The soccer news starts with the return of the Champions League. It's matchday five this week in a group stage that's beginning to feel like a combination of slog and foregone conclusion. To quickly recap, at one of the knockout round spots is already spoken for in groups A, B, C, and D. Except for Group C, the teams in 2nd-place will likely join them. It's a safe assumption that the top two in groups E, F, and G will also advance. That leaves Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb tied on 5 points in in Group C and the outlier that is Group H.
What's happening in Group H may not be the Champions League ideal. The foregone conclusion scenario is what the big clubs prefer, and it's no surprise that it's the big clubs quite comfortable as we start matchday five. There are no upsets in the works in seven of the eight groups. It's not exactly surprising that Group H is also the most competitive.
Notable for having three teams with USMNT players, Ajax, Chelsea, Valencia, and Lille all entered Champions League play with realistic ambitions of advancing. Lille crashed out, picking up one point so far. Tiebreakers separate the other three, all on 7 points with Ajax and Chelsea in the knockout round places. Staying there over the next two matchdays means holding off Valencia.
Valencia is the dark horse here, in no small part because they should be leading the group. They beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in their Champions League opener, losing 3-0 to Ajax at home. They're the team that couldn't beat Lille, drawing 1-1 away on October 23. That's the most unlikely result in the group so far, with Lille now at -7 goal difference courtesy of a 4-1 loss at Valencia in their last Champions League game. Ajax and Chelsea both have games left against Lille, while Valencia has to think they need six points at home against Chelsea and at Ajax.
"We are focused on the game and the opportunity that we have," Valencia coach Albert Celades said. "It's very difficult to go through; there are some very good teams in Europe and the draw wasn't too kind to us, but the fact that we are in this situation is because the team have done a good job up until now. We aren't focused on anything else."
Also in the soccer news, Oscar Pareja is no longer the coach at Liga MX club Tijuana. The club announced a mutual parting of the ways after missing the playoffs this season. Pareja is linked with Orlando City and a potential return to MLS after last coaching FC Dallas.
Pro Soccer Talk's Dylan Butler on the Red Bulls without Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles. The Washington Post's Steven Goff reports on DC United's attempt to keep Bill Hamid. The Athletic's Sam Stejskal explains Julian Gressel's situation with Atlanta United and potentially playing for the USMNT.
iNews' Sam Cunningham looks at Spurs hiring Jose Mourinho as a way to keep elite players. Football 365's James Nalton asks about Chelsea under Frank Lampard. The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson on soccer's response to the study linking professional players with neurodegenerative disease.
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