Americans Abroad weekend preview: Agudelo to debut in Europe, Howard ready for Merseyside derby

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Juan Agudelo is set to make his debut for FC Utrecht, on loan from Stoke City following his move to Europe.

The 21-year-old isn’t able to play in England just yet, so he’s been sent out to the Netherlands to get playing time while his new parent club sit quietly until they can reapply for a work permit on his behalf.

Utrecht’s head of scouting Edwin de Kruijff called Agudelo “technically proficient” and “an all-round attacker with enormous quality.”  The Dutch club will take on 15th-place Roda JC Kerkrade tomorrow at 1:45 ET.

Across the Eredivisie, Aron Johannsson has two goals in his last two matches and got AZ Alkmaar back on their winning ways last week after a 4-match losing streak. They take on PSV Eindhoven at 2:45 ET tomorrow in a pretty crucial mid-table battle.  The winner will jump into 6th place in the table.

In the Premier League, Everton will play two matches in four days.  Therefore, you may very well not see goalkeeper Tim Howard until their all-important Merseyside derby with Liverpool on Tuesday at 3:00 ET (watch on NBCSN or live on NBC Sports Live Extra). Joel Robles could deputize for the American on Saturday in the FA Cup against Stevenage.

Jozy Altidore could see a good amount of time this weekend as Sunderland also get two matches in a four-day span.  With Altidore mostly relegated to substitute duties in recent weeks, he could see the starting lineup as the Black Cats take on fifth-division minnows Kidderminster on Saturday at 10:00 ET.  Sunderland continue on Tuesday in Premier League action as they host Geoff Cameron‘s Stoke City.

Cameron has surely impressed Stoke boss Mark Hughes, and he’s been rewarded handsomely.  The 28-year-old Massachusetts product has played every minute of the Potters’ season since October 26, adding up to 1,890 of their 1,980 Premier League minutes (and 2,160 of their 2,340 minutes across all competitions).  They look to get out of a rut, having dropped four of their last five, scoring just six times over that span and conceding 16.

Cameron’s Stoke teammate Brek Shea is resting until Tuesday when his current home Barndlsey will continue in the Championship against Blackburn at 2:45 ET. He has yet to go the full 90 for his loan club.

source: AP
Fulham will need Clint Dempsey to put aside his poor form if they wish to pick up points at Swansea on Tuesday.

Fulham’s Clint Dempsey could also be watching their FA Cup tie on Sunday from the bench, with the Cottagers playing twice in just three days, although with Rene Meulensteen looking for Dempsey to get as many minutes as possible, he could also see time in both. However, the Dutch manager has firmly stated their relegation battle is much more important than the FA Cup battle with Sheffield United at 8:00am ET, so Dempsey could be saved for their extremely important match with Swansea in the league on Tuesday at 2:45 ET.

Clint’s had a rough go in his first few matches back with Fulham, but he’s seen little service in the attack in a 4-1 loss to Sunderland and a 2-0 defeat to league-leading Arsenal.

Aston Villa fell in the FA Cup last round to Sheffield United, so Brad Guzan gets the weekend off, with Villa scheduled to host West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday at 2:45 ET. The 29-year-0ld has been a bright spot for his club this season, and will look to take advantage of West Brom’s struggles of late.

Alejandro Bedoya has a very important bounce-back match to look forward to against Ligue 1’s seventh-place Stade Reims.  Bedoya’s Nantes were destroyed 5-0 by league-leaders PSG last week.  The American was a 30th minute substitute for an injured Jordan Veretout with his team down 1-0, and it got way worse from there. This week though, if Nantes can put the performance behind them, a win could see them lead Marseille for sixth, although a loss would mean Stade Reims would jump ahead of them.

With the Bundesliga back in action this weekend, Jermaine Jones will try to cement his place in the Schalke lineup as rumors of his exit have quieted in recent weeks.  New Schalke signing Jan Kirchhoff, on loan from Bayern Munich, was supposed to pip Jones as he looked to leave, but Kirchhoff suffered a relatively serious ankle injury soon after arriving.  Schalke travel to Hamburg on Sunday at 11:30 ET.

Anderlecht are in the midst of a very heated 2nd place battle in the Belgian Jupiler Pro League, and Sacha Kljestan figures to be a big part of it. Stade Rennais have run away with the league title, but with two fixtures to go in the season, three teams including Kljestan’s Anderlecht are all square on 44 points.  They host Club Brugge – one of the other teams on 44 points – on Sunday at noon.

In Mexico, Hercules Gomez, Edgar Castillo, and Joe Corona take the field for Tijuana in the fourth match of the Clausura at 10:00 ET tonight against Morelia.  DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco will play for Puebla against Chiapas at 1:00 ET on Sunday, although Orozco has struggled to find the pitch of late.

Tune back in on Monday for a full recap of the weekend’s action and a closer look at the midweek Premier League fixtures.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone