Maurizio Sarri has defended his decision to leave Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic out of Juventus' Champions League squad.

The pair were surprise omissions from the Italian champions' selection for the group stage of the competition, which begins next week with a trip to Atletico Madrid.

Can admitted to being "furious" and "shocked" at Sarri's selection call and said he was not given an explanation as to why he was overlooked.

Sarri has previously expressed concern about the size of his bloated squad and insisted at Friday's news conference that he made the "necessary" decision in leaving out Can and Mandzukic.

"It wasn't easy or pleasing to make the choices I had to for the Champions League list, but it was necessary," he said.

"I'm sorry because two important players were left out. However, these difficulties demonstrate the strength of our squad."

Asked if he expected the reaction from Can, Sarri said: "It's normal that when a player suffers from a strong and impactful choice that there's an emotional aspect involved. 

"We must give him the opportunity to let out how he is feeling. I'm of the right age to understand these kinds of reactions."

Can played the final five minutes of Germany's 2-0 win against Northern Ireland on Monday, having been an unused sub for the loss to Netherlands, and he may get the nod to start Juve's trip to Fiorentina on Saturday.

Juventus are back in action four days later when travelling to Atletico in the Champions League and Sarri is ready to make full use of his big squad.

"At this moment our attention must be on the league," he said. "Then we will think about the cup. 

"We are in a moment in which the team must take its own identity. We must fight the difficulty that is having many players who have played very little in the last period."

Among those pushing for inclusion is midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has not featured in a competitive game since arriving from Arsenal during the close season because of a muscle injury.

"A few weeks ago he was far behind his team-mates from the physical point of view," Sarri said. 

"In the last 10 days I have seen progress in training. He is not yet at his best but if his evolution continues he can soon return to a high level."

It has been a whirlwind 12 months for Milos Degenek, who played an influential role as his boyhood club Red Star Belgrade snapped a 26-year European drought last season.

Not since 1992 had Red Star qualified for Europe's premier club competition. But Degenek's looping header helped the Serbian champions to a dramatic play-off win over RB Salzburg in 2018.

In the international wilderness since soon after winning the European Cup in 1991, it awoke a sleeping giant. A memorable win over eventual champions Liverpool and an impressive draw with Napoli in a difficult group including Paris Saint-Germain whetted their appetite for Champions League football.

But after the highest of highs and bringing Red Star back to the pinnacle of European football, Degenek opted for a new challenge in January – Saudi Arabian powerhouse Al-Hilal. The 25-year-old defender played alongside Sebastian Giovinco, Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo. While it was a positive experience with one of Asia's biggest clubs in the Far East, the lure of Red Star and another Champions League campaign proved too strong.

"Playing Champions League then going to Saudi Arabia and coming back to the Champions League again, you couldn't imagine that," Degenek, who returned to Red Star on loan in July before signing a four-year contract, told Omnisport. "You dream about it and you sacrifice a lot for it to happen.

"Last year it was me that helped Red Star a lot in the qualifiers against Salzburg but it wasn't just me. It's a team effort. It's never just down to one player."

The Socceroos defender – who fled the war-torn Balkan region with his family in the 1990s, relocating to Australia – added: "I had the six months playing Champions League and then it was time for me to go to Saudi Arabia to Al Hilal, where I had a good stint. I played in the Asian Champions League and played with some unbelievable players. I had a lot of fun there, it was a good experience.

"But eventually things turned around and I ended up coming back to Red Star. I wanted European football again. I'm 25 and I believe I still have a lot to offer in Europe and I can show that to the world, that's why I'm very excited to be back. It's my home, it's the club I love."

Degenek is preparing for another Champions League campaign, this time involving Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, last season's runners-up Tottenham and Greek giants Olympiacos in Group B.

Like last season, Degenek played a big role in the play-offs. He scored a priceless goal as Red Star drew 2-2 at Young Boys before prevailing over the Swiss side on away goals last month.

"Obviously, we broke that drought last year. To do it two years in a row is something phenomenal. None of us could have dreamt that," he said. "Things like that don't come that often or easy. There was a lot of sacrifices made, a lot of difficult games and trips against big clubs. It's a testament to the club, players, fans, staff and coaching that we stuck together and achieved this unbelievable thing.

"Playing with the some of the greatest clubs in European competition with the greatest history. Obviously last season with Liverpool. Napoli and PSG don't have the greatest European tradition and history, but Liverpool does. This year again with Bayern Munich, it's something spectacular.

"Bayern are massive, Spurs are massive, Olympiacos are massive. I look forward to it. It's something I'll cherish like I did last season. Hopefully we can go one step further this season [and finish third]. With God's help and a good plan, we can achieve things. Experiences of last year can possibly help us achieve an even better run in the group stages."

"Zvezda has a rich history," Degenek added. "It's a big club, they used to be even bigger but we're getting there. We're helping the club and fans to dream again and still love the game. It's very important that we're improving every season."

Degenek and Red Star will be relying on their fanatical and daunting support in Belgrade, where Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool lost 2-0 in November at Rajko Mitic Stadium – also known as the Marakana.

"It's unbelievable, [our fans] are like a 12th man on the pitch," the Australia international said of the support. "For us playing at home it's unbelievable. I don’t know if a lot of people in this world understand what it means. If you've never been out on the pitch, you never will but I guess Liverpool understood and PSG and Napoli did."

As for Stephen Warnock and the former Liverpool defender's incorrect claims that Red Star were "part-time" with "plumbers", for which he apologised after the team's Champions League qualification, Degenek is using it for motivation.

"It shows how much people don't care about us and that people think we're an unimportant team in Europe," the former 1860 Munich defender said. "That's why I'm excited and happy that we're bringing Zvezda back to the world stage. It motivates you. It's embarrassing an ex-footballer doesn't know about the 1991 European champions."

Carlo Ancelotti launched a searing attack on the local council over the state of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo, claiming the ground's redevelopment has left his players with inadequate dressing room facilities.

After playing their first two games of the season away from home, Napoli are scheduled to play Sampdoria at San Paolo on Saturday before the visit of Liverpool in the Champions League three days later.

But according to Ancelotti the work has fallen short of what was promised, and suggested the council of the municipality of Naples, which owns the ground, showed a lack of regard for his team.

In a statement published on the club's official website, Ancelotti said: "I saw the conditions of the San Paolo dressing rooms. There are no words.

"I accepted the club's request to play the first two games away from home to allow the work to be completed, as was promised. In two months you can build a house - they have not been able to redo the changing rooms!

"Where should we change to play against Sampdoria and Liverpool?"

The planned redevelopment works included big screen displays, upgraded lights and a new surveillance system, as well as new changing rooms.

The council reportedly said the failure to complete the works entirely would not affect Ancelotti's team, but the Napoli coach disagreed vehemently.

"I am outraged by the incorrectness and inadequacy of those who had to carry out these jobs," he said.

"How have the region, municipality and commissioners been able to disregard the commitments made?

"I see a contempt and a non-attachment to the city team. I am dismayed."

Luis Suarez returned to first-team training at Barcelona on Wednesday to give head coach Ernesto Valverde hope that he could feature against Valencia on Saturday and lessen the need to rush Lionel Messi back from injury.

Suarez is nearing full fitness again after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in Barcelona's defeat to Athletic Bilbao on the opening day of the new LaLiga season.

After missing Barca's subsequent 5-2 win over Real Betis and their 2-2 draw at Osasuna, the Uruguay international trained with the team in the build-up to Valencia's visit to Camp Nou to provide Valverde with a welcome boost to his attacking options.

Messi, meanwhile, had been expected to make his first appearance of the season against Valencia after recovering from a calf injury but Valverde may opt not to risk the 32-year-old if Suarez is available.

The muscle strain sustained on the first day of pre-season training has kept Messi out of Valverde's matchday squads since then, but the Barcelona coach said he hoped to have him back in time to face Valencia.

However, the Spanish champions face a trip to Germany three days after the Valencia game to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Valverde may give Messi extra rest as he completes his recovery.

Former Barcelona and Inter star Samuel Eto'o has seemingly called time on his illustrious career in a message via social media.

Eto'o – a three-time Champions League winner among other honours – last played for Qatari outfit Qatar SC in 2018-19.

And the 38-year-old ex-Cameroon striker appears set for life after football following Friday's Instagram post.

"THE END, TOWARDS A NEW CHALLENGE," Eto'o wrote.

"Thank you all big love... adrenaline."

Eto'o enjoyed a trophy-laden career after emerging from Real Madrid's youth team in 1997 – making three appearances for the Spanish giants.

He won the Champions League twice with Barcelona and again during his time at Inter, where Eto'o was part of the club's 2009-10 treble-winning side.

In total, Eto'o celebrated 15 club titles – including three LaLiga trophies – following spells with Mallorca, Barca, Inter, Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea, Everton, Sampdoria, Antalyaspor, Konyaspor and Qatar SC.

Eto'o earned 118 caps for Cameroon as he became the country's all-time leading scorer with 56 goals, while winning two African Cup of Nations titles and gold at the 2000 Olympic Games.

Emre Can has accused Juventus of breaking a promise by leaving him out of their Champions League squad.

The German midfielder was not included on the 22-player list submitted by Juventus to UEFA, meaning he can play no part in the group stage.

Can claims that conflicts with what he was promised just days ago and insisted he "must and will" play in the competition, an indication he could push for a move in January.

The selection setback comes after former Liverpool player Can held talks with Paris Saint-Germain, only to decide to remain with the Italian champions.

"I had a talk with the club [PSG]. In the end I decided with the club [Juventus] that I would stay. And as you can see, I'm not in the squad for the Champions League," Can said, before training with Germany on Wednesday.

"I was extremely shocked yesterday because I was promised something else last week. They told me something else.

"If I had drawn my own conclusions, I honestly wouldn't have stayed. Because for me it was a condition to play in the Champions League.

"The shock is extremely deep in me. I can't explain it to myself. I have no idea why, because last year I played very well, especially in the Champions League. There has also been no justification until now."

Head coach Maurizio Sarri picked close-season signings Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey ahead of Can in his midfield ranks for the European games, with Juventus due to play Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow.

"I got a call yesterday. The phone call was not even one minute long," said 25-year-old Can. "And I was simply told that I was not there. Although they told me last week that I will play 100 per cent in the Champions League.

"I must and will play in the Champions League. I will talk to the club when I come back. And I will see what happens."

Jurgen Klopp hailed Virgil van Dijk's UEFA Men's Player of the Year award as a prize for all of Liverpool's players.

Van Dijk enjoyed a supreme 2018-19 campaign, helping Liverpool to Champions League glory and captaining Netherlands to the Nations League final.

The former Southampton defender has maintained his form heading into this season and edged out superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to the honour in Monaco on Thursday.

Klopp was quick to laud Van Dijk's individual displays but pointed out his triumph was one that would not be possible without all of Liverpool's squad.

"Brilliant! It's really big. I wanted to call him immediately, but he had to go on stage. I'm so happy for him," Klopp told Liverpool's official website.

"I'm happy for us as well because he knows that without the boys around him, he cannot win that prize.

"It's a prize for all of us – but we send our big man there to get it. It's really rare for a defender. Yes, we all love goals – we want to score them and see them – but more and more and more people get excited about defending.

"Virg is an exceptional defender, in the moment 100 per cent the best defender in the world, so he deserves that prize absolutely.

"It's now the icing on the cake of the Champions League campaign last year."

The awards ceremony took place after the Champions League draw, in which Liverpool were pitted against Napoli, Salzburg and Genk in the group stage.

Van Dijk's team-mate Alisson picked up the Champions League Goalkeeper of the Season accolade and Klopp had no doubt the Brazilian was worthy.

"I would say well, well, well deserved. He made exceptional saves," Klopp said.

"In the first season with us and immediately winning the Champions League. What a year he had, he won the Champions League, won the Copa America and now is the best goalie of last year."

Cristiano Ronaldo is hoping for a kinder reception from the Atletico Madrid faithful after Juventus were drawn against Diego Simeone's side in the Champions League group stage.

Juve met Atleti in the round of 16 last season with Real Madrid icon Ronaldo scoring a hat-trick in the second leg to overturn the Rojiblancos' 2-0 lead from the first match.

Ronaldo was jeered by the Atleti support during the first leg and responded by gesturing a "five" to the home fans, demonstrating the number of Champions League trophies he has won.

The Portugal star also told reporters in the post-match mixed zone: "I won five Champions Leagues, Atletico Madrid zero. Defeat? That's what happens in football, let's see if Atletico will qualify."

Ronaldo's warning shot to Atleti ultimately proved true and now the sides will meet again in this season's competition having been matched up in Group D alongside Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow.

However, Ronaldo is holding out for a less hostile return to the Wanda Metropolitano on his next return to Madrid.

"It's one more game. Atletico is a great team as we all know," Ronaldo, the all-time leading scorer in the Madrid derby, told Movistar.

"In Madrid I played many times and they were always a tough opponent. I hope they don't crush me again at the stadium, calling me unsportsmanlike. 

"Atletico has an excellent team and an excellent coach. The other two adversaries are tough. This is the draw."

Despite their superb comeback against Atleti, Juve were dumped out in the next round, going out to Erik ten Hag's scintillating Ajax side.

It was a defeat that ultimately appeared to cost Massimiliano Allegri his job, with Juve also moving to sign one of Ajax's scorers in that encounter – Netherlands star Matthijs de Ligt – in the close season.

But Ronaldo is confident the Serie A champions can go deeper into the tournament this time around.

"The favourite does not always win. Look at last year. Barcelona in Anfield, with Juve the same," Ronaldo said.

"I hope it is this year. I am confident. I hope it is the year of Juve. All teams reinforce to win. I hope it's Juve. We have great team and great players, a great coach."

Jurgen Klopp is anticipating an "emotional" Napoli after Champions League holders Liverpool were drawn against Carlo Ancelotti's side again in this season's group stage.

Liverpool, who beat Tottenham to claim their sixth title in Europe's elite club competition, were pitted with Napoli, Genk and Salzburg in Group E.

Napoli have become a familiar foe over recent seasons, having been placed in the same group as the Reds last season.

The Serie A side came out on top in their first meeting in October, but a 1-0 win at Anfield in the last group outing secured Liverpool's progression behind Paris Saint-Germain.

Ancelotti's team – who beat Liverpool 3-0 in pre-season – have invested in their squad in the transfer window, bringing in Hirving Lozano for a club-record fee while defender Kostas Manolas has joined from Roma.

Real Madrid's James Rodriguez and Inter's Mauro Icardi have also been targeted and although Liverpool will be favourites to top Group E, Klopp knows his side cannot underestimate the Napoli threat.

"Napoli again! I don't know how often I've now played against Napoli, but they're obviously a very experienced side," Klopp told Liverpool's official website.

"Napoli are just a really good side. The home game we played [in last season's Champions League] was one of the best games we played because it was so rock solid.

"In the pre-season games, when we won 5-0 in Dublin [in 2018] I was not interested in the result. Now this year we lost 3-0 and that's not too interesting, but you see how good they are.

"Carlo has such experience and has won the competition so often [three times]. When they went out last year, it was pretty close, so they will remember that and it will be emotional, I am pretty sure."

Though Liverpool and Napoli are likely to battle it out for the top spots, Klopp feels Genk and Salzburg – Europa League semi-finalists in 2017-18 and the club where Sadio Mane and Naby Keita enjoyed their breakthroughs – will present stern opposition.

"With the other two teams, I know how people will say these are the two smaller teams of the group, they are not," Klopp added.

"Of course, Salzburg are famous for bringing through new players, like they did with Sadio and Naby – they've found a lot of others, too. It will be really interesting."

Georginio Wijnaldum has given a unique insight into "special" Jurgen Klopp's man-management methods after revealing the Liverpool boss addressed his team ahead of the 2018 Champions League final wearing Cristiano Ronaldo-branded underwear.

The Reds boss has carved a reputation for his jovial antics and, according to midfielder Wijnaldum, the German's pre-match team-talk for the showdown against Real Madrid - for whom then-star player Ronaldo was the chief threat - was no exception after he lightened the mood in his own inimitable style.

"We saw he was wearing the boxer shorts of Cristiano Ronaldo," the Netherlands midfielder told The Athletic. 

"He did the meeting with his shirt stuffed inside his 'CR7' boxers. The whole changing room was on the floor laughing their heads off. That really broke the ice. Usually in those situations, everyone is serious and concentrated. But he was relaxed and made this joke.

"He's done hundreds of jokes likes that. If you see that your manager is really confident and relaxed, it will have an effect on players. He is a father figure in those things for the players. With his jokes and his body language, he takes the pressure off players."

Liverpool ultimately lost the game 3-1 but went one better the following season, defeating Tottenham 2-0 to claim a sixth triumph in Europe's premier competition.

It has cemented Klopp's status as one of the world's leading coaches and Wijnaldum has paid tribute to the German's man-management style.

Wijnaldum said: "He always tries to empathise with the other person, to feel what they're going through. He is a really special man for me. I see him as more than a manager - a really good friend."

He continued: "He is the kind of manager that will be angry about things in the game, or will show emotion during a game, but when it comes to half-time, he speaks with you and gives you confidence. 'You can do it better. You have to do this, have to do that…'

"He is one of the first managers I've had who doesn't get angry when you try to do the things that you are good at. He will never be angry when you try to use your talent or quality. Even if it goes wrong.

"Since I am at Liverpool, he has helped me a lot. Not only with football, but also as a person, the way you think about things. That is why I enjoy every day of working with him. I can be really mad at him one day. But the next day the anger is gone and we will love each other again."

Ajax star Donny van de Beek says he could stay at the club despite interest from "fantastic" Real Madrid.

The 22-year-old has already confirmed Madrid have contacted Ajax over a possible transfer as a successful move for Manchester United's Paul Pogba looks increasingly unlikely.

Van de Beek, who excelled in Ajax's run to the Champions League semi-finals last season, says there is nothing certain about his future but is not ruling out staying in Amsterdam.

"They're a fantastic club, but Ajax are too," he said to Ziggo Sport when asked about Madrid.

"I've nothing to complain about in that regard. There's a very good chance I'll continue playing here, but nothing is certain yet."

When pressed on whether it would be better for the club to have clarity on his future, he said: "I hope so, too, because I'm a bit fed up with all the questions about it."

Van de Beek was involved on Tuesday as Ajax claimed a 3-2 win over PAOK to secure a 5-4 aggregate triumph in the third round of Champions League qualifying.

Speaking ahead of that match, director of football Marc Overmars voiced his confidence that Van de Beek could decide to spend a little longer with the Eredivisie champions.

"I don't think it will take long for things to be clear," Overmars told Ziggo Sport.

When asked if he thought Van de Beek would stay, he replied: "I'll go for yes."

Overmars did, however, confirm there is "absolutely" interest in the player.

"I said a few weeks ago that, by a certain date, I want clarity. That date is set," he added.

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag said Donny van de Beek could stay at the Eredivisie champions despite interest from Real Madrid.

Van de Beek has already confirmed Madrid are in talks with Ajax over his transfer as the LaLiga giants struggle to prise Paul Pogba from Manchester United.

However, it seems €60million target and 22-year-old Netherlands international Van de Beek will remain in Amsterdam.

"[Van de Beek] only dedicates himself to playing," Ten Hag said ahead of Tuesday's second leg against PAOK, with the third-round Champions League qualifier locked at 2-2.

"I guess and I hope that he stays with us this season.

"Otherwise, I will hear from [Ajax's director of football,] Marc Overmars."

Van de Beek starred as Ajax earned a draw away to PAOK in the opening leg in Thessaloniki, while he has managed two goals in two Eredivisie matches this season.

He made 57 appearances for Ajax in 2018-19, scoring 17 goals and supplying 13 assists as Ten Hag's men clinched an Eredivisie and KNVB Beker double and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League.

 

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and five Liverpool players have been shortlisted for 2018-19 Champions League positional awards. 

Liverpool defeated Tottenham in the Champions League final and have seen goalkeeper Alisson, defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk, midfielder Jordan Henderson and forward Sadio Mane named among the contenders in their respective categories.

Tottenham also have representation through keeper Hugo Lloris and midfielder Christian Eriksen.

Barcelona superstar Messi, who was the top scorer in last season's competition with 12 goals, will vie with Mane and old adversary Ronaldo for the forward award.

Midfielder Frenkie de Jong and defender Matthijs de Ligt – who are now at Barcelona and Juventus respectively – were also nominated after playing pivotal roles in Ajax's run to the semi-finals.

The awards will be presented during the 2019-20 Champions League group stage draw in Monaco on Thursday 29 August.

The shortlisting jury comprised the coaches of the 32 clubs from last season's group stage and journalists from each of UEFA's 55 member associations.

 

Full list of nominees for 2018-19 Champions League position awards:
  
Goalkeepers: Alisson (Liverpool), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur); Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona).
 
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Matthijs de Ligt (Ajax, now Juventus), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool).
 
Midfielders: Frenkie de Jong (Ajax, now Barcelona), Christian Eriksen (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool).
 
Forwards: Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus).

Ajax star Donny van de Beek will play against PAOK in Champions League qualifying amid interest from Real Madrid, insisted head coach Erik ten Hag.

Van de Beek confirmed Madrid were in talks with Ajax over his transfer following Saturday's 2-2 Eredivisie draw against Vitesse.

The Netherlands international midfielder emerged as a €60million target for the LaLiga giants, who have been unable to prise Paul Pogba from Manchester United.

Ajax – Champions League semi-finalists last season – will face Greek side PAOK in Tuesday's opening leg of their third-round qualifier.

Asked about Van de Beek, Ten Hag told reporters: "He has come here and is going to play.

"He'll play next week too [in the second leg]."

Van de Beek made 57 appearances for Ajax last season, scoring 17 goals and supplying 13 assists as Erik ten Hag's men clinched an Eredivisie and KNVB Beker double and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Ajax will meet either APOEL or Qarabag in the Champions League play-offs if they defeat PAOK in the third qualifying round.

Last season's semi-finalists will take on the champions of Cyprus or Azerbaijan in a two-legged tie if they overcome the 2018-19 Greek Super League winners.

Scottish champions Celtic will take on Slavia Prague if they make it through their third-round tie with CFR Cluj.

Porto or Krasnodar will face Istanbul Basaksehir or Olympiacos, while Basel or LASK will meet Club Brugge or Dynamo Kiev.

Swiss champions Young Boys await Red Star Belgrade or Copenhagen, and Dinamo Zagreb or Ferencvaros will play Maribor or Rosenborg.

The first legs of the third-round matches are on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the return games on August 13.

The play-off matches take place on August 20-21 and August 27-28.

 

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