UEFA Champions League Preview: Surging Real Madrid takes 26-match run to Schalke

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Now it’s Real Madrid’s turn. We’ve seen Bayern Munich take a two-goal lead on Arsenal, Barcelona earn the same result at Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain put their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup away early against Bayer Leverkusen. After Borussia Dortmund romped in St. Petersburg, all the top contenders, be they favorites or dark horses, impressed in their away legs. Now it’s Real Madrid’s turn to keep up.

If recent form is any indication, that shouldn’t be a problem. Real Madrid cruised to a 3-0 win this weekend against Elche, a result that extended an unbeaten run that started after October’s trip to Barcelona to 26 games. With six wins in a row, including two against Atlético Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has claimed a place alone at the top of La LigaIn the process, los Blancos may have also established themselves as the biggest threat to Bayern’s goal of becoming the first team since 1990 to claim back-to-back European titles.

“After Bayern, Real Madrid are maybe the second-best team in the world at the moment,” Schalke head coach Jens Keller said on Tuesday. “They have extraordinary players in every position … To be successful, everybody will have to be at 100%. Only then might it be possible to pull off a little miracle.”

Even that may not be enough to keep up with a Real Madrid team that’s firing on all cylinders.

“I do not have to tell my players much – they want to win every competition,” Ancelotti said in Tuesday’s press conference. “At the moment the team are in a good shape, but we have to prepare for every match very methodically so that our run continues.”

(MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Mourinho controversy unlikely to diminish Chelsea’s chances against Galatasaray)

Real Madrid’s surge as coincided with a small tactical shift from Ancelotti, moving away from the two-man midfield that was typically left in this fall’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Shifting to a 4-3-3 that features Ángel Di María and Luka Modric above Xabi Alonso, Ancelotti has finally found away to compensate for the loss of Sami Khedira (early season knee injury). The formation also creates a regular spot of Di María – the invaluable, natural wide player whose spot on the flanks disappeared with the addition of Gareth Bale.

source: Getty ImagesThe change has also given Bale (right) and Cristiano Ronaldo more space to maraud without worrying about their spacing with a third attacking midfielder. The setup is also a better fit for prospect Jesé Rodríguez, who was so impressive for Spain’s U-20s this summer. Filling in amid Ronaldo’s Liga suspension and Bale’s knocks, Jesé has scored five goals in El Real’s last seven games, passing promising Málaga import Isco in Carlo Ancelotti’s pecking order.

The result is a potential nightmare for a Schalke side who carries seven-game unbeaten run into Wednesday’s game. With former Real Madrid striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar back healthy and a talented line of three (Kevin-Prince Boateng, Julian Draxler, and Jefferson Farfán) behind him, Jens Keller’s team has enough talent to be dangerous. But whereas that attack will have to break through a defense featuring Sergio Ramos, Pepe, and Daniel Carvajal in front of Iker Casillas, Ronaldo, Bale, and Karim Benzema will take aim at central defenders Joel Matip, Felipe Santana and goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann.

“They are very well-organised, especially at the back and have a good balance between young talented players like Max Meyer and Julian Draxler, and players with a lot of experience like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar,” Ancelotti said of Schalke. ” They do not play spectacular football but they are solid and consistent.”

It’s not clever, or nuanced, or even particularly insightful to note the match ups leave huge advantages for Real Madrid. Whereas Schalke’s players are the envy of more clubs in Europe, the Merengues talents are world-class. As in almost every game they play, los Merengues will have a huge edge on their opponents, with little beyond the vagaries of an inherently low-scoring game to embolden Schalke’s chances over 180 minutes.

“Real Madrid have an incredible team but we’re not bad either,” Keller quipped. “We’re in very good shape, as you can see from our recent results. But it is not just the results, but the manner in which we have achieved them.”

Even in that category, Schalke don’t measure up. The typically flakey Miners may be experiencing one of their good runs, but it’s nothing compared to the momentum Real Madrid will carry into Wednesday’s match. While Keller’s team may be able to threaten El Real’s six-game winning streak, handing them their first loss since October is unlikely.

Man United ‘got away with one’ after dramatic late win at Brighton

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Manchester United reaction from Brighton was honest as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players looked somewhat sheepish as they snuck out of the Amex Stadium with a dramatic 3-2 win.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

After being dominated for most of the game, Man United went behind then equalized via an own goal and took the lead after a piece of solo brilliance from Marcus Rashford.

Brighton saw a penalty kick decision overturned, hit the woodwork five times and then scored a 95th minute equalizer, only for Man United to be awarded a penalty kick after the final whistle blew as VAR was used and Bruno Fernandes won it in the 100th minute.

Speaking to BT Sport in the UK after the game, Solskjaer couldn’t help but laugh when trying to sum it all up and he admitted Man United secured an undeserved win.

“You can’t sum it up. We got away with one, to be fair. Maybe one point was what we deserved. I don’t think we deserved more,” Solskjaer admitted with his Manchester United reaction. “The character deserved more. That’s a big thing for us, compared to last season. We had too many draws last season. They [Brighton] created too much for my liking. They are a difficult team to play against and they have really good ball players at the back.

“We don’t really have the legs and sharpness still, but we will get there. We have plenty of work to do, we know that, and the players know that. The players know we got away with one. We have to take the points and know we have to improve a lot. Last week was disappointing, today at least we showed the character and showed a response and the lads showed their quality a few times. Strikers and forward making chances and David de Gea making saves.”

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]    

Bruno Fernandes had a mixed outing and his Manchester United reaction showcased that. The Portuguese superstar set up the first goal via a free kick, set up Rashford’s superb strike and scored the late penalty kick winner, but he also gave away a penalty kick and lost Solly March for Brighton’s late equalizer.

“It is a difficult game. In the first half we left so many spaces for them to play. We were not as aggressive as I want. Big teams need to believe until the end. We created the chance, and at this point we need to look forward and do much better than we did today,” Fernandes said. “The point is to score goals, not hitting the crossbar and the post. Sometimes you have to have luck and the goalkeeper playing well and David de Gea did really well.”

Manchester United have now lost to Crystal Palace and snuck by Brighton in their first two games of the Premier League season and it is clear that Solskjaer’s side are yet to hit full fitness after a brief offseason due to reaching the latter stages of the UEFA Europa League.

Brighton were unlucky. Man United were unlucky. Solskjaer admitted it, and that’s fair enough. But sooner rather than later they have to get back up to speed as the Red Devils will be left behind.

They now face Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal within their next four Premier League games and they won’t let them off the hook like Brighton did.

Instant classic: Manchester United beat unlucky Brighton amid late drama

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Brighton – Manchester United: This was an instant classic, as Brighton hit the woodwork five times and Graham Potter’s side coughed up a lead but fought back to make it 2-2 in the 94th minute, only for Man United to win it in the 100th minute via a penalty kick.

[ REACTION: Man United – ‘We got away with one’ ]

Neal Maupay’s Panenka penalty gave Brighton a deserved lead but an own goal from Lewis Dunk and a sublime solo effort from Marcus Rashford saw Man United fight back in a dramatic game which saw VAR heavily used, penalty kicks overturned and a late equalizer in the 95th minute from Solly March.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

But with the final act of the game Harry Maguire’s header was handled by Maupay and after the referee blew the final whistle, VAR was used to award a penalty which Bruno Fernandes fired home to win it.

Man United have now picked up three points from their first two games of the season against Crystal Palace and Brighton, but it has been far from straightforward. Here’s a look at everything from a wild Brighton – Manchester United clash.


3 things we learned: Brighton – Manchester United

1. Rashford and Fernandes ooze class: Sure, Fernandes gave away a penalty kick and could have done better on Brighton’s goal but he oozed class when they needed him most. His free kick set up the first, he set Rashford away for his brilliant goal and then he smashed home the penalty late on to win it. Rashford’s solo goal was brilliant and his direct running on the break was always a threat. United’s two superstars stood tall on a day when many others struggled. That was the difference.

2. Silky Brighton unlucky: They didn’t deserve to lose this game. They just didn’t. Leandro Trossard hit the woodwork three times on his own (post, post and crossbar hat trick) and Brighton hit it five times total. Graham Potter’s side were silky on the ball and created so many chances. They had 18 shots, had a penalty overturned and found David de Gea in good form. If only they could finish. Based on their early season showings there is no way Brighton will be in relegation trouble and they will instead by pushing for the top 10.

3. Man United struggling to shake off rust: This was by no means a deserved win for Man United, but they will take it. Solskjaer’s side are struggling to shake off the rust after their European exploits this summer and even though they had glimpses of brilliance, overall they struggled to control this game. They look like a team playing a preseason game and that’s because, well, they are, given the schedule they’ve had. Things will improve, and they have to. Fast. Big games against fellow top six teams are coming up in the next few weeks.

Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford – His brilliant solo goal was stunning and he carried United’s threat. Trossard was a very, very close second.


Brighton started well and Leandro Trossard went so close to opening the scoring as his lovely left-footed shot smashed off the post and out. Man United barely woke up and their first chance of the game fell to Greenwood but he dragged his effort wide, then Bruno Fernandes’ cross just evaded Anthony Martial and skipped wide.

Trossard then hit the other post with a low shot as Brighton’s fluid play caused Man United plenty of problems. Brighton then hit the bar as Adam Webster’s looping header flicked off the bar with De Gea again trying to claw it away.

Before half time Man United’s star attacking trio combined as Martial found Rashford who played in Greenwood to finish, but Rashford was just offside. Brighton then took the lead as Bruno Fernandes clipped Tariq Lamptey’s heels in the box and a penalty was given, which Maupay scored with a Panenka.

Right on half time Man United equalized as Fernandes’ free kick to the back post was flicked back in by Nemanja Matic and a combination of Maguire and Lewis Dunk bundled it home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The start of the second half started in frantic fashion as Aaron Connolly won a penalty kick after contact from Paul Pogba, but the referee overturned the penalty kick decision after looking at the pitch-side monitor and realizing that Connolly initiated the contact.

Rashford then had a one goal disallowed and scored another soon after as his superb solo effort was deflected into the top corner to give Man United the lead. Brighton kept pouring forward and after a lovely flowing move, Solly March hit the inside of the post as the Seagulls were denied by the woodwork for a fourth time in the game.

There was time for Trossard to hit the crossbar to complete his unwanted hat trick as the Seagulls hit the woodwork for a fifth time, then David de Gea denied Trossard as he stood tall in stoppage time.

Brighton’s equalizer did arrive as March headed home in the 95th minute but the drama wasn’t over. With the final act of the game Harry Maguire’s header in the 97th minute but headed off the line, but after the referee blew the final whistle VAR was used and Maupay had clearly handled the ball.

A penalty kick was given and Fernandes smashed home to seal a dramatic 3-2 for Man United with the final kick of the game.

VIDEO: Rashford scores stunning goal v. Brighton

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Marcus Rashford goal v Brighton will be trending very soon.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Rashford scored a simply superb solo goal in the second half to put Manchester United 2-1 up against Brighton.

The England forward was set free by Bruno Fernandes and ran towards goal but still had four Brighton defenders and a goalkeeper to beat.

He did that, beating one defender twice, as he cut past Ben White easily, turned Brighton’s defense inside out and his shot found the top corner as Man United’s players celebrated wildly and Brighton’s players were left on the floor in a heap.

Rashford had a goal disallowed in the second half as the England star was a real threat on the break and even though Brighton dominated the game and hit the woodwork five times, Man United’s extra clinical edge shone through.

Their academy product led the way as Rashford added another fine strike to his collection as he stands tall for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side early in the season.

Check out the Rashford stunner in the video above, as the England and Man United was at his very best to lead his team at Brighton.

Crystal Palace – Everton: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Crystal Palace – Everton: It’s a battle of perfect teams on Saturday when Everton visits Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (Watch live at 10 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

The Eagles have knocked off Southampton and Manchester United to open their 2020-21 Premier League season while Everton has handled Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

Two legends of the game will be at the helm when Roy Hodgson and Carlo Ancelotti match wits on Saturday. Can the former continue to coax unexpected results of his Eagles against the strengthened and powerful Toffees?


Team news: Crystal Palace – Everton (INJURY REPORT)

James Tomkins (thigh), Nathan Ferguson (knee), Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), Christian Benteke (ankle), Gary Cahill (thigh) and Jairo Riedewald (undisclosed) are miss out.

Eze starts as Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew are up with him in attack.

Fabian Delph returned for the midweek League Cup game but Everton won’t have Jarrad Branthwaite (ankle), Mason Holgate (ankle), Cenk Tosun (knee), and Jean-Philippe Gbamin (calf).

Ancelotti has named an unchanged team.


What they’re saying

Roy Hodgson on how the Eagles won (again) at Old Trafford: “We made certain and kept them playing in front of us and they could not profit from those spaces they are skillful enough to find. And when we had the ball I thought we looked very dangerous and threatening so I don’t think it was a big surprise that we scored three.”

Carlo Ancelotti after Jordan Pickford made a gaffe against Fleetwood Town: “I think the first goal was not an individual mistake because we passed the ball back to Jordan, it was a really difficult ball and we could behave differently. Of course you have to improve there. We want to build up from the back, but when there’s no risk. If it’s risky it’s no good because we can concede a goal like we did. It can be a good lesson for the future. I didn’t speak to him and, as I said, I have to speak with players that were involved when we build-up.Jordan was not the only one.”

Jordan Pickford
FLEETWOOD, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 23: Jordan Pickford of Everton is challenged by Josh Morris of Fleetwood Town (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

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

Palace is an underdog despite beating United and it’s perhaps a bit surprising to see them at +275 with a draw at +220. An Everton win delivers +110.

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Crystal Palace – Everton prediction

Hodgson has coaxed some tremendous midfield performances out of James McArthur, James McCarthy, and Luka Milivojevic in his tenure at Palace but out-performing Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan, and Andre Gomes is a big ask even for that steely crew. James Rodriguez is in incredible form but so is Wilfried Zaha. Couldn’t this one go either way? Yes, but if Everton’s moving in the direction many believe it will be able to take all three points in a composed 2-1 win.


How to watch Crystal Palace – Everton stream and start time

Kickoff: 10 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com