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UCL Preview: Four reasons why fourth game could be different for Barcelona and Atlético

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After 270 minutes, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Unfortunately, we don’t have much that tells us which side is better, a mild inconvenience when you’re trying to figure out which club is most likely to advance from the teams’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal matchup. Each of their three meetings this season (two in Spain’s Supercopa; one in La Liga) has ended in a draw, with the sides combining for only two goals. Sure, one side could prove clearly better than the other, but there’s nothing in recent history that says that will happen.

Instead, we’re left wondering what, if anything, can keep away goals or penalty kicks from deciding which team advances to Europe’s final four. One day ahead of leg one’s kickoff in Barcelona, there are four possibilities:

1. Lionel Messi is as hot as ever – In the teams’ last meeting, Messi only played 45 minutes, his return in January at the Vicente Calderón marking his first appearance since a thigh injury prematurely ended his 2013. Now fully healthy, Messi has scored in 11 of his last 12 games, accumulating 17 goals along the way. As he showed with three goals in El Clasico, that form’s certainly capable of translating to big games.

(MORE, this weekend: Atlético, Barcelona snare road wins)

source:  2. Atlético has changed things up – In those first three games — 0-0, 1-1, and 0-0 affairs shared between August and January — Diego Simeone started David Villa up top with Diego Costa. In the two August games, Villa actually ended with a higher average position than Costa, who played wide right. In January, however, Villa was farther behind the Atlético number nine, playing alongside Atleti’s midfielders as Simeone crowded the middle of the park.

Now, after the team’s mid-winter slump, Atlético typically starts somebody more suited to that role. Natural midfielder Raúl García has been cast into the starting lineup at Villa’s expense, and while he has often been used as more of a supporting striker than a highly deployed midfielder, Garcíá still brings more of a center-of-the-park mentality to Simeone’s choice XI.

Unfortunately, García is suspended for leg one, a problem exacerbated by the potential absence of Costa. The Brazilian-cum-Spaniard left Monday’s training session with an apparent leg injury. Though Costa had yet to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff by the end of practice, Simeone said it was “unlikely” Costa would play on Tuesday.

Personnel-wise, that means a huge step down. Villa is likely to start up top, while Thiago could join Gabi and Mario Suárez to make a three-man midfield. Or perhaps Uruguayan Cristian Rodríguez will get the call.

Regardless, Atlético will be different. They won’t start two true strikers. But whereas over the last two months that’s been by choice, in Barcelona, it may be by necessity.

(MORE, Barcelona’s path: Win at City | Advance at home)

3. Champions League is different. Right? – I’m not sure how much I believe this will matter, but in the past, when we’ve seen teams face off over 180 minutes (as opposed to 90, as they do in league) the games sure seem to change. Long-term thinking leads to cagier affairs, ones often complicated by the away goals rule. Insert battle versus war analogy here.

There are a few other reasons to believe Champions League, in particular, is different. The stakes are certainly higher, and whereas in Spain Atlético and Barça will get an officiating crew very familiar with each side, Tuesday’s officials hail from Germany.

To whatever extent those things matter, Barcelona will be more familiar with how to deal with them, compounding any differentiating effects that might exist in Champions League.

(MORE, Atlético’s route: Late winner in Milan | Easy day at the Calderón)

source: AP4. Víctor Valdés is out – As Real Madrid’s handling of Iker Casillas has shown, sometimes the effect of a perceived great goalkeeper can be overstated. Very often, good teams have solid options waiting in reserve. It’s not always the end of the world when your number one goes down.

Barcelona’s position, however, may be different. After suffering a torn ACL this weekend, usual number one Víctor Valdés is gone. He’s done for the year, and having declared his intention to leave the club at the end of the season, he may have also played his last minute with Barcelona. This isn’t a case of Barça choosing to try somebody else.

On Tuesday, that somebody else will be 38-year-old José Manuel Pinto, a volatile Copa del Rey specialist who has played only 27 Liga games since joining Barcelona seven years ago. On Tuesday, he will make his seventh Champions League appearance for the Blaugrana, one that will undoubtedly become his most important contribution on the European stage. To date, the only lasting memory he’s crafted in Champions League was being red carded as a reserve against Real Madrid in 2011.

To be certain, he is not the Diego López to Valdés’s Casillas. This is a bigger step down, one which may become more apparent if Costa plays. Sure to seek contact (if not outright entice fouls), the Atlético sniper would tempt the more unpredictable side of the former Celta number one. On Tuesday, Pinto may be spared such temptations.

Beyond Costa’s antics, it will be up to Barça’s possession game to limit Pinto’s exposure. Against an opponent the three-time champions have failed to distinguish themselves from this season, the loss of Valdés could prove particularly important.

STREAM: Arsenal-Boro, Swans-Watford, every 10am ET game

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Mesut Ozil of Arsenal (C) celebrates scoring his sides third goal with his team mates  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Six games take center stage at 10 a.m. ET in the Premier League on Saturday, with both north London clubs in action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Red-hot Arsenal host Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium, while Swansea City welcome Watford as Bob Bradley manages his first home game in the Premier League. Leicester City and Crystal Palace do battle, while Everton head to Burnley, Stoke go to Hull and West Ham host struggling Sunderland.

You can stream each game live by clicking on the links below or above.

10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Sunderland – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Stoke City – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Everton – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]

Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham: Spurs stay unbeaten

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Adam Smith of AFC Bournemouth (L) blocks Erik Lamela of Tottenham Hotspur (R) shot during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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  • Spurs remain unbeaten
  • Bournemouth impress
  • Wilshere plays 90 minutes
  • Surman, Stanislas injured before game

Tottenham Hotspur remain the only unbeaten team in the Premier League as they drew 0-0 at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

Both teams hit the woodwork in the first half with Charlie Daniels going close for Bournemouth and Erik Lamela clipping the post for Spurs.

Bournemouth’s high-energy approach halted Spurs’ usual fluidity as an intense game played out in the autumnal sun on the south coast.

With the point Spurs momentarily moved joint-top of the PL on 19 points, while Bournemouth on 12 points as they’re now four games unbeaten.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bournemouth started very brightly and after six minutes they hit the woodwork. A short corner found Dan Gosling and his pull back found Daniels but the former Spurs’ player saw his shot deflected onto the bar brilliantly by Hugo Lloris. The Cherries continued to push and Callum Wilson was looking lively on the break.

Then Spurs hit the woodwork as a magnificent double nutmeg from Dele Alli in the middle of the pitch set up Lamela and the Argentine struck the post with an audacious long-range effort.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Spurs grew into the game as the half wore on and Bournemouth’s intense pressure subsided a little, and Christian Eriksen‘s deflected effort was well saved by Artur Boruc at his near post. A flurry of yellow cards then emerged

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

At the start of the second half Lamela fired over the bar at the near post as Spurs looked the more dangerous. Vincent Janssen replaced Son on the hour mark as Tottenham tried something different in order to break down a stubborn Bournemouth back line.

Boruc denied Danny Rose and try as they might Spurs failed to break through the Cherries rearguard, which saw Jack Wilshre (playing his first 90 minutes for over two years) trying to create as much as possible in midfield.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

In the dying stages it was Bournemouth who looked more likely to score but Benik Afobe headed just over as the Cherries’ final flourish didn’t yield a winning goal.


STREAM: Watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10am ET

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At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App, on and on a dedicated Premier League Extratime channel as goals from all four matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occur around all the grounds in the Premier League.


For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

The feature game this weekend will be Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough and as goals and incidents occur around the league, you will be transported to the action as it happens.

More info is available here, plus the schedule for all four games at 10 a.m. ET is below.

10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Middlesbrough
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Stoke City
10 a.m. ET: West Ham vs. Sunderland
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Watford
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Everton

China hires Lippi to take over national football team

FLORENCE, ITALY - MAY 29:  Marcello Lippi attends a training session at Coverciano on May 29, 2014 in Florence, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) China has hired World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to head its national football team.

China’s football association on Saturday formally announced the hiring of the 68-year-old Lippi, who guided Italy to the 2006 World Cup title.

It’s the latest move by China in a national push to become more competitive in soccer. Under President Xi Jinping, a fan of the sport, China has set the goal of becoming a soccer superpower but its foray into football has so far been a failure. The men’s national team has qualified for just one World Cup, in 2002, and did not score a single goal.

Lippi replaces Gao Hongbo, who resigned after China’s Oct. 11 loss to Uzbekistan.