CL Tuesday preview: struggling Liverpool in Spain, Juventus scrambling for a result

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The Champions League has returned for another round of group stage play, with some interesting storylines gracing our midweek headlines.

With group stage play halfway complete, most groups are still there for the taking while a few look to be just about covered.

Real Madrid vs. Liverpool

Most notably, Brendan Rodgers’ struggling Reds hit the road to the Spanish capital running out of time to get a result in group stage play.

Madrid torched Liverpool’s porous back line for a trio of goals in a comprehensive 3-0 win in England, and unless the manager can turn things around in a hurry, this one likely could go the same way. Unfortunately for the Reds, they’re in a bad spot. Tied with the other two teams in the group on three points, if they fall in Madrid they’ll be guaranteed to be out of a knockout stage position with just two games to play.

Daniel Sturridge is still unlikely to play leaving the Liverpool attack still thin, with all Liverpool strikers owning just one league goal all season combined. Meanwhile, Carlo Ancelotti is a solid shout for Manager of the Year this season after being fed an entirely new bevy of attacking players and still getting them to fire on all cylinders.

Juventus vs. Olympiacos

The Italians have it all to do as they take on the surprising group A leaders at home in Turin. Juventus is in charge of the Serie A table, but they’ve failed to score in their last two Champions League matches and fell at Olympiacos last time out. This time, things will favor the Italians as Olympiacos is clearly a different team on the road than in the friendly confines.

source: APBorussia Dortmund vs. Galatasaray

The Germans have a crisis to handle in domestic play, but they are still in a solid position when it comes to European play.  Three wins out of three have them top in Group D, but it remains to be seen whether their horrific start to the Bundesliga season will affect their concentration in other competitions. Jurgen Klopp has overseen

They’ll be missing German international Mats Hummels who sustained a sprained ankle in their match with Bayern Munich last weekend. Klopp will also likely be without Nuri Sahin, Marcel Schmelzer, and Jacob Blazczykowski, while Cesare Prandelli’s squad is almost completely healthy.

Arsenal vs. Anderlecht

Arsenal have a chance to solidify their knockout stage position and create a clear divide in Group D when they host Anderlecht. A win would at the least keep them five points ahead of the third place side, and potentially could put them eight points clear. Jack Wilshere has been ruled out, but the team is starting to return to full fitness as Theo Walcott has made his return and could feature. Steven Defour will miss out for Anderlecht. Thankfully, Arsene Wenger won’t have to worry about his zipper keeping him from focusing.

Benfica vs. Monaco

A topsy-turvey Group C will hope for a better match than the last two times these two teams faced off.  A listless 0-0 draw graced State Louis in France to give the Portuguese side its first point of the group stage, and they’ll look to get back into the thick of things at home in the reverse fixture. Don’t hope for too much in this one though, as Monaco have yet to concede in the group stage and have only scored one goal themselves.

Atletico Madrid vs. Malmo

The other Champions League game in Spain this matchday, Atletico have a great chance to overtake Olympiacos as the Group A leaders. Both teams will have injury boosts, with Tiago back from a hamstring problem while the Norwegians have goalkeeper Robin Olsen back after being substituted in their last league game.

Basel vs Ludogorets

The Group B underdogs will be looking to feast on a potential Liverpool slip in Madrid and leap into a knockout stage position as they face off in Switzerland. Ludogorets won the reverse fixture two weeks ago 1-0 at home, and while the Swiss are firing in the league, they will be without Ivorian midfielder Serey Die after his sending off in the last match.

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

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Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

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In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

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City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

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In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”