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Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

LIVE, Europa League: Man United, Arsenal, Wolves go for last-16

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It’s time to settle 14 more ties in the Europa League round of 23, including three involving Premier League sides.

Ahead of Thursday’s seconds legs, Arsenal lead Greek side Olympiacos 1-0, Manchester United are level with Portuguese side Club Brugge at 1-1, and Wolverhampton Wanderers are the comfortable ones of the bunch with their 4-0 advantage of Spanish side Espanyol.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

All three PL sides are expected to go through to the round of 16, where they are once again eligible to face one another.

Meanwhile, some of the competition’s other remaining heavy hitters are also in action: Inter Milan lead Ludogorets Razgrad 2-0; Roma lead Gent 1-0; Sevilla are level with Cluj at 1-1; and Ajax trail Getafe 2-0.

Full Europa League schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Basaksehir v. Sporting CP
Porto v. Bayer Leverkusen
Gent v. Roma
Malmo v. Wolfsburg
LASK v. AZ Alkmaar
Basel v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Arsenal
v. Olympiacos
Manchester United v. Club Brugge
Inter Milan v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax v. Getafe
Sevilla v. Cluj
Benfica v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Celtic v. Copenhagen

Colossal Juve-Inter clash could be played in empty stadium

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte probably won’t have to sit through a torrent of boos when he returns to Turin for the first time to face former club Juventus.

That’s because there could be no fans there to see it.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

The Derby d’Italia, one of the season’s biggest matches, may be played in an empty stadium on Sunday because of the virus outbreak in northern Italy. The epicenter of the outbreak is in the Lombardy region, and Milan is its capital.

“I hope that from today there will be a regression in the diffusion of the virus so that I, too, can go see Juventus-Inter,” said Attilio Fontana, the governor of the Lombardy region. “We’re monitoring the situation. I’m very calm. We need to see what the situation is. It’s the same as for the schools. We’ll do a check Saturday and then we’ll see.”

Four Serie A matches scheduled for last weekend were postponed, including Inter’s match against Sampdoria. Italy has the most cases of the virus in Europe.

Serie A president Paolo Dal Pinto sent a letter to the government on Monday asking that games no longer be postponed in the affected areas but played without fans in attendance, something which Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said they were in agreement with.

[ MORE: Man City makes statement, comes back in Madrid ]

However, no official decree has been made by the Turin council and Serie A’s governing body has also yet to release a statement, giving rise to the hope fans could be allowed in.

Italy had 447 virus cases as of Wednesday. Twelve people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments, or both.

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two hardest hit regions and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Inter’s Europa League match against Ludogorets was scheduled to go ahead in an empty stadium on Thursday.

On Sunday, Conte will return to Juventus as opposition coach for the first time since he left the club in 2014. Conte led Juventus to the first three of its eight straight league titles and also spent most of his playing career with the Bianconeri.

[ MORE: Alan Pardew confronted by frustrated Den Haag fans on training field ]

“Soccer needs the crowd, to hear the atmosphere around it,” Conte said. “That’s the best thing about the game, the atmosphere around the soccer being played. These decisions have been taken with public health in mind but I hope that everything returns to normal as soon as possible.”

Inter trails the Serie A leaders by six points, although it has played a match less. Juventus, meanwhile, will have to bounce back from Wednesday’s surprise 1-0 loss at Lyon in the Champions League.

“We didn’t play the match we wanted. We have a lot of work to do,” Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey said. “Let’s focus on ourselves and do better than we did today, starting on Sunday with Inter.”

Bayern’s Lewandowski out for a month with leg injury

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Robert Lewandowski will miss the next month, including Bayern Munich’s UEFA Champions League second leg against Chelsea, after suffering a leg injury during Tuesday’s 3-0 thrashing of the Premier League side.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

Bayern announced on Wednesday that Lewandowski fractured his tibia near his left knee joint. With the recovery time currently expected to be four weeks, the injury isn’t thought to be serious.

Not only will the Bundesliga’s leading scorer this season (25 goals, four more than second-place Timo Werner) out for leg no. 2 against Chelsea, but he could also miss as many as five league games as Bayern try to win their eighth straight domestic title. With 11 games left to play in Germany, Bayern hold a one-point lead on second-place RB Leipzig. Lewandowski is expected to return before the UCL quarterfinals during the first week of April.

[ MORE: Man City makes statement, comes back in Madrid ]

Lewandowski has 40 goals in 36 games (all competitions) to his name this season and has shown little or no sign of slowing down at the age of 31. Serge Gnabry, who has 10 league goals, is the only other player to have reached double digits for Bayern this season. Next closest to Gnabry is Philippe Coutinho, with six.

Premier League storylines: Matchweek 28

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Matchweek 28 is almost here in the Premier League and it’s time to focus on the top storylines ahead of the action.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Below we take a deeper look and preview the weekend’s biggest battles.


Liverpool’s quest for invincibility and immortality [ STREAM ]

  • Watford v. Liverpool, Saturday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

With the PL title having been in the bag for two or three months already, the Reds’ pursuit of history which can almost certainly never be matched is the last remaining point on their checklist. Not only are they unbeaten through 27 games and chasing Arsenal’s “Invincibles” of the 2003-04 season, they are already within 11 points of that famed Gunners side’s final tally (90)… with 11 games still to play. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has dropped two points, in a single draw back in mid-October, all season. That’s 18 straight wins. That’s over four months without dropping a point. Can they max out at 112 points? Can they avoid defeat for another two and a half months? The quest continues with a trip to 19th-place Watford on Saturday. Oh, those poor Hornets.


Chelsea lead the way in top-four/five race [ STREAM ]

  • Bournemouth v. Chelsea, Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Given recent developments between Manchester City and UEFA, this season’s top-four race is now a top-five race for Champions League qualification. A race for top-four was already going to be mighty interesting with four sides separated by just three points, beginning with fourth-place Chelsea, prior to the announcement of Man City’s ban. Since then, the Blues snapped a four-game winless skid with a victory over Tottenham Hotspur and have a three-point advantage on fifth and sixth place. Simply put, it’s Frank Lampard‘s side’s spot to lose.


Fifth place is Man United’s to lose [ STREAM ]

  • Everton v. Man United, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN)

Now, two weeks after the ban, we have seven-horse race for fifth, beginning with current leaders Manchester United. From the Red Devils all the way down to Everton in 11th, five points separate the seven sides hoping to capitalize on City’s misfortune. Back-to-back victories over Chelsea and Watford have seen Man United leapfrog Tottenham and take the driver’s seat ahead of Matchweek 28. A victory at Goodison Park on Sunday would obviously keep them there while also effectively eliminating one of the six chasing sides right out of the starting gate.


Spurs slowly crumbling as injuries debilitate attack [ STREAM ]

  • Spurs v. Wolves, Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold)

And then there’s Spurs, who sat fifth for quite some time and looked like they might be able to hold on and challenge for fourth, even after Harry Kane suffered a torn hamstring and could miss the rest of the season. That was, of course, before Son Heung-min broke his arm, perhaps also resigning him to the same season-ending fate. Now, Jose Mourinho is left with Lucas Moura and Dele Alli as very much not-center-forward options to play center forward. If last Saturday’s loss to Chelsea was any indication, the final few weeks of soccer played by Spurs will not be particularly fun to watch.