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Madrid taking its time with Vinicius Jr despite fans’ plea

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MADRID (AP) Brazilian teenage sensation Vinicius Junior arrived in Spain giving Real Madrid fans hope he could be the future star who would help fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.

Fans were anxious to see if his quick moves and nifty dribbles would give the team the spark that vanished after Ronaldo left, especially since the club made no major signings to try to make up for Ronaldo’s absence.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

But the 18-year-old forward, who many compare to former Brazil and Madrid player Robinho, has not played any minutes with the main squad and this weekend was sent down to play with Madrid’s “B” team in the third division.

He started in the 2-0 win against Las Palmas Atletico on Sunday, and images of him clearing a couple of defenders with a beautiful nutmeg quickly spread online, adding to the frustration of fans who keep wanting to see him tested among the best in the top flight.

Julen Lopetegui’s decision to leave Vinicius Junior sidelined has already put the newly arrived coach in an uncomfortable position, with fans and local media questioning him. The only reason the coach is not hearing more from critics is because Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have been successfully helping the main squad in attack. Benzema scored twice and Bale once in the team’s 4-1 win at Girona on Sunday.

Madrid spent about 45 million euros ($52 million) for the promising Brazilian teenager last year even though he had played mostly with the youth squads of Brazilian club Flamengo. Madrid opted to bring the player after he turned 18 instead of keeping him in Brazil to develop longer.

MODRIC BENCHED AGAIN?

Lopetegui also has been questioned over his handling of Luka Modric, who was voted the World Cup’s best player as Croatia reached the final in Russia.

The talented midfielder was benched for the third straight time this season on Sunday, entering the match as a substitute late in the game. Lopetegui has opted to use Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Marco Asensio in the midfield, players who have greater attacking power.

Modric reported to the squad later than the rest of the players because of the World Cup, and Lopetegui said that has played a part in why he hasn’t started. But the coached noted Sunday that “there are alternatives” for the starting lineup, and “that’s good for the team.”

Many in Spain have linked Modric’s lack of playing time to his reported negotiations with Inter Milan in the offseason.

Lopetegui has also caused controversy by keeping Keylor Navas in goal despite the high-profile signing of Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea.

CHANGED ESPANYOL

Espanyol made a bold move in the offseason to pay the 10-million-euro buyout clause for striker Borja Iglesias.

The 25-year-old Iglesias belonged to Celta Vigo but was on loan with second-division club Zaragoza, which came close to gaining promotion to the top flight thanks in great part to his goals.

The move started to pay off Sunday when Iglesias scored his first goal of the season, helping the hosts earn a 2-0 win over Valencia.

Along with Iglesias, Espanyol also brought new coach Joan Francesc Ferrer, better known as “Rubi,” who has been trying to revamp the team after a disappointing season a year ago.

“We are getting used to a new way of playing and we are happy with it,” Iglesias said. “There are no limits to what this team can achieve.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND

Valencia defender Jose Luis Gaya was blunt about his team’s performance in the 2-0 loss at Espanyol, a result that left the team winless after two rounds.

“Our second-half performance was not worthy of this team. It should come as an alert,” Gaya said. “We can’t convey this image. They trounced us after their goal.”

Valencia entered the season with high hopes after improving a squad that finished fourth in the league a year ago, signing several players in the offseason.

The team had opened with a draw against Atletico Madrid at home.

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Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City

American coach Marsch speaks after landmark Champions League day

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Jesse Marsch made his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday, a historic first for not just the Wisconsin native but also his country.

Marsch, 45, oversaw Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 demolition of Genk, becoming the first American to win a UCL match as manager.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

“We knew we were going into the match full of confidence,” he said, via the Salzburg site. “We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn’t pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.”

The ex-New York Red Bulls manager and RB Leipzig assistant manager got another three goals from incredible 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who nows has 17 goals in nine matches this season.

“It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.”

There will be tougher nights ahead for Marsch, who is in a group with Liverpool and Napoli, but Tuesday was a fine start for the tactician. And it was a banner moment for American coaches abroad, who’ve been led by past and present USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter.

Maybe one day that’ll be Marsch’s title… but it seems like he may have some loftier ground to cover on his path through world soccer.

Klopp: Liverpool made wrong decisions; Penalty also incorrect

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is going to bat for his left back after Andrew Robertson gave away what became the decisive penalty in a 2-0 loss to Napoli in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a penalty,” Klopp said. “What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty. He jumps before any contact, we can’t change that.”

[ RECAP: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool ]

For what it’s worth: It sure seemed like both a foul on Robertson and a comical embellishment from Callejon, but we digress.

Liverpool just didn’t have it on the day, like when Sadio Mane played a terrible pass to Mohamed Salah on what could’ve been an easy 1-0 lead.

In the moments they did have it, there was Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret making a splendid save.

“We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off. We controlled moments but had not enough chances in the end. We made decisions that were not right and have to accept the result. It was very often the final ball that was not right.”

Also, forgive Klopp if he has stopped enjoying the beautiful country of Italy.