Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored four goals, celebrates after their international friendly soccer match against England at the Friends Arena in Stockholm

Without Ibrahimovic, PSG can’t beat nine-man Stade Rennes

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If you were looking to catch Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action after his mid-week spectacle, you were out of luck. ‘Ibra’ was suspended on for Paris Saint-Germain’s Saturday match against Stade Rennes.

Yes, I was also surprised to learn this wasn’t legal:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcRGelH3-Xc]

I guess you can only get away with that in a World Cup final.

Ibra got a two-match ban, the first game illustrating just how important he’s become to his new team. PSG struggled to a 1-1 draw with 14th place Montpellier, and result that looked worlds better after the Parisians’ performance on Saturday.

MORE: Ibra? Or … Michael Bradley?

Hosting surging Rennes, PSG was given an early gift. After the teams had traded early goals, goalkeeper Benoit Costil saw red for taking down Jeremy Menez (who later had to leave with a leg injury). Returning the favor, PSG set up a terrible wall on a 34th minute free kick, allowing Rennes’ Julian Féret to curve his shot around the wall and past Salvatore Sirigu.

Given the Parisians’ talents, the 2-1 halftime deficit seemed a minor inconvenience, particularly with Rennes determined to have the last laugh in the teams’ battle of stupid offenses. Early in the second, midfielder Jean Makoun’s ill-advised foul on Nene (going through the back of the PSG attacker) drew a second yellow card, leaving Rennes to play out the final 40 minutes with nine men. Surely, even an Ibrahimovic-less PSG – a team that had Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Nene, Guillaume Hoarau and Kevin Gamiero on the field at match’s end – could find a way to get two goals against nine men.

They didn’t even get one, allowing a nine-man Rennes to take three points from the Parc de Princes, extended PSG’s winless streak to three. Now wins from any of Marseille, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Valenciennes or Bordeaux will cost PSG Ligue 1’s top spot. If the planets align, Carlo Ancelotti’s team will be in fifth come Monday morning.

All of which brings us back to Ibrahimovic. Ibra has 10 goals in as many league appearances since moving to France, but the rest of the team’s only scored nine goals despite play three games without him. With all the money PSG’s spent over the last two years, who would have thought they’d end up a one-man team?

MORE: You can win Ibra’s four-goal boots.

When Ibra’s out, however, PSG’s a zero man team, one incapable of besting a nine-man side at home. It makes you wonder what would become of PSG’s season is the 31-year-old Swede got hurt.

Fortunately for the Parisians, Ibrahimovic has been very durable. Since moving from the Dutch league to Italy in 2004, Ibrahimovic has averaged 31 league games per year, never appearing in fewer than 26.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.

Chicharito sidelined two weeks with muscle injury

ROME, ITALY - NOVEMBER 04:  Javier Hernandez of Bayer 04 Leverkusen celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Roma and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Olimpico Stadium on November 4, 2015 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Bayer Leverkusen must move forward without their top talisman as Javier Hernandez is out with a muscle injury.

The Mexican international was forced off in the second half of Leverkusen’s midweek loss to Werder Bremen in the German Cup.

[ MORE: Arsenal to play MLS All-Stars ]

Hernandez scored in that Werder Bremen match before getting injured, as the striker has now scored a remarkable 20 goals in his last 18 appearances for Leverkusen.

With a torn muscle fiber in his left glute, Leverkusen boss Rogers Schmidt announced Chicharito could be out for two or even three weeks.

[ RELATED: Messi wins his first La Liga Player of the Month award ]

Including this weekend’s match at Darmstadt, Hernandez will likely miss both matches against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as well as a huge Bundesliga clash with Borussia Dortmund.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.