UEFA Champions League Preview: Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich

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Manchester United fans have been looking toward the past all season, mostly to keep themselves sane in the face of the Red Devils’ shocking swoon. Sitting seventh in the Premier League with six games to go, past years’ glory is all fans have in the face of what’s been an expected post-Alex Ferguson awakening. So it makes sense, one day before the three-time European Champions face last year’s UEFA Champions League winners, that new manager David Moyes is also looking at happier times for inspiration in the face of enormous odds.

“We are playing against a good side, but it is the sort of night where in recent history United have risen to the occasion,” Moyes said, with Bayern Munich set to visit Old Trafford on Tuesday. The teams’ first leg in Stretford represents a virtual one-versus-eight matchup, with the tournament’s worst surviving team drawn against a club trying to become the first team in 24 years to win back-to-back European titles.

München carry that favorites’ flags, with the team two-time Champions League-winner Pep Guardiola inherited this summer looking even stronger than the group that took last year’s title. Having already clinched their second-straight Bundesliga crown, the Bavarians had the luxury of resting half their squad for this weekend’s visit from Hoffenheim, with the resulting draw 3-3 shrinking their lead at the top to a still staggering 23 points. It also raised their goals allowed total to 16, with only Italy’s Roma having allowed fewer among Europe’s top five leagues.

(MORE, this weekend: United comeback against Villa | Bayern held to draw)

“Coaches around the world don’t like being called favorites before the game, but I can’t argue,” Guardiola confessed, begrudgingly. “I have to accept it because last season Bayern won everything and this season we have won the title with seven games to spare.”

It’s not a view that’s shared by everybody on the opposing bench.

“[W]e are Manchester United, it’s at Old Trafford and we’ve seen so many great nights there, in Europe especially. As players we don’t see ourselves as underdogs,” Ryan Giggs explained, his presence at the pre-match press conference hinting he’ll play on Tuesday, “we see ourselves as Man United playing at home in the Champions League.”

Perhaps that kind of naiveté is necessary when you’re in the Red Devils’ position, but you need only look to Bayern’s other trips to England this season to realize United’s long. In the Round of 16, Bayern took a 2-0 result out of the Emirates on its way to eliminating Arsenal. In October, the same Manchester City team that recently won 3-0 at Old Trafford was handed a 3-1 by the defending champions. Even at Old Trafford — even against a team United beat in the 1999 final (a reference point that has been alluded to in bizarre fashion this week) — the Red Devils are decisive underdogs.

(MORE, United’s Round of 16: Upset in Greece | Comeback in Manchester)

It’s a status that forces us to ask how United can win, but with Robin Van Persie sidelined with a knee injury, a team needing a puncher’s chance is without one of its best weapons. Though Wayne Rooney will be available, Juan Mata will not, the former Chelsea man cup-tied as a result of his time with the Blues. Starting left back Patrice Evra is suspended, leaving Alexander Buttner to match up against Bayern right winger Arjen Robben. Defenders Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling are also out.

Thiago Alcántara’s knee injury means Bayern has its own fitness concerns ahead of Tuesday’s match, while Dante will join Evra among those banned from the match. But with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, and Phillip Lahm all available, Guardiola will still have everything he needs to leverage his biggest advantage: an overwhelming edge in the middle of the park, one that matches up against what’s generally perceived to be Manchester United’s greatest weakness.

(MORE, Bayern’s Round of 16: Edge on 10 in London | Control in Munich)

Perhaps under Ferguson, the Red Devils could navigate England with the likes of Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley in midfield. But even then, teams that relied on Darren Fletcher or an aging Paul Scholes would be overwhelmed by Guardiola’s Barcelona, who beat the Ferguson twice in Champions League finals. Now, with a team that’s keeping 69.2 percent possession in Europe (71.4 pct. in Germany), Guardiola is again set to highlight what United fans have said for years: The Red Devils need to be stronger in the middle.

Over the course of one leg, however, anything can happen. Execute on a set piece, benefit from a sending off, or get a magical night from goalkeeper David de Gea, and United can get an unlikely result. But contrary to what Giggs says, that result is very unlikely. As Arsenal and City found out, home field can only do so much against a superior opponent.

Sargent signs first professional contract on his 18th birthday

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Josh Sargent’s 18th birthday is one he’ll never forget.

The young American phenom was finally able to sign his first professional contract on Tuesday after turning 18-years old, passing the FIFA threshold for when a foreigner can sign a pro contract. Sargent has been training with Werder Bremen’s youth teams for the last few months and has even trained with the first team and featured for the Werder Bremen U23s.

“We’ve gone over all the formalities and Josh signed his professional contract with us earlier,” Bremen sporting director Frank Baumann said on Tuesday afternoon. “Again, we’re delighted he decided to join us. He’s settled in brilliantly since the turn of the year.”

[READ: UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas]

Sargent will continue to train with the youth teams and reserves, and will be eligible to feature for the Werder Bremen first team for the 2018-2019 season.

Orlando City sign defender Sane from Werder Bremen

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After making a number of moves to improve its attack this offseason, Orlando City SC is now splashing the cash to improve its backline.

The club announced on Tuesday the signing of veteran centerback Lamine Sane from Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga on a permanent deal. It appears that with less than six months left on his contract and Sane not in Werder Bremen manager Florian Kohfeldt’s plans, he was allowed to leave on a free transfer.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

“Lamine will significantly strengthen our back line,” Orlando City general manager Niki Budalic said in a statement. “He brings tremendous experience at the highest levels of European football and we believe he will fit right in with what we’re trying to build in Orlando.”

Sane started 27 times for Werder Bremen during a struggling 2016-2017 season, but had made just 11 appearances this season for the Bundesliga side. He’s also made 25 caps for Senegal, but the French-born defender hasn’t appeared for them since 2015. Perhaps a good start to the season in MLS could get him a surprise spot in the World Cup squad.

The 30-year-old joins a rebuilt starting lineup featuring other veterans as Orlando City looks to win in the near term, after three straight seasons of missing the playoffs.

While the team lost Cyle Larin and Kaka in the offseason, Jason Kreis and co. brought in Dom Dwyer late in the 2017 season, Justin Meram, Josue Colman, Uri Rosell and Sacha Kljestan in the offseason.  Along with a couple of new outside backs, Sane is the first signing to shore up the leaky middle of the park for Orlando, one that the club’s fans hope will lead Orlando City to a top-six finish in the Eastern Conference in the least in 2018.

Report: Barcelona agree nearly $50 million deal for Brazilian starlet Arthur

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Barcelona has again beaten out its league and global rivals for the next up and coming Brazilian star.

According to a report from Brazilian publication Globo Esporte, Barcelona has agreed with Gremio on a $49.4 million transfer fee for midfielder Arthur. The deal would see 60 percent of the fee go to Gremio and the rest to agents and the owners of part of the player’s rights.

[READ: Spurs ‘have capacity’ to win Champions League]

The 21-year-old’s deal is still subject to the standard medical tests, and wouldn’t go through until January 2019.

Arthur broke onto the scene as a permanent member of the Gremio first team in 2017, starting 27 league matches and nine times in the Copa Libertadores as a dominant holding midfielder.

Barcelona will likely look for him to play a similar role to countryman Paulinho or Sergio Busquets, controlling the tempo of the game with passing but also being able to quickly snuff out an attack.

Arthur created controversy in December when he was photographed wearing a Barcelona shirt. It was around then that news began to leak that Barcelona began negotiations for his services. According to other news reports, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Inter Milan were also interested in Arthur’s services.

Wigan, Manchester City cooperating with police after pitch invasion

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Some Wigan Athletic fans got a little too excited following the club’s shock 1-0 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup, and the police are now investigating alleged crimes that happened on the field and outside of the stadium.

Police confirmed to the BBC that two supporters were arrested outside the stadium on suspicion of assault while the police are working with both Wigan and Man City to investigate what happened pitch side after the final whistle.

[READ: Wigan bounce 10-man Man City]

Man City striker Sergio Aguero was involved in an altercation with a fan on the field after the game, and it appeared that Man City supporters threw down advertising hoardings onto the field.

“Football is a family event and the disruption that players and fans alike faced will not be tolerated,” Greater Manchester police chief superintendent Stuart Ellison told the BBC. “As soon as people were on the pitch, we immediately deployed our resources to the front of the stands, where they were able to keep the two groups of supporters apart and prevent any further disruption.”