The soccer news starts with the Champions League group stage. While the European Club Association leadership tries to build consensus for a revamp of the competition, the games begin. The current era of the Champions League favors the top three leagues in Europe, giving each of them four group stage places and keeping them out of the multi-tiered qualifying process. That means the outsider teams from the smaller leagues have already played games that count in this edition of the Champions League.
While it's an obvious point that the games that really count will wait until the knockout stage, even the biggest clubs in Europe still have to navigate the group. While it is highly unlikely that any of them will exit Europe by finishing in last place, at least a couple of them should probably worry about 3rd-place and dropping to the Europa League.
Group H is the one with three USMNT players and it isn't easy. Sergino Dest's Ajax has experience from last season, but it also moved out its best players. Ajax's run to the semifinals was a joint effort with the players staying together to prove a point. Consider it point proven, with the club now looking to show that they're more than a shop window for the European elite.
Christian Pulisic's Chelsea have their own issues. Under new manager Frank Lampard, they're trying to show that they can adapt to his ideas while getting the most out of heavy spending before their transfer ban took effect. It's not a unique situation, but it adds pressure to a club already under scrutiny. Chelsea should be competing for the trophy in the Premier League and Champions League. Any slip is judged accordingly.
Timothy Weah's Lille also rang the changes after finishing 2nd in Ligue 1 last season. Weah is part of that, with LOSC moving players out for big money transfers. That included their forwards sending Nicolas Pepe to Arsenal for over $80m and Rafael Leao to Milan for over $35m. They also sold Thiago Mendes and Youssouf Kone to Lyon for over $25, and $9m. Weah cost the club over $10m in a deal with PSG and they bought midfielder Yusuf Yazici for over $16m from Trabzonspor, but they didn't attempt to pour the money that they made back into the squad. That's the problem trying to assess Lille's chances.
It's the other team in Group H that's an issue for all of them. Valencia could win the group. They were strong in La Liga and the Europa League last season and they spent heavily to build a better squad. Jasper Cillessen moved from Barcelona for over $35m, the former #1 goalkeeper at Ajax who got stuck behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen at Barca. They have their issues, though as Sid Lowe explains their quick coaching change.
For the two other USMNT players in the Champions League, Tyler Adams's RB Leipzig should go through in Group G against Zenit, Benfica, and Lyon. Ethan Horvath's Club Brugge is in Group A with PSG, Real Madrid, and Galatasaray and would do well to finish in 3rd-place and drop to the Europa League.
The NY Times' Rory Smith profiles Red Bull Salzburg, coached by Jesse Marsch. The Liverpool Echo's Paul Gorst has Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp stressing that his team isn't the favorite for a repeat. BBC Sport's Tom Rostance looks at the difficulty of repeating as Champions League winners. The Independent's Miguel Delaney explains the pressure on Pep Guardiola to win the Champions League with Manchester City. AP's Andrew Dampf with Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte upset with the media and tactics.
Crain's Chicago Business's Danny Ecker talks to new Chicago Fire investor/operator Joe Mansueto. The Chicago Tribune's Jeremy Mikula also profiles Mansueto. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Tannenwals looks at the pressure on the Union as the playoffs approach.
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