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Champions League preview: Defending champion Bayern Munich looks to end Real Madrid quest for 10th title

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With the club one step away from its first Champions League final in 12 years, it’s tempting see a Real Madrid team bolstered by Carlo Ancelotti and Gareth Bale as within reach of the club’s coveted decima. Then you remember last year’s failure against Borussia Dortmund, the two semifinal exits before that, and the challenge that will stand across the pitch from the nine-time champions on Wednesday. That’s when Bayern Munich, favorites throughout this year’s competition, will visit the Santiago Bernabéu, with former El Real nemesis Pep Guardiola hoping to guide the German champions to Europe’s first back-to-back titles in 24 years.

We are in an important semifinal and we are more driven than anyone to win this competition,” Ancelotti said on Tuesday, in the midst of his first semifinal with the Merengues. “[It] is an advantage and a great motivation for us, not an obsession.”

That may depend on how you define obsession. Ever since the club defeated Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final, that 10th European championship has been Real Madrid’s primary focus. That the club has been  unable to complete its quest, failing to make a final over that 12-year span, has made the decima into a fixation. It’s the reason why Ancelotti was brought in; why the club wasn’t content with the league and Copa del Rey titles José Mourinho produced during his three-year tenure; why the likes of Bale have bolstered an already immensely talented squad. Whether Ancelotti wants to admit it or not, la decima is an obsession.

“We are only thinking about the match,” Ancelotti reiterated. “I am confident in my team and in my players … we are focusing on our own team. This is the most important thing for coping with the pressure.”

It’s a pressure compounded by a worrisome fitness situation, with Ballon d’Or-winning attacker Cristiano Ronaldo a doubt for the first leg. He’ll face a fitness test before the match. If he passes it, could be available off the bench, with Ancelotti having already ruled him out of the starting lineup.

Recovering from the flu, Bale may also be hampered, while Marcelo’s hamstring will the Brazilian left back give way to Fabio Coentrão. With midfielder Sami Khedira a long-term absence, Real Madrid will be without three or four of its first choice players. All of Bayern’s starters should be at Guardiola’s disposal.

“I hope [Ronaldo] plays,” Guardiola said on Tuesday. “We play for people who want to see the best. He is among the best. If he doesn’t play, [Real Madrid] play in a different way.”

It’s a confidence that’s endemic to Guardiola’s managerial style, but given the quality his Bayern team takes into Wednesday’s match, the attitude is even more well-grounded than usual. Led by the likes of Franck Ríbery, Mario Götze, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bayern’s lost only four times under its first-year boss. Combined with the Barcelona icon’s history of success against Real Madrid, Bayern are justified in assuming a favorite’s posture.

My stats at the Bernabéu were with another club at another time and in another situation,” Guardiola explained, having gone 9-4-2 against Real Madrid during his time managing Barça. “It has nothing to do with Bayern. If we win, we will have to put on a very good performance.”

Given Bayern has next week’s second leg at the Allianz Arena, the team doesn’t necessarily need to win.With a team that’s averaging more than 69 percent possession in Champions League, Munchen’s capable bleeding out a draw, should it choose to do so.

Even in the face of the Merengues’ attacking potential, Guardiola’s unlikely to make that choice.

Cristiano is a goalscorer, Isco gives you more control and possession, [Karim] Benzema gives you stability, [Sergio] Ramos, Xabi [Alonso] and [Luka] Modrić can play the ball from the back,” Guardiola explained, “… and with Bale, Cristiano, [Ángel] di María and Benzema, they can kill with space. We’ll try to attack and defend as we always do.”

Should it perform to its normal standards, Bayern Munich will likely get a result at the Bernabéu – the toughest challenge between it and a second straight title. Any slip, however, and the likes of Bale, Benzema, di María and Modric can heighten the tie’s drama ahead of next week’s finale, allowing Real Madrid’s obsession to feed off the challenge of the Allianz.

Video: City clinical on set piece to double lead

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Manchester City has lived up to the billing early on in the Pep Guardiola era, and the first half of Sunday’s match against West Ham has been everything the Spaniard could hope for.

After taking an early lead through Raheem Sterling after seven minutes, Fernandinho doubled the City lead in the 18th minute after a stellar set piece situation.

Kevin De Bruyne‘s stepped up for a free kick before the Belgian curled his effort directly into the path of Fernandinho, who headed home the hosts for the 2-0 lead.

Even though West Ham is understandably undermanned with Dimitri Payet, Andy Carroll and others, City is putting on a show right now at the Etihad.

West Brom 0-0 Middlesbrough: Guzan holds Baggies scoreless

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Cristhian Stuani of Middlesbrough takes on Brendan Galloway and Claudio Yacob (R) of West Bromwich Albion  during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough at The Hawthorns on August 28, 2016 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t the most attractive perfromance all around but Middlesbrough remained perfect on Sunday after finishing level in their 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion from The Hawthorns.

Brad Guzan earned his second start in net on Sunday since joining Middlesbrough, and the U.S. Men’s National Team keeper was active early on, making two key saves in the first half to keep the match scoreless.

Despite Boro’s success in possession, the team lacked a final touch early on and failed to register a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. West Brom was successful in limiting Alvaro Negredo’s touches early on, which prevented the road side from getting any sort of offensive rhythm.

West Brom continued to press for the opener in the second stanza, however, the home side’s remained limited and largely unthreatening. Craig Dawson had an opportunity to open the scoring in the 63rd minute with a header from close range, but the attempt missed wide of net after Matt Phillips played in the service.

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. West Ham (Lineups, Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City battles with Aaron Cresswell of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester City at the Boleyn Ground on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola remains perfect in his early run in the Premier League and looks to continue that trend on Sunday as Manchester City hosts a difficult West Ham United side at 11 a.m. E.T. from the Etihad Stadium on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

Joe Hart has been the talking point for weeks now at City, but with the new signing of Claudio Bravo finalized earlier this week the attention turns to whether or not the Englishman will be offloaded before the transfer window closes next week.

WATCH LIVE: Manchester City vs. Sunderland live online

West Ham needed a late winner a week ago to edge Bournemouth at home, however, Slaven Bilic‘s side has battled hard in both of their fixtures to start the season.

The Hammers will be extremely undermanned on Sunday as Dimitri Payet headlines the group of players that haven’t travelled with the team to Manchester. Striker Andy Carroll won’t be at the Etihad either, leaving West Ham lacking with depth up front.

Enner Valencia and Cheikhou Kouyate will play key roles for the Hammers as they look to fill the voids left by Payet and Carroll.

Meanwhile, City will keep Will Caballero in net while Bravo finishes his transition into the squad. Nolito also gets the start alongside Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero up front, which will give West Ham fits defensively.

LINEUPS

Manchester City – Caballero, Zabaleta, Otamendi, Stones, Clichy, Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva, Sterling, Nolito, Aguero.
Bench – Hart, Fernando, Nasri, Kolarov, Delph, Iheanacho, Navas.

West Ham – Adrián, Ogbonna, Reid, Masuaku, Collins, Noble, Kouyate, Antonio, Tore, Enner Valencia, Fletcher.
Bench – Randolph, Byrum, Burke, Oxford, Obiang, Lanzini, Calleri.

Serie A roundup: Khedira earns Juventus three points as Napoli defeats AC Milan

ROME, ITALY - AUGUST 27:  Sami Khedira #6 with his teammates of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on August 27, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Sami Khedira hasn’t found the field much since moving to Juventus two summers ago, but when he does, he has a striker’s eye.

The German bagged his eighth goal for Juventus in just his 28th appearance as the Italian giants went on the road and defeated Lazio 1-0.

A poor clear attempt by Lucas Biglia saw Paulo Dybala’s lofted ball over the top fall to Khedira, and he skittered the ball across the face of goal into the far corner. The win is the second of the year for Juventus after they took down Fiorentina in their opening match.

There was a goal-fest at Stadio San Paolo as Napoli defeated AC Milan 4-2 braces from Arkadiusz Milik and Jose Callejon. Milik’s came in the first-half, with the opener in 18th minute, a lucky bounce as Dries Mertens’ shot clattered off the post and fell in Milik’s lap. He doubled Napoli’s lead in the 33rd minute with a beautiful header into the far corner, out-jumping Juraj Kucka.

The second half saw a flurry of action. A pair of goals four minutes apart saw Milan tie things up as M’baye Niang and Suso brought them level. Then, the yellow cards came flying. As a result, Kucka and Niang were both sent off for second cautions. Jose Callejon took advantage, bagging his first in the 74th and doubling his tally in stoppage time in a ridiculous bit of play that saw Alessio Romagnoli try to swat Mertens’ cross away from the goal line…yes, as in with his hands.

It’s a wonder Romagnoli wasn’t sent off for his actions. Napoli