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UEFA Champions League: Who’s the favorite?

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Keeping in mind that the draw means everything, who should be considered the front-runner to win the UEFA Champions League?

Most bookmakers have Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City just ahead of Barcelona, with Real Madrid third, but something about that doesn’t feel right.

[ MORE: Barca-Chelsea recap | Chelsea reacts ]

It comes as little surprise that Sevilla and Roma are considered the longest shots, but that shows just how tricky these quarterfinals will be for favorites: There are no teams from leagues outside the Big Four, no club who beat up on their domestic opponents and slipped through due to simple draws.

The field fits fairly neatly into three groups: Longshots, hopefuls, and favorites. Do you agree with where we draw the lines?

Longshots

8. Sevilla – It’s difficult to pore over their matches against Manchester United and not see how another team would’ve found a way past La Liga’s mainstays. Even given their European tournament acumen, it’d be stunning to see a “no name” crew keep running without a favorable draw.

7. Roma – Beat out Chelsea for the group stage crown by keeping a trio of clean sheets at home against the Blues, Atletico Madrid, and Qarabag. Their road form in the tournament has been poor, however, and perhaps this is Roma reaching its experience and talent level for this particular rodeo (It’s worth noting Roma’s been better on the road than at home in Serie A). I Lupi cannot afford another first leg like the 2-1 loss in Ukraine.

Hopefuls

6. Liverpool –  Reds fans love an argument, especially when the quality of their side is questioned, but Jurgen Klopp‘s men have yet to be tested by a top side in this tournament. The closest they’ve come were 2-2 and 3-3 draws with Sevilla, and blowing out a Porto side which kept one clean sheet in a relatively weak Group G. That’s not to say the Reds don’t have the ammo — Naby Keita would be nice — to win the whole thing, but to place them any higher would be wishful thinking.

5. Bayern Munich – Can score on you from any numbers weapons and in every sort of way, but there’s something about the first go-round without Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso which gives us pause when it comes to rating Bayern higher than Juve. That’s not to say Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, and Javi Martinez cannot pull their weight in leadership, but Bayern just sits behind the Top Four.

4. Juventus – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Ruled out as over the hill, Juventus finds its league and tournament form as the season grows and meets its reputation with form down the stretch. Are you betting against The Old Lady?

Favorites

3. Manchester City – With loads of respect to Barca and Bayern, Man City is the deepest team in the tournament and their system is such a challenge for teams that don’t see it often. I can’t quite label them the favorites, even if I feel City is the strongest team in the tournament. Honestly: I love watching this team operate, but I’ve gotta see them do it here.

2. Barcelona – Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front, Andres Iniesta turning back the hands of time in the middle of the park while Samuel Umtiti rises to meet the levels of defensive stalwarts Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets. Canny and creative, will Barca seal La Liga too soon to keep its edge in the UCL?

  1. Real Madrid — No, they aren’t in fine form, nor is there real reason to believe they’d handle their business against City or Barcelona more than twice out of 10 outings. Well, no real reason besides experience. But this club has won the last two, and three of the last four. Even if you dropped their first six titles from the less challenging European Cup era, Real would still be second all-time in titles (to AC Milan’s seven). Team-wise, they might be fifth in the field for me, but I’ve learned that Real rarely disappears in this tournament.

Wolves all but confirm Jota to Liverpool transfer

Jota to Liverpool
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Jota to Liverpool is edging closer, as Wolves have all but confirmed the transfer for the Portuguese international.

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Diogo Jota, 23, is said to be finalizing details on a five-year contract at Liverpool after the clubs agreed a fee which could rise to $58 million.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Wolves’ clash with Manchester City on Monday (start time, 3:15pm ET, stream live on Peacock), head coach Nuno Espirito Santo praised Jota’s contribution to the club and said he is joining the right club in Liverpool.

“Diogo is amazing and everybody knows the relationship we built. What Diogo did for us is absolutely fantastic,” Nuno said. “I think Diogo is going to the right place and we wish him all the best, knowing that it never be forgotten, especially by our fans, all the memorable moments that Diogo provided.”

This has all happened very quickly but it works out well for everyone. Would Wolves have loved to have kept Jota? Of course.

But they’ve bought Portuguese starlet Fabio Silva this summer and have Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence and Adama Traore who can support Raul Jimenez in attack. They will be just fine without Jota. He joined them on loan from Atletico Madrid when they were a Championship club and helped them gain promotion to the Premier League and has been incredibly consistent in terms of goals and assists over the last two seasons.

At Liverpool he will have to wait for chances behind Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane but his style of play suits them perfectly and it is a great move for him. Working under Jurgen Klopp will take his game to the next level and Liverpool’s secondary attacking options have just got a lot better, plus they’ve added Thiago Alcantara to upgrade their midfield.

Diogo Jota to Liverpool is edging closer and he leaves Wolves with the best wishes of everyone and for a transfer fee which justifies letting him go as he cost Wolves just $16.5 million less than three seasons ago.

James dazzles as Everton hammer 10-man West Brom

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Everton – West Brom had it all. Seriously.

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The Toffees beat the Baggies 5-2 as Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored a hat trick, plus James Rodriguez and Michael Keane each bagged a goal.

Superb goals from Grady Diangana and Matheus Pereira gave West Brom hope but they were reduced to 10 men before half time and had manager Slaven Bilic sent off in the aftermath for remonstrating with referee Mike Dean.


3 things we learned: Everton – West Brom

1. Everton’s attack on fire: James Rodriguez pulled the strings and scored his first Everton goal with a fine strike. His link-up play with Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Andre Gomes was sublime and Everton’s entire attacking unit was fluid and in-tune. With Moise Keane, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alex Iwobi able to come off the bench, they have so many options. In James, Richarlison and DCL, their front free are all on the same wavelength and even Lucas Digne on the left flank enhanced their attacks.

2. Shaky Pickford a concern: The one negative for Everton will have been Pickford’s form. He should have done better with Diangana’s goal and although Pereira hit a stunning free kick, was Pickford’ position correct? He gave the ball away early with his feet a few times too and the England international has to stay focused and prove he can be trusted. Right now, it’s tough to say if Pickford should remain as the Three Lions’ number one.

3. Diangana backs up West Ham outrage: When Diangana was sold by West Ham to West Brom, the club he was on loan at last season, Hammers skipper Mark Noble hit out at the West Ham owners. That tells you how highly Diangana is rated. His goal summed up his class and he had some lovely flicks. Alongside Pereira, he will score and create plenty of goals for the Baggies this season.

Man of the Match, Everton – West Brom: James Rodriguez – Now, DCL scored a hat trick of tap ins and he was in the right place at the right time, but James oozed class. Everton’s entire attack is now clicking into place because of the Colombia star.


Everton should have taken the lead early on as James Rodriguez whipped in a superb corner but Calvert-Lewin could only head wide.

West Brom took the lead after Diangana was given the freedom of Goodison to run towards goal and he then drilled home a low shot into the bottom corner, past a slow-moving Jordan Pickford and in.

Everton responded well to going behind with Calvert-Lewin and Allan having chances, but then Jake Livermore did superbly to control and get a shot off but he hit the post.

Before the break Everton were level as Richarlison caused havoc after a cross and Calvert-Lewin flicked home. The equalizer was initially ruled out for offside but VAR checked the decision and it was overturned. 1-1.

James Rodriguez then made it 2-1 with a lovely strike from outside the box for his first Everton goal, then a few moments later Kieran Gibbs raised his hands to the face of James and was shown a straight red card. At half time West Brom boss Slaven Bilic was also sent off for remonstrating with referee Mike Dean as the Baggies imploded.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The second half saw the chaos continue.

Within a few minutes of the restart 10-man West Brom were level as Matheus Pereira curled home a stunning free kick into the top corner from distance.

But it wasn’t 2-2 for long as Richarlison’s header was saved but Michael Keane was on hand to tap home the rebound to put the Toffees 3-2 up.

Soon it was 4-2 as James brilliantly found Richarlison who teed up Calvert-Lewin to tap home. And Calvert-Lewin completed his hat trick as the ball bounced off the back of his head and in to make it 5-2.

Lucas Digne hit the bar with a free kick and Richarlison had a goal disallowed for offside as Everton eased to a second-straight victory to start the season in style.

Leeds – Fulham: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Leeds – Fulham: A battle between two Premier League new boys on Saturday (Watch live at 10am ET, online via Peacock) is the first top-flight game at Elland Road for over 16 years.

LEEDS – FULHAM STREAM LIVE

Marcelo Bielsa and Scott Parker both delivered promotion from the Championship last season and both were expected to, even though Bielsa is the revered master of coaching and Parker is only in his second full season as a head coach. These new boys have very different styles of play but ultimately they are both much better going forward than they are at the back.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Leeds – Fulham this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Leeds (INJURY REPORT)

Leeds welcome back captain and center back Liam Cooper and that is their only change from the team which lost at Liverpool last weekend.

Fulham star new goalkeeper Alphonse Areola and right back Kenny Tete, with Mario Lemina on the bench. Aleksandar Mitrovic starts after being on the bench for the first game of the seasn due to injury.


What they’re saying

Marcelo Bielsa on Leeds’ start to life back in the Premier League: “Every game is a new story. We will try to correct all the things we did badly against Liverpool and we will try to maintain all the good things. A positive performance always gives a certain amount of optimism and a defeat generates sadness. This week the two of those things combined. The season is very new and the adaptation of the new players is going to take a while, which is the same for everybody.”

Scott Parker on facing Leeds and if it will give him a better idea of where they’re at compared to playing v. Arsenal: “Yeah, definitely, [but] saying that, we want to be competitive in those games [too]. Every game we go into we want to be competitive and get something out of the game. Of course, this weekend we go to another promoted team, a team that won the division last year, very handsomely, who have spent a lot of money to improve the team even more. The challenge for us is we want to go in and try and get a result in this game, like we will do every game this year, so we’ll try and do that and plan accordingly to get a result.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Leeds (-160) are the heavy favorites but Fulham (+450) are worth a pop at these huge odds. The draw (+290) is intriguing as the bookies were obviously impressed by Leeds’ opening day display at Liverpool, but were they too impressed?

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Prediction

I’m going to go for a draw here. I know people are well on board the Leeds bandwagon, and rightly so, but I still think there’s a lot for them to improve on before they start pushing for a top 10 finish in the Premier League. Fulham were a bit unlucky with the first two goals in their opening day loss to Arsenal and if Aleksandar Mitrovic is fit to play, he will have plenty of joy up top. 2-2.


How to watch Leeds – Fulham stream and start time

Kickoff: 10 am ET Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Chelsea – Liverpool: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Chelsea – Liverpool: This is always one of the biggest games of the Premier League season and on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30am ET, online via Peacock) at Stamford Bridge we can expect all-out attack between these two stacked heavyweights.

CHELSEA – LIVERPOOL STREAM LIVE

Frank Lampard and Chelsea have spent close to $300 million on new players this summer and may spend even more as they look to make the leap from a top four team to title contenders. As for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, the reigning champions had a scare in their opening day win against Leeds but will know they will have plenty of chances to score against Chelsea.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of Chelsea – Liverpool this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Chelsea – Liverpool (INJURY REPORT)

Chelsea will be without USMNT star Christian Pulisic as Lampard revealed he suffered a minor injury setback from his hamstring issue. This game has also come too early for new signings Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva to make their debuts as they work their way towards full fitness. Timo Werner is fit after suffering a small injury on his debut.

Frank Lampard issued the following injury update on Pulisic:  “Chilwell is not ready for the game, neither is Christian Pulisic. We hope they will work well during the week.” And had this to say after their win at Brighton on Monday: “Christian was training with us last week but he had a bit of discomfort a couple of days ago when he was trying to be in contention for today. It would have been a big ask for today and he has had to take a few steps back and we will have to see.”

Liverpool could have Kostas Tsimikas available as he’s back in training following a period of self-isolation after he tested positive for COVID-19. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be missing once again after he picked up a knee injury, while Xherdan Shaqiri is battling back from yet another injury. 


What they’re saying

Frank Lampard on the brewing rivalry, sideline clashes with Jurgen Klopp: “How much do you want to make of it? If you’re pushing to be successful… we had it when I was a player. In the Champions League we drew each other a lot. In modern terms it’s slightly different because Liverpool are on top of the league and we’re trying to improve. Both squads, clubs and coaches are very driven to win. It’s what the Premier League is all about. The nature of the world we live in is there’s a lot of airtime for you to fill with rivalries. They can be scrutinised in every way. I have huge respect for him, what he’s done at Liverpool was incredible. There’s nothing in it for me. The competitive nature of the 90 minutes can boil over but the respect for Klopp I have will never change.”

Klopp on Mohamed Salah’s hat trick on the opening day against Leeds: “Of all the good performances Mo had for us obviously, this was for sure one of the better ones. So he should be proud of that because it’s very special to have these kind of numbers. ‘Long may it continue,’ I like to think in these moments, and this time I say it as well.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Chelsea (+215) are the underdogs but Liverpool’s odds are longer (+115) than many would expect. Chelsea have done well against Liverpool in recent seasons and seem to match up with them well, and the draw (+270) would be the smart bet in this one. Both teams would take that early in the season and move on.

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Prediction

I’m going for a goalfest here and I think both teams will have plenty of chances and it’s all about who is more clinical. Liverpool will try to shore things up at the back but I think Chelsea know how to get behind them and Werner, if he’s fit, will cause problems. I’m going for 3-3. This will be a classic.


How to watch Chelsea – Liverpool stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock