Champions League preview: Roma, Manchester City look for redemption

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A pair of teams are hoping to atone for egregious and potentially deadly mistakes in the previous round as they gear up for reverse fixtures in today’s Champions League action.

Here is a small preview of each game:

Manchester City vs CSKA Moscow

Fresh off their Manchester derby victory, Man City will remain home to host CSKA Moscow hoping to repair the damage done in the waning minutes of the reverse fixture. Last time out, City blew a 2-0 lead late in the match and are now in dire need of a win. With half the group stage completed, City are on the outside looking in towards a knockout round spot, and with a match against Bayern Munich still remaining, they must take advantage of any slip up by Roma today against the Germans.

An in-form Sergio Aguero will be key, as he has five goals in three matches against CSKA Moscow in his career. City will be without injured Frank Lampard or Aleksander Kolarov, and David Silva is out with a long-term problem, but defender Eliquiem Mangala is expected to be ready for the match. CSKA see Alan Dzagoev return after his suspension.

Bayern Munich vs Roma

Challenging Juventus for the top of the Serie A table, the Italians were on the precipice of announcing themselves on a European stage a few weeks ago. Instead, they tumbled head first down the rocky cliffs into the ocean below as Bayern clobbered them 7-1 in the Italian capital. Now, Roma must travel to Germany with the knowledge that a win for Bayern would see them clinch a place in the knockout stage. At least the Italians are relatively healthy, unlike Pep Guardiola’s side who must contend again without Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, or Holger Badstuber.

source: AP
Luis Suarez has yet to truly get off the mark for Barcelona, and he’ll get another chance against his former Dutch club Ajax.

Ajax vs Barcelona

Luis Suarez is still searching for his Barcelona spark as he returns to the club where he announced himself as a world class player. However, the biggest question mark for Barcelona will be Andres Iniesta, who is struggling with a calf problem and could be forced to make way for Sergio Roberto in the midfield.

If Barcelona wins and PSG can beat APOEL, it would wrap up Group F and seal Ajax’s fate. The Dutch club must not lose if it wants to keep its hopes alive for the knockout round.

Maribor vs Chelsea

Chelsea can secure a place in the knockout round with a win on the road in Slovenia. They will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of their U19 team, who beat the Slovenians 7-0 this morning in the UEFA Champions Youth League.

It’s not out of the question, as the Blues stomped Maribor 6-0 at Stamford Bridge 2 weeks ago and will have Diego Costa, although Jose Mourinho may look to rest him given the weaker opponent. Loic Remy is out, so that would mean Didier Drogba would again get the start.

Sporting CP vs Schalke

The Germans can also wrap up a knockout round place with a win on the road in Portugal. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting bagged a controversial penalty in stoppage time to beat Sporting in Veltins-Arena last time out, a massive result for Schalke to keep Sporting winless in the group stage. However, should the result swing the other way this time around, it would very much muddy Group G. Schalke will be without Julian Draxler this time around, as the Germans are slammed with the injury bug, also likely missing Jefferson Farfan, Joel Matip, and Sead Kolisanic.

Paris Saint-Germain vs APOEL

PSG can seal up a place in the knockout round with a win and an Ajax loss/draw, but they’ll be wary of their Cyprus opponents. They needed an 87th minute winner from Edinson Cavani on the road in the reverse fixture to secure a win, and they remain without Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has been missing since September 24 with an injury. Oddly enough, PSG has won both its Champions League matches without him. They’ll also be without talented winger Marco Verratti, but otherwise the hosts will be healthy.

Athletic Bilbao vs. Porto

Group H’s leader and bottomdweller will enter play today looking to stake a claim. The Portuguese are unbeaten in Champions League play, and they’ll take on a defensive Athletic Bilbao side without its leading scorer Artiz Aduriz in what looks to be somewhat of a foregone conclusion. Then again, there’s really no such thing in this competition.

Shakhtar Donetsk vs BATE Borisov

The middle of Group H is still very much up for grabs, surprisingly, as BATE Borisov is still clinging to its win over Bilbao a bit over a month ago. They were stomped by Shakhtar last time out, however, and they’ll need to pick up the pieces today on the road if they want any shot at shocking the world and making the knockout round. Despite that 7-0 blowout to the Ukranians, they’re just two points back of 2nd place, so a win today would put them in the driver’s seat.

Champions League preview: Bayern visit Anfield; Lyon v. Barcelona

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Liverpool and Bayern Munich are set to battle for 180 minutes beginning on Tuesday, when last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists host the reigning Bundesliga champions at Anfield, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is as anxious as anyone to watch the drama unfold.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

“It’s another one of those games I’m really happy to be involved in, and if I wasn’t involved, I would try and buy tickets,” Liverpool’s German manager said this week. “It’s a tough one against a really strong, experienced team, but we are strong as well. Only more stress [facing Bayern], because all the people wanted 600 extra interviews with German news.”

Liverpool will be fully prepared and well drilled after having no game during the most recent FA Cup weekend. By the time the referee’s whistle blows for kickoff at 3 p.m. ET, 10 days will have passed since the Reds thrashed Bournemouth in PL play.

Liverpool will definitely be without the trio of Virgil Van Dijk (suspension), Joe Gomez (leg) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), while Roberto Firmino (illness), Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Xherdan Shaqiri (abdominal strain) are questionable to varying degrees. Central midfielder Fabinho could be forced into central defense as a result. On the other side, Niko Kovac’s side will be without the services of Thomas Mueller (suspended), Jerome Boateng (illness), Corentin Tolisso (knee ligaments) and Arjen Robben (thigh). Kingsley Coman (ankle) is expected to be available for selection after picking up an injury over the weekend.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

Elsewhere in Europe, runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona will visit Ligue 1’s third-place side, Lyon. Though Lionel Messi and Co., head into Tuesday’s first leg as heavy favorites to reach the quarterfinals, Ernesto Valverde’s side has won just one of its last four games (all competitions).

They have, however, been nearly infallible in Europe competition this season, as they waltzed to the top spot in Group B, finishing a full six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. Even Messi has seen his form dip ever so slightly in recent weeks, as the Argentine magician has scored just once in his last three appearances (two starts). Those relative struggles comes on the heels of a nine-game goal streak which saw the 31-year-old score a dozen times. He has been his usually brilliant self this season, and will cause Lyon all kinds of problems from the outset.

Lyon will be without star attacker Nabil Fekir (suspension), which could prove a futrher crippling blow to their chances.

Bundesliga: Dortmund’s lead disappearing after three straight draws

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Borussia Dortmund’s Bundesliga title hopes took another blow Monday in a goalless draw at last-place Nuremberg.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

Nuremberg goalkeeper Christian Mathenia made a host of saves to deny Dortmund a first win in three league games. The Bundesliga leaders have now drawn three successive games and have seen their lead whittled down from nine points in the 15th round to three over six-time defending champion Bayern Munich.

The first half was marked by protests from the home fans against Monday night games, with supporters holding signs showing raised middle fingers and a huge banner criticizing the German soccer federation, the German soccer league “and co.” for making Nuremberg play on a Monday night for the second time this season.

The game was held up on a number of occasions when fans threw black tennis balls onto the pitch during Dortmund corners. The visitors were particularly aggrieved when referee Harm Osmers blew for half time before Dortmund could take its fourth corner as it had been held up by another barrage of balls.

Dortmund had toiled to break through Nuremberg’s tight defense, frustrated that Osmers did not call some questionable-looking challenges.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

Maximilian Philipp tried his luck from distance, but it was Nuremberg captain Hanno Behrens who had the first big chance in the 28th minute when he was denied by a reflex save from Roman Buerki. Behrens also went close from the resultant corner.

Mathenia then made three good saves in quick succession to deny Mario Goetze. Axel Witsel went close for Dortmund before the break before Mathenia again denied Goetze.

Goetze was again thwarted by another save from Mathenia early in the second half, and the trend was to continue with the visitors dominating possession but struggling to find a way through.

Dortmund’s Jacob Bruun Larsen thought he scored late but the goal was ruled out as fellow substitute Paco Alcacer had strayed offside before setting him up.

Dortmund has now failed to win any of its last five competitive games.

Nuremberg was playing its first game under interim coach Boris Schommers after it sacked Michael Koellner on Tuesday.

Pogba explains Solskjaer’s secret: ‘He trusts us, we trust him’

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Take Manchester United’s 2018-19 season as the latest example of what a positive atmosphere around a club can do for results on the field.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

When Jose Mourinho was fired on Dec. 18, Man United sat sixth in the Premier League table and had won just two of their last eight games. Under the direction of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Red Devils have failed to win just twice in 13 games (all competitions) and have climbed up to fourth in the PL, along with reaching the quarterfinals of the FA Cup with a resounding 2-0 victory away to Chelsea on Monday.

After their triumph at Stamford Bridge, Paul Pogba, who’s been nothing short of a born-again megastar under new management and raised the bar once again with a goal and assist on Monday, praised Solskjaer for creating an atmosphere — built around “trust” — that the players once again enjoy, and that is a big reason why the club’s fortunes have turned around so sharply — quotes from the Standard and the BBC:

“He trusts us and we trust him. We go for it. You never know if you are going to win it, but we will play to win.”

“It is a beautiful win. Today was a great performance from the team, all of them. It wasn’t easy. We did it. We are really pleased with that win.

“The team helped me get to my best. I give everything for them. They help me score goals and get assists. We are enjoying playing together.”

As for Solskjaer’s tactical approach, which has seen Pogba more involved in the attack than during Mourinho’s rigid tenure, it’s clearly by design, and it’s clearly suiting Pogba well:

“The tactics worked. We asked Ander (Herrera) and Paul, our midfielders next to Nemanja (Matic), to go a bit higher and get into the box more often with Rom (Lukaku) and Marcus (Rashford) wide, so it worked.”

Pro Piacenza kicked out of Serie C after 20-0 loss

Pro Piacenza
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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) A third-tier Italian soccer team has been kicked out of the league after losing a match 20-0 on Sunday.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

Lega Pro, the governing body of Serie C, announced the exclusion of Pro Piacenza on Monday.

Pro Piacenza, which has financial problems and hadn’t paid its players or staff, needed to present a team for the match or would have been thrown out of the division after having already forfeited three matches.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

The team turned up at Cuneo with just seven players, the minimum number required. They were all between 16 and 19 years old, with captain Nicola Cirigliano listed as the coach, and one of the players forgot his identity card, so the masseur was forced to play.

Cuneo led 16-0 at halftime of the match, which Italian football federation president Gabriele Gravina said would be “the last farce.”