Pepe Mel West Brom

West Bromwich Albion vs. Everton: Can new Albion boss Pepe Mel get a surprise win?

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Romelu Lukaku returns to The Hawthorns on Monday (3 p.m. ET; watch life on NBCSN and live online viaNBC Sports Live Extra), with his task to help Everton emerge victorious against West Bromwich Albion, the side he did so much to help while on loan there last season.

The Belgian striker scored 17 goals in the league for West Brom in his time with the Baggies – a number that the struggling side are sorely missing at the moment. The Midlands outfit has but 23 goals thus far, with top scorer Saido Berahino notching four, and second best, Shane Long, has just moved to Hull City. With just one win in their last eleven matches, West Brom are currently 14th in the table, just three points above the relegation zone.

But that may all be about to change. Pepe Mel will take the reins for the first time on Monday night, set to put Albion back on track. Mel comes in after being sacked from Real Betis last month, with the side bottom of the La Liga table. That shouldn’t worry West Brom supporters too much: Juan Carlos Garrido was fired from the same post this weekend, after the side lost 5-0 to Real Madrid. And let’s not forget that just last season, Betis finished seventh, qualifying for Europa League. Mel could be just the man to pull the Baggies out of their slump.

(WATCH: West Brom vs. Everton live on NBCSN, 3 p.m. ET Monday and online via Live Extra)

Everton aren’t about to play the role of gracious visitors, allowing Mel to have his dream debut. With a win, the Toffees could go above rivals Liverpool, but even more importantly, three points put them in fourth, the coveted final Champions League position.

The visitors have but two losses to their name, one at Manchester City and the other, oddly enough, at home to Sunderland. They’re undefeated in their last three and will obviously look to extend that run. Under Roberto Martinez, Everton are playing a much more attractive sort of soccer, with an emphasis on free-flowing attack that prevents their opponents from seeing much of the ball. And they’re deadly on set pieces, whether it’s a corner or a free kick sent in from Leighton Baines or Kevin Mirallas.

Everton have a couple concerns, however. They’re without midfielder Ross Barkley, who’s been a bright spot this season, as he’s suffering from a broken toe. And the aforementioned Lukaku has hit a bit of a rough patch, having not scored since the end of November. However, that just might mean the Belgian is due…

 What they’re saying

New West Brom boss Pepe Mel on changing the side’s approach: “West Brom need to have an aggressive approach and – in my personal opinion – create more goal-scoring ­opportunities. The players are showing an awful lot of desire to adapt to my model. They are being very positive. I’m convinced things are going to go well here and they are going to be a success. They are more than capable of having a good rest of the season.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on Pepe Mel‘s appointment: “I think he will surprise a lot of people. He has been very successful in his time in Spain. The first time I was aware of his work was at Rayo Vallecano when he got them promoted to the top league against the odds with a very small budget and since then he has done a remarkable job wherever he has been. It is probably the wrong time to face Pepe Mel, but we wish him the best of luck after Monday.”

Prediction

Draw. With eight draws for Everton and nine for West Brom, these sides are far and away the best at coming out of games with a point. The reverse fixture ended in a goalless draw at Goodison Park back in August, although Everton did manage to hit the woodwork twice. Finally, Pepe Mel knows how important it is to make a good first impression in front of the home fans, but the visitors are simply a stronger side. He may decide to play it safe, as even a draw against the Toffees would likely spell success.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.

FA Cup roundup: Burnley, Crystal Palace advance to 4th round

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace (C) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Andros Townsend of Crystal Palace (L) during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers at Selhurst Park on January 17, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in FA Cup third-round replays…

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Burnley 2-0 Sunderland

Sam Vokes and Andre Gray grabbed goals for Burnley, who opted for a largely first-choice lineup in Tuesday’s replay. Sunderland, meanwhile, went with a mix-and-match bunch and slumped to six games without a win (all competitions), meaning they can focus solely on Premier League survival from here on out. Burnley will host Championship side Bristol City in the fourth round next Saturday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Crystal Palace 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Sam Allardyce picked up his first win as Palace boss, courtesy of a Christian Benteke brace scored nine minutes apart in the second half, as the Eagles came from behind to beat League One side Bolton at Selhurst Park. James Henry put the visitors three minutes into the second half, but Benteke hit back in the 68th and 77th minutes to improve Allardyce’s record to one win, two draws and three losses (all competitions). Palace will host Manchester City in the fourth round next Saturday.

Tuesday’s FA Cup scoreboard

AFC Wimbledon 1-3 Sutton United
Barnsley 1-2 (AET) Blackpool
Fleetwood Town 0-1 Bristol City
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town

AFCON: Ayew propels Ghana to victory; Egypt struggle vs. Mali

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Andre Ayew of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Tuesday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ghana 1-0 Uganda

PORT-GENTIL, Gabon (AP) Andre Ayew scored a penalty as Ghana beat Uganda 1-0 on Tuesday in a lackluster opening to the four-time champions’ bid for a first African Cup of Nations title in 35 years.

Ghana took control of Group D after seven-time champion Egypt struggled in a 0-0 draw with Mali in the other group match.

Ghana has three points, Egypt and Mali one each and Uganda zero.

Ayew, a West Ham winger, netted in the 32nd minute after Asamoah Gyan was held back by Isaac Isinde in the penalty area in Port-Gentil.

Avram Grant, a former Chelsea manager, is looking to lead Ghana to a second successive final but go better than 2015 when his team lost to Ivory Coast.

Uganda has also finished runner-up in the continental championship but the trip to the final in 1978 was the last time it qualified until making the Gabon event.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Mali 0-0 Egypt

Later, 44-year-old Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in tournament history when he came on for injured Ahmed El Shenawy midway through the first half.

El Hadary, who celebrated his birthday two days ago, is participating in his seventh African Cup, having picked up winners’ medals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Egypt’s standout forward Mohamed Salah struggled and was replaced midway through the second half.

Mali, looking to improve on its third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, produced many more chances.

Egypt failed to qualify for the last three editions of the tournament.

Wednesday’s AFCON schedule

Gabon vs. Burkina-Faso — 11 a.m. ET
Cameroon vs. Guinea-Bissau — 2 p.m. ET