions League spot.
Juan Mata’s second-half goal against second-from-bottom Norwich City secured a 1-0 win at Carrow Road on Saturday that left United fifth in the Premier League and one point behind fourth-placed Manchester City who host Arsenal on Sunday.
Anything other than victory for City would put United’s bid for a top-four finish in their own hands.
FA Cup finalists United head to West Ham on Tuesday before completing their league season against Bournemouth.
“Obviously the main thing for us was to get the three points today and we did that well,” United manager van Gaal said.
“I thought we looked comfortable. It was much-needed and now we can concentrate on the West Ham game.
“They (Norwich) sat back deep and let us play, they made it tough for us,” the Dutchman added.
Wayne Rooney moved further forward as the main attacking threat and it was Rooney who capitalised on Sebastian Bassong’s mistake to tee-up Mata for the winner.
Martial is a doubt for the West Ham game as is full back Matteo Darmian who was stretchered off in the first half following a clash with Norwich defender Ivo Pinto.
Darmian’s knee injury was the more serious of the two and the Italian’s participation at the European Championships in France, which start in June, could be at risk.
“We don’t know the extent of the injuries to either at this stage but it was a blow for everybody because we had to change my plans,” said van Gaal.
“With Wayne Rooney up front after Anthony was injured in the warm-up we had to adapt but he did the job today. When players are out of the team, it can be hard to fill the void but we did that today.
“Especially here it is a tight pitch and it’s a battle to draw out points like that, but they all count at the end of the season.
“I was expecting them (Norwich) to press more but they let us play. Our focus now is recovery, we have got to prepare right mentally as there will be a good atmosphere there (West Ham) and hopefully we will get the job done there as well.”
Norwich will now need Sunderland and Newcastle to slip up if they are to have any chance of avoiding relegation.
Alex Neil’s side have lost four games in a row, without scoring in any of them and if Sunderland beat Everton on Wednesday, the Canaries will be playing in the Championship next season.
“That (Saturday’s) game is a repeat of a our season,” said Norwich manager Neil.
“There have been so many times where we have been in the game, played pretty well.
“I thought the first 10-15 (minutes) we played well and applied good pressure. We had a really good chance and had a couple of bits and pieces around by the box.
“Generally when teams have that spell, that’s when they get the goal. We didn’t get the goal but I thought we limited Manchester United and they didn’t really hurt us in anyway shape or form.
“John Ruddy didn’t have a save to make until the goal went in. And that is off the back of another mistake that has happened quite a few times for us this year.
“It is not over but it is a major blow.”
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane insists he won’t wrap Cristiano Ronaldo in cotton wool for the Champions League final while the Spanish title is on the line.
Three-time World Player of the Year Ronaldo returned after a three-game absence due to a thigh injury as Real sealed their place in the final against local rivals Atletico Madrid on May 28 in Milan with a 1-0 win over Manchester City on Wednesday.
Real trail La Liga leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid by just a point with two games remaining.
And with the in-form Gareth Bale missing for Sunday’s visit of Valencia to the Santiago Bernabeu due to a knee injury, Zidane said he has no reason to rest Ronaldo.
“I think he is going to play. I think he is in perfect shape,” Zidane said on Saturday.
“You are talking about preparing for the Champions League final, but the best way is to think about the games we have remaining.
“The first of those is important and he is going to play the two (league) games remaining.”
Zidane has overseen a remarkable turnaround in Real’s fortunes in his four months in charge since replacing the sacked Rafael Benitez just to keep them in the fight for La Liga.
Real have strung 10 consecutive league wins together since suffering their only La Liga defeat under Zidane at home to Atletico in February and the Frenchman says he will continue to believe in their title chances until it is mathematically impossible.
“It is 10 straight victories and we have to keep going. Now we have two finals left in La Liga,” added Zidane.
“The message to the players is as long as there are minutes remaining, we should believe until the end. I will believe until the last second of the last game.”
Real will also be without goalkeeper Keylor Navas due to an achilles injury.
However, French striker Karim Benzema and Brazilian midfielder Casemiro are in contention to play after missing the victory over City.
Real Madrid reached their 14th European Cup final and crushed Manchester City’s hopes of a maiden title after Gareth Bale’s deflected effort secured a 1-0 victory in the second leg of their Champions League last four clash on Wednesday.
Bale’s right-footed shot ricocheted off City midfielder Fernando on its way into the top corner to break the deadlock in the tie in 20th minute, with Madrid going on to dominate the encounter despite failing to add to their lead.
The 1-0 aggregate result, after last week’s goalless first leg stalemate, set up a mouthwatering final on May 28 between Real and their city neighbours Atletico Madrid, who they beat to lift their 10th European crown in 2014.
“The players deserve this,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, who has the chance to crown his first season as coach with club football’s most coveted prize.
“Everyone worked hard and that’s why we’re in the final. I’m delighted for what has happened. The final will be perfectly even, but now we’re going to enjoy this, it’s an important day.”
For City, however, it was a tame ending to their European campaign as they failed to force Madrid keeper Keylor Navas into a single save.
While Bale enjoyed good fortune in forcing the goal, the Wales international nonetheless produced a blockbuster European performance.
He tirelessly closed down City’s midfield in a lung-busting display and was Madrid’s biggest threat in attack, providing exquisite passes and sending a header crashing against the bar in the second half.
City’s chances of shutting out Madrid were stung when their influential captain Vincent Kompany limped off the pitch with what appeared to be a muscle problem in the ninth minute, capping a frustrating season overshadowed by injuries for the centre back.
Madrid seized the moment soon after. The energetic Dani Carvajal skipped past Kevin De Bruyne down the right and slipped the ball round the back of City’s defence and into the path of Bale.
He made for the near post before his cross spun off the outstretched leg of Fernando and looped into the net off the woodwork.
Madrid grew stronger after the goal and a shot from Ronaldo flew over the bar, while Pepe put the ball in the net only to see his effort ruled out correctly for offside.
Despite Madrid’s dominance, City could have levelled just before the break when De Bruyne found Fernandinho on the left of the area, and the Brazilian’s left-footed shot clipped the near post.
It was one of few scares for Madrid, who bossed the second half as they did the first.
Ronaldo spurned three chances to double the lead and Bale’s header smashed the bar.
“We could easily be in the final but they managed the game well, and got a very lucky goal,” said City keeper Joe Hart.
“They’ve beaten us with a very lucky goal but it is what it is.”
Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo is “100 percent” fit to face Manchester City in Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final, second leg but Karim Benzema and Casemiro will miss out, coach Zinedine Zidane said on Tuesday.
Ronaldo has recovered from a hamstring injury which forced him to miss Madrid´s last three games in all competitions and has resumed full training.
But striker Benzema is yet to recover from a hamstring problem and midfielder Casemiro is still missing after a knock to the hip in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Real Sociedad.
“Cristiano is fine, he is 100 percent. He has trained and will be with us tomorrow, there is no risk,” Zidane told a news conference.
“We need a 100 percent Cristiano,” he said. “He’s a different player. His numbers show that and I’m happy he’s with us tomorrow. I’d have liked Karim and Casemiro to be there too, but others will play and that’s that,” added Zidane.
Forward Lucas Vazquez replaced Ronaldo in the goalless first leg in Manchester and is expected to fill in for Benzema.
City midfielder Yaya Toure has recovered from a thigh injury but Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva have been ruled out.
Real are in their best form of the season, having won 10 league games in a row. But Zidane, who took charge in January after Rafael Benitez was sacked, said not reaching the Champions League final in Milan on May 28 would be a failure.
“Until now we have said we haven’t achieved anything. We are in good form, but our aim is to do everything possible and try and go through.
“But it will be very difficult. If we don’t get through, it’ll be a failure.”
While the 10-times European Cup winners are seeking to reach their 14th final in Europe’s elite competition, City are aiming for their first in the Champions League. They last reached a European final when they won Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970.
“The story of the two clubs is very different, for me, it would only be a failure if we did not play to our potential,” said Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini, who coached Real in the 2009/10 season before being sacked.
“We will try tomorrow to play in the way we have played every week,” he added. “We tried to do it in Manchester but we did not have a great day, tomorrow we will try to press and attack the ball from the very first moment.”
Atletico Madrid reached the Champions League final on away goals on Tuesday after a 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich, in which both sides missed a penalty, with the exhilarating tie finishing 2-2 on aggregate.
Atletico will play in the showpiece match for the second time in three seasons against either city rivals Real Madrid, who beat them in the 2014 final, or Manchester City, with the second semi-final scheduled for the Bernabeu on Wednesday.
Bayern’s exit ended their hopes of claiming a treble with Atletico going through to the May 28 final at the San Siro in Milan after winning the first leg 1-0 last week.
The Bavarians went ahead with a Xabi Alonso free kick just past the half-hour and could have scored again three minutes later but Thomas Mueller’s penalty was saved by Jan Oblak.
Atletico levelled through Frenchman Antoine Griezmann’s seventh goal of this season’s competition in the 54th, meaning Bayern would need at least two more goals to progress.
Bayern’s Poland striker Robert Lewandowski set up a dramatic finale with his 74th minute goal before Atletico’s Fernando Torres had an 85th minute spot kick saved by Manuel Neuer.
But it made no difference in the end as Bayern suffered a third straight elimination by a Spanish team at this stage in their three seasons under Pep Guardiola.
“They were better, but we scored an away goal, which was important. We need to keep grounded and first of all think of the Liga before the final,” said Griezmann, whose side are level on points with leaders Barcelona in the Spanish title race.
“We’re delighted. It was difficult, a really hard game, we had a great opponent in front of us and we had to both defend and try to score. That’s what we did,” he added.
Guardiola, in his final Champions League home game at Bayern before his move to Manchester City for next season, started with defender Jerome Boateng, back from a three-month injury break on Saturday, and Franck Ribery, himself back from injury.
With a newly-discovered intensity, the Bavarians were dominant in the first half, successfully navigating through the Spaniards’ high pressing game and grabbing their first chance with a Lewandowski header in the 12th minute.
“We are a bit lost for words,” said Neuer. “We played great football today, did everything we set out to do but it is bitter not to be travelling to Milan for the final.”
Atletico keeper Oblak was kept busy in the first half, with the tables turned and Bayern doing the pressing — having 12 shots compared to Atletico’s two by the half hour.
Alonso finally got the hosts a deserved lead in the 31st minute, his low free kick clipping Atletico’s Jose Maria Gimenez to cancel out Atletico’s first-leg advantage.
Bayern pushed for a second goal and thought they would have it when Javi Martinez was brought down by Gimenez in the box to earn a penalty three minutes later.
But Oblak saved Mueller’s spot kick and Atletico stunned the home crowd after the break when Griezmann linked up with Torres and charged through to beat Neuer with a fine finish.
With Bayern now on the backfoot and needing at least two more goals to advance, Atletico grew bolder and Juanfran’s shot on the hour sailed narrowly wide.
Lewandowski put Bayern back in front on the night with a close-range header to spark a dramatic finale but they could not find another goal and their Champions League hopes were over.