Marouane Fellaini

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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 eight previous 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.

Persistent knee injury has Fellaini weighing up surgery

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Marouane Fellaini‘s strategy to wait on a better contract offer from Manchester United could backfire after a poorly timed injury.

The Belgian was withdrawn after just seven minutes on the pitch in the 2-0 loss to Tottenham. He came on in the 63rd minute to replace Jesse Lingard, but was withdrawn in the 70th minute in favor of Ander Herrera and sent straight down the tunnel.

Fellaini has been dogged by a persistent left knee injury since initially suffering ligament damage in a World Cup qualifier for Belgium against Bosnia & Herzegovina in October, causing him to miss three Premier League matches. He returned but re-aggravated the injury, forcing him out for a full 6 weeks, sidelined for nine league games. He has since returned for three short substitute appearances, but it has not healed properly.

Reports in England say Fellaini is now weighing up surgery to fix the issue once and for all. The reports say the problem is with the MCL, meaning surgery would likely sideline him for 6-8 weeks.

The injury is a serious threat to Fellaini’s hope of staying at Manchester United past this season. His contract is up in the summer, and he has already turned down one contract offer from the Red Devils. Now, that strategy of working for a better offer could backfire if Manchester United decides that re-signing the 30-year-old after knee surgery is not worth his demands.

Tottenham 2-0 Man United: Spurs run riot

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  • Spurs have won three consecutive home games v United for the first time since 1966
  • This is the first time United have lost at Wembley since 2011
  • Spurs have picked up six points in their six games against the other ‘big six’ sides

LONDON — Tottenham beat Manchester United 2-0 in front of a record Premier League crowd of 81,978 at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday with Spurs running United all over the place.

Christian Eriksen scored the third-fastest goal in Premier League history to make it 1-0, then a Kieran Trippier cross was diverted into his own net by Phil Jones in the first half to double Spurs’ lead.

United never really got going with Jose Mourinho’s men hit on the break time and time again in the second half but Spurs couldn’t extend their lead.

With the defeat, their first in nine PL games, United lost ground on leaders Man City, while Spurs close the gap on the top four and are just five points behind United.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

Spurs got off to a perfect start as a long ball forward found Dele Alli and he put the ball into the path of Eriksen who finished calmly to make it 1-0 inside the opening 11 seconds.

United recovered well from that early setback with Anthony Martial denied by Hugo Lloris and Romelu Lukaku looking threatening.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Spurs then went 2-0 up in bizarre fashion with Kieran Trippier’s cross from the right wing flicked into his own net by Jones at the near post in a moment of madness.

Moments later United almost pulled a goal back as Martial raced free but his shot was pushed wide by Lloris, then Paul Pogba poked an effort over.

There were plenty of big challenges flying in and the home fans weren’t happy that Sanchez and Pogba went down easily, and that Dele Alli didn’t win a penalty kick after a rash challenge from Antonio Valencia, but Spurs didn’t have much to moan about with a 2-0 lead at the break.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]  

Spurs poured forward in search of a killer third goal with Kane just caught offside and Heung-Min Son dragged an effort wide.

United almost pulled a goal back as Pogba’s exquisite ball over the top found Lukaku who slammed an effort in on goal but Lloris saved.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

Eriksen smashed a shot inches wide as Tottenham pushed hard for another goal late on but it didn’t arrive as Kane was denied by De Gea, then Son should have squared the ball to him but De Gea saved again.

Marouane Fellaini was then subbed on and off in a six-minute spell as he looked to have an injury. United were run ragged all night long and the 2-0 scoreline was kind to them.

PL Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United

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  • Burnley has 1 win vs. Man United in last 23 meetings
  • Manchester United has not conceded a goal in 2018
  • Paul Pogba is joint-top of the league with 9 assists

A critical top of the table battle comes our way from Turf Moor (!!) on Saturday as Manchester United travels to Burnley live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing at Chelsea back in early November, Manchester United in unbeaten away from home and has won four of the five road matches. Burnley, meanwhile, has lost three matches in a row to start the new year and has not won in Premier League play since December 12th against Stoke City.

The goalscoring form of each team is also in stark contrast. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in any competition in 2018, and last conceded back on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw with this Burnley side. The Clarets, meanwhile, have just one goal in their last three Premier League games and just three goals in their last six.

INJURIES: Burnley – OUT: Chris Wood (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Chris Taylor (ribs). Manchester United – OUT: Daley Blind (undisclosed), Eric Bailly (ankle), Michael Carrick (heart), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on the gap in riches between clubs: “I don’t think any of us are surprised by the gap in the Premier League – I think it’s been there a long time and it’s getting harder year on year since the business model of football has changed.”

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on focusing despite transfer rumors: “In this moment, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan our player, [Alexis] Sanchez an Arsenal player and with a match tomorrow, I want to switch off and focus on the most important thing, which is the match.”

Prediction

Burnley may be coming back down to Earth, but they are still a formidable team with great organization, and Manchester United will be once again held to a draw, this time 1-1.