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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.

England’s Fabian Delph to miss out on EURO 2016 through injury

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 01: Fabian Delph of Manchester City looks on during the Capital One Cup Quarter Final match between Manchester City and Hull City at Etihad Stadium on December 1, 2015 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Fabian Delph will not be playing for England at EURO 2016 after picking up a groin injury in training.

Delph did not travel to Sunderland for England’s friendly against Australia on Friday, with manager Roy Hodgson saying he “probably won’t be in the 23 [final roster spots].”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

Delph’s inclusion in the provisional 30-man roster was met with some criticism, as the Manchester City midfielder managed just eight Premier League starts this season and made only nine appearances off the bench.

This news will now boost the hopes of Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson, who are also battling to make the final roster in the center of midfield.

In his press conference on Thursday, Hodgson stated that Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge has not trained with the team yet, as his fitness will be closely monitored leading up to EURO 2016. Hodgson also confirmed that Manchester United’s 18-year-old Marcus Rashford will make his international debut against Australia.

Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders

Copa America trophy — 2015 Copa America
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Sixteen teams enter next month’s Copa America Centenario tournament, and only one emerges as the champion of North, South and Central America.

Will it be Chile who continues its reign? Will Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay find revenge? Can a CONCACAF side thrive with the tourney in the United States?

[ PREVIEWS: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D ]

There a varying degrees of likelihood that a country rises above the field to win this year’s competition. In this post, we’ll rank the sides from 16 to 1, unlikeliest to likeliest.

16. Haiti — Happy to be there? Circling the Peru match on its calendar.

15. Venezuela — If Salomon Rondon can make things happen, who knows?

14. Bolivia — Lots of work to be done here.

13. Jamaica — Winfried Schaefer’s team has struggled since its strong Gold Cup.

12. Peru — Inexperience will be a problem.

11. Paraguay — Wins have been hard to come by for Los Guaraníes.

10. Panama — Are they primed for a run, or too old to outlast its group opponents?

9. Ecuador — Dangerous but inconsistent, La Tricolor has an easier group from which to advance than most.

8. Costa Rica — If the USMNT falters under the pressure of hosts, Los Ticos will be most likely to benefit in Group A.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

7. United States — Hosting is a big deal, and Jurgen Klinsmann seems ready to take a more orthodox approach to his lineups. The Yanks will run more than a few teams ragged, depending on how the chips fall.

6. Uruguay — Navigating the absence of Luis Suarez, which could last the group stage or longer, knocks them down a peg.

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

5. Mexico — It’s another golden generation for El Tri, and it’s not far-fetched to imagine Mexico makes a run at everything.

4. Colombia — James Rodriguez goes back to being the focal point of an attack, and will remind us just how good he is while under the spotlight.

3. Chile — Repeating is hard, and Chile had a lot of home cooking good fortune in its hosted run to a first title.

2. Brazil — No the side won’t be fully loaded, but Dunga has shown he knows how to run a side with or without Neymar.

  1. Argentina — This could be Lionel Messi’s year to lift hardware for club and country.

Ferdinand lauds Mourinho hiring: “This winner is now a wounded animal”

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Rio Ferdinand isn’t waiting for Manchester United to make it official, lauding the hiring of Jose Mourinho as his former club’s latest manager.

Ferdinand said Mourinho’s personality is “made for this great club”, as the longtime Red Devils defender took to Facebook to hail the Special One.

[ MORE: Five things United must do under Mourinho ]

Ferdinand, 37, made 455 appearances for United in a 19-year career that included stops at West Ham, QPR, Bournemouth and Leeds.

He says Mourinho will be a motivated and dangerous boss when he takes control in place of fired manager Louis Van Gaal.

“After his recent unsuccessful time at Chelsea in the final year, I can assure you this winner is now a wounded animal which makes him such a mouthwatering appointment. Jose went from winning the League Cup & Premier League to a season of disappointment at Chelsea and I am certain he will want to restore all of that very quickly.”

LISTEN: Copa America drops official song “Superstar” (Pitbull warning)

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Pitbull has joined forces with Becky G to make the official song of the Copa America Centenario, “Superstar”, which they will perform before the final.

I know Pitbull for liking light beer, and Becky G for going on dates with Sebastian Lletget of the L.A. Galaxy.

[ PREVIEWS: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D ]

This, in all its pop glory, has a catchy-enough hook and a stadium-like chant that hopes to catch on like “Seven Nation Army”. The kids should dig it.

That’s all I got. Enjoy the jammage.