Preview: Bayern Munich on guard ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League visit

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Though last season’s Champions League is a distant memory, in some ways, little has changed for Bayern Munich and Arsenal ahead of the second leg of the teams’ UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup. When the Gunners visited Allianz Arena last March, they were a top four team in the Premier League that had little hope of winning the league title. They were down two goals before landing in Bavaria to face a team that had become Champions League favorites. Bayern, running away with the Bundesliga, merely needed to hold serve at home to reach the quarterfinals.

What followed was a result that’s given Arsenal hope ahead of Tuesday’s kickoff. Posting a surprise 2-0 win at the Allianz, the Gunners forced the away goals tiebreaker into play, with Bayern’s 3-1 win in North London allowing the eventual champions to go through.

It’s one of only two losses the European Champions have suffered in the last year, with Manchester City, in this year’s group stage, also taking advantage of Bayern team. In both cases, though, the huge advantage the Bavarians took into the game forgave their lackluster performance. Whereas the team had a two-goal edge on Arsenal ahead of the Gunners’ late charge, only a lopsided win by City in the final round of group play would have allowed the Citizens to claim first place. Like Arsenal, they would come up one goal short.

Pep Guardiola, at Bayern’s helm for the City (but not the Arsenal) result, is wary of history repeating itself, using Monday’s press conference to emphasize the need to stay aggressive.

“We have to win this game,” the two-time Champions League-winning coach said, “it doesn’t matter what we did in the first leg. This is what we have to concentrate on.”

The year’s results speak to what a focused Bayern can do. In league, Bayern have a 20-point lead on second place Borussia Dortmund after 24 rounds, having outscored their opponents 72-11. In Champions League, the Bavarians have won six of seven games, their lapse against City their only blemish. After a 2-0 win at Arsenal to open their Round of 16, Guardiola’s team are heavy favorites to claim a second-straight title.

“Well, of course 2-0 was a good result for us,” Guardiola said. “Though it is dangerous … We have to bring our ideas to fruition. The Champions League is more important than the Bundesliga and we have to do our best.”

That best will be more than enough against an Arsenal team missing a number of key components. First-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will be suspended after seeing red in game one. Theo Walcott is out, injured, as are Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshire, and both of the team’s regular left backs: Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal. Though stars like playmaker Mesut Ozil, attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla, and striker Olivier Giroud will be available, Arsenal will be severely shorthanded in Munich.

“Tomorrow we will have four German players, [Serge] Gnabry included,” Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger explained on Monday. “[Lukas] Podolski is in good shape again, [Per] Mertesacker has become a great player in England and [Mesut] Özil is a great talent, as he will show tomorrow.”

Contrast Wenger’s plight that with a Bayern team that has only one absence: Holger Badstuder, who has been gone all season. The likes of Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos will all be available, with Mario Mandzukic, Thomas Müller, and Thiago Alcantara also among Guardiola’s potential starters. All of them are capable of starting for Arsenal. Only six of them can get the call.

They’re the players who’ll provide the forward push for the best team in the world. Against an injured and trailing Arsenal squad, Bayern shouldn’t have any problems. While we would have said the same thing last year, memories of that disappointment will keep the Bavarians on their guard. Arsène Wenger’s unlikely to take his hosts by surprise this time around.

(MORE: Atlético Madrid back on track before Champions League visit from goal-shy Milan)

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”