UEFA Champions League final preview: Two stingy D’s face major threats to European dreams

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Gianluigi Buffon is a hero in Italy, a world-class goalkeeper who’s got more winner’s medals than most elite Olympians.

But the Juventus goalkeeper has a battle on his hands, in his own home even, when it comes to Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final.

Buffon says his kids favorite players are Lionel Messi and Neymar, two of the Barcelona players who will try to embarrass their father’s side.

[ BARCA/JUVE: Five key battles ]

It’s one of just many subplots to the UCL final. By the time the referee blows his whistle to end Saturday’s match, both Juventus and Barcelona will have participated in 8 finals a piece. Will Juve make it 3 wins, or will Barca make it 5?

Team defense

Don’t be surprised if this one’s scoreless for a while despite all the big names. Sure there’s Messi, Suarez, Tevez, Pogba, Pirlo and Neymar, but only Bayern Munich (18) allowed fewer goals in league play than Juventus (24) and Barcelona (21). Both sides are seasoned with talent, though Juve won’t have Giorgio Chiellini. At the back are strong goalkeepers, but if there’s an edge it goes to the experience of Buffon.

Team offense

It’s difficult to argue against Barcelona, which backs up its trio of brilliant scoring attackers with names like Ivan Rakitic, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. So we won’t debate whether it’s better to have Juve’s corps. Barca has the edge here, but sleeping on The Old Lady isn’t a good idea.


After a Fall of discontent, Luis Enrique has proven he can manage the egos of Barca’s superstar contingent, and to set them up for wins. That said, these are unchartered waters for Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri as well. He has a Serie A title with AC Milan, but European spoils have evaded his reach.

source: APWild cards

Jordi Alba (right, with Messi) is not only a major cog for Barca’s defense, but a threat going forward, as is Dani Alves. Assuming Barcelona goes with a 4-1-2-3, it will be interesting to see whether the compact 4-3-1-2 that could be favored by Juve causes fits in the midfield.


On talent, organization and experience, it wouldn’t be a surprise for Juventus to pull off a win, but Barcelona has looked deadly at every turn over the past month. We’ll bet on the Blaugranas to move to 5-3 in UEFA Champions League finals. A late lead allows Barca an insurance goal on the counter attack in a 3-1 win.

Watch Live: West Ham United v. Liverpool

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After weeks of having a game in hand on Premier League title chasers Manchester City and Leicester City, the full extent of Liverpool’s lead will be revealed when the Reds visit West Ham United on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Once the full-time whistle blows at the London Stadium, all 20 PL sides will have played 24 games. Ahead of kickoff, Jurgen Klopp‘s side leads second-place Man City by a whopping 16 points.

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West Ham, meanwhile, sit 17th in the table and are only clear of the relegation zone by way of goal differential. That’s something that could very easily change between now and 5 p.m. ET.

LIVE, League Cup semifinal: Man City v. Man United

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It’s time for leg two of the Manchester derby in the semifinals of the EFL Cup (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET) at the Etihad Stadium.

[ LIVE: Man City v. Man United ]

Manchester City lead 3-1 following their first-leg dismantling of Manchester United at Old Trafford. In theory, it’s a mere formality to reach the final at Wembley, where they would take on Aston Villa following their late dramatics on Tuesday.

Click on the link above to follow the action live, while we will have you covered here at Pro Soccer Talk with all of the reaction and analysis.


Transfer rumor roundup: Richarlison to Barca for $110m? Spurs’ striker search

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Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

A roundup of all of the major transfer rumors, most notably those involving Premier League clubs, on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Spurs complete Bergwijn transfer from PSV ]

Barcelona have reportedly had a $110-million bid for Richarlison rejected by Everton. That’s a mind-blowing number for a club like Everton to receive, but the Toffees apparently didn’t have to think long before saying “thanks, but no thanks.” Luis Suarez is expected to miss four months due to a knee injury, leaving the Blaugrana somewhat for a replacement. Everton, however, have no desire to lose a key member of their squad with little to no time to sign a replacement.

After adding winger Steven Bergwijn on Wednesday, Tottenham Hotspur are heavily linked with a number of strikers as options to replace the injured Harry Kane. AC Milan’s Krzysztof Piatek is the most frequently linked (and most expensive) player coming out of the rumor mill, while Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud has come up as an emergency option (he is reportedly open to the idea). However, Jose Mourinho has reportedly been told he has just $13 million to acquire a new forward after spending a combined $108 million on Bergwijn and Gedson Fernandes.

Elsewhere in Tottenham rumors, full back Kyle Walker-Peters is expected to complete a loan move (without an option to buy) to Southampton in the very near future. The 22-year-old has been on the fringe of the first-team squad for what feels like five years now, but has never quite broken through. This could be Spurs putting into the shop window a player who they don’t believe is in their long-term plans in order to drive up his price tag come this summer.

Sheffield United look set to make a big push for a top-six finish, as the Blades are linked with moves for a pair of highly rated young players: Richairo Zivkovic, from Chinese side Changchun Yatai, and Sander Berge, from Genk. Zivkovic was one of the most highly touted youngsters in Europe before moving to China on a big-money deal; Berge has been linked with some of the biggest clubs across Europe in recent years, all the while the 21-year-old has become a fixture for the Belgian side.

Man United confirm agreement for Bruno Fernandes

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Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Bruno Fernandes is on the brink of becoming a Manchester United player after the club announced on Wednesday that an agreement has been reached with Portuguese side Sporting CP.

[ MORE: Spurs complete Bergwijn transfer from PSV ]

From the club’s website, which is currently unreachable at the time of posting:

“Manchester United are delighted to announce it has reached agreement with Sporting Clube de Portugal for the transfer of Bruno Fernandes.

“The deal is subject to a medical and the agreement of personal terms. A further announcement will be made in due course.”

The dollar figure most commonly reported is $61 million (potentially reaching $88 million after add-ons). Fernandes, 25, is reportedly in the process of visiting the Sporting offices to terminate his current contract and record a goodbye video for fans before boarding a flight to Manchester.

Fernandes came close to joining Tottenham Hotspur in the summer, but an agreement could never be reached between the involved parties and they ended up signing Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis instead.