Barcelona v Paris St Germain - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final

Champions League preview: Picking favorites between Bayern Munich, Barcelona

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Having won an ever-tougher German league in record time, Bayern Munich needs little more to prove their European bonafides that the domestic distance between them and Borussia Dortmund (20 points), a 4-0 (aggregate) trouncing of Juventus in the UEFA Champions League quarters, and a roster with depth and quality that rivals any in world soccer. If they did, the 16-2 margin they’ve racked up in winning their last three league games or the +75 goal difference they’ve accumulated through 30 Bundesliga rounds would be enough to argue they’re not only Europe’s form team, they’ve put together UEFA’s most impressive campaign. If you were to pick Champions League’s favorite based on only this year’s returns, Bayern would be the obvious choice.

But that status only confounds the picture ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal, one that pits the would-be kings against the reigning monarchs. Because although Barcelona didn’t win last year’s Champions League (remember Chelsea?), their status as ‘team our club would most like to emulate’ creates a standard, one Bayern has implicitly bought into while tabbing Pep Guardiola to take over at the Allianz next year. Having won two Champions Leagues and three Spanish titles during four years bossing the Blaugrana, the Barcelona legend is set to bring Barça to Bavaria, a move that makes Tuesday’s meeting the first half of a type of Guardiola Clasico.

“I have respect for Pep Guardiola and we have a very good relationship,” Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes said on Monday. “This match will not affect this. I don’t need any information from anyone. I know Spanish football, I know Barça and I know my own team very well.”

It’s exactly what you’d expect from a coach that signed off on Guardiola’s hire, though it doesn’t help answer the central questions ahead of Tuesday’s match: Who’s the favorite? The team with the gaudy numbers and layers upon layers of talent? Or the team that sits on the proverbial throne.

There seem to be two schools of thought:

Picking Bayern Picking Barça
They’re clearly the best team in Europe. They’ve lapped the Bundesliga and embarrassed Juventus with talent that explains their results. Only subscribing to Barcelona mysticism would make them underdogs. We’re seen Barcelona be eliminated by lesser teams than Bayern. It’s one thing to put up impressive results against Germany and the res of Champions League – results that shouldn’t be discounted – but Barcelona is so stylistically distinct, you predict results based on a club’s performance against other teams. Most teams crumble against Barcelona

Bayern’s a team which, even by Barcelona’s standards, has an enviable amount of artillery. Even with first choice number nine Mario Mandsukic suspended, Bayern has an elite goal scorer: German international Mario Gomez. On the flanks, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben present significant challenges for Barcelona’s fullbacks, while Thomas Muller, set to play in support of Gomez, has proven himself in a World Cup and the previous Champions League. Bayern has no shortage of players who could win this match.

“To sum up Bayern’s strength this year with just one word, I would say ‘teamwork’,” Heynckes said. “Bayern play the most modern and up-to-date football in their history. There are so many things you can prepare before a game, but being spontaneous is very important in football. You need good intuition to do this.”

source: ReutersThat spontaneity means players like midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger (right) and Javi Martinez could also be threats, as well as fullbacks Philipp Lahm and David Alaba. It also means the team may have the fluidity to cover for the absence of Toni Kroos, the Bayern playmaker out for the season after suffering an abductors injury against Málaga.

The bigger injury concern, however, lies with the other side. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi – the consensus world’s best player who’s scored an astounding 43 goals in 29 league games – has only played since the his team’s second quarterfinal leg against Paris Saint-Germain, a match in which he could only go half an hour. Having picked up in injury in the first leg in Paris, Messi hasn’t started a game since April 2. He’s expected to being in Jordi Roura’s starting XI on Tuesday, but whether he’s 100 percent remains to be seem.

“Messi is improving and is getting better but we will have to see what the doctor says,” Barça’s interim boss Jordi Roura said on Monday. “He is a great player because he can dictate games. We hope he will be fine tomorrow.”

In a way, that’s not even the most important part of the match for Barcelona. On the road in game one of a two-legged tie, the more important thing will be staying close. Barcelona need to keep the score close enough to play their normal style when the match moves to Cataluyna. They need a big day from Gerard Piqué in defense, and they’ll need strong performances from Sergio Busquets and Victor Valdes.

Any result that keeps them from falling behind by more than one goal will be a positive one. Because of their standards, Barcelona will want to win on Tuesday, but with the quality of this Bayern side, staying close away from home could be the difference between maintaining their Champions League dreams and being just another Juventus on the road to Bayern’s title.

Notes

  • Bayern’s domestic season is done, but they’re still racking up results. Gomez and Claudio Pizarro each scored twice in this weekend’s 6-1 win at Hannover.
  • Barcelona also won this weekend, albeit in less convincing fashion. Cesc Fabregas’s 84th minute goal gave the Blaugrana a 1-0 win at home against Levante.
  • Eric Abidal, coming back from a liver transplant, played 90 minutes in central defense on Saturday, though don’t expect him in Roura’s XI at Bayern. Adriano should start along side Piqué in the middle.
  • The last time the two teams met was the 2008-09 Champions League quarterfinals. Barcelona routed Bayern in the first leg on their way to a 5-1 aggregate victory.
  • Bayern returns two starters from that match: Ribery and Lahm. Barcelona could return as many as six starters: Valdes, Dani Alves, Piqué, Xavi Hernandez, Messi, and Andres Iniesta,
  • Bayern have only lost once at home to a Spanish side in Champions League play: 3-2 to Deportivo la Coruna in 2002-03.
  • Barcelona have an eight match unbeaten run on German soil, their last trip a 3-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in last year’s group stage.

Possible Lineups

Bayern Munich (4-2-3-1): Manuel Neuer; David Alaba, Dante, Daniel Van Buyten, Philipp Lahm; Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javi Martinez; Franck Ribery, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben; Mario Gomez.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Victor Valdes; Jordi Alba, Adriano, Gerard Piqué, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez; David Villa, Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodriguez.

Previews of every Premier League game – Week 26

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Diego Costa (R) of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team mates during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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There are eight Premier League games in Week 26 as the EFL Cup final sees Southampton and Manchester United both out of PL action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live

With the FA Cup break over, we are now looking forward to plenty of big battles across the league as some teams try to scramble for points in their quests to finish in the top four, while others are scrapping away for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

With 13 games to go, it’s all getting rather tense out there…

Below you can find previews, team news and score predictions on every game coming up this weekend.


Tottenham vs. Stoke City

Everton vs. Sunderland

Chelsea vs. Swansea City

West Brom vs. Bournemouth

Leicester City vs. Liverpool

Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

Hull City vs. Burnley

Watford vs. West Ham

Predicting EFL Cup final lineups: Man United v Saints

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibbrahimovic  of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Manchester United and Southampton contest the EFL Cup final at Wembley Stadium this Sunday as the first trophy of the domestic season in England is up for grabs.

[ MORE: Follow EFL Cup final live

Jose Mourinho’s United go into the clash on a roll after losing just one game in their last 25 in all competitions, while pushing themselves back into the top four hunt and reaching both the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and the last 16 of the Europa League.

As for Southampton, Claude Puel‘s men are the undisputed underdogs but will fancy their chances of causing an upset after beating both Arsenal and Liverpool to make it to their first League Cup final since 1979 and just the second in their 132-year history.

Below is a look at how both teams could line up on Sunday, with some analysis on how it could play out.


Manchester United

—– De Gea —–

— Valencia — Bailly — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

—- Mata —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Ibrahimovic —–

Subs: Romero, Young, Rojo, Jones, Martial, Lingard, Rooney

United have some injury concerns ahead of the final with both Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick limping off against Saint-Etienne on Wednesday in the Europa League. Mourinho believes they’re big doubts to play at Wembley. That means one of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial will come in for Mkhitaryan and it will probably be Rashford who has looked increasingly dangerous in recent weeks.

The back four picks itself and with Carrick likely out, you’d expected Ander Herrera to be joined by Marouane Fellaini in midfield. The only other question is whether or not Wayne Rooney will be fit enough to play some part after spending over three weeks on the sidelines.  Zlatan Ibrahimovic will lead the line and his partnership with Paul Pogba will test Southampton’s makeshift defense severely.


Southampton

—– Forster —–

Cedric — Stephens — Yoshida — Bertrand —

—- Romeu —- Davis —-

—- Redmond —- Tadic —- Ward-Prowse —-

—– Gabbiadini —–

Subs: Hassen, McQueen, Caceres, Hojbjerg, Rodriguez, Sims, Long

Saints have a few key players missing for this clash and their biggest concern will be in central defense. After selling Jose Fonte in January, they then lost Virgil Van Dijk through injury. That forced Puel to bring in Martin Caceres on a short-term deal but the former Barcelona and Juventus defender hasn’t played in over a year so academy product Jack Stephens will likely start alongside Maya Yoshida. Can they shackle Ibrahimovic? In midfield Oriol Romeu has been incredible in the holding role and he will go head-to-head with Pogba, while alongside him club captain Steven Davis will provide a good base to snuff out United’s attack.

James Ward-Prowse could get the nod over Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez out wide due to his set-piece deliveries, while Dusan Tadic in-behind Manolo Gabbiadini will be Saints’ biggest attacking threat. They were struggling for goals with Charlie Austin out injured but Gabbiadini has scored three in his first two games for Saints since arriving in January from Napoli.


Where next? Rooney’s agent in China discussing offers

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United shows appreciation to the fans after the final whistle during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on November 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney‘s potential move to the Chinese Super League appears to be drawing closer.

[ MORE: What’s the best option for Rooney? ]

Multiple outlets are reporting that Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford, has traveled to China to discuss a potential transfer to the CSL for his client ahead of the transfer window closing in China on Feb. 28.

Where is he going in China?

According to the BBC Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian are the favorites for his signature, while yesterday a report from Sky Sports suggested Guangzhou Evergrande and Beijing Sinobo Guoan were the front-runners to sign Rooney. With the strict laws on each team being allowed just four players from outside the Asian Football Confederation in their squad (plus, a new rule for the 2017 season means only three foreign players can be on the pitch for each team at the same time) there appears to be only a few options for Rooney.

Jiangsu Suning, Tianjin Quanjian and Beijing Sinobo Guoan all have an open spot for a foreign player, while Guangzhou Evergrande — who have won the CSL six years on the spin and are managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari — have all of their available slots locked up with Jackson Martinez and Paulinho on board.

Stars such as Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Graziano Pelle, Martinez and Alex Teixeira have taken up plenty of the international spots as talent continues to flock to China. Rooney is reportedly being offered in excess of $43.5 million per season which would make him the best-paid player on the planet.

The all-time leading goalscorer for Manchester United and England certainly seems to have options, even if this move isn’t pushed through by next Tuesday and instead happens in the summer.

Should Rooney move on from United?

It appears that he is reluctant to do so but with the 31-year-old in and out of the team this season and other attackers such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in good form, getting regular minutes will be a struggle for the legendary forward who has spent the last 13 years at Old Trafford.

Rooney’s current deal at United runs out until 2019 but it appears a move to China for one final payday seems like an increasingly likely proposition.

LA Galaxy’s reserve team to hold open tryouts in England

CARSON CA - AUGUST 9: Making his MLS debut Giovani Dos Santos #10 of the Los Angeles Galaxy congratulates Gyasi Zardes #11 after he scored a goal against Seattle Sounders during the first half at StubHub Center August 9, 2015, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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CARSON, Calif. (AP) The LA Galaxy’s reserve team will hold open tryouts in England this summer in an attempt to find overlooked talent for the Major League Soccer franchise.

The LA Galaxy II announced the tryouts Wednesday.

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Players between 16 and 25 years old will be welcomed in London on May 31 and June 1 and in Manchester on June 3-4. At least five players from each city will be selected and flown to the Galaxy’s training complex in suburban Los Angeles for another week of trials.

Former England captain David Beckham leads a long list of prominent European talent that has suited up for the five-time MLS champion Galaxy.

Among the club’s English players, defender Ashley Cole is in his second season, while Steven Gerrard left the club last year.