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Man United, Chelsea prepare for La Liga tests

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The final two Premier League teams to get their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties off and running are Manchester United and Chelsea who both play this week.

Both PL giants face Spanish opposition but both are in very different situations heading into these games.

 [ MORE: Champions League schedule

United travel to Sevilla on Wednesday as the firm favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, while Chelsea host Barcelona on Tuesday hoping to still be in the tie after the first leg at Stamford Bridge against Lionel Messi and Co.

After Liverpool battered FC Porto, Manchester City demolished Basel and Tottenham went to Juventus and dominated in a draw last week, all of a sudden United and Chelsea are under a little bit of extra pressure to not let the PL sides down.

That pressure is ratcheted up given the fact that Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League for much of the last decade, with six of the last 10 European champions hailing from La Liga.

Chelsea were the last PL club to reach the UCL final, when they beat Bayern Munich in 2012, while United reached the final in three of four seasons from 2008 to 2011 but only prevailed on one occasion… when they beat Chelsea in the final 2008. That rich run for English clubs in the Champions League saw seven of the eight finals from 2005-2012 have at least one English club in it, but none have made it that far since.

Six of the last eight teams to reach the UCL final have been from Spain, with Juventus reaching the final in two of the past three seasons but failing to the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet this season, with five teams from one league reaching the last 16 for the first time in the competition’s history, there’s a sense the English clubs are back to their best and are ready to put La Liga in their place. United and Chelsea will have the first crack at doing that in the knockout rounds with all eyes on what could be a seismic shift in power back to the PL.

Chelsea were the only one of five PL teams in the Champions League this season to not win their group and they paid the ultimate price for that as they were drawn against Barcelona, the current La Liga leaders and one of the red-hot favorites to win yet another European title.

Antonio Conte‘s men have recovered well in recent weeks after patchy form in the Premier League briefly dropped them out of the top four, but there’s no doubting that there are still issues behind-the-scenes with Chelsea’s Italian manager who many expect to walk away at the end of this season.

On the pitch, Chelsea continue to be Lionel Messi’s kryptonite as the Argentine star hasn’t scored in any of his nine outings against the Blues. Conte will hope that is once again the case and we may well see a more defensive Chelsea side than usual as they will keep it tight, then play it up to either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata to link up with Eden Hazard on the break.

Barca lead La Liga and if Messi once again fires a blank against Chelsea, at least this time they also have Luis Suarez in reserve, although Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied and can’t feature in the UCL after his January move from Liverpool.

As for United, the rigmarole around Paul Pogba continues as Jose Mourinho’s star midfielder missed their FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness but is expected to be fit to play against Sevilla. Does Pogba have a future at Old Trafford?

That’s the key question right now but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez will be eager to lead United in the latter stages of the UCL for the first time since 2014 when they reached the quarterfinals, but Mourinho is dealing with an injury crisis as Marcus Rashford could join Ander HerreraAntonio Valencia, Zlatan IbrahimovicMarcos RojoPhil Jones and Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines.

Sevilla drew against Liverpool twice in the UCL group stage and even though their La Liga form has been up and down throughout this season (they currently sit in fifth place in the table) and since Vincenzo Montella was appointed as their new boss in December, they’ll be a threat.

Wissam Ben Yedder is Sevilla’s chief goal threat and has six goals in six UCL games so far this season, while ex Manchester City pair Nolito and Jesus Navas will cause problems and Steven Nzonzi continues to impress in central midfield.

Both United and Chelsea know they face tough tests against Spanish opposition this week, and it is perhaps made a little tougher with expectations growing for English clubs in the Champions League this season.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Follow Live: Man United travels to Yeovil in FA Cup matchup

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Little Yeovil, a town of 45,000 in Southwest England, is playing host to one of the biggest games in the club’s recent history.

Manchester United travels south to take on the struggling League Two side in the fourth round of the FA Cup. And Jose Mourinho isn’t messing around.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

New signing Alexis Sanchez is named in the starting XI, along with Marcus Rashford, Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo and Juan Mata. Kickoff is set for 2:55 p.m. ET and can be followed along above.

Elsewhere, Sheffield Wednesday hosts Reading in a Championship-league duel in the FA Cup to start your weekend’s action. This match kicks off at 2:45 p.m.

Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Southampton

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  • Man Utd has won last four across all comps, inc. EFL Cup Final
  • Saints won at Old Trafford, Jan. 2016
  • Man Utd leads all-time 64W-31D-27L

Stung Southampton sits just two points above the relegation zone, and visits an angry Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Red Devils, after all, are coming off a disappointing 2-2 draw with Burnley in which they needed a pair of goals from Jesse Lingard to come back from a two-goal hole.

But that setback is nothing compared to what happened to Saints, 5-2 losers at Wembley Stadium against Tottenham Hotspur.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho admitted Friday that Romelu Lukaku is tired but the club cannot afford to give its big striker a break.

What they’re saying

United’s Marcos Rojo on low travel“It helps tremendously, above all for our recovery periods because travelling really tires you out, so I think the fact that we have got two at home and one pretty close by over that period means we can get some rest and hopefully go into those games feeling as fresh as possible.”

Saints’ Oriol Romeu on rebounding from Spurs blowout“We understand the frustration of the fans but it happens in football. I have been here in a similar situation before and I know how it feels. We appreciate the support and what the fans keep doing for us and that is exactly what we need. We want to thank them and tell them that together we will be stronger and together we can get back to where we want to be.”

Prediction

United has too much firepower, even against an ornery Saints side, and will find the net a few times at Old Trafford. United 3-1.

Manchester United 2-2 Burnley: Lingard leads comeback

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  • Teams drew 0-0 last year at OT
  • Burnley goes up after two minutes
  • Defour doubles lead through free kick
  • Lingard scores twice in second half

Jesse Lingard‘s second half double led Manchester United back for a 2-2 draw with Burnley at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Ashley Barnes and Steven Defour had scored to give the Clarets a halftime lead.

United is now 13 points back of Man City before the leaders play Tuesday at Newcastle United, while the point keeps Burnley seventh.

The Red Devils held a 23-3 edge in shots and 72 percent possession, but only scored the equalizer in stoppage time.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Marcos Rojo gave away a free kick to Jeff Hendrick inside of 70 seconds, and Burnley made the most of the opportunity.

Poor defending in the six allowed Barnes to rifle the ball behind De Gea.

Nick Pope punched a Juan Mata free kick toward the back corner flag, and Phil Bardsley chopped down Zlatan Ibrahimovic to give United another set piece.

Corners followed, and Burnley could not escape its third. When it did, though, it found an answer. Defour swept a free kick over the wall and beyond the flying hand of De Gea to make it 2-0 in the 36th minute.

Pogba carried away from Defour to curl a shot just away from the upper 90 as United sought a way back into the match.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

United’s crowd and all on television though the Red Devils had pulled one back through Jesse Lingard, and it’d take replays to see what went wrong. Pope got his face on Lingard’s in tight shot.

Lingard did get his goal within moments, though, back heeling Ashley Young‘s pass just inside the far post for 2-1 in the 54th.

Bardsley saw yellow for a sliding tackle in the 69th minute, one which easily could’ve been his second, and Pogba lorded over a free kick. The French wizard hammered his shot just over the bar.

Lingard connected with an equalizer in the first minute of stoppage time which was entirely deserved against a resolute Burnley back line.