Preview: Liverpool vs. Chelsea – Last chance for the Reds?

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  • Liverpool beat Chelsea 2-1 earlier this season
  • Chelsea lead PL, 10 points clear of Liverpool
  • Liverpool lost 3 home games in a row

Liverpool host Chelsea on Tuesday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) knowing they simply must win to keep their slim title hopes alive.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live ]

If Jurgen Klopp‘s men beat Antonio Conte‘s table-topping Chelsea they’ll cut the gap to just seven points with 15 games to go. Game on for Liverpool and the rest of the PL. However, a defeat would mean Liverpool’s title hopes will be all but over and the Blues will be 13 points clear of them. 

Liverpool did beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge back in September but since then Conte’s men have gone on an incredible run, winning 15 of their next 17 games to open up an eight-point lead at the summit. For Liverpool, they’ve lost their last three games, all at home, in the space of a week with Klopp’s men dumped out of both the EFL Cup and FA Cup plus losing to lowly Swansea in the PL.

In team news Sadio Mane could return for Liverpool after Senegal were knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations. Chelsea have no new injury worries but Branislav Ivanovic and Asmir Begovic may not feature as they edge closer to moves away from Stamford Bridge.

What they’re saying

Klopp on Liverpool finishing in top four: “It’s very important we build on the good things. Is it allowed to go for the best position in the Premier League? I really think we should try everything to make the best of the base we made. Stay positive. It’s possible we could qualify for Champions League.”

Conte on respecting Liverpool: “Liverpool’s recent results are difficult to explain and I feel they have been unlucky. We have grown since our first meeting with Liverpool and we have improved a lot in terms of our identity and confidence.  When you face teams of the same level it’s important to win for confidence, but the difficulty is high. Liverpool have their own identity and that makes them stronger – they play 4-3-3 When you change your system, you lose your identity and it makes it easier for other teams to beat you.   I want my team to fight to win in every game. Both teams want to win so it could be an open game tomorrow.”

Prediction

What a horrendous week for Liverpool. We will see a reaction from Klopp’s side and Mane’s return, even if he only plays 30 minutes, will be a big boost. Still, it’s tough to see a weakness in this Chelsea team and their counter-attack is perfect to catch Liverpool just like Swansea, Southampton and Wolves have in recent weeks. 2-1 to Chelsea.

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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