UEFA Champions League Preview: Barcelona, Manchester City meet in round’s marquee matchup

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Barcelona’s recent Champions League success casts it as favorites in many’s eyes, but that should give the team little solace come Tuesday night at the Etihad. Slotted with Manchester City in UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, the four-time champions drew the toughest opponent from those that finished second in their groups. While City boss Manuel Pellegrini placates himself knowing his Citizens would have to beat a Barça-caliber opponent at some point, an semifinal-quality matchup guarantees one of the tournament’s best teams will be eliminated over the course of the next two weeks.

With four players in the FIFpro World XI, Barcelona is likely the more talented side, making this one of the few times this season City can claimed to be outgunned. But to the extent that Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and the rest of the Catalan side have that edge, City still have the firepower to compete. With the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré, and David Silva, the Citizens have players that will ensure planning, execution, and health — not talent, alone — will settle this tie.

Yet while their guests will come into the first game of the teams’ two-legged tie at full strength, City will still be without their most dangerous player. Attacker Sergio Agüero will miss his chance to take on close friend Messi, with hamstring injury continuing to sideline the Argentine international. While midfielder Fernandinho, having yet to appear in February, has been deemed fit for the match, Edin Dzeko or Silva will likely claim Agüero’s spot along side forward Álvaro Negredo.

Barcelona, in contrast, have all their key players available. Neymar, out for a month with an ankle injury, returned this weekend. Xavi has been battling a calf problem but will play on Tuesday. Andrés Iniesta is approaching 100 percent, while the health of Carles Puyol means Gerado Martino the Barcelona head coach will be able to start his first choice back four. Coming off a 6-0 win this weekend in La Liga, Barcelona appear to have hit their stride as Champions League resumes.

That stride, and the health that goes along with it, will demand a few key choices from Martino. With Xavi, Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets all available, Cesc Fábregas will be pushed to the bench despite enjoying his best season since his time at Arsenal. Likewise, the health of Neymar means one of Alexis Sanchez or Pedro Rodríguez could sit, despite the duo having accounted for 28 league goals. On the road to start the tie, though, Martino may elect to keep the young Brazilian in reserve.

[MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Paris Saint-Germain opens knockout round at Bayer Leverkusen]

With Martino having already said possession will play a key part on Tuesday, the pressure will be on Touré and Fernandinho to withstand the numeric disadvantage the Citizens will have in the middle. Between Xavi and Iniesta, Messi dropping back and Busquets serving as the anchor, Barcelona has the potential to overwhelm City in the middle, even if the home team plays more of a 4-2-3-1 formation without Agüero (as opposed to their normal 4-4-2). While it’s not uncommon for City’s duo to have to play 2-on-3 in the middle, they never have to do so against Barça’s three.

Perhaps as important as the match ups, mentality could have a decisive impact on how the first leg unfolds. Unfortunately for  spectators, each team has an incentive to play conservatively in game one. For Barcelona, a draw on the road will be seen as a success, leaving them within a home win of the quarterfinals. Manchester City might look at the same situation as a chance to go to Spain, try to strike first, and use that lead and their road goal to see out the upset. Rather than try to play their normal style — one that would leave their defense exposed to Barcelona — Pellegrini may evoke some of his previous Champions League squads and try a more opportunistic approach.

Regardless, Barcelona’s experience against Paris Saint-Germain in last year’s tournament could prove informative, particularly against a City team that’s never been this far in Champions League. In last year’s quarterfinals, the Parisians arguably outplayed the Catalans but went out on away goals, Barcelona’s experience able to guide them past one of UEFA’s emerging threats. If City can learn PSG’s lessons and not merely content themselves with outplaying their opponents, the Citizens capable of springing the upset Pellegrini’s Málaga nearly pulled on Borussia Dortmund last year. Otherwise, Barcelona’s ability to navigate Champions League may see them past another European upstart.

More on Barcelona’s visit to Manchester City:

Arsenal – West Ham: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction

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Arsenal – West Ham: Mikel Arteta and Arsenal take on another London pal when his former manager David Moyes brings West Ham to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 3pm ET Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Arsenal beat Fulham in its first match of the Premier League season and will be further buoyed by a new long-term contract for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

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West Ham has been very frustrated by the transfer market, with captain Mark Noble reacting publicly when the club sold Grady Diangana. That was before a 2-0 home loss to Newcastle on Saturday.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of Arsenal – West Ham this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Arsenal – West Ham (INJURY REPORT)

Shkrodan Mustafi and Pablo Mari are out for Arsenal, while Granit Xhaka is a question mark. Gabriel Martinelli and David Luiz remain long-term absences.

Jack Wilshere rolled his ankle at training this week for West Ham and is not expected to be available.


What they’re saying

New defender William Saliba on a lifelong affair with Arsenal: “I had an Arsenal jersey when I was little with Thierry Henry [on the back], so I liked the club since then. Now I am very proud to have the Arsenal jersey. I don’t know why! I went in the shop, and I only wanted Arsenal. I liked Vieira and Thierry Henry because I was little and I only knew the French players and they were very good. I am very, very proud to have the number four, so I have to be ready to carry number four.”

David Moyes on West Ham’s cup win after losing to Newcastle: “I just want to win whatever game we play next. I’d have taken 3-0 before the game but I thought that by the end I was disappointed that we hadn’t won by more. Keeping a clean sheet was good as well and we look forward to the next game and get a win in that. Any cup win, any competition I am thrilled to do so.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

The home Gunners are -190 to win while West Ham getting anything would surprise the bookmakers to the tune of +340 for a draw and +475 for Moyes’ boys to upset his former midfielder.

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Prediction

Arsenal did the double against West Ham last year and it will be interesting to see whether Moyes tries to beat the Gunners with his top talents or again opts for grinders as he did in the loss to Newcastle. We think Arteta will have more up his sleeve and the Gunners were off all week. Arsenal 4-0.


How to watch Arsenal – West Ham stream and start time

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: NBCSports.com

Leeds edge Fulham in seven-goal thriller

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Leeds – Fulham was a belter of a game, as Leeds won for the first time since gaining promotion back to the Premier League but they didn’t make it easy for themselves as they squandered a 4-1 lead but held on for the win.

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Leeds took the lead through Helder Costa’s stunner but Aleksandar Mitrovic briefly leveled things up from the penalty spot. Mateusz Klich then made it 2-1 to Leeds from the spot before half time and after the break Klich set up Patrick Bamford to make it 3-1. Costa made it 4-1 but then goals from Bobby Decordova-Reid and Mitrovic made it 4-3 and set up a wild finish, but Fulham couldn’t find an equalizer.

The win was Leeds’ first in the Premier League for over 16 years, while Fulham have now lost their opening two games back in the Premier League and have conceded seven goals in the process.


3 things we learned: Leeds – Fulham

1. “Bielsaball” will deliver classics: Their first two games back in the Premier League have both ended in 4-3 results, one defeat and one win. Leeds will be fun to watch this season. Now, they should have wrapped this game up and created so many chances but they ran out of steam in the second half. That is because they press so high early on and “Bielsaball” is based on that. Maybe they will have to tweak their tactics to cope with the PL but probably not. That means it will be fun to watch Leeds for the foreseeable future.

2. Both teams hampered by defenses: Attack is not the problem for either of these team but at the back they made so many mistake. Bielsa and Scott Parker both love to watch their teams attack but if they’re going to fulfil their potential this season (top 10 for Leeds and staying up for Fulham) they have to cut out silly errors at the back. Both teams gave away sloppy penalty kicks and failed to defense crosses as they left huge gaps at the back. They have to shore things up.

3. New Leeds signings taking a while to settle: Rodrigo was okay but Robin Koch had another game to forget as it is taking Leeds’ two main summer signings a while to settle in. Fulham’s new boys did okay. Maybe the new boys had less time to settle in due to the shorter offseason? But when you look at Everton and Newcastle and Leicester in the opening week of the season, their new boys settled in quickly. Leeds have spent big on new signings and they need more from them.

Man of the Match: Patrick Bamford – He won a penalty, scored a goal and set up another and he is proving he is capable of making a difference in the top-flight.


Leeds got off to the perfect start as they were 1-0 up within the first five minutes. A Kalvin Phillips corner was flicked on to the back post and Helder Costa was somehow left totally unmarked but finished superbly as he smashed home off the woodwork and in.

Michael Hector’s header was deflected over by Robin Koch as Leeds were pinned back after taking the lead. At the other end Koch had a header on goal which Fulham’s new goalkeeper Alphonse Areola tipped over.

Fulham were handed a golden opportunity to get back in the game as Koch slid in and just caught Joe Bryan as a penalty kick was given and Mitrovic made no mistake from the spot. 1-1. In his first two Premier League games for Leeds, Koch has now given away two penalty kicks.

No sooner had Fulham looked settled, they gave away an equally soft penalty kick as Bryan pushed Patrick Bamford in the back at the crucial moment and Klich slotted home to make it 2-1.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

A few minutes into the second half Klich set up Bamford who exposed a huge gap in the Fulham defense and slotted home his second Premier League goal in as many games. Bamford then turned provider as he surged down the left and pulled it back perfectly for Costa to slot home and make it 4-1.

Fulham got themselves back into the game as substitute Decordova-Reid smashed home after good work from Andre-Frank Anguissa to make it 4-2.

Kenny Tete then whipped in a lovely cross which Mitrovic headed home to make it 4-3 and moments later Neeskens Kebano hit the post and Mitrovic flashed a shot just wide as the away side surged forward in search of an unlikely point.

In the end, Leeds rallied and just held on for their first Premier League win since 2004.

Diogo Jota to Liverpool confirmed

Jota to Liverpool
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Jota to Liverpool is confirmed, as the Portuguese international has sealed his switch to Anfield.

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Diogo Jota, 23, has reportedly signed a five-year contract at Liverpool after the clubs agreed a fee which could rise to $58 million.

Jota is eager to add an extra dimension to Liverpool’s attack is ready to roll.

“It’s just a really exciting moment for me and my family,” Jota said. “All of my path since I was a kid and now, to join a club like Liverpool – the world champions – is just unbelievable. I just want to get started. It is one of the best teams in the world – the best at the moment because they are world champions. When you look at the Premier League, you always see Liverpool as one of the biggest teams in the country, so it’s impossible to say no. So we just want to come [here], to give our best and hopefully I can become a good option for Liverpool in the future.”

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp could hardly hid his excitement that Jota is now a Liverpool player.

“He’s a player who gives us so many options to use him. He’s 23 years old, still far away from being kind of a finished article, so much potential,” Klopp said. “He has the speed, he can combine, can defend, can press. It makes it just more unpredictable and gives us real options for different systems because he can play pretty much all three positions up front in a 4-3-3, if we play with four midfielders he can play both wings.

“So, these kinds of things. It’s just nice. And he has some natural things which we have in our game, like this desire and the greed and the direction. He is part of this unbelievable Portuguese generation in the moment, where they have really a lot of obviously quite skilled players. We saw the Portuguese team last time, it’s quite impressive. So, I’m really happy to have him here. And on top of that, a really good guy and really happy to be here.”

This has all happened very quickly but it works out well for everyone. Would Wolves have loved to have kept Jota? Of course.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Wolves’ clash with Manchester City on Monday (start time, 3:15pm ET, stream live on Peacock), head coach Nuno Espirito Santo praised Jota’s contribution to the club and said he is joining the right club in Liverpool.

“Diogo is amazing and everybody knows the relationship we built. What Diogo did for us is absolutely fantastic,” Nuno said. “I think Diogo is going to the right place and we wish him all the best, knowing that it never be forgotten, especially by our fans, all the memorable moments that Diogo provided.”

Wolves have bought Portuguese starlet Fabio Silva this summer and have Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence and Adama Traore who can support Raul Jimenez in attack. They will be just fine without Jota. He joined them on loan from Atletico Madrid when they were a Championship club and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League and has been incredibly consistent in terms of goals and assists over the last two seasons.

At Liverpool Jota will have to wait for chances behind Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane but his style of play suits them perfectly and it is a great move for him. Working under Jurgen Klopp will take his game to the next level and Liverpool’s secondary attacking options have just got a lot better, plus they’ve added Thiago Alcantara to upgrade their midfield.

Diogo Jota to Liverpool is now a done deal and he leaves Wolves with the best wishes of everyone and for a transfer fee which justifies letting him go as he cost them just $16.5 million less than three seasons ago.

Manchester United – Crystal Palace: How to watch, start time, team news

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Manchester United – Crystal Palace: Manchester United finally begins its Premier League season with a visit from Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET on Peacock).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

The two sides met at Selhurst Park in July. Marcus Rashford had a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win over the Eagles, a bit of vengeance after Patrick van Aanholt keyed a Palace upset of the Red Devils at Old Trafford in August 2019.

STREAM MANCHESTER UNITED-CRYSTAL PALACE LIVE

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Manchester United – Crystal Palace this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Manchester United – Crystal Palace (INJURY REPORT)

Paul Pogba starts for Man United as he continues to get back in shape after COVID-19 quarantine, as Solskjaer noted the Frenchman gets himself ready quickly. Mason Greenwood is on the bench, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah starts at right with Aaron Wan-Bissaka only fit enough for the bench. Donny van de Beek is also on the bench.

Mamadou Sakho returns for Palace, while Wilfried Zaha is handed the captains armband for the first time and he captains Palace against his former club.


What they’re saying

Donny van de Beek on joining Man Utd“Everyone has helped me a lot and wanted to make me feel at home and this is really good for me and it has given me the confidence to play. … It’s a family club, I feel this already from the first seconds I have been here. Old Trafford is an amazing stadium. The nicest thing will be when the fans are there too and I cannot wait to play for the first time in front of them. I hope to see them soon in the stadium because for our team they will give us a lot of power when we can have them with us.”

Palace’s Roy Hodgson on perceived wantaway Wilfried Zaha: “Nothing’s changed at all since the last 230 times I’ve spoken on the subject, I don’t think. He’s fit, he’s well, he’s playing extremely well, he’s looking forward to Saturday and we’re looking forward to using him. I’m pretty sure when something major happens on the Wilf Zaha front, the mass media will be the first to know.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Palace is the biggest underdog of the weekend at +850, with hosts United at -325. Even a draw at +440 would be a big surprise.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

Palace will be playing its third match in a week and that could have them a bit sharper than their opening day hosts or lagging a bit. Given United’s superiority in attack and the impossibility that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men will sleep on a team that upset them in the same building a year ago, we’re going 3-1 to the Red Devils. Wilf Zaha scores against his former team, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka gets an assist versus his.


How to watch Manchester United – Crystal Palace stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock