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Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”

How to stop Alexis? “Padlock, tie him up,” says Sevilla boss

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“Well, maybe we can lock him up with a padlock or tie him up with rope.”

Vincenzo Montella has mixed it up with Alexis Sanchez in the past, and he’s not relishing the need to stop him again without using non-traditional means.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

The Sevilla boss, 43, said he “remembered well” the Manchester United star from the Chilean’s playing time at Udinese,.

“He has improved his style a lot during his career and I think he can be a really good player in transition,” Montella said. “I think they have really good speed in attack.”

That padlock joke wasn’t the only quality quip from Montella, who said of Paul Pogba:

“He is a complete player. I hope he doesn’t play.”

Sevilla hosts United at 2:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium.

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.

Leganes looks to extend fairy tale run in Copa del Rey

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MADRID (AP) It’s been historically hard to name the third best soccer team in Madrid.

No team has been able to achieve or sustain at least a smidgen of the success of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

The other teams from the capital, or its nearby suburbs, have come and gone in the first division. A few have thrived in the Copa del Rey. But through the years there has never been a clear answer to which one can be considered the city’s third power.

The latest side to have a go is Leganes, based just south of the capital.

On Wednesday, Leganes has a chance to advance to the Copa del Rey final for the first time in its 89-year history. It plays at Sevilla in the second leg of the semifinals. The first leg finished 1-1.

Beating Sevilla won’t be easy, but not impossible either, considering Leganes reversed a 1-0 first-leg loss against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals. It drew 2-2 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium to keep alive its impressive run. It eliminated Villarreal in the previous round.

“We don’t have the obligation to win anything, only to give our best whenever we play,” Leganes coach Asier Garitano says.

Leganes had never made it to the Copa quarterfinals until this year. It is playing in the first division of Spanish football only for the second season. It was in the third tier four seasons ago. It has been a rapid rise.

Leganes began gaining some notoriety only in the early 1990s, when it made it to the second division for the first time. It spent nearly a decade back in the third tier, from 2004-2014, before making the run that took the club to the first division in 2016.

Part of the team’s success is linked to real estate businesswoman Victoria Pavon Palomo, who took over as club president in 2009 after her husband, Felipe Moreno Romero, became its biggest shareholder. They gradually revamped the club, which has been run much like a family business since then, with focus on maintaining financial stability.

With one of the smallest budgets in La Liga, Leganes has thrived without making huge signings, relying on local talent and loans.

The current squad has no top names. Its captain is veteran defender Martin Mantovani, who played for Atletico’s youth squads but never made it to a top club. The midfield has Ruben Perez, who also started his career with Atletico, and Gabriel Pires, who used to play in Italian soccer. The attack has Moroccan Nordin Amrabat and Claudio Beauvue.

The team hosts matches in the 11,000-capacity Butarque Stadium in Leganes, a city of nearly 200,000 people about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from Madrid. The club says it has about 9,000 members.

Its fans are called the “pepineros,” or cucumber growers, because of the vegetable for which the region was known for in the past.

The club said six buses with pepineros will make the trip to Seville for the semifinal on Wednesday.

Getafe is the only other Madrid-area team in the first division this season, having played in the top tier since 2004. There were five Madrid teams in the top-flight two seasons ago, when Rayo Vallecano also participated.

Atletico is second to Barcelona in the Spanish league, with Real Madrid in fourth. Getafe is 11th and Leganes 12th, with a game in hand. Getafe and Leganes drew 0-0 last weekend in the southern Madrid derby.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Transfer rumor roundup: Zlatan to leave United; City’s offer to Alexis

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The Alexis Sanchez-to-Manchester City transfer saga, which began in the summer, seems headed down the same path as Philippe Coutinho-to-Barcelona, which also began in the summer and culminated in a move in January

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

While Arsene Wenger insists no approach has been made to the club, the Guardian claims that Man City have already offered Sanchez a five-and-a-half-year, $340,000-per-week contract that would begin this month, should City and Arsenal agree a transfer fee for the 29-year-old.

[ MORE: Wenger says no approaches for Alexis Sanchez… yet ]

According to Yahoo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic could leave Manchester United before the end of the season. Man United would prefer to keep Ibrahimovic through the end of his current contract which expires this summer, but the Red Devils do not expect him to return for a third season at Old Trafford and could choose to cash in (for a presumably small-ish fee) in the coming weeks or months, should an MLS or Chinese Super League side tempt the 36-year-old away from the Premier League. It is understood that United would not stand in his way in such a scenario.

[ MORE: Man City come back to lead Bristol City in League Cup semi ]

With Coutinho having left for Barcelona, Liverpool find themselves sitting on a cool $95 million, even after parting with $100 million for Virgil Van Dijk earlier this month. As such, a replacement attacker is expected to top Jurgen Klopp‘s wish list. According to the Mirror, 22-year-old Monaco playmaker Thomas Lemar, who was heavily linked with a move to Arsenal as part of Sanchez’s failed move to City, will cost any potential suitors — you guessed it — somewhere between $95 million and $125 million.

[ MORE: MLS comings & goings — LA, RSL, Colorado make big moves ]

Michy Batshuayi has made just two PL starts this season and could finish the campaign out on loan, according to ESPN UK. Sevilla are said to be interested in the 24-year-old who just eight months ago scored the PL title-clinching goal for Chelsea. Squarely stuck behind Alvaro Morata, last summer’s $81-million centerpiece signing, Batshuayi’s place in the Belgium squad for this summer’s World Cup is in real danger.