Posts in Soccer
The Counter Press EP 36

Josh and Vijay talk about the Champions League Final and Decision Day in the EPL

As Justin Bieber readies to drop much anticipated new music, enjoy this Barber's Chair playlist of the best hits in Bieberveli's arsenal! 
Apple Music: https://apple.co/2HdG2yN
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/2HbTcME
Tidal: http://bit.ly/bieberveli

Throw your diamonds up for more than a decade of heat with the new TIDAL-exclusive Roc La Familia playlist from The Barber's Chair! The greatest hits from the most prolific label in hip hop history.
Listen here: https://tidal.com/playlist/dfcd8a98-7eb0-473e-8666-170acc564443

Listen to the new bangers playlist on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

The Counter Press EP 35

Josh and Vijay talk about the first leg of Champions League games, including Barca's beatdown of Liverpool and THAT GOAL by Messi, and Ajax's upset of Tottenham. Plus, the final weeks of the season in England and Spain, and lots more!

Throw your diamonds up for more than a decade of heat with the new TIDAL-exclusive Roc La Familia playlist from The Barber's Chair! The greatest hits from the most prolific label in hip hop history.
Listen here: https://tidal.com/playlist/dfcd8a98-7eb0-473e-8666-170acc564443

Listen to the new bangers playlist on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

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WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

The Counter Press EP 34

Josh and Vijay are back to talk Ajax beating Juve, Barca getting past Man U, and other random soccer topics

Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu

Listen to the new bangers playlist on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

The Counter Press EP 33

Josh and Vijay chat about all the Champions League matchups, PSG giving up 5 goals to Lille, and the Premier League.

WrestleMania might be over but you can still rep Becky Two Belts with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

The Counter Press EP 32

Josh and Vijay are back to catch up on everything in the soccer world including the international break.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu

Listen to the new bangers playlist on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

Rep THE MAN just in time for Wrestlemania with the brand new #FreeTheMan tees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

The Counter Press EP 31

The Counter Press is back with another episode. This time it's Puneet who joins Josh on the show. They discuss everything from Manchester United to the rumored expansion of the World Cup format.

Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits
Follow Puneet on Twitter: @PuneetSingh

Listen to the new bangers playlist from The Barber's Chair on Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal!
Tidal: bit.ly/tidalbangers
Spotify: bit.ly/spotifybangers
Apple Music: bit.ly/applebangers

Rep THE MAN just in time for Wrestlemania with the brand new #FreeTheMantees up now on the Barber's Chair Net merch shop
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair
or
teespring.com/freetheman

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

Spurs and Dortmund face off while Real Madrid's repeat bid continues against Ajax
Photo Caption: Bongarts/Getty Images

Photo Caption: Bongarts/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund

Given all the circumstances surrounding the club, it’s a miracle Tottenham Hotspur have been able to achieve what they have this season. A lack of summer transfers has greatly affected their depth, limiting Mauricio Pochettino’s hand when it comes to rotating his squad during the three domestic competitions and the Champions League. They’ve done a nice job maintaining positioning in the Premier League, currently five points off the top two and with nine points ahead of fourth place Manchester United.

Spurs almost missed out on the Round of 16, narrowly squeaking by thanks to a late draw against Barcelona in the Camp Nou. The injury bug hasn’t been kind to Tottenham this season either - Harry Kane and Dele Alli have missed considerable amounts of time with injury, and Ben Davies has picked up a knock as well. With the number of injuries they have had, it doesn’t help Spurs are facing one of the more offensive teams in Europe.

It’s been a youth revival for Borussia Dortmund so far this season. Behind the efforts of Jaden Sancho, Christian Pulisic, Achraf Hakimi, and Abdou Diallo, Dortmund have found themselves atop the Bundesliga and in the knockout stages of the Champions League. They breezed through the group stage, losing just one game and finishing first thanks to beating out Atletico Madrid on goal difference. Dortmund is still hanging onto a five-point lead in the league despite Bayern Munich gaining momentum fast.

It doesn’t help Lucien Favre’s team that they haven’t won in the month of February yet. They had two draws against Eintracht Frankfurt and an astonishing 3-3 result against Hoffenheim where Dortmund allowed three second-half goals to drop points. Those results sandwiched between a shootout loss to Werder Bremen in the DFB Cup has made it a sour start to the month, but doesn’t mean Dortmund will be pushovers.

Sancho has taken Europe by storm, capturing the world's attention as one of the generation’s future superstars. He’s scored seven times and dished out nine assists in his 21 games in the Bundesliga this campaign. With Davies out on the wing and Spurs already inconsistent play at the wingback spot, this could be a tricky matchup for Tottenham to handle. One wrong move and Sancho will be slinging passes into the box. Given Paco Alcacer’s career revival at Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund have a real threat in front of goal. While they will be without Marco Reus for this game, BVB still should be favorites in this one.

For Spurs, the offensive load has been carried by the duo of Cristian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son. The latter has been one of Spurs’ best threats in front of goal over the past three years, scoring 37 goals for the club. However, he hasn’t had much success in the Champions League this year, going scoreless in his four appearances. Son has missed some time due to international duties and he has still done well to get back acclimated with the squad. He can play on either the wing or up top at striker. With Son’s pace and Eriksen’s pinpoint ability to pick out passes, Spurs still are a threat to this Borussia Dortmund’s defense. Dortmund’s backline hasn’t had its fair share of good fortune when it comes to staying healthy as well. All it takes is one mess up and Spurs will have the advantage at Wembley.

Real Madrid vs. Ajax

This is an old school tie between two of Europe’s most historic clubs. Both Ajax and Real Madrid have enjoyed European success with the latter running the show in the Champions League as of late. No matter what their standing was domestically, Los Blancos always flipped the switch when it came to Europe.

It initially didn’t look like things would be this way for Real Madrid once again when you consider how their season started. After his controversial exit from being the manager of the Spanish National Team, the pressure was all on Julen Lopetegui when he took the Real Madrid job. It was also clear Real Madrid weren’t prepared for the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo and the scoring output he brought to the Bernabeu. The offense suffered, Madrid fell severely behind in the La Liga standings and Lopetegui was sacked following a 5-1 thrashing in the Camp Nou against Barcelona in El Clasico. To make matters worse, they suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat to CSKA Moscow on Matchday 6 in the group stage.

Santiago Solari has taken over and has since turned things around, revitalizing Real Madrid in the new year. They have since jumped up to second in La Liga, six points behind league leaders Barcelona. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, and even Karim Benzema have seen an uptick in production. Vinicius Jr. has proven to be a real threat on the wing and has given opponents problems any time he steps on the pitch. Real Madrid got two key results in a draw in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey and got a 3-1 win on the road against Atletico Madrid. After a couple of months of turmoil, it looks like Real Madrid are back on track.

Ajax has been a surprise team in Europe so far. In a group with Bayern Munich and Benfica, Erik ten Hag’s squad got some fantastic results in the six matchdays. Two draws against Bayern, one draw and a win against Benfica later and Ajax were through to the Round of 16. Things are picking up in their domestic league as well. They are only six points behind PSV Eindhoven in a two-horse race in the Erividisie.

In terms of threats going forward, former Southampton Dusan Tadic has seen himself really become a key cog in the Dutch’s club attack. Starlet Matthias de Ligt and former Manchester United CB Daley Blind are the two main defenders in charge of making sure Bale doesn’t go rampant in the Amsterdam Arena. A 6-2 loss to Feyenoord and a 1-0 loss to Heracles weren’t the best results to have in the weeks leading up to this game, however.

A couple of weeks ago, this could have been the chance for a major upset. However, things have regressed to the mean. Real Madrid has gotten better while Ajax has been hit by the injury to De Jong. Madrid will be looking to make a statement and Ajax will be holding on to dear life to stay into this tie.

Predictions:

Vijay (@VJVemu): Dortmund 2 -1 Spurs, Real Madrid 3 - 1 Ajax
Josh (@HighBiscuits): Dortmund 3 -1 Spurs, Real Madrid 2 - 2 Ajax


Man U/PSG, Roma/Porto square off as the Champions League knockout rounds begin

After a month of no Champions League football, get ready to hear the famous chorus blast over some of football’s greatest stadiums. We have arrived at the knockout stages of the competition and there are some really fun match-ups in store for us over the next two weeks. High profile match-ups highlight the first leg of the knockout rounds; a resurgent Manchester United meets a banged up PSG squad, Spurs will try and hold on against a dangerous Dortmund team, while Roma and Porto provide some intrigue as well.

Let’s take a look at the four games which will be taking place midweek along with predictions for yours truly and my Counter Press co-host Josh.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Manchester United

The biggest match-up of the week features two of Europe’s highest spending clubs. Both Paris-Saint Germain and Manchester United have spent a lot of money in the past two seasons and last summer was no exception. PSG splashed the cash, as expected, spending over 217 million Euros in transfer fees this summer, most notably signing Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe as he made his loan to the Parc De Princes permanent. PSG also spent 40M Euros on Zenit midfielder Leonardo Paredes and 35M Euros on center back Thilo Kehrer from Schalke. Manchester United weren’t very active last summer but still did spend around 82M Euros, with most of it going towards acquiring midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk.

It’s been mostly smooth sailing domestically for PSG but they have run into some trouble as of late. They lost their first Ligue 1 game of the entire season last week when they fell to third place Lyon 2-1 on the road. The loss doesn’t affect the league title race that much as Paris sits 10 points ahead of second place Lille and with defeats seeming few and far in between; it will take an epic collapse for them to give up first place.

However, they have been hit with the injury bug as of late and it has led to some worries heading into their match against Manchester United. Along with Marco Verratti and Tomas Muneier picking up knocks, PSG will likely be without two of their key attackers. Both Neymar and Edison Cavani, who combined for seven goals in the group stage and 30 tallies in Ligue 1, are expected to miss the first leg at Old Trafford, leaving a huge hole at the top of PSG’s starting XI. With most of the Manchester United defense now focused on Mbappe, it’s going to be tough sledding for the French giants to generate chances. PSG have had to adapt to different formations without Neymar and led manager Tomas Tuchel to employ two strikers up top with a block right behind them to cover the space behind against Bordeaux. They could also go 3-5-2 as they did against Lyon with a trio of two attacking midfielders and Marquinhos in between them to cover the midfield. Without three of his best players in Cavani, Neymar, and Verratti, Tuchel is going to have to get creative. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, PSG is likely to employ a 4-2-3-1 with Mbappe playing as the primary striker. This sets him up in a position where he excelled back at Monaco. Although this time he will be alone at the top of the formation.

Things have gotten better for Manchester United after the firing of Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been brought in as the caretaker manager and things have been going well so far. The team has looked much more potent in attack, and many of the Red Devils’ top players are performing well. They have climbed their way into the Premier League top four as they continue to battle with Arsenal and Chelsea for the final spot. Being nine points off Tottenham, they are still going to have a lot of work to do to move up. United haven’t lost a game with OGS in charge, but this first leg against Paris is the beginning of a gauntlet of games for the squad from Old Trafford; they meet Chelsea in the fifth Round of the FA Cup before hosting Liverpool on February 24th. It’s safe to say this is Manchester United’s biggest stretch of fixtures so far this season, and it could be the time where OGS can prove why he should be the manager for this side moving into next season.

In terms of how they will lineup, OGS likes to mix things up as United deploys many different formations based on the opponent. He’s lined up the Red Devils three different times in the past three games. Outside of the obvious shoe-ins such as Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, Solsjaer has a lot of options to choose from. Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford or even Alexis Sanchez at times can be deployed at striker. Anthony Martial would be a very solid choice down the left wing and Jesse Lingard can be deployed on the right. The backline has been had its share of struggles as Phil Jones, Eric Bailey, Victor Lindelof, and Chris Smalling all have gone through stretches of poor form. If Cavani and Neymar were playing, it would be a lot more troubling for United to handle.

Roma vs. Porto

While this won’t be the main tie on Tuesday, Roma vs. Porto does offer some intrigue. Both teams have had some success in Europe over the last couple of years and the winner will certainly cause some problems for whoever they face in the next round.

This won’t be the first time these two teams have faced off; they met back in the play-off round in 2016 with the winner advancing to the group stage. It was a emphatic 4-1 aggregate win for Porto, capping it off with a 3-0 victory in Rome. The two red cards in eleven minutes of play didn’t help Roma either.

Porto has been a staple in the Champions League for much of the decade, making the competition eight years running. Domestically they have been decent as they are currently on top of the Primera Liga, Portugal’s top domestic league. Porto is currently a point ahead of rivals Benfica and hasn’t lost in the league since the end of October. This is the third straight year they have made the Round of 16 and they will be looking to be more competitive than the last two; last year finalists Liverpool demolished them 5-0 on aggregate, while 2017 runner-up Juventus knocked them out of the tournament 3-0.

The Portuguese side had a very easy time in the group stage, going undefeated and breezing through with 16 points. While there weren’t any big European giants in their group, it shouldn’t take away from how impressive Porto was - four of their five wins came by two goals or more and they finished with a goal differential of +9, tied for second-highest of any team in the group stage.

But like Paris Saint-Germain, Porto will be heavily shorthanded in attacking power when they travel to the Stadio Olimpico. Porto is going to be missing both Moussa Marega and fellow forward Jesus Corona in this one. With eight goals scored between the two, Sergio Conceicao is going to have to rely on some substitutes to be vigilant in front of goal. Luckily they have the home leg in March but grabbing an away goal would be a great result for Porto.

Last year, Roma had a great run in the Champions League, making it all the way to the semi-final before being beaten by Liverpool 7-6 despite an valiant comeback effort in the home leg. In fact, home legs in Champions League knockout ties were Roma’s greatest advantage last year. After losing the away leg in both the round of 16 and the quarterfinal, Roma stormed back to win both ties, completing a historic comeback against FC Barcelona in the latter.

Despite not having the greatest of results, AS Roma matches have been a thrilling ride this season. In the past few weeks alone they had a 3-3 draw with Atalanta and then turned around and got crushed by Fiorentina 7-1. This was followed by a 1-1 draw with AC Milan and then a 3-0 win against Chievo. It’s really hard to get a read on Roma at the moment. They’ve scored 44 goals in Serie A, third most in Italy, and are currently sixth domestically, trailing fourth-place Milan by a point while being tied on points with Atalanta and Lazio. Missing out on the top four would be a disappointment for Roma but they have a chance to garner some momentum by getting a good first leg result.

The danger man for Roma continues to be the Bosnian striker Eden Dzeko. He’s been fantastic for Eusebio Di Francesco’s men in Europe. Dzeko scored five goals in the group stage and finished with eight goals last season. The Porto backline is going to have to make sure they mark Dzeko at all times when the ball is on the wings. He’s great in the air, towering over most center backs, leading to being a target man in set pieces and crosses. If there is a player to watch for on Roma, it’s him.

Predictions:
Vijay (@VJVemu): Manchester United 2 - 0 PSG, Porto 2 -2 Roma
Josh (@@HighBiscuits): Manchester United 2 -1 PSG, Porto 2 - 1 Roma



The Counter Press - You Hate to See It

The Counter Press Boys are joined by Spurs fan @ryne_jones to talk about all things Premier League including Tottenham's list of transfers. We also dive into Champions League matchups along with some Serie A talk.

Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu
Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits

Celebrate your division champs by grabbing one of the NEW shirts straight from The Barber's Chair merch store!
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops January 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
patreon.com/barberschairnet

The Counter Press - Two sides of the coin

Joined by their good friend @puneetsingh, the Counter Press boys are back with a new pod. They discuss the Premier League Top 6/title race, the wackiness in La Liga, and Josh rants about Chelsea.

Follow Josh: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay: @VJVemu

Celebrate your division champs by grabbing one of the NEW shirts straight from The Barber's Chair merch store!
teespring.com/stores/the-barbers-chair

Nearly Canceled: Entourage drops New Years Day 2019 exclusively on the Barber's Chair Patreon! Become a patron of The Barber's Chair on Patreon! $5 a month will get you a thank you on Ball Don't Lie and guarantees you access to Nearly Canceled: Entourage, along with more exclusive premium content from The Barber's Chair!
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Three Man Rush CFP National Championship Game preview

Rob and Chris are back to recap bowl season, break down all the coaching moves, and take a look at Clemson/Alabama. Can the Tigers win, or will the Tide roll again?

The Counter Press EP 28

Josh and Vijay are back to talk January transfers and more!

The Counter Press EP 27
The Counter Press EP 26
The Counter Press EP 25
The Counter Press EP 24

Happy FIFA Day! Fire up your PS4 and turn The Counter Press up to ignorant levels! Josh and Vijay are back with friend @MindofDharma to talk about the opening month of the soccer season, from Champions League to domestic cup failures in England and a whole lot more!

Follow Josh: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay: @VJVemu

Premier League Matchday: Five Games to Watch

Chelsea vs Liverpool

The marquee matchup of this weekend will most definitely take place at Stamford Bridge where Liverpool will face off against Chelsea, a quick rematch after these teams faced off midweek in the Carabao Cup with Chelsea emerging victorious, Both of these teams will head into this match with unbeaten records in the league, Liverpool having won all six of their contests so far. Liverpool can become only the second team in Premier League history to win their first seven matches of a PL season, the other just so happens to have been Chelsea in the 05/06 season.

Arsenal vs Watford

At the Emirates this weekend will be two teams trending in opposite directions matching up in red-hot Arsenal and middling Watford. While Arsenal come in having won their last four PL contests, Watford, on the other hand are losing steam, looking for their first win in their last three contests after starting the season with a four game winning streak of their own. The combination of Lacazette and Aubamayeng up top for Arsenal has been lethal as of late for Arsenal and will be looking to put Watford to the sword yet again.

Wolves vs Southampton

Most teams in their first year after promotion to the Premier League come into the season ready to scrape for points and prepare for a relegation battle but this is FAR from the case with Wolverhampton Wanderers. After dominating the Championship last season, Wolves have carried their momentum into the PL and are unbeaten in their last four games, including draws against Manchester City and Manchester United. The only teams with more shots on goal than Wolves heading into this weekend are all in the top three. Southampton have struggled out of the gates and with Wolves looking to stay unbeaten at home, those struggles may not been over yet.

Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth

Wrapping up the match day, on Monday, two mid-table teams in 11th place Crystal Palace and 8th place Bournemouth will clash at the Vitality Stadium. After a hot start to the season, Bournemouth head into this match after being on the receiving end of an absolute hammering by a Burnley team that had not yet won a game heading into last weekend. Crystal Palace continue to look to Wilfried Zaha to provide the majority of their offense and look for him to try to spark the team once again this week. It doesn’t bode well for Bournemouth that the team have never won a PL match played on a Monday but the team will be hoping to put an end to that unwanted record.

Cardiff vs Burnley

An early season six-pointer between relegation candidates Cardiff and Burnley will take place in Cardiff City Stadium this weekend. Sean Dyche and Burnley hope they have put the worst behind them and look to build on their first win of the season, a 4-0 battering of Bournemouth last weekend. Cardiff continue to chase their first win of the season but their recent history against Burnley can only inspire them knowing the team are unbeaten against Burnley in 13 matches since 2007. This may not be the prettiest game to watch but the importance of this result could be significant for both sides come season’s end.

Premier League Player Power Rankings

  1. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

  2. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

  3. Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool

  4. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham

  5. James Milner, Liverpool

  6. Jose Holebas, Watford

  7. Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal

  8. Lucas Moura, Tottenham

  9. Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City

  10. Ruben Neves, Wolverhampton Wanderers

Premier League matchday 6 preview: games to watch, and where each Champions League team stands after matchday 1

After the first round of Champions League fixtures of the season, we’ll assess each Premier League’s teams chances going forward in the competition:

Manchester City - After getting shocked by Nabil Fakir and Lyon in their opening match, still expect Manchester City to coast through Group F as the reigning champions should have no trouble with the likes of Hoffenheim or Shakhtar.

Tottenham - Spurs put Inter Milan to the sword for the majority of the match at the San Siro, that is until the 85th minute where Mauro Icardi scored a magnificent equalizer and Vecino went on to steal all three points for Inter in stoppage time. With a matchup with European giants Barcelona looming in their next Champion’s League fixture, Tottenham must bounce back from their current three-game losing streak immediately if they have any hope of advancing from Group B.

Liverpool - Continuing with their current league form, high-flying Liverpool won yet again, this time against their biggest rival in Group C, Paris Saint-Germain. What looked to be a sure draw after an equalizer by Mbappe in the 83rd minute, Roberto Firmino found the winner in the 91st to keep Liverpool’s winning streak alive. Even after being drawn into a tough group with PSG and Napoli, with their current form, it’s tough to see a scenario in which Liverpool do not advance from this group.

Manchester United - While the rest of the Premier League participants were matched with powerful opponents in the first round of Champion’s League fixtures, United were blessed with a match against BSC Young Boys. United walked through their opening match to three points as expected but with their inconsistent performances in the league so far and with Juventus and Valencia looming in Group H, they will most likely be fighting to escape with second place by the end of this round.

Five Games to Watch

Manchester United vs Wolves

Premier League newboys Wolverhampton Wanderers are finding their footing coming off two wins, and head to Old Trafford hoping to send a message to the rest of the league. On the other side, United have bounced back from consecutive losses with consecutive wins and hope to keep moving in the same direction back up the table. The confidence of Paul Pogba should be revitalized after two goals midweek, but he will have a long day ahead with the likes of Ruben Neves and the electric Wolves midfield running the show.

Bournemouth vs Burnley

Two teams that have defied expectations so far in this early season go head to head at the Turf Moor this weekend. Unfortunately for Burnley, the way in which they have defied expectations so far is in a purely negative sense, as last year’s surprise upstarts have stumbled out of the gate with a measly one point from a possible fifteen. At the other end of the table, Bournemouth find themselves in fifth place at this point in the early season and have scored two or more goals in all but one of their five games. The Cherries will hope to keep their success going while Burnley will be getting desperate to find their first win and escape the bottom of the league moving forward.

Everton vs Arsenal

Arsenal have bounced right back to life by following their opening two losses up with three straight wins and will look to find the fourth straight against Everton this weekend. Everton will head to the Emirates hoping to correct their problems on the road this season in which they have lost the lead both times, leaving with only two points from a possible six. Everton face an uphill battle coming up against an in-form Arsenal and the fact that the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 24 home games in this match-up.

Tottenham vs Brighton

Spurs have struggled mightily in their past three fixtures with losses to Watford, Liverpool and Inter Milan consecutively. Without captain Hugo Lloris in goal, Tottenham are noticeably weaker and their struggles against set pieces continue to plague what should be a dominant back line. While Tottenham have struggled to maintain a lead, losing after going 1-0 up against Watford and Inter Milan, Brighton on the other hand have come from two goals down to draw in both of their last two fixtures. Tottenham look to rebound immediately but Brighton’s refusal to quit could cause another late game struggle.

Chelsea vs West Ham

Unbeaten Chelsea look to continue their early success against a West Ham team coming off their first win of the new campaign. Marko Arnautovic looks to be a game-time decision which could be a deciding factor on this match with Arnautovic factoring in all but one of West Ham’s five goals this season. After resting Eden Hazard in the midweek Europa League fixture, look for Chelsea to be carried by his fresh legs and dominance on the ball. While not as exciting as some of the other London derbies, this match could still prove to be fiery in it’s own right.

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Preview: Group Stage Edition
Photo Credit:  Reuters Photo

Photo Credit: Reuters Photo

We are inching ever so close to having Champions League football back in our lives. The draw a few weeks ago helped us take one giant step towards us hearing “The Champions” blaring across our TV screens. The results turned out to be quite interesting. Sure some of the groups are real cakewalks (looking at you, Manchester City and Bayern Munich) but the rest of the teams surely have their work cut out for them.

There are some amazing matchups we are going to get during the group stages. Let’s take a look at the narratives in each of the eight groups along with who will make it to the Round of 16.

Group A

This is a good group if you want to watch two clubs with some young talent on display. Monaco and Borussia Dortmund both are well known for developing some of the world's best young players and selling them for mass profit. Atletico Madrid got younger too with the signings of Thomas Lemar and Rodri in the midfield. Lemar will have a reunion game as he faces his former club when Atletico and Monaco collide on Matchday 1.

Both Dortmund and Atleti will be looking to bounce back in the Champions League after crashing out in the group stage last year. It didn’t turn out so bad for them in Europe as Dortmund reached the knockout stages of the Europa League while Diego Simeone’s team lifted the trophy when it was all said and done. Atletico looked stronger than ever in the UEL final and in the UEFA Super Cup, beating Real Madrid 4-2. Dortmund had a huge win against RB Leipzig last week then followed it up with a 0-0 dud against Hannover. Lucien Favre has this team playing better than last year but they need to step it up a notch if they want to impress in Europe.

Club Brugge are the team from Pot 4 in this group. The good news for the Belgian side is that they have basically two weeks off before their first matchday and the only game in between is against Lokren, who are 14th in the Belgian Pro League. Then things get a bit tough as they have to play in all three competitions right after. Dortmund in the UCL, Gent in league play, and a Round of 32 cup clash against Deinzel all come in quick succession. They will fight hard in group play to snatch points against the big guns. Their best bet is nabbing some against Monaco.

Madrid and Dortmund are the favorites and rightly so, they are the two most talented squads. Monaco should be expected to finish around third with Brugge coming in the final spot.

Atletico Madrid and Dortmund advance

Group B

After impressing in the group stages last season (remember that 3-0 scoreline against Real Madrid?) Tottenham will be looking to do the same in this group. A summer with no transfers gave a lot of worry as to the squad depth of Spurs but they have started out the season in top form. We will truly get a sense of how much their lack of activity in the summer costs them as they try to advance deeper into cup tournaments along with fighting for a top 4 spot in the Champions League.

After getting a come from behind win against Lazio to get into the UCL, Inter Milan was rewarded by getting into a group with two of the top clubs in Europe. Inter have gotten a lot better in the transfer market, picking up additions such as Radja Nainggolan, Stefan De Vrij, and Keita Balde Diao. With Mauro Icardi up top and Ivan Perisic on the wings, Inter has solid threats in front of goal. They will be a much tougher out than many think and are certainly capable of an upset result in the group stages, especially at home in the San Siro.

PSV Eindhoven has a great young player in Chucky Lozano and he will be someone to watch for in the group stage. Lozano and Steven Bergwijn both possess talent on the wings. Even with PSV likely to finish last in the group, they should provide some highlights.

It’s not hard to determine who the best team in this group will be and it’s Barcelona. The Catalans are ready for a deep Champions League run, especially after the collapse they had against Roma. One of the topics Leo Messi talked about in his captain's speech to the fans was about winning the Champions League. It’s clear they want the Champions League title and should be favorites. With a summer of bringing in talent to solidify the bench, Barca is a deep team. It also helps that young starlet Ousmane Dembele has gotten off to a fast start this season. He scored the game-winning goal in the Spanish Super Cup and has been a menace on the wings every time he has featured for the Catalans thus far. He looks a lot more confident and could show those promising steps in development many Barcelona fans hoped for when he first signed with the club.

This will be a tough road for the top three teams but Barcelona will make it out of the group as winners. The Catalans should get enough points early to see their way through. Inter Milan will put up a fight but ultimately Tottenham should finish second. We will get to see some drama in the later matchdays of this group, including the final one where Barcelona will play Spurs. This could possibly decide who finishes first in the group.

Barcelona and Tottenham advance

Group C

This features a group with three strong attacking teams so look for some really high score lines on their given matchdays. We all know about Liverpool and their potent attack. With Sadio Mane and Mo Salah on the wings, they are a constant threat to burn your back line on counter attacks. Roberto Firmino does a good job as the central striker and his pressing defensively helps make Jurgen Klopp’s system run more smoothly. Liverpool also ramped up their midfield with the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho. Keita will be instrumental in their success against Europe’s elite. They shocked the world by reaching the Champions League final before running into the buzzsaw which is Real Madrid. While back to back appearances to the final is highly unlikely, they can make some noise. Their defense has seemed stable so far in Premier League but they will be facing two teams with explosive attacks of their own. Both Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli can punch a couple of goals into the back of the Liverpool net if they are not careful.

PSG have had a great start to the Ligue 1 season as they look to dominate the French league once again. Like Liverpool, they have a big three of their own in Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe. It will be a nightmare for the rest of the three to try and stop Paris. They cruised in group play last season despite having giants such as Bayern Munich in their group. The real goal for Paris however, will be in the knockout stages. They will be pushed in this group stage as there are three legit teams who all have a shot at advancing. Questions are going to be asked about their defense as well as their depth in the middle of the park. They still haven’t totally gotten over the loss of Blaise Matuidi and need a real box to box player to solidify things. While the Parisians should be favorites to win the group, as they have the best side, it’s not certain.

Napoli had their share of losses too this summer with Maurizio Sarri and Jorginho heading to Chelsea. It doesn’t mean they have taken numerous steps back, however. Carlo Ancelotti still inherits a very talented squad and despite crashing out of the group stage last year, they have a puncher's chance to advance. It was clear from the onset last season they were more focused on the league and decided not to pursue any other trophies because of it. We will see this season how Ancelotti rotates the squad in Europe. At the very least they are slotted at a solid third. Red Star Belgrade will be a tough place to play and the atmosphere will be great. Against these three teams, however, it’s hard not seeing them finish anywhere other than last.

Liverpool and PSG have the most offensive firepower while their defenses seem more stable than Napoli’s at the moment. The Partenopei will be right with them step for step, though. If either of them slips up, Napoli will be waiting to pounce at a chance of reaching the knockout rounds.

PSG and Liverpool advance

Group D

Out of all the groups in the Champions League, this is the one which is a toss-up. This is actually a pretty crazy group when you think about it as it’s not often you see four teams all with a shot at advancing. There aren’t any European giants or any real minnows in group D. It looks to be an all-out slugfest.

The four teams will be Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moscow. If anything, it will be a group which requires a ton of traveling as both Porto and Lokomotiv will have to travel across Europe to play each other. None of these teams are particularly overpowering over the other so it will be hard to tell who is the favorite heading into the first matchday. Both Porto and Schalke have experience in the knockout rounds. Galatasaray and Moscow are tough away fixtures. If both are able to churn out a result or two on the road, it will go a long way in their hopes of finishing in the top two or even the Europa League spot. The team to watch out will be Schalke. They have gotten off to a shaky start in Bundesliga play with two losses to begin the season. Things could get even worse with a fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach awaiting them. A good start to their European season would calm down some of the voices of worry but you have to wonder if they will be able to handle both Champions League and Bundesliga simultaneously.

Out of all the teams in the group, Porto is the ones who are the most likely to advance given their pedigree in Europe. Hector Herrera still runs the midfield and Vincent Aboubakar will poach some goals in this group. Second place is honestly a toss up but in the end, talent tops all. Schalke should have enough to barely scrape by for second place. Lokomotiv will surely be in the battle for second too and are a dark horse to watch in this group. After making the Round of 16 in Europa League last year, it will be a big jump in talent for the Russian side. If there is a group where they can raise some eyebrows, this is the one.

Porto and Schalke advance

Group E

Now we enter the first of the two cakewalk groups. It’s a common joke to say the Bundesliga is essentially Bayern Munich and everyone else. It applies to Group E as well.

It’s clear the Bavarians are through and out the heavy favorites to win this group. Even after looking like they took a step back quality wise in the Champions League, Bayern still has enough depth in the middle of the field to keep things chugging along. Their 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt should ease concerns too. This will be the first real test for Niko Kovac, Bayern Munich’s new manager. Carlo Ancelotti was immediately sacked after their blowout loss to PSG so it shows you how seriously they view their form in Europe. Luckily for Kovac, there isn’t an opponent of the Parisians quality in their group. Bayern should comfortably finish first.

The battle for the second place spot probably won’t be a drama-filled one either. Despite both having to play in the playoff rounds to reach the group stages, there is a gap of quality between Benfica and Ajax. Like Bayern, this should be an easy group for the Portuguese side to navigate. Finishing second won’t be a hard task for Benfica.

This now leaves the third place spot between Ajax and AEK. The Greek side barely scraped by in the play-off round as well and Ajax fought in a tough two-legged battle against Dynamo Kiev. There are gaps in quality between everyone in Group E. The battle for third place is no different. Ajax is the better side and should make their way into the Europa League.

Bayern and Benfica advance

Group F

All you need to do for Group F is take one look at the teams lined up and know who will top it. Manchester City is far and above the best team and should have it all wrapped halfway through the group stage. Even with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, the Man City machine keeps plugging along. Pep Guardiola’s side has played stellar and has done so despite the likes of Leroy Sane getting off to tough starts. With the addition of Riyad Mahrez and a healthy Benjamin Mendy, Man City have so much firepower to work with. Bernardo Silva looking more comfortable in the system is a boost too. Last year they got bamboozled by Liverpool in the quarterfinals and looked pedestrian during the tie. Guardiola should have this side motivated and ready to go from the start. They are favorites to not only win the league but are in the mix of teams who can win the entire competition.

Now for who will finish behind Manchester City in the second spot is another open-ended question. Shakhtar, Lyon, and Hoffenheim all have what it takes to rally a couple of strong results together and stumble into second. At the same time, there are numerous questions surrounding the consistency of the last two in the group in Lyon and Hoffenheim. You don’t know which versions of these teams will show up on a given matchday. Lyon, for example, has a very underrated attack with Memphis DePay at the helm but they can’t seem to find the back of the net often. A lot of times for Lyon it’s been a lot of low-quality chances from outside the box and on the counter. Hoffenheim have started their season on an ok note but the jury is still out on how they will stack up against tougher competition in Europe. Shakhtar Donetsk should be the leader of the pack in this race for second. Like Porto, Shakhtar has done well in Europe as of late. While they won’t necessarily trouble Manchester City, they should be favorites to finish second.

Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk advance

Group G

Last season was a magical Champions League campaign for both Roma and Real Madrid. It often illustrates the difference in the level of expectations for teams in Europe. While for Roma supporters it would have been grand to see them win the Champions League, just reaching the semi-finals was an amazing achievement. It was even sweeter considering how they reached there, on the heels of one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history. After being thrashed 4-1 in the first leg, Roma staged an epic comeback back home in the return leg. They beat the Catalans 3-0 and advanced thanks to an away goals tie-breaker. It was one of the best comebacks in a Champions League tie the soccer world has ever seen. Now Roma has to play another Spanish giant as it draws defending winners Real Madrid in their group. Apart from their numerous pre-season matches in the summer, 2016 was the last time these two teams played in a competitive game. It was the Round of 16 in the UCL and Real Madrid dominated the tie, earning back to back 2-0 victories to see off the Italian side.

After winning three straight Champions League titles, this will be a completely different Champions League campaign for Real Madrid and we all know why. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus this summer shocked the club and not splashing the cash for a superstar to replace him was perplexing as well. While they almost certainly will try to land a top ten player in the world next summer, it looks like Real Madrid are making Gareth Bale the star of this team. The Welshman is now the star and will be looked upon to bag more goals for Los Blancos. Bale does have the talent to be a star for Real Madrid. His blistering pace causes so many problems for defenders and will open up spaces in the defense for others. Guys like Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio will have more goal scoring opportunities because of it. The midfield and the defense will still be the same as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the middle of the park. Raphael Varane, who had an exceptional season for both club and country, will lineup along Sergio Ramos. With the loss of Zinedine Zidane factored in as well, it will be a tall mountain to climb for Madrid if they want to win the UCL for the fourth time in a row. They might not make it back to the final but a quarterfinal appearance isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

The two other teams in this group are CSKA Moscow and FC Viktoria Plzn. These two teams will battle for the third place spot of this group with the Russian side being the favorites. They are currently 6th in the Russian Premier League as Zenit and Spartak Moskova have gotten off to great starts domestically. Plzn are huge underdogs and despite being in the thick of things in the Czech league, it will be difficult for them to get results in this group. Their best shot comes on matchday one when they face off against CSKA.

It’s clear who the two best teams are in this group in Real Madrid and Roma. They’ll be the ones who advance to the knockout stages. Expect Madrid to finish at the top despite the transition to a life without Ronaldo.

Real Madrid and Roma advance

Group H

To say it’s been a turbulent season so far for Manchester United is an understatement. Between the comments made by Jose Mourinho and the two losses to start the season, the pressure is on in Old Trafford. Despite finishing second in the league last season, it was still defined as an “ok”. Losing to Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 didn’t help either. This is a big year for Mourinho as he enters in the heavily talked about "Year 3 Mou". It's usually around the time things implode and the Portuguese manager is let go. It will be an uphill battle in the league as both Manchester City and Liverpool are favorites to lift the trophy. The Champions League draw did no favors for the Red Devils either. Manchester United can’t afford to have performances like they did against Brighton if they want to do well in this group. They have made some upgrades and depth signings this summer, especially in the midfield with the addition of Fred from Shakhtar. Mourinho still has a lot of questions left to answer about this squad. Who will start on the wings is the first question. Defense is in question as well with Eric Bailly in and out of the lineup constantly. There is a lot of shuffling in those two areas for Manchester United and it shows on match days.

United’s biggest problem will be Juventus. The Italian champions had a fantastic summer picking up Emre Can, Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and some guy named Cristiano Ronaldo. Last season’s UCL campaign ended in infamy as a fantastic comeback in Bernabeu was canceled out by a late penalty awarded against the Old Lady. Juventus are bringing back a lot of their old squad but have replaced Gonzalo Higuain with Ronaldo, an obvious upgrade. The only real question for this squad will be the goalkeeping situation with Gigi Buffon now gone. The adjustment of Ronaldo on this Juventus team has gotten off to a rocky start but expect him to start scoring goals soon. Now it’s up to Max Allegri to see how he can field the best starting XI. Juventus will be very hard to stop in the Champions League this season.

Valencia is a sneaky underdog in this group. They have some young talent in attack with Michy Batshuayi and Goncalo Guedes, who made his move from Paris permanent this summer. They can catch teams on the counter with the pace on the wings too. After finishing 3rd in a group with Gent, Lyon, and Zenit last season they will be itching to make it back to the Round of 16. They certainly have the talent to make this happen.

Valencia has a chance to finish second in this group, especially if Manchester United slips up. However, Manchester United should have just enough to squeak into second. This is setting up to be a group to pay attention to.

Juventus and Manchester United advance

The Counter Press Serie A Preview

The Counter Press boys finish up their preview of the European leagues with a Serie A preview. They are joined by recurring guests @AvikarSaini and @GuerschonLynch. We go through all the Italian teams, give our predictions, including how Napoli will do as well as give some air time to SPAL

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Follow Vijay: @VJVemu