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Barca, Atletico In Danger Of Early Champions League Exit

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Xavi Hernandez faces his first critical test as Barcelona coach with the club at risk of failing to make the Champions League knockout stages for the first time in two decades.

A goalless draw at home to Benfica last month left Barca with their destiny in their own hands, but with a much trickier final game away to Group E winners Bayern Munich.

Spanish champions Atletico Madrid have their work cut to secure one of the five unclaimed last-16 tickets after three defeats on the spin, while all four teams remain in the hunt in an unpredictable Group G.

AFP Sport looks at what’s at stake going into the final round of Champions League group games:

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Ballon d’Or backlash from Bayern? Barca find themselves on the ropes ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Germany, but it could have been far worse were it not for Benfica forward Haris Seferovic’s glaring miss in stoppage time at Camp Nou.

Bayern are one of three teams with a perfect record in this season’s competition, and Robert Lewandowski’s perceived Ballon d’Or snub may give the star striker extra incentive to prove a point.

Xavi suffered his first defeat as Barca coach on Saturday against Real Betis. He rested key players with a view to the game in Munich, where victory would guarantee Barca go through as runners-up in Group E, extending their 20-year run of reaching the knockout phase.

A youthful Xavi was establishing himself as a mainstay of the midfield when Barca exited in the first group stage of the 2000-01 competition.

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Failure to secure maximum points would open the door for Benfica to pip them to second place, with the Portuguese needing to beat Dynamo Kiev in Lisbon.

Three-horse race and four-way showdownPorto, AC Milan and Atletico will battle it out for the second qualification spot behind Liverpool in Group B.

Two-time former European champions Porto hold a one-point edge over both rivals ahead of the visit of Atletico. Milan host a Liverpool side that Jurgen Klopp could rotate heavily ahead of a busy festive schedule.

Last season’s Europa League winners Villarreal, beaten at home by two late Manchester United goals on matchday five, go to Atalanta knowing they will advance at the expense of the Italians if they avoid defeat in Bergamo.

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Austrian champions Salzburg appeared to be coasting through after accruing seven points in three games, but back-to-back away losses mean they could still miss out.

Lille top Group G with eight points and will progress if they get a point at Wolfsburg. The Germans are last in the section but victory would send them through instead.

Salzburg can seal a knockout berth with a draw at home to Sevilla, who in turn would qualify if they win.

Already in the last-16 potEleven clubs are assured of their place in the last-16 draw on December 13, five of which have already clinched top spot.

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Erik ten Hag’s impressive Ajax will attempt to complete a perfect group stage for the first time in club history at home to Sporting, certain of second above Borussia Dortmund irrespective of Tuesday’s results.

Manchester City cannot be caught by Paris Saint-Germain in Group A, while Real Madrid have a two-point lead over Inter Milan in Group D ahead of their Bernabeu showdown.

Holders Chelsea, who go to Zenit Saint Petersburg for their final Group H game, will nail down top spot if they match Juventus’ result at home to Swedish outfit Malmo.

Ralf Rangnick made a winning start to his spell as United’s interim manager and is safe in the knowledge his team will move on as winners of Group F come what may against Switzerland’s Young Boys.

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Europa League consolationAll third-placed clubs will drop into the Europa League, but a revised format now sees them face the group runner-ups from the second-tier tournament in a play-off round before the last 16.

Sheriff Tiraspol, losers of three straight games after shocking Real in September, will continue their European adventure in the Europa League, as will Dortmund and Zenit.

RB Leipzig look favourites to finish third behind City and PSG despite parting ways with coach Jesse Marsch. The Germans are level on points with Club Brugge but have the head-to-head advantage prior to their home game with Pep Guardiola’s side.

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EPL: Leeds To Replace Raphinha With Super Eagles Forward

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Leeds United are in the race to sign Moses Simon from Nantes, according to RMC.

The Premier League side are competing with another Ligue 1 side Nice for the Super Eagles forward.

With Raphinha in talks with Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona, Leeds are already looking for his replacement.

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The Elland Road club is holding out for £65m for Raphinha and some of that income will be put back into the team.

Simon, 26, can play all across the frontline. He is right footed, although he played the majority of last season on the left wing.

The winger scored six goals and grabbed eight assists from 30 Ligue 1 games last season.

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EPL: Another Arsenal Player Leaves Emirates Stadium

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Arsenal player, Daniel Ballard has agreed a transfer to Championship side, Sunderland.

The player, whose move to Burnley failed through last season, has also played for Swindon Town and Blackpool on loan.

The Northern Ireland international has not had the opportunity to play a single first team game for the Gunners.

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And now his stay at the club is coming to an end as he is set for an imminent move from the north London side

The Athletic reports that Ballard was very close to joining Burnley last week, but a deal could not be agreed.

The likes of former club Blackpool and Sheffield United were interested in the player.

He is now on his way to Sunderland.

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Despite never making the cut for Arsenal, Ballard has proved himself on the international stage, already picking up 15 caps for Northern Ireland and scoring two goals.

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Laliga: Carlo Ancelotti Told Me To Forgive Him – Real Madrid Star, Dani Ceballos

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Real Madrid star, Dani Ceballos has said that the club’s manager Carlo Ancelotti has asked him for forgiveness for not giving him the opportunity to play.

Ceballos also said he will speak to the Italian gaffer before deciding his future.

The player, who had previously spent time on loan at Arsenal, said that Ancelotti apologised to him for his lack of game time and hopes that that won’t be the case next season.

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“When we start [pre-season on July 8], we will see,” Ceballos explained to Tito Gonzalez.

“I’ll talk to the coach to see what he wants and from there we’ll decide the future.

“The coach told me to forgive him because I hadn’t played the minutes I should have played, and that’s to his credit,” Ceballos said.

The Spanish star only played 338 minutes in 18 games all season.

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Transfer: No Amount Of Money – Bayern Munich Warn Barcelona Over Lewandowski

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Bayern Munich have vowed that no amount of money or pressure would see them sell their top striker, Robert Lewandowski.

The Bavarian said the Pole has one more year left in his contract and must be willing to honour his current deal.

The Bundesliga champions, who earlier slammed a price tag of at least 50 million euros on the striker, have told Barcelona they should not be wasting their time making further offers.

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The honorary President of Bayern Munich, Uli Hoeness has revealed that the club have decided that they won’t sell Lewandowski this summer.

“I don’t know anything about a new offer. But as things stand in Munich, what I have heard is that Barcelona should save themselves the effort of making another offer,” Hoeness said at a sports congress in Neuland.

“But Bayern’s words were clear. They said that Robert should honour his contract with Bayern Munich.

“I can’t imagine that there is any amount of money that would make them change their mind,” he said.

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Despite Bayern Munich’s public stance, Lewandowski wants to leave by all means and has decided to join Barcelona.

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