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Happy Champions League week! An entertaining group stage finale is right around the corner, and was ushered in by a thrilling weekend of action that saw some of Europe's upstarts showcase what they're all about. I'm Pardeep Cattry with the latest.

📺 Footy fix

All times U.S./Eastern

Monday, Dec. 11
🇮🇹 Serie A: Cagliari vs. Sassuolo, 2:45 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+

Tuesday, Dec. 12
🇪🇺 UCL: Manchester United vs. Bayern, 3 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+
🇪🇺 UCL: Copenhagen vs. Galatasaray, 3 p.m. ➡️ Paramount+ 

⚽  The Forward Line

🫨 Giant-slayers seize the moment

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It was a big weekend for Aston Villa and Girona, two teams climbing up their respective standings who had the chance to prove if they were contenders or pretenders against top-tier competition. Both sides stepped up to the plate, and are very much in the conversation for the Premier League and La Liga title, respectively.

Fresh off their dominant win over Manchester City, Villa took on an Arsenal team that started the weekend atop the Premier League table. They picked up another 1-0 win, but Saturday's game played out differently -- Unai Emery's team were in charge from start to finish against the reigning champions, but the Gunners looked like they could find an equalizer for a large chunk of the second half. As James Benge notes, though, Emery's substitutions ensured they could see out the victory.

  • Benge: "Emery turned to a substitutes bench remarkably stacked with talent. Moussa Diaby and Jacob Ramsey had already entered the fray in place of Leon Bailey and Youri Tielemans but it was the introduction of Matty Cash for Ezri Konsa at right back coupled with Leander Dendoncker replacing Boubacar Kamara that allowed Villa to quell the storm. The former gave Villa the legs to track [Kai] Havertz while the latter offered the pace needed to close the gaps on the right flank."

Villa are now two points behind first place Liverpool, but Girona did one better and leapfrogged Real Madrid to go first place of La Liga with a 4-2 win over Barcelona on Sunday. Though La Liga's reigning champions were competitive, Francesco Porzio writes that the match ultimately was between two contrasting sides.

  • Porzio: "Barcelona missed an incredible chance to close the gap with the leaders and Xavi should be more worried about how they lost, more than the actual result. Especially in the second half, Barcelona looked confused and a bit indecisive. On the other side, Girona were fresh and exploited the defensive insecurities of the home side, who only reacted in the final minutes after cutting the deficit to 3-2."

Girona are now two points clear of Real Madrid and still just have one loss this season.

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🔗  Midfield Link Play

🔴 United's last stand?

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Manchester United's calamitous Champions League campaign resumes, perhaps for one last time, tomorrow when they host a Bayern Munich side that has already qualified for the knockout rounds. As has been the case all season, United enter the matchup in a precarious position -- they need to beat Bayern plus root for a draw between Copenhagen and Galatasaray, and are coming off yet another rough result.

This time, it was a 3-0 loss to Bournemouth that came exactly ten years after then-United manager David Moyes said the team needed to "improve in a number of areas, including passing, creating chances and defending," something that has not changed much since. It was an appropriate way to mark a decade of things going awry for the storied club that still very much lives in Sir Alex Ferguson's shadow, and reapplies pressure to current manager Erik ten Hag to finally course correct.

For now, Ten Hag's job seems to be secure and he received the backing of Scott McTominay in the player's pre-match remarks earlier today, but it's another big week that could either improve or worsen the situation at Old Trafford. United have lost 11 of their 23 games this season, and in addition to facing Bayern tomorrow, will return to Premier League action over the weekend against Premier League leaders Liverpool. Long story short -- the roller coaster ride that is United's season probably will not slow down anytime soon.

🔗  Top Stories

🎧 Now playing: Call It What You Want, a podcast covering American soccer hosted by Jimmy Conrad, Charlie Davies, and Jesse Marsch, launches today! Catch the first episode at 9 p.m. on CBS Sports Golazo Network and listen afterwards wherever you get your podcasts.

The CBS Sports Golazo Network presents Call It What You Want, a weekly podcast where Jimmy Conrad, Jesse Marsch and Charlie Davies cover all things USMNT and the state of the beautiful game in the United States.

🟡 Crew lift MLS Cup: The Columbus Crew beat LAFC 2-1 on Saturday to win their third MLS Cup in a win that spotlighted head coach Wilfried Nancy's style of play, excellence form his wingers, and cemented Darlington Nagbe's status as one of the league's best-ever midfielders.

3️⃣ Best of three: MLS commissioner Don Garber said the league will not add a fourth designated player spot, but that some roster rules will change to ensure other teams can compete in the Lionel Messi era.

🇪🇺 Champions League check-in: Here are the top storylines to follow ahead of the Champions League group stage finale, including Paris Saint-Germain's need to avoid a first round exit and AC Milan's rough season.

Weekend recap: Juventus confirmed their spot in the Serie A title race with a win over Napoli, while Chelsea continue to churn out average performances despite their big spending summer.

🏆 Club World Cup: The Club World Cup begins tomorrow, and here's what you need to know before the likes of Manchester City and Fluminense touch down in Saudi Arabia.

🇺🇸🇲🇽 Neighborly alliance: The U.S. and Mexico formalized a joint bid to host the 2027 Women's World Cup, joining Brazil and a group effort from Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands as contenders to hold the competition.

🔴⚫ Zlatan's return: AC Milan legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic will become a strategic advisor to RedBird, the club's ownership group, months after retiring.

🇧🇷 Retiring No. 10: Santos will temporarily retire Pele's No. 10 jersey after they were relegated last week, and will only bring it back upon their return to the Brasileirao.

💰  The Back Line

💵 Best bets

  • Champions League: Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich, Tuesday, 3 p.m.
    💰 THE PICK: More than 3.5 goals scored (+125)
    -- United have only played one Champions League game this season that had fewer than five goals, and it was not against a Bayern team that prefers to run up the score. Expect goals on Tuesday, and plenty of them.
  • Champions League: Copenhagen vs. Galatasaray, Tuesday, 3 p.m.
    💰 THE PICK: Less than 2.75 goals scored (+110) -- A draw favors Copenhagen, but with Galatasaray needing a win to advance, goals are in the cards for both sides. We might not see as many in Denmark as we could see in England, but enough to keep things interesting.

📺 What's on CBS Sports Golazo Network

☀️ Morning Footy (Weekdays 8-10 a.m.): Hosts Susannah Collins, Charlie Davies, Nico Cantor and Alexis Guerreros help fans get their day started on the network's flagship morning show with highlights, interviews and the biggest soccer storylines. Morning Footy is also available in podcast form, so you'll never have to miss an episode.

📦 Box 2 Box (Weekday afternoons): The news-driven show quickly recaps all the latest headlines from around the world with panelists previewing the top matchups of the day. Catch Box 2 Box on CBS Sports Golazo Network on the CBS Sports app, PlutoTV and Paramount+. 

3️⃣ Attacking Third (Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening): The leading women's soccer podcast and social brand is now a live studio show. Just because the NWSL season is over doesn't mean that our coverage of the women's game is going anywhere. Our analysts will be breaking down the USWNT. NWSL offseason and European domestic season all winter long.

👟 Kickin' It (Tuesday, 7 p.m.): CBS Sports Golazo Network's new unfiltered interview show returns Tuesday Hosted by Kate Abdo, Clint Dempsey, Mo Edu and Charlie Davies, the group chat candidly with the biggest names from the Beautiful Game and share their stories from on and off the pitch. 

Call it What You Want (Monday night): A weekly podcast where Jimmy Conrad, Jesse Marsch and Charlie Davies cover all things USMNT and the state of the beautiful game in the United States.

🥅 Scoreline (Daily): Scoreline is the newest place for fans to catch up on all the biggest news and results impacting global football, match highlights from the top soccer competitions and all the can't-miss goals from the day's action, starting Thursday and airing seven days a week.

📺 How to watch: CBS Sports Golazo Network is a free 24/7 channel exclusively dedicated to offering unparalleled coverage of all the top soccer competitions worldwide. You can stream for free on the CBS Sports appPluto TV and Paramount+.