Champions League Tuesday Preview: Suarez back in England

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With Champions League action having returned for the knockout stages last week, we got a taste of what is to come. With all the top seeds on the road, matches can get a bit cagey at times as they look to defend well and hit on the counter for an away goal or two.

There’s plenty of storylines in tomorrow’s pair of matches, as we get two exciting matchups coming our way. Will history repeat itself for Manchester City and Juventus? Does Dortmund’s domestic uptick translate to Europe? Let’s dive through it all.

Manchester City vs Barcelona

Top villain Luis Suarez makes his return to England, and he’s already called out his opponent for “weaknesses at the back.” This should go well. Barcelona has no injury problems other than long-term problems for defenders Douglas and Thomas Vermaelen. Meanwhile, Manchester City is also fully fit, but Yaya Toure still has one more game to serve of his three-match suspension for a red card against CSKA in November, a big loss. James Milner is back and fit, and Wilfried Bony could make his first City start.

Manchester City looked every bit inferior last year during this same matchup, and this time around, if things don’t go well, it could put Manuel Pellegrini’s job in jeopardy with ownership expecting their manager to get over the hump in European play, something no City boss has managed to do in the recent going. Domestic success has not translated into success abroad, and that will be a bit talking point throughout both legs.

These two teams are coming off very different weekends. Manchester City torched Newcastle United 5-0 in league play. Barcelona, meanwhile, has had a roller coaster of a season, with 11 straight victories ruined this weekend by a head-scratching 1-0 loss to Malaga. Those, however, shouldn’t have too much of an effect on this first leg.

Juventus vs Borussia Dortmund

The narrative for Juventus continues to grow stronger. Every year they dominate Serie A but flame out in the Champions League, the questions slowly build. Can they recapture the European form of the early 2000’s? They have a favorable draw here in the Round of 16 should they play their cards right. Unfortunately, they almost didn’t even get here, barely squeaking through the group stage.

None of that matters now, as they host Borussia Dortmund in their matchup’s first leg. Both these teams are almost completely healthy as well, with Arturo Vidal expected back from a groin injury. Former Juventus striker Ciro Immobile likely won’t get much time against his former club, with having been benched the last three league games. Side note: Dortmund has won all three of those games, their first good spell in the league all year. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been in fine form up front, and will likely be the man to play.

If there’s one player you look out for on this pitch, it’s Paul Pogba. Keep your eyes peeled. The moment is coming.

Watch Live: The Manchester Derby

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Manchester United can send a message to the Top Four and lay down a marker for its manager when it visits Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

United enters the match on 21 points, eight back of losing Chelsea and two behind fifth place Spurs, while City looks to climb ahead of Leicester City ahead of the Foxes 9 a.m. ET Sunday visit to Aston Villa.

But really, this is about territory, and whether Manchester is blue or red for a few months.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Ederson, Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Angelino, Rodrigo, D Silva (C), De Bruyne, Bernardo, Sterling, G Jesus. Subs: Bravo, Gundogan, Mendy, Mahrez, Cancelo, Otamendi, Foden.

Manchester United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Fred, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Williams, Young, Andreas, Mata, Greenwood.

Son scores a throwback, full-field dribble goal to up Spurs lead

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Heung-Min Son saw Harry Kane‘s stunner and pushed all his chips into the pot.

The South Korean continued Spurs first-half demolition of Burnley by providing a third goal via a wonderful, near field-length dribble and finish that would make Diego Maradona nod in approval.

[ STREAM: Spurs-Burnley + every PL match ] 

He must’ve covered 80 yards or more on the dribble, winding his way into open space with a couple of touches past wayward defenders.

Don’t sleep on the speed, either, Son in possession and blazing past defenders at full sprint.

Scores, streams

Bournemouth 0-2 Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
Tottenham 3-0 Burnley
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
Watford 0-0 Crystal Palace
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

WATCH: Harry Kane’s emphatic rip from distance puts Spurs up

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If Harry Kane is about to find his best self, then the Premier League should be quite concerned that Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur may return to its finest form.

On evidence of this strike versus Burnley on Saturday, it’s possible.

[ STREAM: Spurs-Burnley + every PL match ] 

Kane absolutely pummeled a shot from distance past the excellent Nick Pope on Saturday, the first of two early goals (Lucas Moura) as Spurs are making a quick rebound from a midweek set back at Old Trafford.

Heung-Min Son perfectly settled a long ball to Kane, who was in space and cognizant of the goalkeeper’s position. The Englishman bashed the ball home for his eighth league goal of the season and 14th in all competitions.

Everton: What was different, and what’s the way forward?

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Everton got off the mat in style on Saturday, three days after a mistake-filled 5-2 loss to its Merseyside rivals.

While that loss wasn’t necessarily as bad as it looked on the score board, it was wretched at the back and enough to warrant a change at manager.

[ RECAP: Everton shock poor Chelsea ]

Duncan Ferguson took the reins at Goodison Park, and things were much improved in a 3-1 defeat of Chelsea.

What was different? Plenty, though most came in the form of personnel performances rather than changes (Also, Chelsea was terrible, but that negates little for an Everton side which had been insipid against inferior competition to Saturday’s visitors).

1) The Formation: Duncan Ferguson opted for a straight-forward 4-2-3-1 that often came closer to your traditional 4-4-2. The Toffees hemorrhaged possession but pounded away at the Chelsea attackers and counted on their swift, talented attackers to do their damage with limited chances. Call it the Newcastle United model. With Chelsea a bit off, it played out perfectly for Ferguson.

“Who knows? A new face, a new voice, a new message, who knows? These things just happen in football and the players give a reaction when they lose a manager.

“I think that’s right. What we really need at this club is the work ethic, the team really needs to work their absolute socks off. The fans really got behind us and believe me that gets you an extra goal.”

2) The Force: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, given the stage and his track record, had the game of his life. That’s not exaggeration. The 22-year-old had six shots, two goals, and won 10 aerial battles. That’s exactly what’s required given the formation and tactics outlined in Point No. 1. After scoring three goals in four matches a month ago, “DCL” had been very poor and flubbed his chances against Liverpool. This was a beauty, and Calvert-Lewin was clearly playing for his coach.

“It was a massive game for us and I have a very close relationship with Duncan. He has stuck by me for the three years I have known him. The most important thing was to go out and give 100%.”

I mean, that’s always the most important thing, but we can’t blame a 22-year-old for trading on the cliche market.

3) Other changes: Ferguson took a risk in deploying Morgan Schneiderlin over Tom Davies. The former had been one of the Toffees worst statistical players this year, while Davies is a hometown kid who had admittedly been very poor for the better part of a month. Schneiderlin wasn’t great in passing, but was steadier than the kid and won six tackles. When Davies came into the match, he wasn’t great but was more advanced and his lone positive contribution was a big one:

Yerry Mina missed the match through injury, which may’ve played a role in Ferguson’s decision to go to four at the back, but the difference in defense was down to both Mason Holgate and Michael Keane playing dramatically better. Keane especially, having not been credited with a single tackle in the loss to Everton.

We should save some space for Jordan Pickford, whose passing stats suffered from a directive to “get the ball out of there ASAP” but registered three saves in an improved performance. Pickford hasn’t been steady for his club — incredible against West Ham, terrible versus Liverpool and Brighton, and if he can eliminate the bad days and be just a bit above average he can be a big difference. Steadier work from the backs will help that.

And really that’s what will fix the Toffees. The attack hasn’t been amazing but it hasn’t been relegation worthy. And frankly the backs have not been awful, allowing the third-fewest attempts per match in the league, but have been prone to absolutely horrendous mistakes that left Pickford on an island. The less the keeper is in damage control, the higher Everton can rise.

4) So Big Dunc? Given the immediate road ahead, Ferguson’s approach and passion could give the club the leeway to wait a few weeks to make sure it hires a steady, experienced hand considering their long-term goals. Ferguson might be a name for the future, but as we outlined earlier this week… European spots remain there for the taking! Their next few matches provide chances to directly affect teams above them, with Manchester United at Old Trafford and Arsenal visiting Goodison. There’s also an opportunity to beat Leicester City and get to a League Cup semifinal.

Those are two routes to Europe right in front of the Toffees. Ferguson’s Brucian (or Benitezian) tactics and system can give them a chance to get two or three points from the league matches, and certainly can be enough to out-duel the Foxes at home. And you might say, so maybe he’s the man! Don’t look past what the club means to him. But in the long run, the talent and ambition of Everton needs a sustained system that isn’t just about “grinding it out.” Maybe Ferguson can supply that but is that a risk to take now, with Arsenal, Manchester United, and Spurs all wobbling in ways you wouldn’t expect in a given season? A commitment to working hard is just the first step to success.