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Three keys for Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim

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Liverpool is making its grand return to the UEFA Champions League, but it faces one of the toughest tests in Hoffenheim on Tuesday for a place in the group stage.

Jurgen Klopp faces Germany’s newest manager darling in Julian Naglesman, the 30-year-old who managed to take a team in a relegation battle and earn them a place in the Champions League playoff round for the first time in club history.

Liverpool will be without Philippe Coutinho, who’s transfer saga continues to dominate headlines, due to a back issue, and Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana also miss out with injury. But Liverpool heads to Germany with a strong squad capable of bringing home a good result ahead of the second leg at Anfield on August 23.

Here’s a look at three keys to victory for Liverpool in the Champions League:


Take advantage of speed

With the signing of Mohamed Salah this summer, Jurgen Klopp brought in more lightning-fast speed to pair with Sadio Mane on either side of Roberto Firmino.

With both players ability to stretch the defense, they’re always a threat for a long ball from Jordan Henderson or Emre Can, but as the team showed against Watford, if they play fast in their mind in small spaces, they can open up space against a strong European opponent.

Play through Firmino

Facing his old club, you can bet that Firmino will be even more motivated to score and earn Liverpool a solid result on the road.

The Brazilian international should get a few touches early in the match and if the long ball to Mane or Salah isn’t on, Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Can should be sure to bring Firmino into the play, which can then open up space in behind for Mane and Salah.

Tighten up defending on set pieces

It’s early in the season, but Liverpool looked rough defending corner kicks and free kicks at times in the draw at Watford.

Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren have plenty of chemistry playing together, so to allow three goals to Watford is unacceptable. On Tuesday, Matip and Lovren will face an even tougher frontline, featuring Sandro Wagner, Kemir Demirbay and Andrej Kramaric.

Add in former Arsenal youth product Havard Nortveit and there will be plenty of imposing figures in the box on set pieces, giving Liverpool plenty of challenges defensively. With goal differential and away goals so important in European ties, keeping Hoffenheim to no more than one goal is of utmost importance to Jurgen Klopp and co.

Report: Orlando’s Justin Meram could be traded back to Columbus

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A former Columbus Crew midfielder could be on his way back to the Eastern Conference side.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Davies on brink of Bayern move ]

Several reports have suggested that Orlando City’s Justin Meram could be on his way back to Columbus, as the Lions look to trade the midfielder back to the club that drafted the 29-year-old.

The veteran attacker joined the Lions back in January in a trade after spending seven seasons with the Crew.

Reliable Twitter account MLS Transfers first reported the story on Sunday, also naming the Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Cincinnati as potential landing spots for Meram.

Meram was traded to Orlando back in January after requesting a move away from Columbus due to ongoing talks of the club being relocated out of Ohio.

The Iraq international has struggled in his first season with Orlando, scoring just one goal in 17 appearances for the club — who currently sit in ninth place and six points outside of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Three Eastern Conference sides on record-setting pace

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2017 saw Toronto FC dominate the MLS regular season before going on to hoist the club’s first MLS Cup in club history.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing Bayern Munich move ]

Fast forward to this season, and three more Eastern Conference sides are poised to break barriers as they continue a near record-setting pace.

Atlanta United, New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls have created a sizable gap over the rest of the East with nearly one-third of the season remaining.

Toronto’s 69-point regular season total a year ago looked like a record that wouldn’t be touched for some time, however, the current trio of dominating forces in the East are all on pace to finish 2018 with 68 points.

Atlanta, NYCFC and the Red Bulls are all averaging two points per game, while Toronto averaged slightly above that total (2.03 ppg) during their MLS Cup-winning run.

The Red Bulls and NYCFC, in particular, could be in line to follow in the footsteps of last season’s Toronto FC.

Manager Chris Armas and the Red Bulls play 10 of their final games against teams outside the current playoff lines in their respective conferences, while Atlanta and NYCFC face five and four playoff teams, respectively.


Here’s a look at how the three teams will finish up the 2018 regular season:

Atlanta United (12 matches)

Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Columbus Crew, Orlando City, D.C. United, Colorado Rapids, San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution, Chicago Fire, Toronto FC

New York City FC (14 matches)

Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire, Minnesota United, D.C. United, Philadelphia Union

New York Red Bulls (15 matches)

D.C. United, Columbus Crew, Los Angeles FC, Chicago Fire, Vancouver Whitecaps, New York City FC, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, Montreal Impact, D.C. United, Toronto FC, Atlanta United, San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union, Orlando City

Mesut Ozil discusses critique of Turkish background

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Germany’s dismissal from the World Cup came as a shock to many, but one of its players received heavier scrutiny for off-the-field actions.

[ MORE: Whitecaps teen Alphonso Davies nearing move to Bayern ]

Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil appeared in two of the three group stage matches for the Germans in Russia, however, his play was overshadowed by his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prior to the start of the tournament.

The meeting between the two caused several German media outlets to criticize Ozil due to the heated relations between the two European nations.

Additionally, Ozil says his brand was affected as well, with various sponsors pulling their support due to the meeting with Erdogan.

The 29-year-old is of Turkish and German descent, which would have made him eligible to represent either country.

Ozil took to Twitter on Sunday to discuss how the ordeal has affected how the media and sponsorship has affected him over the last month.

Barcelona, Sevilla to play Spanish Super Cup in Morocco

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La Liga champions Barcelona will meet Sevilla in the 2018 Spanish Super Cup in Tangier, Morocco on August 12.

[ MORE: Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool spending ]

The Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) announced the decision on Sunday, as Barca looks to kick off the 2018 season against last year’s Copa Del Rey runners’ up.

Lionel Messi and Co. defeated Sevilla, 5-0, in the 2017/18 Copa Del Rey final, giving the Blaugrana a domestic double for the first time since the 2015/16 campaign.

La Liga play opens up in Spain on August 19, however, the full fixture list will be revealed on Tuesday.