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Champions League Preview: Real Madrid looks to restore confidence against decimated Dortmund

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When Real Madrid drew Borussia Dortmund after UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, the pairing looked fortuitous pairing for the surging favorite. Back then, Carlo Ancelotti’s team appeared primed to be Bayern Munich’s main obstacle, with a rise to the top of La Liga showing its quality relative to fellow contenders Barcelona and Atlético Madrid.

Jump to the present, and an unexpected slide finds Real Madrid occupying the Primera’s third place once more. A disappointing home loss to Barcelona followed at an upset at Sevilla highlighted the team’s long-discussedfragility. For all the success los Blancos experienced this winter — as ascent that left all of fall’s questions in 2013’s distance — they were still sent spinning by a Lionel Messi hat trick, a Sergio Ramos red card, and the same misgivings that have kept the team’s current core from claiming the club’s long-sought decima.

It makes El Real’s pairing with Borussia Dortmund even more fortuitous. Had the nine-time champions been drawn with Bayern Munich or Barcelona in this round, the wounds they suffered in league may have sufficiently healed. But against a Dortmund team that has struggled all season with injuries, Real Madrid may be getting just the right level of opponent to ease them back toward their title-contending form.

“We have done well in the competition up until now,” Ancelotti reminded the media on Tuesday, “we are one of only two teams unbeaten. We are 100 percent ready for this match.”

(MORE: Real Madrid’s path: Landslide at Schalke | Finish the job at home)

In the last round, however, Jurgen Klopp’s team’s four-goal outburst in Russia reminded the field of Dortmund’s persisting danger, something the Merengues will remember from last year’s semifinals. But with up to seven first choice players set to be sidelined on Wednesday, Dortmund will look little like the team that routed Real Madrid in Germany last season.

Robert Lewandowskiwho posted four goals on El Real in last year’s first leg, is suspended for Wednesday’s match in Madrid. Though he’ll return for leg two, Neven Subotic, Marcel Schmelzer, Sven Bender, Ilkay Gündogen and Jakub Blaszczykowski will not, with Lukacz Piszczek’s fitness concern potentially leaving the full back with his injured teammates. Dortmund is decimated.

But Dortmund has been decimated for most of the season. Yet they still won their Champions League group. They’re still in the tournament’s final eight. They still sit second in Germany, and they were still able to put their Round of 16 match against Zenit St. Petersburg away within 90 minutes. Those focusing on Borussia Dortmund’s misfortune usually overlook the fact that Klopp has made his adjustments.

“I’m not a magician but we have had to get over much adversity this season,” Klopp explained. “I have very good players and my duty is to make them better; so far we’ve done that very well.”

(MORE, Dortmund’s road to the quarters: Explosion in St. Petersburg | Struggles at home)

source: APThose duties leave summer buy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the likely starter up top. Marco Reus (right), capable of finding goals on his own (as he did three times this weekend), will star in an attacking line of three with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and (likely) Jonas Hoffman. The debilitated defense will rely on Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the middle beside Mats Hummels, with Kevin Großkreutz moved back on the right to play opposite left back Erik Durm. It’s a makeshift team, yet one which, thanks to players like Reus, can still pull off an upset.

It’s also a group that’s more capable than the Sevilla team that beat Real Madrid in the middle of last week, though that loss is likely to have served as a wake up call. If so, Borussia Dortmund’s hamstrung defense risks being overrun by Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, with a midfield trio of Luka Modric, Ángel Di María, and Xabi Alonso capable of dictating the affair. At home and carrying memories of last years’ first leg embarrassment, Real Madrid’s stars can be expected to try and post a decisive result.

(MORE: Mourinho, Chelsea stand in the way of PSG’s semifinal goal)

“Playing the second leg at home may be a slight advantage but I fear Madrid trying to settle the tie here,” according to Klopp. “I have seen many of their games and they never finish a match without one scoring opportunity. They have incredible quality and we can’t ignore that. If we play our game and keep our heads up, we will have chances.”

On Wednesday, Dortmund’s main goal has to be to survive until leg two. Then, they’ll have Lewandowski back. Piszczek might return. They’ll be at home, and they may be able to use that Real Madrid fragility in their favor. Dortmund could be the next team to draw a decisive Sergio Ramos red card.

They just need to survive the Bernabéu.

Martinez “thought about dancing” after Everton thumped Stoke City

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Roberto Martinez Manager of Everton looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Everton at Britannia Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Stoke on Trentl, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Everton is finding its form, and that has Roberto Martinez with half a mind to keep dancing.

Martinez admitted his Jason Derulo fandom after video surfaced of the Spaniard dancing in a suite this week, and had to admit he felt like continuing the show after Everton crushed Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday.

The Toffees climbed above Merseyside rivals Liverpool on goal differential and into eight place in the Premier League. They are finally looking like the club supporters expected to see this season.

[ MATCH RECAP: Stoke City 0-3 Everton ]

Everton has back-to-back 3-0 wins in the Premier League. Before that was a loss to Swansea City which followed a trio of draws against Man City, Spurs and Chelsea.

Martinez’s club looked fit to score even more after Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman and Aaron Lennon scored first-half goals on the road at the Britannia Stadium.

Look at that face… a living dance hall. Of course we kid, and are even more grateful for Martinez’s personality.

Pochettino on Tottenham winning title: “If we believe, it can happen”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Mauricio Pochettino Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Watford at White Hart Lane on February 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is playing it cool, but Tottenham Hotspur has a real chance of winning its first-ever Premier League title.

[ MORE: Foxes beat City to stay top ]

Following Spurs’ 1-0 win over Watford at White Hart Lane on Saturday — the scoreline doesn’t reflect how dominant Tottenham were — optimism levels were high.

Four Premier League wins on the spin and six in all competitions will do that.

With Tottenham now second in the PL table and five points behind surprise leaders Leicester City, are they genuine title contenders?

“I feel very proud of the players,” Pochettino said. “We need to be calm. We are in a very good position in the league but the philosophy from the beginning of the season has been to go step by step. We are a very young squad so it is important to keep going and take every game and competition and be ready to compete.

“We need to be careful and always work in the same way. In football you can never stop. You always need to improve and fix a different situation. We still need to be more clinical, we created a lot of chances today but need to score more.We have a good idea of how we want to build the squad for the future and it is important to take this philosophy and deliver it.”

More tellingly Pochettino was also quoted as saying: “In football belief is the most important. If we believe, it can happen.”

In a season where Leicester City top the Premier League, why can’t Spurs launch a serious title challenge of their own with 13 games to go?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned as Leicester demolished Man City

As Pochettino mentioned, scoring more goals should be the main aim for Spurs as they had 26 shots against Watford and 66 percent of the ball but only scored once. But with the best defensive record in the PL and the best goal differential, Spurs are right in this title race.

Agbonlahor says Villans prepared to produce great escape

during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Norwich City at Villa Park on February 6, 2016 in Birmingham, England.
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is feeling quite buoyed by his first goal of the season.

The 29-year-old striker helped ensure his side would keep its early lead with a second half goal, and hopes the 2-0 win over Norwich City is just the latest step in the quest to avoid Villa’s first ever Premier League relegation.

[ MATCH RECAP: Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City ]

Villa is now eight points back of 17th place Newcastle, and seven of the Canaries. It’s still a 4-point journey to 19th, but Agbonlahor and company are taking it proverbially: one game at a time.

From the BBC:

“We are going to keep fighting till the end. That is all the club expects from us. Take it game by game. There is no reason why we cannot escape. We showed fight today. We had a game plan: we defended well and attacked well.”

The Villans are facing a relatively tough stretch of matches with Liverpool, Stoke City, Everton and Man City on the docket.

What odds would you give Villa of pulling off the latest in a long line of Premier League great escapes?

Newcastle United 1-0 West Bromwich Albion: Mitrovic pushes Magpies to 17th

during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion at St James' Park on February 6, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
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  • Magpies climb out of relegation zone
  • Baggies continue to struggle under Pulis
  • Mitrovic gets winner as hosts control match

Aleksandar Mitrovic‘s first-half goal gave Newcastle United a week above the drop zone in a 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion at St. James Park on Saturday.

The Magpies leapfrog losing Norwich City for 17th place in the Premier League with 24 points.

West Brom is now winless in five and sits five points ahead of Newcastle, good for 14th place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Magpies provided an inspired start to the match, piling on pressure and winning a pair of corner kicks. Aleksandar Mitrovic was saved at the goal line by Boaz Myhill in the most clear-cut opportunity.

Craig Gardner won a free kick on the edge of the 18, but Georginio Wijnaldum leapt off the wall to help deflect it out for an eventually unsuccessful corner.

Cheik Tiote scored from close to 40 yards out, but Lee Mason consulted with his linesman before disallowing the goal because Aleksandar Mitrovic was in the flight of the ball and offside.

Mitrovic had the next laugh, though, sprung on a break by Jonjo Shelvey and deservedly finishing his chance past Foster. Newcastle owned a 1-0 lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Wijnaldum flashed a header over goal of Townsend’s cross from the right, and it was still 1-0 in the 66th minute. Townsend then poked a low shot off the right post moments later, and Moussa Sissoko flashed a prime shot wide.

The Magpies were leaving themselves open to an equalizer, and it’s not as if the Baggies didn’t find a chance or two (though mostly through set pieces).