UCL Preview: Lewandowski returns, but Borussia Dortmund still long shots against Real Madrid

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Amid the eccentric duality that’s lead Jürgen Klopp to wear blue jeans to his job interview as well as incur a UEFA ban for exploding at a fourth official is a philosophical soul, one that’s kept his team’s Champions League plight in perspective. Down 3-0 after last week’s disappointment at the Santiago Bernabéu, the Borussia Dortmund boss has dispensed with cliché to take comfort in the obvious.

Yes, his team is on the verge of leaving the competition, a fate many other teams have met at the boots of Real Madrid. If, however, Dortmund plays to its potential on Tuesday, last year’s finalists can leave the pitch with validated, regardless of its second leg’s outcome.

“I don’t know how many miracles have been proclaimed before they happened. We don’t have any right to speak about that,” Klopp explained in Monday’s press conference, “but we have the right to give everything tomorrow and perform with will power.

“If we somehow get a result that takes us through, then great; if not, we want to say goodbye to the Champions League with a good performance.”

(MORE, Champions League: Real Madrid returns the favor, takes 3-0 lead on Borussia Dortmund)

Is it possible to charge into battle behind a white flag? Klopp’s trying to do so, though in the process, he’s showing the same charm that’s made him one of the more popular coaches in Europe. Perhaps victory it too remote to expect, but for professional athletes, pride is important. Klopp can’t bring himself to lie and tell his team they’ll win if they perform well. He can, however, remind them: Winning big games carry its own rewards.

Toward that end, Borussia Dortmund’s leading scorer, Robert Lewandowski, will be back, having served his one-match suspension for yellow card accumulation. Unless he replicates last year’s four-goal performance against El Real, it will likely be the Polish international’s final Champions League appearance for Dortmund, having already agreed to join Bayern Munich this summer.

Despite his return, BVB will still be shorthanded, with Sebastien Kehl’s suspension adding his name to a gruesome list of injury absences: Sven Bender (groin); Jakub Blaszczykowski (knee); Ilkay Gündogan (back), Marcus Schmelzer (thigh); Neven Subotic (knee). Lewandowski makes Dortmund a more dangerous team, but only marginally so.

(MORE: Three takeaways from Real Madrid’s three-goal romp past Borussia Dortmund)

And against a Real Madrid team that has rediscovered its form, Dortmund remains a decided underdog, with the Merengues 4-0 win on Saturday at Real Sociedad showing what the side is capable of without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo. Unfortunately, for Carlo Ancelotti, the Ballon d’Or winner was unable to complete Monday’s training session, leaving him a doubt for Tuesday’s second leg.

So Ancelotti will just have to rely on Gareth Bale, whose goal on Saturday brings his season total to 18. They’ll have to rely on 21-year-old creator Isco, who will likely get another start after a strong showing in leg one. He’ll rely on Karim Benzema, who scored last week at the Bernabéu, as well as Luka Modric, Ángel Di María and Xabi Alonso, who have proved a surprising well-balanced midfield since Ancelotti starting using them in January.

“There is no need to change the system or go for a more defensive approach,” Ancelotti explained on Monday. “They have 90 minutes to score three, four goals. We have 90 minutes to score one, which would make things very difficult for them. The earlier we score, the easier it will be for us.”

(MORE, Preview: Chelsea hoping to repeat history against PSG)

That’s the real danger for Dortmund, a team capable of scoring three. Between Real Madrid’s defensive problems and the talents of Lewandowski, Marco Reus, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, replicating their opponents’ first leg output is possible. Whether they can keep their guests from snatching a crucial away goal — one that would force them to score five to advance — is another, more difficult question entirely.

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely for the winner takes all second legs. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Grimsby Town vs. Derby County
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm

Celtic qualify for UEFA Champions League group stage

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Celtic survived a scare in Kazakhstan to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the second season on the trot.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Brendan Rodgers‘ side beat FC Astana 5-0 in the first leg of their playoff last week at Celtic Park but the trip to Kazakhstan proved much trickier with Astana leading 4-1 late in the game which had pulled the score back to 6-4 on aggregate.

However, Scott Sinclair had scored a priceless away goal to make it 1-1 at half time and despite a late flurry of goals for the hosts Olivier Ntcham scored a deflected effort and Leigh Griffiths wrapped things up late on as Celtic lost 4-3 on the night but went through 8-4 on aggregate.

Last season the Scottish champions went out in the UCL group stage after being drawn with Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach and will be hoping for a kinder draw this time around.

Premier League clubs on League Cup upset alert

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The second round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup in 2017-18 for sponsorship reasons) kicks off on Tuesday with 13 Premier League clubs in action.

[ MORE: League Cup scores live ]

All 13 have been drawn against lower-league opposition and those klaxons you can hear signify upset alerts.

Below is a look at how each Premier League club will get on as they enter the competition on Tuesday and Wednesday with a ranking on each game out of 10, with 10 being the most likely for an upset to occur.

Remember: the seven PL teams in European competition will enter the League Cup in the third round.


Upset alert ranking for PL clubs

Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 8/10
Brighton vs. Barnet – 4/10
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom – 7/10
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City – 6/10
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth – 7/10
Watford vs. Bristol City – 5/10
MK Dons vs. Swansea City – 5/10

Wednesday
Newcastle United vs. Nottingham Forest – 6/10
Southampton vs. Wolves – 7/10
Huddersfield Town vs. Rotherham United – 7/10
Cheltenham vs. West Ham United – 8/10
Stoke City vs. Rochdale – 6/10
Blackburn Rovers vs. Burnley – 6/10