UEFA Champions League Preview: Surging Real Madrid takes 26-match run to Schalke

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Now it’s Real Madrid’s turn. We’ve seen Bayern Munich take a two-goal lead on Arsenal, Barcelona earn the same result at Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain put their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup away early against Bayer Leverkusen. After Borussia Dortmund romped in St. Petersburg, all the top contenders, be they favorites or dark horses, impressed in their away legs. Now it’s Real Madrid’s turn to keep up.

If recent form is any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem. Real Madrid cruised to a 3-0 win this weekend against Elche, a result that extended an unbeaten run that started after October’s trip to Barcelona to 26 games. With six wins in a row, including two against Atlético Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has claimed a place alone at the top of La LigaIn the process, los Blancos may have also established themselves as the biggest threat to Bayern’s goal of becoming the first team since 1990 to claim back-to-back European titles.

“After Bayern, Real Madrid are maybe the second-best team in the world at the moment,” Schalke head coach Jens Keller said on Tuesday. “They have extraordinary players in every position … To be successful, everybody will have to be at 100%. Only then might it be possible to pull off a little miracle.”

Even that may not be enough to keep up with a Real Madrid team that’s firing on all cylinders.

“I do not have to tell my players much – they want to win every competition,” Ancelotti said in Tuesday’s press conference. “At the moment the team are in a good shape, but we have to prepare for every match very methodically so that our run continues.”

(MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Mourinho controversy unlikely to diminish Chelsea’s chances against Galatasaray)

Real Madrid’s surge as coincided with a small tactical shift from Ancelotti, moving away from the two-man midfield that was typically left in this fall’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Shifting to a 4-3-3 that features Ángel Di María and Luka Modric above Xabi Alonso, Ancelotti has finally found away to compensate for the loss of Sami Khedira (early season knee injury). The formation also creates a regular spot of Di María – the invaluable, natural wide player whose spot on the flanks disappeared with the addition of Gareth Bale.

source: Getty ImagesThe change has also given Bale (right) and Cristiano Ronaldo more space to maraud without worrying about their spacing with a third attacking midfielder. The setup is also a better fit for prospect Jesé Rodríguez, who was so impressive for Spain’s U-20s this summer. Filling in amid Ronaldo’s Liga suspension and Bale’s knocks, Jesé has scored five goals in El Real’s last seven games, passing promising Málaga import Isco in Carlo Ancelotti’s pecking order.

The result is a potential nightmare for a Schalke side who carries seven-game unbeaten run into Wednesday’s game. With former Real Madrid striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar back healthy and a talented line of three (Kevin-Prince Boateng, Julian Draxler, and Jefferson Farfán) behind him, Jens Keller’s team has enough talent to be dangerous. But whereas that attack will have to break through a defense featuring Sergio Ramos, Pepe, and Daniel Carvajal in front of Iker Casillas, Ronaldo, Bale, and Karim Benzema will take aim at central defenders Joel Matip, Felipe Santana and goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann.

“They are very well-organised, especially at the back and have a good balance between young talented players like Max Meyer and Julian Draxler, and players with a lot of experience like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar,” Ancelotti said of Schalke. ” They do not play spectacular football but they are solid and consistent.”

It’s not clever, or nuanced, or even particularly insightful to note the match ups leave huge advantages for Real Madrid. Whereas Schalke’s players are the envy of more clubs in Europe, the Merengues talents are world-class. As in almost every game they play, los Merengues will have a huge edge on their opponents, with little beyond the vagaries of an inherently low-scoring game to embolden Schalke’s chances over 180 minutes.

“Real Madrid have an incredible team but we’re not bad either,” Keller quipped. “We’re in very good shape, as you can see from our recent results. But it is not just the results, but the manner in which we have achieved them.”

Even in that category, Schalke don’t measure up. The typically flakey Miners may be experiencing one of their good runs, but it’s nothing compared to the momentum Real Madrid will carry into Wednesday’s match. While Keller’s team may be able to threaten El Real’s six-game winning streak, handing them their first loss since October is unlikely.

3-time Champions League winner Valdes retires

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Victor Valdes was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, proven in part by his three UEFA Champions League winner’s medals, and has reportedly called full-time on his footballing career at the age of 35.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

Valdes, who joined Barcelona at the age of 10 and went on to win six La Liga titles and two Copas del Rey to go with the three Champions League triumphs during his time at the club, will launch his own television production company, as well as his own show. Valdes made more than 500 appearances for Barca, beginning his first-team career in 2002 before moving to Manchester United in 2014.

If not for his career running perfectly parallel to that of Iker Casillas, Valdes would have won far more than his 20 caps for Spain during any other era, though he does have 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winner’s medals. Valdes spent the 2016-17 Premier League season with Middlesbrough, starting 28 of 38 games during the club’s relegation season.

Watch, Stream live: Premier League TV schedule – Week 2

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With the 2017-18 Premier League season up and running, there is plenty coming your way in Week 2. Here’s how you can watch it all.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

Kicking things off the season on Saturday Manchester United head to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com)

Liverpool then host Crystal Palace at Anfield (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Jurgen Klopp‘s side will have to refocus after their UEFA Champions League first leg clash at Hoffenheim in midweek.

To round things off on Saturday Stoke City welcome Arsenal to the bet365 Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as the Potters aim to get yet another positive home result against the Gunners. Will Arsene Wenger‘s defense hold firm?

Sunday sees Huddersfield Town welcome Newcastle United to the John Smith’s Stadium (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) for their first-ever home game in the Premier League as two newly-promoted teams clash.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

Then comes the big one: Tottenham versus Chelsea at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) in a huge London derby. With reigning champs Chelsea struggling along, Spurs will want to compound the misery of their London rivals.

Week 2 ends with a Monday night clash between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) between two of the biggest spending clubs this summer.

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Brighton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Arsenal — NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
8:30 a.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Everton – NBCSN [STREAM]

Spurs’ first signing imminent? Wimmer out; Sanchez in

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Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly nearing completion of their first signing of the summer transfer window, as well as the club’s second departure from the first-team this summer.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

According to reports, Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez is pulling out all the stops in order to force a move away from the club, with Tottenham his no. 1 preferred destination. Up until a week ago, Sanchez had scarcely been linked with a move away from the Johan Cruijff Arena, but once word of Spurs’ interest (as well as that of a handful of other European giants) got out, Sanchez had already mentally moved on to the next phase of his career.

Despite being named in Ajax’s squad to face Rosenborg in Europa League qualification on Thursday, Sanchez is not with the squad at the team hotel and the club have refused to comment regarding his current location. The 21-year-old Colombian could cost Spurs as much as $50 million, though the ongoing saga could be seen as a ploy to reduce the price and faster facilitate a move.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

With one center back now expected to make his way to north London, another — Kevin Wimmer, Spurs’ de facto fourth center back behind Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier — is reportedly the subject of a $19-million bid from West Bromwich Albion.

Barcelona’s Suarez out for a month with knee injury

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The hits just keep on coming for Barcelona, the tiny, scrappy Spanish club that just can’t catch a break.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

In the last two weeks alone, the Blaugrana have lost Neymar, spent $47 million to sign Paulinho, failed to land a single one of their reported major transfer targets, and been embarrassed by Real Madrid (of all clubs) in the Supercopa de España.

One of the few remaining saving graces was the Lionel Messi-Luis Suarez partnership — two-thirds of the historically great MSN trio — which remained in place following Neymar’s departure. That won’t be the case for the next month, at least, after Suarez suffered an injury to his right knee in the second leg of the Supercopa on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

The Uruguayan Football Association announced on Thursday that Suarez will be sidelined for four to five weeks and miss for a pair of hugely important World Cup qualifiers against Argentina (Aug. 31) and Paraguay (Sept. 5). Uruguay currently sit third in CONMEBOL’s marathon 10-team qualification round, one point clear of Chile in fourth (automatic qualification) and Argentina in fifth (qualification playoff, versus Oceania).

As for Barca, Suarez’s injury means not only will the club be without arguably the world’s best striker of the last five years, but given the desperate situation they now find themselves in, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund should be expected to demand an additional $5 million or $10 million to land Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, respectively.