Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at Real Madrid 1, Manchester United 1

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When Alex Ferguson’s starting XI was announced, many assumed Manchester United was trying to outgun Real Madrid. A lineup featuring all of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck would certainly attack, it was thought. It was also destined to leave United too exposed to a Merengues attack that would take them apart. If points were awarded before kickoff, El Real would have claimed all three.

But while United proved potent throughout the match, the team Ferguson selected were ultimately capable of playing exactly as many expected. In the pre-XI buildup, most assumed Manchester United would play cautiously and be content to leave the Santiago Bernabeu within striking distance of their opponents. Thanks to an early goal from Danny Welback and some standout goalkeeping from former Atlético Madrid netminder David de Gea, the Red Devils are closer than mere striking distance. Taking a 1-1 result out of the Bernabeu, United has an away goals lead ahead of March 5’s second leg.

The result leaves both teams reason to be encouraged. For Real Madrid, they can reasonably feel they were the better team, giving a performance that would win on most nights. The success they had down the flanks — Cristiano Ronaldo on Rafael and Angel Di Maria against Patrice Evra — is something that can be replicated in Manchester. The Red Devils have less reason to believe all of Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and de Gea will meet today’s high standards.

But United have reason to think they can win even if their defense doesn’t replicate Wednesday’s performance. Today’s goal was containment, yet they still were able to generate a number of opportunities. Robin van Persie had two chances to steal a late victory. If United ends up tasked with scoring goals at home (something they won’t need to do at kickoff two weeks from now), they can believe their clinical finishing combined with a more ambitious style will sink Real Madrid.

Man of the Match: Only one or two of the saves that David de Gea (right) made couldn’t have been made by another goalkeeper (how many players are going to make a hockey-style kick save?), but like Gianluigi Buffon yesterday, much of de Gea’s value was in what he didn’t do. On a series of hard, well placed shots, de Gea consistently pushed balls into touch or innocuous areas that prevented Real Madrid from building on their pressure. Once the ball was out for corner kicks, United used their aerial superiority to defuse any danger.

source: Getty ImagesThe English media has derided de Gea for his trouble coming out for crosses, a criticism that makes sense given the emphasis English soccer has traditionally put on wide play and crossing for target strikers. But some time ago, that derision crossed the line and started depicting de Gea as a much worse keeper than he actually is. Today may help correct the record.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Manchester United’s central defense continues to improve – We talked about it this weekend, but after another strong performance, it bears repeating: If Manchester United’s problems in central defense are solved, the team has little worry about over the rest of the season. They’ll continue cruising away from England, and they’ll be a dark horse contender to win Champions League.

Rio Ferdinand got the call along side Jonny Evans today, and thanks to help from de Gea and the midfield-deployed Phil Jones, the duo managed to withstand constant pressure from the Merengues. Whether it was dealing with Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín or having to contain Cristiano Ronaldo on those occasions the Real winger cut insider Ferdinand and Evans were up to the challenge, winning their battles against Real’s No. 9s while forcing Ronaldo toward the byline and limiting him to crosses.

The difference a healthy Ferdinand offers is striking. Organization we rarely an issue, and Ferdinand still possessions great judgment choosing when to come out of defense to challenge in midfield.

Unfortunately, he’s rarely healthy, but if he can stay fit for the next four months, United could have their strongest team since Moscow.

A lot of chances, just not the right ones – From their final third to the edge of the penalty area, Real Madrid’s attackers (particularly Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria) were given room to run at the defense, an approach that resulted in a number of long distance shots, many of which were blocked. United’s defenders kept play in front of them an absorbed attacks rather than challenge for the ball and potentially leave themselves exposed.

The results were huge deficits in possession (61-39) and total shots (28-13) but few danger moments for de Gea and, for a road team, a relatively competitive difference in shots on target (8-6).

Real Madrid needed to be more patient. Particularly given the way de Gea was managing the shots that got through on goal, they needed to craft something more dangerous.

Because the little through balls they’re used to playing were unavailable against United, los Blancos may have elected to try and burn the Red Devils from distance. But it didn’t work, and unless they get a deflection or a hand ball call in the second leg, it’s unlikely to work at Old Trafford.

The value of Phil Jones – It’s easy for a defense to look good when somebody like Phil Jones is protecting them.

On Sunday, Jones was tasked with marking Marouane Fellaini, an approach that helped United keep a clean sheet against Everton. Today, Jones was a wrecking ball in front of the United defense. Late in the match, his experience at center half came into play as he dropped deeper and to help the Red Devils bleed out the draw.

Because of his versatility (able to play center half, right back, and defensive midfield) it’s been difficult to say United have missed Jones in any particular role, but with the former Blackburn prospect injured for much of the season, the Red Devils certainly have missed him to come degree. It’s games like Wednesday’s that illustrate how much.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Whenever there’s a job to do wide, Wayne Rooney gets the call. Today in United’s defensive phase, Rooney often played on the right of a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shape and helped shield right back Rafael. His usage was reminiscent of five years ago when Ferguson temporarily converted used Rooney  as a left winger.
  • In attack, United tried to get Danny Welbeck forward from the left as Rooney and Kagawa operated behind him and van Persie. With so little meaningful possession, it was difficult to tell how well it worked.
  • With United electing to absorb so much of Real Madrid’s attack, the Merengues would have really used somebody capable of driving forward from midfield to help create isolated advantages along the defense. Sami Khedira sometimes does this, while Xabi Alonso’s out of his element too close to the box. This game might have needed more Kaká.
  • Pepe was back from injury and saw some late time, coming in late when José Mourinho decided to guard against a second United goal. Iker Casillas was injured and failed to make Real Madrid’s bench.

Brighton – Liverpool preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Brighton - Liverpool preview
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Brighton – Liverpool preview: Liverpool continues its pursuit of history when it visits safer but not secure Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds bounced back from a blowout loss to Man City and beat Aston Villa over the weekend and will now turn its attention to a Brighton team that took them to the wire earlier this season.

STREAM BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL LIVE

The Seagulls have been quite good for a bottom-half side, very unlucky until a recent surge propelled them nine points clear of the bottom three.


Team news

Liverpool is waiting on the statuses of James Milner and Dejan Lovren for the trip down south.

Brighton won’t have Jose Izquierdo, and Steven Alzate is a doubt.


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on getting ready for challenging Brighton“First and foremost, I want us to be lively, I want us to be active, I want us to be creative and I want us to be really solid, especially in protecting the counter-attacks. Whatever setup Brighton will choose and they used to change a lot for the specific opponent system-wise. So against us when we played here, it was kind of a 4-3-2-1, maybe they play that again. But we have only two days’ time, so we cannot prepare for all the different systems. Most of the things the boys have to learn on the pitch and then use our principles, our patterns. Hopefully it will work out.”

Graham Potter on facing the champs“It would be nice to get a result against them. Whenever you play the best it is an opportunity to test yourself and learn about yourselves. Liverpool have been amazing this season and are thoroughly deserved champions. It’s great for us to have that level of opposition. We have to make sure we retain Premier League status and keep fighting so that means trying to take points off every team between now and the end of the season.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

Brighton’s a solid underdog at home (+510), with Liverpool expected to keep up its march on history at -182 favorites.

Liverpool beat Brighton 2-1 with 10 men in a November match in which the Seagulls angered Jurgen Klopp.


Prediction

The Seagulls have an underrated team and they will certainly hang around in this game if they can avoid an early concession. Let’s say they do, and fight valiantly in a second 2-1 loss this season.


How to watch Brighton – Liverpool stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Arteta eager for Ceballos to stay; laments missed chances, VAR

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has revealed he is eager for Dani Ceballos to stay long term and he also lamented their missed chances as they drew 1-1 at home against Leicester City.

Arteta’s side dominated the first half and should have gone in more than 1-0 up as a combination of fine saves from Kasper Schmeichel and poor decision cost the Gunners.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A red card to Eddie Nketiah and a late Jamie Vardy equalizer, but checked by VAR, cost them what would have been a big win in their battle to get back in the Champions League race.

ProSoccerTalk asked Arteta after the game about Ceballos’ future, as his loan from Real Madrid is due to end in a few weeks’ time when the 2019-20 season is over.

“I am really happy with him. I think it is something the club has to go a little bit further with Real Madrid on that. At the moment he is playing really well, I am really happy with him and he is a player with a big talent and still a lot of things to improve,” Arteta said.

So, Arteta wants Ceballos to stay longer at Arsenal.

Watch this space as the Gunners aim to make a permanent move or loan deal for Ceballos who played a lovely ball to Bukayo Saka on their goal and continues to form a superb, and unlikely, partnership with Granit Xhaka as a holding midfielder instead of being a No. 10.

“He was superb again,” Arteta said of Ceballos. “Him and Granit are creating a really good understanding. They give us a lot of balance and a lot of stability with the ball as well to make the first decision in transition moments. They are evolving a lot together and I think defensively Dani has made a big step forward with the way he is pressing, the amount of interceptions and the tackles he is putting in. He is enjoying it.”

Arteta didn’t enjoy Arsenal’s finishing, though, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s opener wasn’t enough for the win. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and others popped up in dangerous positions but Arsenal just couldn’t find that killer second goal that Arteta craved.

That lack of a killer instinct in the final third is something Arteta and Arsenal will look at.

“It is very difficult to do. The hardest thing to do is to score goals. When you are generating more than enough opportunities, you should go in with a much bigger margin into half time,” Arteta said. “We will make a lot of reviews about situations like that and how we important they are in crucial moments to make the right decisions and be clinical and ruthless. But if you don’t do that, you cannot give anything to the opponent and you cannot play this type of game with 10 men.”

And VAR will have the last word, as Arteta couldn’t believed that Nketiah was sent off for his challenge on James Justin and believed that Jamie Vardy should have been sent off in the first half for a similar challenge.

“I am extremely proud of our team, the way we played against this kind of opposition. We should have been three or four-nil up. With the red card you have to know he is a young kid. Leicester should play with 10 men after 42 minutes. For a challenge between the 40th and 45th minute,” Arteta said. “I don’t understand the rules. I never see a referee check any of the images. But I can do nothing now, it is the rules. We lost two points, we lost Eddie and we will see now for how many games. But we go to Spurs now and try to win three points.”

Arsenal remain in the hunt for fifth place — which could still be a Champions League spot depending on whether or not Man City’s European ban is overturned — but they are five points off Man United with four games to go and it will be tough for the Gunners to qualify for the Champions League this season.

That was always going to be the case given their poor start but since Arteta arrived in December things have changed. The fact that they are in with a shout, and disappointed to not be closer to fifth place, shows you how much progress the Gunners have made since the Spaniard arrived.

Arsenal are getting there, step-by-step, but this draw against Leicester feels like a ‘what if’ moment when all is said and done in their 2019-20 season.

Manchester City – Newcastle preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Manchester City - Newcastle preview
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Manchester City – Newcastle preview: Man City looks to take another step toward sealing second place on the table as plucky Newcastle United visits the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 1 pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The nine losses Pep Guardiola’s overseen this season are the most in a single league season over his celebrated career, but City’s still second and the advanced stats say they’re playing the best football in the league.

STREAM MANCHESTER CITY – NEWCASTLE LIVE

It’s a funny game, and the same wisdom can be applied to Steve Bruce’s strong season at Newcastle. The well-traveled and well-liked boss has led the Magpies to a better season that Rafa Benitez did in 2018-19, though it’s pivotal to note that Bruce has been blessed with much better transfer outlay.


Team news

Sergio Aguero remains out for Man City after undergoing knee surgery, while Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker face late fitness tests.

Newcastle star Allan Saint-Maximin was dinged up in a weekend draw with West Ham but could play, while Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark, Isaac Hayden, and Sean Longstaff are unlikely to play.


What they’re saying

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on bouncing back from Southampton: “Of course we have confidence in the players and we are the same guys. We’ve done it in previous seasons. The way we played is similar, but we have to win the games. Next season will be next season. We will try to score more goals and avoid conceding chances. The control is there, the way we play is there. We need to try to increase these kind of things.”

Magpies boss Steve Bruce on leading scorer Jonjo Shelvey“It becomes easy, the game of football, like a game of golf, to him. He’s blessed with a natural ability. He can see a pass that other people can’t. He can deliver a pass. He can score a goal. Physically and mentally, he’s bought into everything we’ve tried to put over to him and fair play to him. At the minute, he’s reaping the benefits of how good he looks, and of course he’s playing at the top of his game, which is always good to see because he has been outstanding in the last few games.”


Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds)

DraftKings’ heads will explode if Newcastle gets this one done, +2000 being attached to the Magpies as opposed to Man City’s -835.

Newcastle and Man City have been twice already this season, both at St. James’ Park. The Magpies drew City 2-2 in league play via Jonjo Shelvey’s late goal before losing 2-0 to City in an FA Cup quarterfinal in late June.


Prediction

Gabriel Jesus is due for a goal, presuming he starts again. The 23-year-old has been sitting on 10 PL goals since February 22, and we suspect he finds a way past Martin Dubravka in a 3-0 win.


How to watch Man City – Newcastle United stream, start time

Kickoff: 1 pm ET Wednesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Serie A: Top 2 both lose as Lazio player bites opponent (video)

Lazio player bites opponent
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Juventus had a chance to effectively put another scudetto race to bed after chasers Lazio lost to relegation-threatened Lecce on Tuesday, a Lazio player biting an opponent to get a late red card to add insult to injury.

But Juve blew a 2-0 second-half lead at AC Milan in remarkable fashion, conceding four times at the San Siro.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Juve leads Lazio by seven points with seven matches to play for both teams and they meet July 20 in Turin. Inter Milan is third with 64 points and Atalanta fourth with 63, both with a match-in-hand on the top two.


Lecce 2-1 Lazio

The latest manner in which Lazio threw away a chance to dethrone Juventus definitely leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

Lazio lost Tuesday for the third time in five post-coronavirus pause outings, seeing a defender sent off for a biting incident in a 2-1 loss to previously-bottom three Lecce.

Patric did not like Giulio Donati’s arms boxing him out of a set piece situation, and clearly latches onto the Lecce man’s left arm.

It was already 2-1 when the red card was shown, Lazio frustrated when Felipe Caicedo’s early goal was countered by goals from Khouma Babacar and Fabio Lucioni.

AC Milan 4-2 Juventus

Milan pulls into fifth in the race for a Europa League place that will leave either Roma, Napoli, or Tuesday’s victors out of Europe.

It was nil-nil at halftime when the game really found its footing.

Adrien Rabiot scored a stunner just after the break and Juan Cuadrado cued up Cristiano Ronaldo for an insurance goal six minutes later.

Ronaldo’s 26th of the season puts him three back of league leader Ciro Immobile of Lazio.

Milan took one back through Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 62nd, and the Swede then set up Franck Kessie for an equalizer before departing in the 67th minute.

Rafael Leao scored right after restart, stunning Juventus. Giacomo Bonaventura, who’d come on for Ibrahimovic, then set up Ante Rebic for the fourth goal of the match.

The Rabiot goal, though…