Diego Lugano played a part in two Aston Villa goes and missed his chance to put West Brom up in the second half. (Photo source: Getty Images.)

Two gaffes, one huge miss see Diego Lugano undermine West Brom, rekindle concerns for Uruguay

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After watching one of their starting center backs undermine their chances today at Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion fans won’t be the only ones regretting the performance of Diego Lugano. For those hoping Uruguay can recreate 2010’s magic at this summer’s World Cup, outings like today’s from the veteran defender are cause for concern. Is this somebody La Celeste can count on in Brazil?

Those doubts are nothing new, with Lugano’s play having prompted questions ever since he left Fenerbahçe for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2011. On Wednesday, however, there was no doubt about the extent to which he hurt his club team. Committing three major errors over a span of 50 minutes, Lugano was the biggest difference between a one-goal loss and a victory in Albion’s West Midlands derby.

The first mistake came in the 12th minute, with the Baggies in control after taking a shock 2-0 lead. Off a long ball from Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Lugano headed back toward his own goal from the edge of West Brom’s defensive third. His ball went straight to Andreas Weimann, who lobbed Baggies goalkeeper Ben Foster to bring Villa back into the match.

Lugano’s second gaffe came 10 minutes into the second half when a Villa mistake defending a restart left him with an open header at Guzan’s left post. From eight yards out, Lugano only needed to redirect his shot on goal, with Villa’s transitioning goalkeeper unlikely to be in position to stop a ball put on target. Instead, Lugano pushed his shot wide of the right post, leaving the shootout tied, 3-3.

Just after the hour, Lugano committed his decisive error. On a cross sent in from Villa’s right, Lugano wrapped his right arm around Christian Benteke’s shoulders and neck, pulling the forward to the ground as Leandro Bacuna’s ball went through the area. With a foul so blatant, all discretion was taken out of Mark Clattenburg’s hands. Lugano cost his team a point, gifting Benteke the penalty that led to the game’s decisive goal.

Even from a player who has become highly scrutinized over the last two-plus years, this was an especially bad day, one that would be unfair to pick apart were it not for its place in a bigger context. At one time the cornerstone of his national team’s defense, Lugano is clearly in the sunset of his career, a decline that’s led him from PSG to West Bromwich (via Málaga). Like most players his age, he’s lost a step, something that’s make him much more mistake prone.

For West Brom, the solution’s obvious. Gareth McCauley has started 20 times this year but hasn’t appeared since Pepe Mel took over. Today, he was on West Brom’s bench, having returned from a hamstring problem. While Mel may have wanted to give a player of Lugano’s reputation another chance in the team (Lugano’s only made five starts), Wednesday should be enough to convince the Baggies’ new boss to turn back to Steve Clarke’s duo. While Lugano’s unlikely to be that bad in his next start, the performance was consistent with somebody who was unable to win more time under the previous boss.

For Uruguay, the solutions aren’t as obvious. While Atlético Madrid’s Diego Godín is an obvious choice at one center back position, there’s no clear candidate to take over for Lugano at the other, part of the reason the then-rarely used Baggie was still in Óscar Washington Tabárez’s starting XI during Uruguay’s World Cup playoff against Jordan. Among the inexperienced (José María Gutíerrez, Gastón Vila, Emiliano Velazquez), rarely played (Sebastián Coates, Martín Caceres), or potentially too old (Andrés Scotti, 38), there’s nobody whose play screams ‘this man should unseat the captain of the national team.’

For West Brom, Wednesday’s Lugano problem doesn’t have to be a big deal. Pepe Mel can move on. For Uruguay, it’s a bigger problem. This is a team that can again be a dark horse contender at a World Cup, but unless Lugano can recapture some of his Fenerbahçe self, Tabárez as a potentially debilitating problem at the back.

FOLLOW LIVE: UEFA Champions League Wednesday fixtures

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - NOVEMBER 17:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden celebrates after the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier Play-Off Second Leg match between Denmark and Sweden at Parken Stadium on November 17, 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yesterday’s Champions League slate brought us the return of Lionel Messi to the field, and he exploded back onto the scene in only a way that Messi can. Today features another return, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic comes home.

PSG heads to Sweden as Zlatan comes back to his boyhood, hometown club of Malmo, kicking at 2:45 P.M. ET. Zlatan isn’t one to dish out compliments to opponents very often, but he had nothing but gushing praise for the club that kickstarted his career.

“I have become who I am because of Malmo,” Zlatan told the Malmo official website. “Everything started in Malmo and I feel like a Malmo lad. I move in a Malmo way and I think I talk in a Malmo way. Everything is Malmo for me.” He also hopes to score a hat-trick and have the home fans chant his name.

[ FOLLOW LIVE – Champions League Wednesday fixtures ]

A win for PSG along with a Shakhtar Donetsk loss would progress both Real Madrid and the French club into the knockout stages.

Elsewhere, Manchester City travels to Juventus looking to solidify their hold on the top spot in Group D. City has been unlucky with their group stage draws in recent years, but they could snatch the top spot in the group this year should they win today. The Italians are just a point behind, and could go top of the group with a win of their own.

The aforementioned Blancos of Real Madrid travels to Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk. Real Madrid is already guaranteed a spot in the knockout rounds, but a win would secure them the top spot in the group with PSG three points behind.

Manchester United welcomes PSV Eindhoven to Old Trafford with the Group B still entirely in flux. A win for Wolfsburg earlier today over CSKA Moscow put them ahead, but the Red Devils could snatch that top spot back with a win. Should Louis Van Gaal and company falter, they would drop out of a knockout stage spot, as PSV sits just one point back of them in third.

Finally, Atletico Madrid hosts Galatasaray in a very important match in the middle of Group C. Sevilla tops the group with 10 points, but with Atletico behind them at seven points and Galatasaray on four, Atletico could secure themselves a knockout round berth with the three points, while a win for the Turks would leave things totally up for grabs.

One more final score from earlier today, Benfica drew Astana 2-2 in Kazakhstan, leaving them just three points ahead of Atletico Madrid atop Group C.

VIDEO: Watch hilarious Liverpool boss Klopp practice scouse accent

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Will Jurgen Klopp be “giving it bifters” anytime soon?

Well, he’s probably already been doing that after Liverpool brushed aside Manchester City last weekend: “boss tha.”

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make UCL last 16? ]

If you are wondering what the heck is going on, take a look at the video above as a young Liverpool fan — nine-year-old Issac — gave the German coach a scouse lesson as Klopp has now been in charge of the Reds for over seven weeks.

The video was shot before Liverpool’s big win at Man City, and Klopp promised Issac he would sneak “boss tha” into his press conference if they won.

During his pre-match press conference on Wednesday before Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Bordeaux, Klopp was true to his word.

Is your “head chocka” yet?

Click play on the video above to see the hilarious interview in full, as Klopp learns plenty of useful scouse phrases and, of course, there are plenty of hugs and laughs.

Mauricio Pochettino wants Premier League to work schedule around Europa League

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at White Hart Lane on November 22, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino won’t be the first to make these requests, nor will he be the last. Nonetheless, every time someone brings up this point, it’s noteworthy.

The Spurs boss said it’s “not fair” that Chelsea has two days extra to recover from their midweek Champions League game, while his side has a Thursday affair in Europa League play, giving them just two days off before their Premier League meeting on Sunday.

“To be fair, you need to compete in every competition with the same conditions as the opponent,” Pochettino pleaded to Sky Sports prior to Spurs’ trip to Azerbaijan to take on FC Qarabag. “I am not complaining. I only want to translate our feeling. I only want to bring attention to the conditions, that it’s not fair to have two days less recovery than the opponent.”

“My question is; why not be attentive and careful to try to help the team who needs to compete in Europe? It’s difficult because we need to manage a lot of things. We need to be clinical in how we assess our players because the jet lag is very important.”

The idea that the Europa League is more detrimental than it is an asset for teams that make it in. For Spurs, it can sap the team of energy as they push for a top four league spot and an in to the Champions League. For some mid-table sides who make it into the earlier rounds thanks to Cup wins or Fair Play berths, it can be a massive hurdle as the clubs focus on maintaining their Premier League status.

Pochettino isn’t asking for much from the Premier League, just even a few extra hours.

“Why not play on the Monday, or 4pm on Sunday, instead of 12pm?” Pochettino said. “It’s not much of a gap but in four hours you can rest a little bit more, you can sleep and recover after the long flight. Chelsea has two days more to recover. They play Tuesday, we play Thursday, and I think Jose Mourinho will agree that he has a little advantage to prepare for the game. But it’s not an excuse not to compete on Sunday and try to win the game.”

Daniel Sturridge could return for Liverpool against Bordeaux

X during Liverpool FC training session at Melwood Training Ground on September 30, 2015 in Liverpool, England.
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said it’s possible that Daniel Sturridge could return to the Liverpool lineup when the Reds host Bordeaux in Europa League action on Thursday.

Sturridge has made just three Premier League appearances this season due to multiple injuries, and has not played since a full 90 minutes against Everton on October 4. He is back in training, however, and was an unused substitute in the 4-1 win over Manchester City on the weekend.

“The best news at the moment is Daniel is getting closer and closer,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday. “He can train seven or eight times in a row which is the longest period since I’ve been here.”

Klopp was faced with a striker injury crisis at the start of his tenure at Anfield, but the options have slowly improved. The German was first forced to use Divock Origi in his first match in charge. He employed Roberto Firmino up front against Manchester City with great results, but said in his interview with the NBC Sports crew after the match that he had to continually remind Firmino to push forward into a striker role before the Brazilian eventually scored.

Christian Benteke was also among the substitutes against City, and now it appears Sturridge could be close to a return. Klopp said he will be a game-time decision tomorrow, but it sounds like he’s unlikely to play a full 90 minutes, whether he starts or not.

“My decision you will see but it is closer and that is very good,” Klopp said.