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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.

Which Liverpool players are “playing for futures” with Klopp?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool talks with Loris Karius of Liverpool after the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Following Liverpool’s humbling defeat at Leicester City on Monday the post-game comments of manager Jurgen Klopp hit home.

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“It’s getting more serious now. We all play for our future, myself included. We get judged every day, especially on match days,” Klopp told Sky Sports after the 3-1 loss which saw Liverpool put in a truly woeful display.

Liverpool currently still sit in fifth place, four points off second place, but a team which led the Premier League earlier in the season have won just one of their seven PL games so far in 2017 as they’re now battling for their lives just to finish in the top four.

Klopp was handed a new six-year contract in the summer, so he will stick around, but there are some big concerns for him to address if Liverpool are to become anything more than just a top four contender.

It begs this question: how many of these current Liverpool players will be around next season?


Let’s take a look at the best starting lineup for Klopp this season…

—– Mignolet —-

— Clyne — Matip — Lovren — Milner —

—- Henderson —- Wijnaldum —-

—- Lallana —- Coutinho —- Mane 

—– Firmino —–

Heading into next season, here are the areas he needs to address…

—– ? —-

— Clyne — ? — Lovren — ? —

—- Henderson —- ? —-

—- Lallana —- Coutinho —- Mane 

—– ? —–


Defensively is where the biggest improvements are needed.

In goal both Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have made high-profile mistakes, so surely someone like Joe Hart would be a good pickup and help turnaround Liverpool’s woeful defense? Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne will stick around but the jury is out on Joel Matip and although James Milner puts in a great shift at left back that just isn’t his natural position. Liverpool need at least one quality center back and a new left back.

Those defensive issues just haven’t been addressed over the past few seasons. They’ve conceded an average of 1.3 goals per game in each of the past four PL campaigns, and they are well on track to do that again. In simpler terms, Liverpool concede 50 goals every season and expect something to change. It won’t.

In midfield they’re pretty set although you can question Jordan Henderson‘s role as a true holding player at times. He is much better playing alongside a destructive force and with Lucas set to leave and Emre Can hot and cold, he hasn’t got that. Georginio Wijnaldum has impressed at times this season but his attacking instincts often leave Henderson outnumbered. Klopp has yet to find the correct balance in midfield, especially defensively.

We all know how good they are going forward and the only change you could argue is either playing Daniel Sturridge up top or bringing in a prolific goalscorer as Roberto Firmino is far from a poacher in front of goal. Sadio Mane is Liverpool’s top scorer this season with 11 goals.

Premier League announces schedule changes

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (L) and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City (R) battle for possession during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Premier League have released new dates and times for games throughout April, as domestic broadcasters in the UK line up their schedules for the business end of the 2016-17 season.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

Plenty of derbies, top four battles and relegation scraps will take center stage in April as a busy month of action will be pivotal in deciding the fate of teams across the league.

Remember, you can watch every single Premier League game live online via NBCSports.com.

Just click on the link above to keep up to date on when and where you can watch each game.

Below is the new schedule for games in April, and on on May 1, with all times listed as Eastern Standard Time.


Saturday 1 April
7:30am Liverpool v Everton
12:30pm Southampton v AFC Bournemouth

Sunday 2 April
8:30am Swansea City v Middlesbrough
11am Arsenal v Manchester City

Tuesday 4 April
3pm Manchester United v Everton

Wednesday 5 April
2:45pm Arsenal v West Ham United*
*Consequent to Arsenal v Manchester City moving to Sunday 2 April
2:45pm Hull City v Middlesbrough*
*Consequent to Swansea City v Middlesbrough moving to Sunday 2 April
2:45pm Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur*
*Consequent to Swansea City v Middlesbrough moving to Sunday 2 April
3pm Chelsea v Manchester City

Saturday 8 April
7:30pm Tottenham Hotspur v Watford*
*Subject to movement to Sunday 9 April should Arsenal or Leicester City play in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday 11 April.
12:30pm AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea

Sunday 9 April
8:30am Sunderland v Manchester United
11am Everton v Leicester City*
*Subject to Leicester City’s possible participation in the Champions League on Tuesday 11 April.

Monday 10 April
3pm Crystal Palace v Arsenal*
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League quarter-finals

Saturday 15 April
7:30pm Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Bournemouth
12:30pm Southampton v Manchester City

Sunday 16 April
8:30am West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
11am Manchester United v Chelsea

Monday 17 April
3pm Middlesbrough v Arsenal*
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League quarter-finals

Saturday 22 April
7:30am Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion*
*Subject to Manchester City’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals

Sunday 23 April
7am Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur*
*Subject to Tottenham Hotspur’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
9:15am Burnley v Manchester United*
*Subject to Manchester United’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
9:15am Chelsea v Southampton*
*Subject to Chelsea’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
11:30am Liverpool v Crystal Palace

Saturday 29 April
12:30pm Crystal Palace v Burnley

Sunday 30 April
7am Manchester United v Swansea City
9:05am Everton v Chelsea
11:30am Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League semi-finals

Monday 1 May
3pm Watford v Liverpool

Southampton: Van Dijk won’t leave, selling days likely done

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 29:  Ralph Krueger the Southampton Chairman looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Newcastle United at St Mary's Stadium on March 29, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ralph Krueger doesn’t plan on selling any more big Southampton stars, and there’s none brighter than Virgil Van Dijk.

The Dutchman is perhaps the best center back in the Premier League, regularly linked with transfers to anywhere from Manchester City to Liverpool.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires new CEO ]

But Krueger says Saints have had enough of selling big assets. Southampton has sold Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Sadio Mane, and Nathaniel Clyne in the past three seasons, and those are just the names to go to Liverpool. Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama have also moved on from St. Mary’s.

From Sky Sports:

“We would like to move away from that and we feel confident this summer will be a lot quieter in Southampton and we can keep the core of this team moving forward for a few years.

“That is going to be important when you see how excellent the group is right now and how exciting the football is. The game we are playing is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to be part of.”

Saints were the more effective side in a 3-2 EFL Cup Final loss to Manchester United this weekend, but are well off the pace in the race to make back-to-back trips into Europe.

It will be hard to hold onto Van Dijk and even new bright light Manolo Gabbiadini without Europe, but Krueger is a strong leader with the ability to convince almost anyone to buy into a plan.

Real Salt Lake signs Plata to multi-year DP deal

Real Salt Lake forward Joao Plata (8) gestures while walking during an MLS soccer game against New York City FC Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Sandy, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP) DESERET NEWS OUT; LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; MAGS OUT
Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
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SANDY, Utah (AP) Real Salt Lake has re-signed forward Joao Plata to a multi-year contract and he will continue to hold a designated-player spot.

The 24-year-old was acquired from Toronto FC before the 2013 season and he has 30 goals and 30 assists in regular-season play with RSL.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

Plata ranks No. 3 on the team’s all-time assists list and No. 5 in goals. He has 33 goals and 35 assists during his MLS career.

Real Salt Lake begins the season Saturday when it hosts Toronto FC.