UEFA Champions League Preview: With blindfold and cigarette, David Moyes faces the firing line

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Wednesday’s may be David Moyes’ last match with Manchester United. Or maybe it will be the next one. As long as the Red Devils play as poorly as they did this weekend, Alex Ferguson’s replacement is a zombie: walking the sidelines with no vital signs; with nobody able to explain how he’s able to carry on.

The explanation used to be that theoretical patience Manchester United prides itself on, but even that’s starting to wear thin. Every major outlet across England has some report about his job security, with some referencing disappointment in the Red Devil boardroom (examples A, B). If Ed Woodward and the Glazers are already reconsidering Moyes’ future, the rest of this season may be his Green Mile.

The next step on that path is at Old Trafford, with a game few would have thought an obstacle before UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 started. Since then, however, Manchester United has shown itself capable of falling to Greek champions Olympiakos, having done so three weeks ago in Piraeus. At the time, the result was seen as one of the worst of Moyes’ tenure, one that leaves them two goals down (2-0) before tonight’s kickoff. Then this weekend happened.

“When you lose in the fashion we did and against one of our biggest rivals [Liverpool] there is always a lot of disappointment,” Moyes explained in Tuesday’s press conference. “We knew it was a big week, but as soon as [the Liverpool match] was over we concentrated on this game. We told the players on Monday morning that the only thing that matters now is this game and our focus is on that.”

If the team can regain its focus — if the players can put Sunday’s embarrassment behind them — they should have no problem with Olympiakos. Despite the Greek champions’ huge lead in the Super League (18 points, title already clinched), United have an overwhelming edge in talent. There’s no player who’ll be selected in Michel González’s starting XI who would start for the Red Devils, making it all the more remarkable they were able to produce a 2-0 win three weeks ago.

“The work of a football team shows on the pitch,” Michel said. “There are no secrets, no surprises when it comes to this game. All I know is that we played well in the first leg and deserved to win, but this will be a different game and we will need a good performance and a good result to show our worth.”

Manchester United not only need to win on Wednesday, they need to do so by at least three goals if they’re to avoid penalty kicks. A two-goal win without keeping a clean sheet means they’re out – the byproduct of being the only group stage winner not to score an away goal. They need to not only be better than the teams that showed up in Piraeus and against Liverpool, they need to be much better if they’re to preserve their only chance at silverware this season.

“The players know they can play better,” Moyes said. “I don’t think any of them are questioning that. But I’ve got belief in the players because I see what they can do and hopefully we can show it.”

Amid all the gloom and doom that rightfully hovers over the Red Devils, it needs to be reiterated: They can win this game. Robin van Persie is capable of winning it on his own. So is Wayne Rooney. Even with their suspect midfield, the Red Devils are capable of controlling this match, providing they have a better, more cohesive plan than they implemented in Greece. Winning on Wednesday should not be that hard.

But if United doesn’t “show it,” as its manager put it? Moyes may as well stay on the field after the game, adorn himself with a blindfold and cigarette, and wait. In a season of lows and lowers, going out of Champions League on home soil to Olympiakos would represent a new trough, one that builds on Sunday’s disaster.

Perhaps Red Devils management will refrain from taking aim, but out of Champions League, there’ll be no reason to keep Moyes in his job. At a minimum, it will test their faith that the current manager truly is the right man for the job.

Brighton 2-2 Stoke: Seagulls remain ninth thanks to Izquierdo’s equalizer

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Three Premier League newcomers remain in close contention with one another after 12 weeks, one of which picked up another positive result today.

[ MORE: Congested PL schedule challenges the big boys ]

Brighton & Hove Albion earned a 2-2 draw against Stoke City at the Amex Stadium on Monday after Jose Izquierdo’s persistence gave the home side the leveler in the 60th minute from Glenn Murray‘s clever pass inside the box.

The result made for Brighton’s sixth consecutive match unbeaten at home this season.

A back-and-forth first half saw the on-loan Chelsea defender give Stoke the lead heading into the halftime break after a disappointing spell of defending by Brighton allowed Zouma to finish of a corner kick.

Pascal Gross gave Brighton an equalizer one minute from halftime after Davy Propper had done superbly to create space for himself down the right wing.

The visitors struck in the 28th minute after Shaqiri delivered a perfect long ball into the path of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

The Cameroonian proceeded to control the pass beautifully from his Stoke teammate, before tucking his shot from close range into the near corner past Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan.

Brighton thought they had the chance to level the score prior to the equalizer when the hosts appeared to have a penalty appeal after Murray went down inside the Stoke area. However, referee Lee Mason opted against spot kick.

The two sides will both be in action on Saturday when Brighton travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Stoke takes on Crystal Palace.

At the half: Zouma’s header has Stoke in front against Brighton

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It’s been a wild one thus far at the Amex Stadium, and we’ve still got 45 minutes left to play.

Stoke City holds a 2-1 advantage against newcomer Brighton & Hove Albion after Kurt Zouma gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of halftime.

[ MORE: West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis ]

Zouma headed home close range in first-half stoppage time to restore the Potters’ advantage, after Pascal Gross had equalized in the 44th minute for Brighton.

Stoke opened the scoring just prior to the half hour mark when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finished off a stellar move that originated from a Xherdan Shaqiri long ball over the Brighton back line.

Brighton were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men after Glenn Murray went in late on a challenge against Stoke defender Kevin Wimmer.

Murray thought he had won himself a penalty kick minutes prior, but referee Lee Mason decided to continue play.

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

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Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.