Fox Sports Warren Barton Talks Champions League, Vince McMahon and Why He Thinks Gus Johnson Will Be One of the Best Soccer Announcers in the World

warrenbartonWarren Barton, an Englishman, has been part of the American soccer panorama the previous couple of years working as an analyst for Fox Soccer Channel and now Fox Sports 1. If you happen to’re a fan of the game within the States, you’ll little doubt acknowledge the previous England international and are nicely aware of his tendency to mix it up with former U.S. Nationwide Workforce striker Eric Wynalda on air.

Though FOX misplaced the rights to the Premier League, it nonetheless airs the Champions League and FA Cup. Right now we’re smack dab in the middle of peak soccer with European competitions, the start of MLS this weekend and the World Cup looming less than one hundred days away. Over the weekend FOX aired the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, together with Wigan Athletic shock 2-1 win over Manchester City. The second leg of the Round of sixteen Champions League video games resume on Tuesday with Bayern Munich/Arsenal and Atletico Madrid/AC Milan.

The Large Lead spoke with Barton by cellphone final week on a lot of soccer matters including what makes the FA Cup particular as an Englishman, why English fans are not often real looking about their nationwide group and what it’s like working with Gus Johnson.

TBL: Clearly Americans are wrapped up in English soccer, with the Premier League primarily. The FA Cup … typically it feels like the appeal is misplaced in translation. As an Englishman, describe what makes the FA Cup so particular?

WB: As a British one who thinks of the FA Cup, it’s the romance. We love the opportunity an amateur athlete pitting his wits against the Premier All-Stars. It’s like a high school group taking part in against the Steelers or the Cowboys in the Tremendous Bowl. It begins with a policeman, a builder, they could possibly be doing effectively and playing against mighty Manchester City or Arsenal. There’s the history. It’s the oldest home membership competitors in the world. That’s how I generalize it. The romance, the historical past. The beauty, as I mentioned, an newbie athlete playing towards one of many heroes of the Premier League.

TBL: What matchup would make for the most effective closing for the Champions League this season?

WB: Bayern Munich, they're the benchmark. Actual Madrid, at the moment, with the best participant on this planet (Cristiano Ronaldo), the most costly player on this planet (Gareth Bale) and possibly essentially the most underrated coach in the world, as properly with (Carlo) Ancelotti. Clearly ex-pats wish to see Chelsea or Manchester City. In case you’re a purist, trying on the game, taking a look at (Bayern and Actual) they’re thrilling, they rating objectives and so they play to win. They've the opposite group apprehensive about them, somewhat than being cautious. Take Manchester City, they have been very respectful of Barcelona and when you speak about Bayern or Real Madrid they exit to win regardless of who they’re enjoying against.

TBL: You’ve been in America for some time, what do you make of the viewers who watches English video games or soccer on the whole, who do you think that audience is?

WB: I can go simply by Twitter. They’re very educated. They’re very passionate. They are often very essential as well. Now with the sport being proven on so many channels, the Internet, folks’s knowledge is getting higher and other people’s opinions are getting stronger.

The expansion I’ve seen in six years, you may simply go by our viewing figures. Every year it gets larger. The data is spreading. … What’s thrilling is the game within the U.S. hasn’t even reached it’s potential but and it’s already breaking data week-in, week-out. That’s exciting as an analyst, as an ex-player, as a coach going ahead. I do know that’s how Eric (Wynalda) and Brian (McBride) really feel. We love it.

TBL: What’s probably the most noticeable change in soccer because you’ve been over here in America?

WB: Have a look at the shirts. You’re speaking about each now and again you might see a West Ham shirt or an Everton shirt. Earlier than it was once simply Barcelona or Actual Madrid, Manchester United. Clearly there’s ardour.

It’s also individuals recognizing you. You go to Phoenix, you go to Miami, Los Angeles, folks at all times ask me, ‘What’s Eric like, what’s Brian like?’ That shows you that the audience is getting bigger. Sure people are carrying not solely prime Premiership shirts, but perhaps a Stoke shirt will likely be worn. You’ll obviously see numerous MLS shirts. The game is growing. It’s the identical because the NFL in the UK. I communicate to my mates there. Earlier than you would possibly see a Cowboys and a 49ers shirt. Now you get a Chargers, Tennessee. It’s crossing over.

TBL: I’m positive you saw the rumors final month about Vince McMahon’s interest in shopping for Newcastle United, one among your former clubs. What did you make of that? Would he be a great addition to English soccer?

WB: You can’t assist however have a smile on your face, because of the ties to the WWE and what he’s completed. Something is feasible. That’s the fantastic thing about what’s happening.

Am I towards it? No. Wouldn't it surprise me? Sure.

You have a look at Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire coming to Chelsea. You have a look at what the Qataris have done at PSG and obviously these type of golf equipment. They’ve taken these mediocre teams from a decade in the past and turned them into global giants. It’s intriguing. As I said to Rob Stone, it could intrigue me. It will bring humor back into the sport and that’s what it’s about. (McMahon) positively knows business, look what he’s accomplished to that enterprise. He’s additionally obtained a strong opinion which is sweet.

Newcastle Fan

TBL: Newcastle has an enormous, passionate fanbase, an enormous stadium … why has it been so exhausting for them to get over that hump and compete for trophies constantly? What is it about that membership that all the time holds them back?

WB: It’s the turnover of coaches. You take a look at Chelsea and the turnover. To bridge that hole, you must sign high-quality gamers. We completed second twice (Barton played for Newcastle United from 1995-2002), played in Cup finals, played within the Champions League. You have to discover the suitable coach. There are only so many Sir Bobby Robsons which are round. It is advisable to have an owner that understands the chance you’ve given a certain coach. It’s an amalgamation of turnover of coaches, turnover of players and it’s like everybody – there’s solely so many winners. Sadly Newcastle are one of the teams like an Everton, like a Liverpool in the meanwhile who are trying to interrupt into the Prime 4. You possibly can throw Tottenham into that equation as well and so they’ve spent over $100 million. Cash doesn’t all the time purchase success, nevertheless it actually helps.

TBL: What’s it been like working with Gus Johnson, such as you did last spring with the Champions League?

WB: There’s little question. I’ve worked with Martin Tyler, with Rob Hawthorne on Sky and Gus is simply as passionate as them.

We’re in America and I think we should have an American voice. It sounds strange coming from a Brit, however that’s me personally. We've an American audience and to bridge that hole to get the American individuals to understand you want an American voice. Which will get myself out of a job however that’s how I feel. I’ve lived right here and respect the country and respect what the game is. I think Gus Johnson is pretty much as good as anybody on this planet. Yes Martin Tyler is the benchmark however you’ve received Gus Johnson 15-20 years in the sport and he’s right behind him. I’m an enormous fan, not just because he’s with us, however for what he does with the game, how strong he is to place his status on the line, to try this. That takes not solely guts, but it takes confidence to do this and he’s received all our confidence and the network behind him.

TBL: Will you be working more Champions League video games this spring with Gus?

WB: Our boss, obviously, has already spoken to myself and Eric about that on the timescale. It obviously needs to be a recreation that appeals to folks. From that standpoint I feel it will be accomplished. Will probably be a sport that’s worthy like Manchester United/Real Madrid. We don’t need to shortchange the viewers. Gus is very dedicated in addition to everybody on the soccer aspect. [Ed. word: Johnson will possible be again calling Champions League games this spring, but FOX hasn't confirmed recreation or date yet.]

TBL: Getting again to the Champions League, a number of years ago we had three of the 4 semifinalists coming from England. We’re at all times told the EPL is one of the best league on the planet, but now the continental European teams are faring much better against them in the Champions League. Is it cyclical or is there a cause why?

WB: The Premier League is the most exciting league. I feel Tim Howard mentioned that. Brian McBride stated that. You possibly can take a team like Fulham and may go and beat a Manchester United, a Chelsea. If you’re speaking other leagues, Real Madrid normally win their games, it’s impossible they’ll lose. The Premier League is aggressive and thrilling due to the fashion of football. It’s very much a mixture of continental and the British physicality. Now it’s a shift. Whether it’s La Liga, the Bundesliga or Ligue 1, you’re seeing that due to the money. PSG have performed effectively with the players they have. I still just like the EPL is essentially the most thrilling or aggressive.

The Champions League is the most exciting when it comes to the technical high quality of the coaches. If you talk about the information of the sport, there’s where the Champions League for me is so intriguing. The standard of gamers, the quality of coaches. The Premier League nonetheless has to bridge that gap. If you’re talking about data and techniques, it’s the Champions League. For those who’re talking pleasure it’s the Premier League, no doubt because of the bodily side of what you've got. If it’s the throughout bundle it’s Champions League for me.

TBL: As an Englishman what’s a sensible expectation for England on the World Cup this 12 months?

WB: To win it! (laughes) No, if we can get to the quarterfinals that may be an awesome achievement. As you realize in England we all get so excited that we’re going to win it, that that is the year. Once you discuss South America you talk about Brazil, Argentina and in Europe you look at the Germans and the Spanish.

All your wives and girlfriends are getting buggered right now.

TBL: English fans are bizarre with the World Cup. Half of them think it’s their birthright to win it, the opposite half think they have no likelihood. What’s it actually like?

WB: Two weeks earlier than everyone says we’re going to win it. The Queen will likely be on TELEVISION. We’ll have Prince Charles, Prince William, it’ll be our time. As soon as we kickoff, it’ll be, no we’re going to lose and go out of it. There are so many combined emotions. You have all the flags out, we’ll be able to go. Possibly this yr we’re being pessimistic, however real looking. That is the first time I’ve spoken to individuals and they’re like “we ain’t going to win it.” We’ve all the time stated before “we’ve obtained Rooney, we’ve got Peter Crouch, we’ve bought Steven Gerrard.” This time it’s extra like, if we get out of our group we’ve completed effectively. A bit of reality has kicked in.

TBL: I’m not sure how intently you monitor the U.S. crew, but we’re three months away from the World Cup. What do you think the U.S. expectation needs to be?

WB: Final week, when I watched them practice – Jurgen invited us down with Rob Stone – it was a privilege to speak to Landon (Donovan). The European gamers weren’t there. I just thought it’s very unfortunate with the group. Jurgen can flip it around and say to do effectively we’ve received to play in opposition to the best, however I think there’s such robust momentum from what he’s achieved within the last 18 months. The Donovan state of affairs has modified, the place you must earn the suitable to play for the U.S. which is implausible. There’s competition for places. The perfect players have stepped up. (Chris) Wondolowski, Eddie (Johnson) guys like that have stepped up. If they get out of that group I feel they’ve done very effectively. Anybody, even when it was England, even when it was France in that group. Looking at that group is very troublesome.

TBL: You’ve worked with Eric Wynalda for a pair years now. What’s the most heated argument you’ve had collectively?

WB: Obvious: The Premier League and the Bundesliga. He is in awe of the Bundesliga. He loves it. It’s his largest ardour and rightly so.

We argue about three issues: Premier League vs. Bundesliga, the U.S. vs. England … and who’s going to buy lunch. Each time I’ve gained and I’ve bought lunch each single time for the last three and half years with him. He’s a fantastic guy. We have now a lot of enjoyable on TELEVISION. People ask if we get on. I feel yeah we do, but now we have opinions and that’s what it’s all about.

He’s not bought me one beer or one sandwich in 4 years, and you may quote me on that.

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Z. Johnson wins Tournament of Champions

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Zach Johnson is taking his place among the large boys in golf with two of the shortest clubs in his bag.

On a Plantation Course at Kapalua that needs to be paradise for the game's longest hitters, Johnson chipped in for his opening birdie after which hit 4 beautiful wedge pictures on the back 9 Monday to rally from two shots behind, close with a 7-under sixty six and win the Event of Champions.

"I simply picked it apart," Johnson mentioned.

[+] EnlargeZach Johnson

AP Photo/Marco GarciaZach Johnson's year acquired off to a good begin with a one-shot victory over Jordan Spieth in the Tournament of Champions.

That was pivotal on the back 9, where five gamers had a chance to win. Johnson ran off 4 birdies in a five-gap stretch, all of them with a wedge in his hand, none of the photographs significantly simple. He wound up with a one-shot win over Jordan Spieth, the perfect solution to begin a brand new yr.

Particularly after he ended the outdated one with a win.

Johnson didn't want any heroics this time, not like last month in California within the World Challenge when he holed a shot from the drop zone – with a wedge – on the final hole and wound up beating Tiger Woods in a playoff. Kapalua was mainly about chipping and putting, and Johnson is among the many finest.

"Getting the ball in the fairway and giving my wedges a chance was essential," he mentioned. "It's about plotting my manner, placing myself in a yardage spot that I do know goes to give me a chance."

Johnson, beginning his eleventh season on the PGA Tour, won for the 11th time in his profession. Since his rookie season in 2004, solely Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh have received more on the PGA Tour. It additionally was Johnson's third win in his last six begins, relationship to the BMW Championship exterior Chicago in September that certified him for this winners-solely tournament in Kapalua.

Spieth had a one-shot lead going into the back nine and thought solely of constructing three birdies. He started approach too late, dropping three good birdie chances in the gentle, middle portion of the again 9 and then ending with two birdies that solely gave him a runner-up end. He closed with a 70.

"I was more than happy with the finish, having the ability to birdie the final two holes and not less than have considerably of an opportunity on 18," said Spieth, who had a 100-foot eagle putt just off the entrance of the green to power a playoff. "But in the end, 14, 15, 16 really kind of hit me onerous in the course of the back 9."

He made par on all of them, twice missing putts from about 6 toes.

That's where Johnson thrived.

He caught Spieth for the lead with a wedge from eighty three yards to about 2 toes for birdie on No. 12. Johnson laid back with a three-wooden on the 14th gap and hit wedge to about 8 feet beneath the outlet for birdie and the outright lead. Maybe probably the most daunting shot came on the par-5 15th, up a steep slope to a green with a false entrance. The grain from the fairway and on the green was in opposition to him.

"For those who simply missed it just a little bit, it's come back at you," he said. "I hit an excellent shot."

He adopted that with a wedge to 5 feet and a tough, downhill putt that broke sharply toward the ocean that he made for his closing birdie.

Webb Simpson, tied with Spieth and defending champion Dustin Johnson to start out the ultimate spherical, by no means caught up and closed with a 70. Simpson tied for third with Kevin Streelman, who had a sixty seven.

Jason Dufner was four strokes back in fifth after a sixty nine.

Dustin Johnson made three bogeys earlier than making his first birdie. He shot seventy three and tied for sixth.

Jordan Spieth

Spieth had a one-shot lead going to the again nine.

Spieth was playing within the last group for the first time and seemed poised as ever. With birdies on both par 5s on the front nine, he had the outright lead and regarded as if he would possibly grow to be the youngest participant with two PGA Tour wins since Ralph Guldahl in 1932. The signature shot was from a bunker in need of the 14th green. He blasted out to 6 feet above the hole for a chance to match birdies with Zach Johnson, in the group ahead.

Besides that he missed it.

After which he had to scramble for par on the 15th when what he thought was a perfect shot rolled down the slope 45 yards away. "Yes!" Spieth mentioned when the ball was in flight. However when he saw it land softly and tumble down the hill, he adopted that with, "You've got to be kidding me."

It took two chips to reach the green, and solely a ten-foot par putt saved him in the sport.

Spieth missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the 16th, and the 2 birdies on the end not less than gave him a superb begin to his new yr. He earned $665,000.

Simpson, who received some encouraging news concerning the new child of caddie Paul Tesori before starting his spherical, additionally discovered the incorrect gear with consecutive bogeys early in the spherical and spent the remainder of the day trying to catch up. He birdied three of his final five holes, but that wasn't sufficient to keep tempo with the leader.

Masters champion Adam Scott got inside one shot of the lead with an eagle on the fifteenth hole, just for his wedge to hit the flag on the sixteenth. He had to settle for par, and he closed with a bogey to complete within the tie for sixth.

 

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Champions League: Jerome Boateng bemoans difficult Bayern Munich draw with Arsenal

Jerome Boateng: Prepared for an intense encounter

Jerome Boateng: Ready for an intense encounter

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Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng believes Arsenal are the toughest opponents the reigning European champions might have drawn to face within the first knock-out round.

The Gunners beat Bayern 2-zero in Munich on the similar stage last season however went out on away targets – the German facet having gained 3-1 at the Emirates.

Arsenal now have Germany playmaker Mesut Ozil in their ranks, and Boateng admitted: “They’re the toughest opponents we could have had. They’ll be completely up for it after what occurred final yr. Both matches can be very intense.”

If Arsenal and Bayern each imagine they’ve a troublesome draw, so too do Manchester City and Barcelona who will face one another.

Metropolis boss Manuel Pellegrini insists Barca aren’t the pressure they were two years in the past despite including Neymar to their star-studded squad.

“I believe it’s a beautiful recreation with two superb teams,” Pellegrini said. “However Barcelona just isn’t the team it was two years ago, so we’ll see how they arrive in February.

“I don’t know precisely what occurred inside Barcelona, but they changed three managers within the last three years and maybe the performance of the gamers isn’t the same.”

The opposite two English sides had, on the face of it, simpler draws for the primary knockout round with Joe Mourinho’s Chelsea dealing with their former striker Didier Drogba’s Galatasaray, while David Moyes’ Manchester United take on Greek champions Olympiacos.

Drogba said he was relishing his match in opposition to Chelsea, having scored the equaliser and then the winning penalty against Bayern Munich to win the competitors in 2012.

“What a draw… I’m the luckiest man in this competitors,” he said on his official Instagram account. “In each games I’ll be playing residence! See you in few months.”

In other matches, Real Madrid face German opposition within the form of Schalke, last year’s runners up Borussia Dortmund tackle Zenit St Petersburg, AC Milan will play in-kind Spanish side Atletico Madrid whereas Bayer Leverkusen face huge-spending Paris St Germain.

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Champions League: Napoli set to face Arsenal without playmaker Marek Hamsik

Marek Hamsik: Set to sit out Napoli's crucial European tie against Arsenal

Marek Hamsik: Set to sit out Napoli’s crucial European tie against System

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Napoli mind coach Rafael Benitez has uncovered attacking midfielder Marek Hamsik will probably miss their Champions League conflict with Arsenal.

The Czech forward is experiencing excess fluid in his foot, which usually looks set to keep him away from Wednesday’s crucial European showdown.

Hamsik has netted six times for Napoli within Serie A this term and it has played a pivotal role within the Italian side’s Champions League strategy to date.

Napoli must beat Premier League frontrunners Arsenal by three goals or even more if they are to qualify for the knockout levels of the European competition.

However , Benitez admitted upon Friday his side may have to get over that hurdle without their important playmaker.

“Marek has an oedema on his feet, inch he said. “It’s not a severe thing but we must wait the correct time to allow the problem to vanish.

“He is just not play on Saturday and most likely not at Arsenal either. “

Napoli face Udinese this weekend and enter the link six points adrift of little league leaders Juventus after a recent drop in form, but Benitez demands minds are set on the job in hand.

“Our mind is only for this, ” this individual added. “The obstacle that occurs before is the one you must get over and it’s the most difficult one.

“My guys understand that tomorrow’s one will be a tough game for us. “

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Bayern, Man City advance in Champions League

bayern,advance,champions,league

Defending champion Bayern Munich superior to the second round of the Champions League with a 1-zero win at Viktoria Plzen on Tuesday evening, and Manchester Metropolis reached the final sixteen for the first time by routing CSKA Moscow 5-2.

Real Madrid came from behind in a 2-2 tie at Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain rallied for a 1-1 draw at Anderlecht, leaving the Spanish and French clubs on the verge of second-round berths.

Mario Mandzukic scored a header within the sixty fifth minute for Group D chief Bayern (four-zero), six minutes after getting into. Bayern has won nine straight Champions League games, matching the file Barcelona set from 2002-03

Captain Philipp Lahm stated his workforce had ”slept by means of the early stage of the match.”

”Maybe we predict it is going to be easy,” Lahm added.

In England, Alvaro Negredo scored three goals and Sergio Aguero two for second-place Metropolis (3-1). Aguero transformed a penalty kick in the third minute, made it 2-0 within the twentieth and ted Negredo for a faucet-in in the thirtieth. Seydou Doumbia cut the hole in first-half stoppage time and Negredo elevated the lead to 4-1 in the 51st. After converted a penalty kick in the 71st, Negredo scored on a header with the final contact of the match.

When City gained 2-1 two weeks in the past, there was racist chanting by dwelling followers that earned the Russian club a partial stadium ban. A small contingent of CSKA followers traveled for the return recreation and, flanked by a mass of stewards.

”The minimum target was to qualify for the following round however it’s not the only goal,” Metropolis manager Manuel Pellegrini mentioned. ”I am certain the team we play (within the last sixteen) is not going to be very completely happy to play in opposition to us.”

Manchester United (2-zero-2) tied 0-zero at Actual Sociedad (0-three-1) in Group A after Robin van Persie’s 69th-minute penalty kick hit a submit following Markel Bergara’s foul on Ashley Younger. United’s Marouane Fellaini was ejected in the ninetieth minute for his second yellow card.

�”That was a game we must always have received. It was there for us to take the factors, get ourselves in a extremely sturdy position,” United supervisor David Moyes mentioned. ”In the meanwhile we’re nonetheless high of the group and in an excellent position.”

Second-place Bayer Leverkusen (2-1-1) tied zero-0 at Shaktar Donestk (0-3-1). United’s Marouane Fellaini was sent off late within the sport as Real Sociedad received its first level.

At Turin, Arturo Vidal’s 42nd-minute penalty kick put Juventus (zero-1-3) forward, however Cristiano Ronaldo tied the rating within the 52nd for Real Madrid (3-zero-1) together with his 21st aim in sixteen matches this season. His eight group-stage targets matched the document shared by Filippo Inzaghi and Hernan Crespo (both 2002-03) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (2004-05),

Ronaldo fed Gareth Bale for a go-ahead goal in the sixtieth, and Fernando Llorente tied it on a header 5 minutes later.

Copenhagen (1-2-1) received 1-0 at house over Galatasaray (1-2-1) on Daniel Braaten’s sixth-minute aim within the different Group B match.

PSG (3-0-1) leads Group C after Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored within the 70th minute against visiting Anderlecht (0-3-1), which had gone forward on Demy de Zeeuw’s goal two minutes earlier off a move from American midfielder Sacha Klejstan.

Kljestan was given a yellow card for fouling Lucas within the forty first, then was ejected after getting another warning in the 82nd minute for a handball.

Second-place Olympiakos (2-1-1) defeated visiting Benfica 1-0 on Kostas Manolas’ aim in the thirteenth minute.

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Champions League: Arsene Wenger

Olivier Giroud: Backed by Arsene Wenger

Olivier Giroud: Backed by Arsene Wenger

 

Arsene Wenger believes that Olivier Giroud is well on his option to becoming one among Europe’s main strikers.

Arsenal made bids for prime-profile targets Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez in the summertime, which was seen by many as an indication that Arsenal had been desirous to deliver somebody in to switch Giroud.

But the Frenchman has begun the season in tremendous kind, with five targets already to his name, and Wenger insists that more is to return.

“Olivier Giroud at all times had a better second season everywhere he played than the primary one,” said Wenger.

“For him, the leap from Montpellier to Arsenal was fairly huge. Within the first season, it is all the time fairly difficult.

“He is already one of the leading strikers in Europe. Will he enhance, be higher in all of the elements of his game? As long as all the facets are there, the angle is there as well, then at 27 you always think the most effective years are coming for him now.

“I hope he could make his mark within the Champions League. If the team performance is good, then I’m sure that he’ll.”

Wenger additionally insists that his interest in Higuain, who will characteristic against Arsenal on Tuesday evening when they host Napoli in the Champions League, was not based mostly on the actual fact he wanted to interchange Higuain.

“We needed to provide some support to Giroud,” he stated.

“However it is not the most effective moment to talk about transfers in the present day. He was on the market and several golf equipment had been in for him. I don’t think it needs to be talked about again.”

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s expert analysis of the Champions League group stage draw

(Getty)

The old men struggled to unlock their balls for an hour and now there are Champions League groups that I will analyze. I am Zlatan. I am the Champions League Zlexpert.

“But Zlatan, you have never won the Champions League, so what do you know?” some idiot without a ponytail will probably ask. This is a stupid question. Just because I have never killed a man with a pencil doesn’t mean I am not supremely knowledgable in that area. Except I have killed a man with a pencil. But that is not the point (this is lethal pencil humor). Now let’s do this before the bald UEFA man starts saying more jokes that I don’t care about.

Group A

Manchester United
Shakhtar Donetsk
Bayer Leverkusen
Real Sociedad

Zlatan Zlays: This group has nothing to do with me, so as far as I am concerned, it does not exist (like MRI machines and peanut butter). Manchester United’s new manager has as much experience in Europe as an American tourist. Shakhtar Donetsk are Brazil’s D team and Bayer Leverkusen aren’t Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. But Antoine Griezmann’s name is enjoyable to say when I know that my own will inspire too much terror in the people listening.

Verdict: Antoine Griezmann.

Group B

Real Madrid
Juventus
Galatasaray
Copenhagen

Zlatan Zlays: The only footballers worth more than Zlatan are Zlatan, Lionel Messi, Zlatan, Cristiano Ronaldo and a younger Zlatan from another dimension who will soon dropkick his way into this plane of existence. Not Gareth Bale. Juventus will avenge this personal Zlinsult on my behalf. Didier Drogba will loudly note the level of sexual shame and Copenhagen will politely do nothing.

Verdict: Other dimension Zlatan will kick Gareth Bale in his overvalued head.

Group C

Benfica
PSG
Olympiacos
Anderlecht

Zlatan Zlays: Hahahahahahaha.

Verdict: Domination.

Group D

Bayern Munich
CSKA Moscow
Manchester City
Viktoria Plzen

Zlatan Zlays: You’re finally back, Pep. You beat me in the group stage and the quarterfinals two years ago and then you left football to battle your nightmares of my unavoidable revenge and shop at that toy store with the piano dance mat from the 1988 cinematic masterpiece Big. But now you are back. And I am still Zlere. You knew I would be ready for you this time, so you had to come back with a new team. The best team. They will not save you, Pep. Sure, you will probably make it out of the group stage since Man City play like dyslexic newborn deer in this competition, but when you reach the knockout stages, I will be waiting. There will be no mercy. And for you, there will be no hair. Only knockouts.

Verdict: Your new lederhosen better be tear resistant.

Group E

Chelsea
Schalke
Basel
Steaua Bucharest

Zlatan Zlays: Is this a Champions League group or are they letting Chelsea participate in a charity exhibition?

Verdict: Jose Mourinho will finally have time to read my book I am Zlatan. He said he’s been too busy to read it yet, but he obviously wants to. He wouldn’t lie about that. I’m sure he’ll read it now. If he doesn’t, it will be for a good reason. He’ll read it eventually.

Group F

Arsenal
Marseille
Borussia Dortmund
Napoli

Zlatan Zlays: This is such a group of death that goth kids are going to watch the matches and get scared into listening to Maroon 5 while wearing the color yellow.

Verdict: Arsene Wenger will become a goth kid.

Group G

Porto
Atletico Madrid
Zenit
Austria Vienna

Zlatan Zlays: Atletico have nothing to do with Gareth Bale, so I Zlike them now. I Zlike them a lot.

Verdict: Group F might invade this group and make it build their pyramids.

Group H

Barcelona
Milan
Ajax
Celtic

Zlatan Zlays: Three of my former clubs together in one group can only mean this is UEFA’s way of paying tribute to me.

Verdict: This will be the season of Zlatan. Beware, Pep. You have nowhere to hide. Antoine Griezmann.

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This is Neil Lennon’s reaction to being plopped into a Champions League group of death

Less than 24 hours after Celtic manager Neil Lennon described coming back from 2-0 down to beat Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy and reach the Champions League group stage as “the greatest night of my footballing life,” he experienced a bit of cosmic balance for that soaring high.

The Champions League group stage draw always produces a few tough groupings and Celtic got the brunt of it when they were last into one that already included Barcelona, Milan and Ajax. Lennon reacted with a mix of bemusement and disbelief as his head hit the table in front of him.

Once he picked his head back up and took a swig of chocolate milk, he summed up the situation rather perfectly. From STV:

“It’s obviously very exciting,” the Celtic boss said. “Best and worst group we could have got.

“In terms of glamour, you couldn’t have asked for anything more and in terms of difficulty you couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Celtic weren’t the only ones left reeling from the draw, though. When Milan were put with Barca yet again, their delegation could only shake their heads (mostly because they didn’t have a table to slam them against).

But Group H is far from the only treacherous one. Group B with Real Madrid, Juventus, Galatasaray and Copenhagen will also be entertaining and, as usual, Man City probably won’t have it easy in Group D with defending champions Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen. Nor will Arsenal in Group F Marseille, Dormund and Napoli — which could be the Group of Deathiest in the bunch.

Chelsea, meanwhile, seem to have been pitied by the Gods of UEFA after becoming the first champions of Europe to go out in the group stage the following year.

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PETA complain to UEFA after Kazakhstani side sacrifice sheep before Champions League match

(AP/Yahoo! Composite)(AP/Yahoo! Composite)

Celtic’s quest to qualify for the Champions League proper hit a bump in the road on Tuesday when they were defeated by Kazakhstan Premier League champions Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of their play-off round tie.

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Perhaps it was the wearisome 4,000-mile trip from Glasgow that caused the unexpected loss, or maybe it was the intimidating atmosphere created by 20,000 fervent home fans at the Astana Arena. It is also possible they were thrown by the knowledge that the home team had sacrificed a sheep in the stadium before a training session the previous day.

Understandably, news of the ritual slaughter piqued animal rights campaign group PETA, who weren’t sheepish (sorry) when they wrote a condemnatory letter to UEFA president Michel Platini. The Guardian reports:

In a letter to Platini, Peta points to Uefa’s claim to be “forward-looking” and Platini’s own words describing Uefa’s “duty to protect the game, the players and our values” and asks him to use his influence to stop any further slaughter in this season’s Champions League and Europa League.

“We are deeply disturbed that a sheep was stabbed to death in an attempt to bring good luck to the Kazakh team,” says Peta’s associate director Mimi Bekhechi. “We hope Mr Platini will agree that animal sacrifice has no place in modern society, and we hope Uefa will act swiftly and decisively to ensure that the beautiful game is not further stained with the blood of animals.”

Shakhter manager Viktor Kumykov is thought to have overseen the throat-slitting ritual, but refused to disclose any further information about it in his pre-match press conference.

Perhaps through fear of showing similar cultural insensitivity to his bumbling FIFA equivalent Sepp Blatter, Mr Platini has yet to respond to PETA’s protests.

Celtic, meanwhile, will be hoping to make their Kazakhstani visitors proverbial lambs to the slaughter when they visit Parkhead for the return leg next Wednesday.

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Celtic lose to Kazakh champions in first leg of Champions League playoff

(UEFA)

Less than a yr after beating Barcelona 2-1 in the Champions League group stage and making Rod Stewart cry tears of joy, the Scottish champions have misplaced the first leg of their Champions League playoff tie against Kazakh facet Shakhter Karagandy 2-zero. Rod Stewart’s response to the loss stays unknown, since he probably did not make the trip to Kazakhstan for the match.

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Celtic have been out of sorts from the beginning, as they were unable to have principal sponsor Magners grace their shirt because of Kazakhstan’s ban on promoting alcohol. Instead, they wore the emblem of Tipperary Pure Mineral Water, which is owned by Magners’ guardian company. In the meantime, Shakhter sacrificed a sheep for good luck ahead of the match. Clearly all of this gave the again to again Kazakhstan Premier League champions a psychological edge that they capitalized on by scoring their first goal in just the twelfth minute. They added a second within the 77th minute, delighting the 20,000 fans at Shaktyor Stadium and ensuring that Celtic would have work to do within the return leg. They might need to spherical up some sheep.

Shakhter, in the meantime, shall be out to make historical past. There has by no means been a Kazakh club in the Champions League [wp_admanager_pro_display_adzone id=”18″].

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