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No Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or City: Champions League quarter-final preview

For the first time since 1996 there is no English representation in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Despite this, the draw has still thrown up some potentially exciting ties that are bound to produce plenty of goals and talking points.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund

Probably the least glamorous looking of the ties but has the potential to be one of the most entertaining. Both teams have been extremely impressive in getting this far. Malaga topped their group, remaining unbeaten, and finishing ahead of AC Milan and Zenit, before overturning a first-leg deficit against Porto in the last 16. Dortmund meanwhile were put in the so-called Group of Death alongside Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax. They too remained unbeaten though, and also finished first in their group before sweeping aside Shakhtar in the last 16.

Mario Gotze

While most people will look at Isco as Malaga’s main threat, the experience they possess with the likes of Joaquin, Toulalan, Saviola and Demichelis is not to be under-estimated though, and they will be prepared for the occasion. Dortmund’s youth and attacking style may just prove to be too much for the Spaniards however, and with the guaranteed goals and creativity of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Robert Lewandowski along with home advantage in the second leg, the Germans may well be a good outside bet to make it all the way to Wembley.

Real Madrid v Galatasaray

The second favourites meet the rank outsiders in this quarter-final tie. Madrid cruised through their group, even though they finished second to Dortmund, and then controversially saw off Manchester United over two tense games. Galatasaray just edged through their group ahead of CFR Cluj and their attacking prowess saw them score three in Germany to get past Schalke.

Didier Drogba

There is no doubting the Turkish side’s attacking options. Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder were the big name signings in January but they also boast the joint top scorer in the competition with Burak Yilmaz. Add to this the experience of Felipe Melo and Hamit Altintop in the midfield and they certainly have a strong core to their team. Over two games though it is hard to see a defence which has already conceded in all but one game in the competition so far this season containing the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and company. Galatasaray do have the advantage of being at home for the second leg but they cannot afford to be more than a goal or two behind after their trip to the Bernabeu.

Paris Saint-Germain v Barcelona

Undoubtedly the tie of the round, the big-spending French team against the side who have raised most of their players through their youth team. Despite a couple of wobbles along the way against Celtic and in the first leg against AC Milan, the Catalan giants still remain the team to beat. As they showed in the second leg against Milan they are still unstoppable when they are on form. PSG were very impressive in topping their group and despite a nervy second leg against Valencia they deservedly fought their way through.

Jordi Alba

The biggest problem for the French side in the first game will be the continued suspension of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To have any chance against Barcelona they will need their strongest team and it will be a big blow to not have their talisman. Not that PSG are a one-man team though. Ezequiel Lavezzi continues to show his talent with five goals in this tournament and they have the exciting young talents of Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore. The problem they may find though is getting the ball to these players, but if they can there is no doubt they can cause Barcelona problems. It would be no surprise if Paris Saint-Germain got a positive result at home but as Milan found out in the last 16, it needs a big lead to take to the Nou Camp for the return game.

Bayern Munich v Juventus

The final tie pits together two of the heavyweights of European football over the years. Bayern have been very impressive to this stage and despite their second-leg defeat to Arsenal they still dominated in terms of attempts at goal and possession. Juventus came through a slow start to qualify first from a group containing Shakhtar and defending champions Chelsea, before brushing aside the challenge of Celtic.

Andrea Pirlo

Bayern will be determined to make amends for their final defeat to Chelsea last year and they certainly have a team who find it easy to create chances and, certainly at domestic level, score goals. They are coming up against a side though that is more of a stereotypical Italian team. Solid at the back and good in possession, Juve play the game at their own pace. They may be short of big names but they have an Italian core that are well drilled and know exactly what they are doing. This is probably the hardest of the quarter-finals to call, but it may well be that Bayern’s extra options in the attacking third will be enough to see them through; but only just.

By Chris Newman

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Arrivederci Alessandro: Juventus legend Del Piero departs after 19 glorious years

With an unbeaten 2011-12 season under their belts to lift the Scudetto in Antonio Conte’s first campaign in charge, ambitious plans to strengthen the playing squad this summer, a gleaming new stadium and the return of Champions League football next season, you cannot blame Juventus fans for having a smile on their faces. However, all true Bianconeri supporters will feel a sadness in their hearts due to the exit of a club legend, as Alessandro Del Piero departs the Turin giants after 19 years of unequivocal service, loyalty and scintillating performances.

At 37-years-old, the veteran attacker is now deemed surplus to requirements at the Old Lady, as a new world-class centre forward is top of the club’s transfer wish-list this summer. Del Piero leaves the Bianconeri with a slightly bitter taste in his mouth after being refused the one-year contract extension that he craved to end his career, and will now instead leave the club for one last swansong elsewhere.

Looking back over almost two decades of compelling performances for the Serie A side it is easy to see why Del Piero is in the Juventus fans’ hearts. The masterful attacker joined the club from Padova in 1993, getting a break in the first-team and being a constant name on the team-sheet since.

The ex-Italy international has been there through thick and thin, for six Scudetto triumphs, one Coppa Italia and four Supercopa Italiana glories and the 1995-96 Champions League. He also witnessed his beloved club’s relegation to Serie B after being found guilty of foul-play. In a footballing world where loyalty no longer is second nature and ambition and financial gain rule the roost, Del Piero is a shining light to all youngsters who have the potential to become professional footballers.

Whilst at the top of his game Del Piero will have had no shortage of suitors, and has openly admitted in the past that the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona made attempts to lure him away from Turin with extortionate transfer fees and wages, but this never entered the mind of one-club man Del Piero.

However, he will not now be a one-club man. The evergreen attacker has stated that his hunger and love for the game has not diminished and is eager to find a new challenge, one that he can commit himself to for the next year or two. Del Piero will hope to follow in the footsteps of Real Madrid legend Raul, who left the Santiago Bernabeu after 16 years to star at Schalke and bring joy and pride to the hearts of a group of football fans elsewhere.

Del Piero’s potential destinations grow by the day, as the forward is linked with clubs and nations all over the world. He has already stated that he will not join another Italian club, and as such has been linked with moves to England, Germany, Unites States, Mexico, China, the Middle East and even Argentina.

The stylish frontman will not be looking for one final payday, and instead will be eager to find a footballing project that he can get his teeth into and showcase his abilities. Although the years are starting to take their toll, Del Piero will still prove a difficult opponent wherever he ends up, and scored some important goals for Juve last term in cameo appearances.

At his best Del Piero was virtually unplayable, with a guile and poise on the ball that have tortured defenders all over Italy and throughout Europe for the guts of two decades. Del Piero holds the Bianconeri’s goalscoring record with 289 goals in 705 games for the Italian giants, whilst he also won 91 caps for his country, netting 27 times and winning the 2006 World Cup.

Juventus fans have lost a hero, an icon and a fine player, however, as Del Piero has admitted in an open letter to the clubs faithful upon his departure, he will always be one of them. Addio e buona fortuna Alessandro.

DEL PIERO’S OPEN LETTER TO THE JUVE FANS

“It ends here, my contract with Juventus expires today.

“It’s not news, but knowing it is ‘official’ still has an effect on me. It is not a sad moment for me, there are no regrets or nostalgia. Not anymore.

“That’s because I’ve had time to think back over everything that happened in my last Bianconeri season, going further back and reliving the greatest dream I could’ve dreamed.

“All the memories, the joys, the triumphs and – to be honest – a few recent moments of bitterness… Today all these images flash in front of my eyes and at a certain point blur into one marvellous embrace of my final game in Turin.

“That is the photograph that encapsulates everything, the instant I want to bring with me always, the one that since May 13 has been printed on my heart. It cannot be cancelled.

“A while ago, before going on vacation, I emptied out my locker at Vinovo and walking out of the training ground I stopped where for many months you waited for me hoping for a photo, an autograph or just a hello… under the snow, the ice, the rain, the burning sun. But this time I am the one saluting and thanking you, just as you did with me.

“The players pass by, but Juventus remains. My team-mates remain, who I wish the best and will always cheer them on.

“Above all what remains is the fans, you who are Juventus. That jersey that I loved and will always love, that I desired and respected, without breaks or discounts.

“I am happy that others after me can wear the shirt and above all the ‘10’ that has always had my name on it since they started printing names on the Bianconeri jerseys.

“I am happy for whoever will wear it next year and happy that somewhere – in Italy and all over the world – someone is dreaming of wearing it.

“I would be proud of someone wanting to follow my path, just as I dreamed of doing so with other champions, other examples, other legends.

“From tomorrow I will no longer be a Juventus player, but I will always be one of you. Now a new adventure begins and I am as fired up as I was 19 summers ago.

“Arrivederci. Thanks for everything.

“Alessandro.”

Published – FourFourTwo

Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and European sides heading to USA for pre-season friendlies

Despite the 2011-12 season just drawing to a close and Euro 2012 and the Olympics on the horizon, a raft of leading European teams are planning their warm up games for next term. With an increase in popularity in the game across in North America, it has been the trend for pre-season friendlies to be played in the United States and Canada, and this summer it will be no different. Despite the fact that Barcelona and Manchester United will not be heading stateside in the build up to 2012-13, plenty of other European giants are.

Chelsea

American chairman Bruce Buck will have had a say in deciding to take the Blues back across to North America this pre-season, and the Stamford Bridge club will play four games in USA in July. Starting on the west coast in a game against the Seattle Sounders, Chelsea will also play big-spending Ligue 1 outfit Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and the MLS All-Stars team.

  • 18th July – Chelsea vs Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  • 22nd July – Chelsea vs Paris Saint-Germain, Yankee Stadium, New York
  • 25th July – Chelsea vs MLS All-Stars, PPL PArk, Chester
  • 28th July – Chelsea vs AC Milan, Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Aston Villa

Again with an American chairman at the helm, Villa will play three games in the United States in a whirlwind trip stateside in July. Games against Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire and Portland Timbers should test Alex McLeish’s men.

  • July 18th – Aston Villa vs Philadelphia Union, PPL Park, Chester
  • July 21st – Aston Villa vs Chicago Fire, Toyota Park, Chicago
  • July 24th – Aston Villa vs Portland Timbers, Jeld-Wen Field, Portland

Tottenham

Spurs are set to go face-to-face with former striker Robbie Keane, David Beckham and former Arsenal forward Thierry Henry this summer. With Brad Friedel in the travelling contingent, the north London club will hope to use the trip to stoke up some additional support from fans stateside.

  • July 24th – Tottenham vs LA Galaxy, The Home Depot Center, Carson
  • July 28th – Tottenham vs Liverpool, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
  • July 31st – Tottenham vs New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena, Harrison

Liverpool

The Fenway Sports Group take their Anfield side across for a pre-season tour of Canada and United States this summer, with a glamour friendly against fellow American-owned side Roma one of the highlights.

  • July 21st – Liverpool vs Toronto, Rogers Centre, Toronto
  • July 25th – Liverpool vs Roma, Fenway Park, Boston
  • July 28th – Liverpool vs Tottenham, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore

Real Madrid

The newly-crowned La Liga champions will cross the Atlantic to test themselves in pre-season, and try to increase their popularity with American fans with Barcelona not travelling stateside this year.

  • August 3rd – Real Madrid vs LA Galaxy, The Home Depot Center, Carson
  • August 5th – Real Madrid vs Juventus, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
  • August 8th – Real Madrid vs AC Milan, Yankee Stadium, New York

Juventus

The rejuvenated Turin giants are always a big draw for American crowds, and will once more return to the United States this summer. Their full plans are yet to be revealed, but the following friendlies have been confirmed.

  • July 28th – Juventus vs DC United, RFK Stadium, Washington
  • August 5th – Juventus vs Real Madrid, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

AC Milan

It will be a summer of rebuilding for AC Milan, as old heads Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzagi and Clarence Seedorf will leave the club, and American fans will be keen to see any new signings. Again, Milan’s plans are still to be set in stone, but the following are confirmed.

  • 28th July – AC Milan vs Chelsea, Sun Life Stadium, Miami
  • Two games in Philadelphia – information yet to be released

Published – Soccerlens

Juventus back on top in Serie A; a momentous year for Antonio Conte and his men

With a 2-0 win over Cagliari on Sunday, Juventus have reclaimed their Serie A crown for the first time since the Calciopoli scandal. Their first official Scudetto since 2002-03 was secured when Inter beat second-placed AC Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina, to the delight of the Turin giants’ faithful. It has been quite the turnaround for the Bianconeri this term, with Antonio Conte bringing the club back to former greatness.

Looking at Juventus’ season, it has been a revolutionary 12 months for the club. After the sleeping giants toiled to a seventh placed finish last term, missing out on European competition once more, Luigi Del Neri was shown the door and fans favourite and former hero on the pitch Antonio Conte installed as manager. The 42-year-old had a monumental task; reinstate Italian football’s most successful club back to their former greatness.

Juventus may have huffed and puffed at times this term and have drawn the most games in the division (15), but the telling fact is that they are undefeated and have won 22 of their 37 games. On occasion they have struggled to score, but the side have shown a steel and stubbornness, refusing to be beaten, that takes the club’s fans back to the days of Ferrara, Montero or Gentile.

Juve’s rejuvenation has come after a comprehensive overhaul of the squad last summer, with a raft of new players coming into the club. The side’s midfield has been particularly impressive this season, with new men Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal running the show for Conte’s team, alongside the goalscoring threat of Claudio Marchisio and the industrious Simone Pepe.

At the back stalwart Gianluigi Buffon continues to impress as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, whilst in Giorgio Chiellini they have as an imposing a central defender as there is in the European game currently. In attack, new man Mirko Vucinic has given a cutting edge and eye for goal, whilst Alessandro Matri is the latest in a long line of predatory Italian strikers.

The future is certainly bright for the Old Lady, as the newly constructed Juventus Stadium gives the side an imposing and financially lucrative home, with further investment in the playing squad expected in the summer. A big name striker is on the wishlist, with links to Premier League marksmen Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Carlos Tevez already in the offing, as well as Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuain. Add to this another top-drawer defender, and Juventus will take some beating domestically and in Europe next season.

A home fixture against Atalanta next Sunday is all that stands between Conte and an undefeated debut season at the club, quite the achievement if and when it happens. With the Coppa Italia final against Napoli the week after, the Bianconeri’s fans could well be celebrating a memorable and momentous domestic double.

Although comparing Juventus to Barcelona is not a fair likeness due to differing styles and mentalities of the two teams, the fact that homegrown coaches have been behind recent success stands out. Pep Guardiola’s ability to demand the respect of the Camp Nou playing squad originates from his achievements on the pitch for the Blaugrana, and Conte’s no-nonsense playing career for the Turin club has been a key feature in the unity of the Juventus contingent this term. Juve certainly have some way to go to match the achievements of Barcelona, but even the Catalan side have not gone an entire season without defeat in recent memory.

The real acid test will be competing in the Champions League once more, as Juve take on Europe’s best and will have a more strenuous fixture list. AC Milan have bemoaned that their exertions in Europe have taken away from their domestic campaign this term, and the new Scudetto holders will have to battle on two fronts next season. However, with club icon Conte at the helm, a motivated squad set to be strengthened and a dedicated fanbase, it is fair to say that Juventus are back amongst the powers of European football once more.

Is Alessandro Matri the man to fire Juventus back into the top four?

Juventus need a shot in the arm after a below-par 2010/11 campaign, and have vowed to spend big this summer to try and recapture former glories. Antonio Conte has inherited an inconsistent side which at times seems to lack self-belief; a side that does not have the fire-power to strike fear into the hearts of opposing defences like yester-year. Despite the continued presence of evergreen legend Alessandro Del Piero, the past exploits of frontmen such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Trezeguet have been replaced by inadequate quality, and the Turin side need a high calibre marksman to fire them back into the top four. Enter new signing Alessandro Matri.

The 26-year-old forward joined the Bianconeri on the last day of the January transfer window from Cagliari, and was a key reason the team managed to finish 7th – had he not contributed nine goals in the sixteen games he appeared in, Juve’s plight may have been much worse. With Fabio Quagliarella injured and Amauri out on loan at Parma, Matri struck up an understanding with fellow frontman Del Piero that promised to fire Juventus back into contention. It was no surprise when the club announced last week they had signed him on a permanent basis for a fee of €15.5 million.

Matri built his reputation at the Stadio Sant’Elia over three seasons and quickly became the Rossoblu’s main goal-threat. Having made his international debut and receiving praise from Italian legend Franco Baresi, who has publicly stated Matri is an important player in the future success of the Azzurri, the stage is set for the former Milan youth player to meet his potential. With a full pre-season with his new club and added vigour around the Stadio Olimpico, Matri, despite competition for places, should command a starting spot in the black and white side’s attack in 2011/12.

Although Del Piero may still have the ability to score goals for Juve, Matri offers a ruthless finishing ability and an eye for goal Juventus need if they are to get back into Scudetto contention. The goals Matri contributed in 2010/11 were at telling times, and the reserved frontman has netted in big games, such as in wins against Inter and Roma, and in his debut for the national side against Ukraine. Having scored 15% of the Old Lady’s goals in 2010/11, despite only playing for half a season, Matri has the consistency and predatory tendencies to find the back of the net on a regular basis for the Turin club, something that has been lacking and a key reason in their recent demise.

With big name forwards such as Sergio Aguero reportedly on Giuseppe Marotta’s summer wishlist, Matri may face further competition for a starting place next campaign, but many Bianconeri fans will be elated he will be playing for their side. Conte has an old fashioned Italian goalgetter in the mould of Ravenelli and Vialli to call upon in the club’s current lowly predicament.

Published – http://www.footballitaliano.co.uk/p6_66_6317_is-alessandro-matri-the-man-to-fire-juventus-back-into-the-top-four.html

The £30 million transfer shortlist

With the end of the season upon us, the transfer window re-opens in June and the biggest clubs in European football will look to strengthen their playing squads for the forthcoming campaign. The continued investment in the world game has resulted in transfer fees rising, and there are a number of players that this summer could conceivably cost £30 million and up.

1) Javier Pastore
The Palermo playmaker has had another sparkling season and has led the Sicilan side to the Coppa Italia final; ‘El Flaco’ or ‘the skinny one’ is one of world football’s hottest properties. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan and Roma are all ready to part with £30 million to secure the services of the 21 year old, however this may not be enough as controversial Palermo president Maurizio Zamperini has been quoted as saying he feels the player is worth €100 million.

2) Kaka
With Real Madrid in the hunt for Pastore and already signed creative midfielder Nuri Sahin from Borussia Dortmund, first team opportunities for Kaka may be limited. Since his world record £56 million move from Milan to Los Blancos in 2009 the Brazilian has failed to make the required impact, and is currently playing second fiddle to Bernabeu main-man Cristiano Ronaldo. I Rossoneri president Silvio Berlusconi has ruled out a return to the San Siro, so England looks the most likely destination, with long term admirers Manchester City and Chelsea battling it out for his signature.

3) Alexis Sanchez
The Chilean left sided midfielder has been one of the main reasons for Udinese’s charge towards Champions League football, with pundits raving over the 22 year old’s performances. Both Milan and Inter are believed to want the ex-River Plate attacker, but Manchester City again seem to be the frontrunners, with a £30 million summer transfer touted in the Italian press.

4) Cesc Fabregas
Arsenal’s captain has been linked with a move back to Barcelona for a number of seasons, and the move may happen this summer as The Gunners may look to cash in on the 24 year old whilst he is out of form. With Jack Wilshere emerging this season to potentially take Fabregas’ place as Arsenal’s go to midfield man, a move back to the Nou Camp for £30 million or more could be on the cards.

5) Gareth Bale
The PFA Player of the Year has had a strong season domestically and in Europe, and shot to worldwide acclaim with a hat-trick against Inter at the San Siro in the Champions League Group Stages. Due to Tottenham missing out on the competition for next season, Bale may be tempted by the bright lights of Italy or Spain, with Inter and Barcelona linked with the player. United and City are also thought to want the Welshman to come to Manchester, and given his performances the fee would exceed £30 million.

6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Tevez
Big spending City may find a change of personnel in attack, with any big name departures or arrivals costing more than £30 million. The club have been linked with an audacious move for Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whilst club captain Carlos Tevez’s future at Eastlands is under scrutiny, with Inter the reported chosen destination for the Argentine forward.

Published – http://forum.footballidentity.com/default.aspx?g=posts&m=1852916

Juventus losses highlight importance of Champions League

Italian club Juventus has this week announced that the club has made a 39.5m Euros (£24.3m) loss in the first half of the 2010/11 season, with further losses expected for the remainder of the campaign; one reason for this deficit is the club’s absence from this year’s Champions League. The Champions League has become a cash cow that funds the participating clubs financial drive for success, allowing them to buy new players and pay higher wages, whilst still being able to balance the books. But are the so called bigger clubs depending too much on Champions League money, and what happens to the profit and loss account when they fail to qualify for the competition?

Juventus have had expenditure and factors that could explain the drop in financial performance other than their seventh place finish in 2009/2010; they have invested in a new stadium and a spokesman for the club complained of restructuring of the domestic television rights money as contributing factors to the club’s 29% drop in revenue from 125m Euros to 88.8m Euros. However the spokesman also identified failure to qualify for Europe’s top club competition as a reason for financial depression.

“Economic trends in the 2010/11 financial year were negatively influenced by the club’s failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, implying lower revenues from European competitions. Accordingly, on the basis of the information currently available and in the absence of any extraordinary events, the 2010/11 financial year is expected to close with a significant loss”, a club spokesman revealed.

So how much exactly is qualification and progression in the Champions League worth? For the winners, the pride of being Europe’s elite is matched in the board room by the prize money of almost 35m Euros, and this is before ticket revenues and increased merchandise sales that are common when a team is doing well, not to mentioned the television rights money split between competitors of the tournament. Just getting into the group stages is very lucrative, and this extra income does much to make a club’s finances look a lot more attractive.

Looking closer to home, the so called ‘Big Four’ of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have dominated English football for the last ten years, and have been the qualifiers to the Champions League on more occasions than not; but last season Liverpool were surpassed  by Tottenham and missed out on the financial spoils of finishing in the top four. Subsequently, Liverpool did not have the same appeal to players without the promise of Champions League football, and didn’t have the cushion of knowing that vast sums of money would be coming in through their participation in the tournament this season. This has led to another poor season for The Reds, the sale of their prize asset Fernando Torres and what will be another year without Champions League football in the 2011/2012 season. In Deloitte’s annual review of finance, Liverpool dropped a place from seventh to eighth in Europe’s rich list, and the club will have to now budget for next season without the multi-millions of Champions League income again, which can turn into a spiral that leads to poorer performance on the field because of lack of resources available to strengthen the squad off it.

If Liverpool were to try to spend what they would if they were in the Champions League regardless of their absence, they are threatening the club’s financial security and future; one only has to look at the fall of Leeds United from a Champions League semi-final and a third place Premiership finish, to relegation to the third tier of English football in the form of League 1 after Peter Risdale had overspent his hand and the club relied on Champions League funds that did not come when they failed to qualify for the tournament in 2002.

So to conclude, Champions League money plays a massive part in the leading clubs financial well-being and subsequent success on the pitch, and failure to qualify for the competition damages the teams bank balance and on-field resources. However in the modern day of multi-million investors creating fantasy football, if you spend over and beyond your means, you could end up with bankruptcy and massive debts. With Juventus currently sitting in seventh place in Serie A after a 2-0 home defeat to Bologna, things are not looking bright for next season’s playing or financial years either, and not only Juventus but all club’s aiming to qualify and play in the Champions League face a chicken and egg situation; you can’t qualify for the Champions League without spending big, and you can’t spend big (sensibly) without qualification for the Champions League.

Published – http://www.footballeconomy.com/content/juventus-losses-highlight-importance-champions-league

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