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Pochettino, Guardiola preview key UCL clashes

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Tottenham and Manchester City begin their UEFA Champions League knockout rounds on Tuesday, with Spurs heading to Juventus and Man City at Basel.

[ MORE: JPW’s UCL last 16 predictions ]

Both Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola have been speaking about the importance of getting their UCL knockout stages off to the perfect start.

Speaking in Turin ahead of Spurs’ clash with Italian champions and last seasons’ runners up Juve, Pochettino revealed that his side will go all out for victory in the first leg in Italy.

“We are going to be brave, we are going to try to win,” Pochettino said. “We need to play with freedom and clear ideas. It’s a game we must enjoy.”

With Spurs top of the form table in the Premier League over the past six games, Harry Kane in superb goalscoring form and the likes of Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen back to their best, it’s no wonder that Pochettino is feeling confident.

Most Spurs fans would take a draw or even a one-goal loss away at Juve in the first leg but given that this is an ageing Juventus side, it seems like a winnable tie for Tottenham.

In team news Toby Alderweireld was left at home by Pochettino as the Belgian continues to recover from a long-term hamstring injury. The Belgian defender was fit enough to start last week in the FA Cup replay win against Newport County, and declared himself fit to play against Arsenal in the north London, but Pochettino left him out of the win against the Gunners and explained why.

“He is 28 and it was a massive injury that we need to care about, because we could not put at risk his career,” Pochettino said. “We designed a plan to try to provide him with the best tools to recover as soon as possible and be stronger than before. In that period that he started to work with the team, under our judgement, he needs to build his fitness slowly. He needs to work hard. To play this type of game (against Juventus) you need to be 200 per cent.

“It’s not the same as training to compete, and that’s why we are caring about him with our plan, to try for him in to be at a high level of condition again, (and) can be competing for one place in the starting eleven. That is always what we try to do with different players. Of course we are sorry for him because when you miss some games like Arsenal or the Champions League, and we work a lot to play this type of game, I can understand that (he is frustrated). We are frustrated too because, when you cannot play, it is difficult to accept.”


As for Guardiola and Man City, their focus is not only on getting by Swiss champs Basel but being crowned European champs.

The Premier League’s runaway leaders are the bookies favorites to win the UCL, but Guardiola is understandably cautious as they head into the latter stages of a tournament they’ve slipped up in many times before.

“I don’t know,” Guardiola said when asked if they will win the Champions League. “Our target is to do better than last season. The teams are so clinical and we have to be. Basel have shown good performances in the group stage. They are good opponents. We will have difficulties here.”

Skipper Vincent Kompany, who reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals with City in 2015-16 under Manuel Pellegrini, believes that City now feel as if they belong among Europe’s elite.

“If there is a year, a moment when the club is ready to feel at home, then it’s now,” Kompany said.

City have Leroy Sane back in their squad after he made a quick recovery from the horror tackle he suffered at Cardiff City in the FA Cup last month, but Gabriel Jesus and Benjamin Mendy remain out injured and David Silva could be a doubt.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”