Preview: Atlético, Real bring Madrid derby to Champions League final in Lisbon

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Welcome, friends, to the 265th edition of the Madrid Derby. Only this time, it’s being played out in Lisbon, Portugal, where Atlético Madrid meet Real Madrid in the Champions League final.

This final boasts a wealth of storylines. There’s the über-rich vs. the “scrappy startups”, which rather falls apart when you realize Atléti’ have won La Liga and the Copa del Rey ten times, have hoisted the European Cup Winners’ Cup, and, most recently, won the Europa League, in both 2010 and 2012. Real, however, certainly are rich, as demonstrated most recently when spending over 100m on Gareth Bale.

Then we’ve got the recent injuries that have struck both sides. Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 31 goals in La Liga and 16 in the Champions League, hasn’t played since May 7th, when he took himself off in what was ultimately a draw with Valladolid. Most believe the superstar will start – which is more than can be said for Atlético’s top scorer. Diego Costa, with 8 UCL goals and 27 in the league, started last week’s title decider against Barcelona. However, he pulled up after just 15 minutes with a hamstring tear. His outlook, however, might not be as bleak as previously thought.

Plus, this final boasts of a fantastic duel of the nicknames: it’s Real’s Los Merengues (The Meringues) taking on Atléti’s Los Colchoneros (The Mattress-Makers). I think we know who wins this one.

Kickoff in Lisbon is on Saturday, May 24 at 2:45 p.m. ET. You won’t want to miss this one.

How they got here

Real: Their second-place finish in Spain assured Real direct entry into the group stage. Los Blancos easily topped their group, losing points only to Juventus, and moved on to face Schalke. Real made the German side cry (most likely literally) with a 9-2 aggregate win. Last year’s runners’ up proved tougher, but Los Merengues beat Borussia Dormund 3-2…only to find themselves up against last year’s winners, Bayern Munich. It was a tough first leg but Real destroyed the German side in the second, ultimately winning 5-0 on aggregate.

Atléti: After finishing third in La Liga last season, Atléti went directly into the group stages, where they won five and picked up sixteen points total. Los Colchoneros had no trouble seeing off AC Milan in the Round of 16, beating the Italian side 5-1 on aggregate. Next up came fellow La Liga opponents Barcelona, but Atlético were able to hold them to just one goal to move on to the semi-finals. There they encountered Chelsea, whose double-parked bus kept Atlético out in the first leg, but broke down in the second. Undefeated throughout the tournament, Atléti are hoping to become the first side since 2008 to lift the trophy without a loss.

What to watch for

The battle between Real’s potent attack and Atlético’s clinical defending. The latter have one of the best defenses in all of Europe, evidenced not just by their conceding only 26 goals in their 38 La Liga matches, but by the fact that only six goals were scored against them during the Champions League tournament. They’re tough, they’re physical, they’re very near relentless.

But Los Merengues are one of the few sides that have taken Atléti to task this season. However, they did it in the Copa del Rey semi-finals, winning 5-0 over two legs, while Atlético won once in the league, and the two sides played out a 2-2 draw in their last meeting. Real have one of the best offenses in the world, particularly if both Ronaldo and Karim Benzema are fit to start alongside Bale. Ángel di María, who notched the most assists in La Liga this season, and Luka Modrić, one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the world, will also be on hand to ensure their forwards have plenty of scoring opportunities.

If they can unlock Atléti’s well-executed plans, that is.

Projected Lineups

Real Madrid (4-3-3): Iker Casillas; Dani Carvajal, Raphaël Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Luka Modrić, Asier Illarramendi, Ángel di María; Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo

Atlético Madrid (4-2-3-1):  Thibaut Courtois; Juanfran, Diego Godín, Miranda, Filipe Luís; Gabi, Tiago Mendes; Arda Turan, Raúl Garcia, Koke; David Villa

Prediction

Real Madrid to finally clinch La Décima. Los Merengues have been chasing their 10th European Cup since 2002. This will finally be the year that all their hard work (and hard spending) pays off.

Nuno demands ‘immediate reaction’ from struggling Wolves

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Replicating the lofty heights of last season has proven a tough task for Wolverhampton Wanderers through the first month and a half of the 2019-20 campaign, both in the Premier League and in Europe.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

After finishing seventh in their first season back in the PL, Wolves began their first-ever Europa League adventure this summer, largely breezing through the qualification rounds to reach the group stage. That part went swimmingly. Thursday’s group play opener didn’t go so well, as Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side fell to Portuguese side Braga at home, 1-0.

Wolves began the PL with three straight draws, conceding just two goals in total. Since then, they have lost two in a row and conceded eight goals.

[ MORE: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move ]

Again, we’re not even two months into the season, but Santo knows the next few games are going to be hugely important for his side. Not only does he need to keep his players’ heads from dropping during these trying times, but they also need to begin stringing together results, both in the PL and in Europe. Wolves need to bounce back, and immediately — quotes from the BBC:

“This is important. We face the reality and the reality says we not performing well so we have to analyze it and find solutions in the team to improve.

“We must react immediately. We have to take decisions and find solutions for the team because we have to come out of this situation and improve our performance so we can bounce back.”

“We are all disappointed.”

Up next for Santo’s side is a potentially tricky trip south London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, where the Eagles have already drawn top-six hopefuls Everton and beaten newly promoted Aston Villa.

Kaka urges Neymar to stay at PSG, lead Champions League push

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LONDON (AP) From lifting the World Cup to being named the world’s best player, Kaka ascended the highs Neymar is still chasing.

So after more tumult in Neymar’s career, Kaka has some advice for his fellow Brazilian:

  • Stay at Paris Saint-Germain to lead the pursuit of Champions League glory, and the world player of the year accolades will follow.
  • Keep on maturing and maybe the forward can win a World Cup to avoid being viewed as a failure for Brazil.

“Everybody wants to give some advice or an opinion about his life,” Kaka said in an interview with The Associated Press. “He’s just a 27-year-old guy, a lot of people of the same age make mistakes and improve with that.”

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 6 ]

But Kaka’s opinions and advice could be worth listening to, even for Neymar.

After all, Kaka won the game’s top individual honors in 2007 when he was named FIFA world player of the year and collected the Ballon d’Or after winning the Champions League with AC Milan.

Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, is reeling from being jeered on his return to the PSG side last weekend after sitting out the opening four league games of the season as he pushed for a move back to Barcelona during the summer transfer window. He won’t play in the Champions League until the third group-stage game because of a suspension.

“For him I think it’s good to stay there in PSG for now,” Kaka said at the FIFA20 video game launch. “I think it’s good for him, for the club. I think PSG is always trying to build a great team to win a Champions League, so he can be the leader for this project and in my opinion, it’s good. It will be a great year for him.”

When the FIFA player awards are handed out on Monday, though, Neymar will be far from the Milan ceremony. He has never finished higher than third in the vote for the Ballon D’Or, and still lives in the shadow of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“What I believe that lacks in Neymar to accomplish the world’s best player award is a big team accomplishment,” Kaka said in London. “When he achieves this big team accomplishment, being the leader of this accomplishment — and he has a big chance for it, I am sure of — Neymar will be chosen to be announced as the world’s best player.”

Neymar is starting a third season in Paris after Barcelona could not strike a deal to re-sign the player it sold two year ago for $246 million.

“Maybe at 27, I could have made the same mistakes,” Kaka said. “And so I think this is a great opportunity for him to improve himself and to be better and mature.”

[ MORE: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move ]

While Neymar has won the French league twice — the minimum expected for a team with lavish Qatari funding — he has not won a European title with the French capital club as he did with Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League final.

Neymar’s only titles with Brazil so far are gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Confederations Cup on home soil in 2013. Neymar missed the 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semifinals through injury and was part of the team knocked out the 2018 quarterfinals by Belgium. He also missed this summer’s Copa America, which Brazil won without him.

Kaka was part of the squad that won the 2002 World Cup, and Brazil hasn’t reached the final since then.

“Always for Brazil we have this pressure,” Kaka said. “Because we have won five World Cups, so everyone thinks about the World Cup. So, if you do a lot of good things for the national team but you don’t win a World Cup, maybe you fail.

“I don’t think it’s fair but it’s like this and this is the situation. And Neymar had an opportunity to play in two World Cups and didn’t win one with Brazil. So, our expectation with him is for him to be the guy for the next World Cup for us. I think it’s hard for him but I think every year he’s more mature, he understands his position in the national team better as well and it’s good.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton v. Bournemouth

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  • Early-season mid-table clash on the south coast
  • 10th-place Saints host 9th-place Cherries
  • 0-0, 3-3 draws in PL meetings last season

Matchweek 6 of the 2019-20 Premier League season is upon us, and the proceedings are set to kick off on Friday when a pair of south coast clubs, Southampton and Bournemouth, do battle (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Both sides enter the clash at St. Mary’s Stadium on the back of a victory last weekend in PL action. It’s Bournemouth whose triumph last time out was wildly impressive, though, as Eddie Howe’s side cruise to a 3-1 win over top-six hopefuls Everton at Vitality Stadium. However, Saints have proven a real nightmare of an away day for the Cherries as they’re in search of their first-ever win away to Southampton (15 previous tries, beginning in 1953 – all competitions).

[ STREAM: Every PL match live

Southampton secured their most recent victory when they traveled to newly promoted, 10-man Sheffield United. Home form has been a bit worrying for Saints early this season, until you consider they’ve hosted none other than Liverpool and Manchester United at St. Mary’s… until you look back to last season and realize they have won just five of their last 21 at home. On the plus side, Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side has been much improved since conceding five goals in the first two games of the season. Since then, just one goal which came in a 1-1 draw with Man United.

Injuries/suspensions

Southampton: OUT – Kevin Danso (suspension); QUESTIONABLE – Nathan Redmond (ankle), Michael Obafemi (hamstring); PROBABLE – Ryan Bertrand (ankle)

Bournemouth: OUT – Charlie Daniels (knee), Lloyd Kelly (ankle), Dan Gosling (hip), David Brooks (ankle), Junior Stanislas (knee), Simon Francis (fitness); QUESTIONABLE – Chris Mepham (undisclosed), Arnaut Danjuma (foot)


Projected lineups

Southampton: Gunn – Bednarek, Yoshida, Vestergaard – Soares, Romeu, Hojberg – Ward-Prowse, Boufal – Adams, Ings

Bournemouth: Ramsdale – Stacey, Cook, Ake, Rico – Wilson, Billing, Cook, King – Solanke, Wilson


What they’re saying

Ralph Hasenhuttl, on Southampton’s defensive improvement: “This season it’s not the case that we don’t give them any chances, they still have chances because it’s very difficult in the Premier League to not give them a chance. Also the goalkeepers Angus (Gunn) and Alex (McCarthy) make a good development this season and the back five were very concentrated. It is good to see things develop that you have been working on. This can hopefully continue.”

Eddie Howe, on the budding south coast rivalry: “It should be a really feisty game, a really good atmosphere and an entertaining match. Southampton have started very well, too. It’s gaining in everybody’s focus. The more games we have, the more the rivalry will intensify I think. We’ve enjoyed the games against Southampton which have been tight and tough, from both clubs’ perspectives. We’re looking forward to another entertaining match.”


Prediction

Southampton have been far more convincing in their defending than Bournemouth on the attack. It’ll likely be a game of precious few high-value chances. In the end, neither Saints get the elusive home win nor the Cherries get the first victory at Southampton. Final score: 1-1.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Champions League, Europa League return

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle reflect on the opening round of UEFA Champions League and Europa League fixtures.

Manchester City bounced back from their defeat at Norwich. Who is ready to step up and lead Tottenham (8:00)? Liverpool slipped up at Napoli (19:00). There was penalty drama at Chelsea (30:00). The Robbies look ahead to the weekend’s marquee matchup: Chelsea v. Liverpool (37:00), before wrapping up with Arsenal (41:00), Manchester United (45:00), and Wolves’ opening Europa League matches (51:30).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies