AP

Lopetegui under pressure amid Real Madrid scoring drought

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) It looked like a no-brainer at the time. Which coach wouldn’t jump at the chance to lead star-packed and wealthy Real Madrid?

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But four months later Julen Lopetegui may be ruing the day the club’s president Florentino Perez made him an offer that he just couldn’t refuse.

Not only did his decision in June to sign for Madrid get him fired as Spain’s manager two days before the start of the World Cup, but the juggernaut Lopetegui inherited from Zinedine Zidane is now a team in apparent disarray.

Madrid has lost three times and drawn once in its last four matches. The team that boasts stars such as Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos hasn’t been able to score a goal in that span.

Even the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, who left Madrid this summer as its all-time top scorer, can’t shield Lopetegui from being blamed for the team’s longest scoring drought since 1985.

Lopetegui has tried to take a team that for nine seasons was built around putting Ronaldo in position to score and mold it into a side that deploys a collective attack. In Lopetegui’s own words, “it doesn’t matter who scores, the goals are scored by the team.”

Unless, that is, nobody can put the ball in the net.

Madrid had already lost 3-0 at Sevilla, drawn 0-0 with Atletico Madrid, and lost 1-0 at CSKA Moscow before a humiliating 1-0 defeat at Alaves on Saturday.

Even though Alaves is exceeding expectations and Madrid was playing without three of its first-choice players, Madrid hadn’t lost at the Basque club’s ground since the 1930-31 season.

Lopetegui seemed helpless to stop his players from being outmuscled in most of the individual match-ups and was unable to find a way to break Alaves’ pressure and spring Bale on the counterattack.

While Bale and Karim Benzema have failed to score consistently this season, Lopetegui benched Marco Asensio against Alaves in favor of Dani Ceballos. Asensio went on late along with newcomer Mariano Diaz, but neither could generate scoring chances.

Ramos made a half-hearted defense of his coach.

“When it comes to making changes, there are others who take those decisions, it is not up to the players,” Ramos said, before adding, “For the squad it is never good that there is a change of manager. … It would be crazy.”

Lopetegui had kept Spain unbeaten in 20 matches but the national team exited the World Cup in the round of 16 in the wake of his departure. Ironically, Lopetegui must hope that this week’s international break will give his injured players a chance to recover. Bale and Benzema both had to be substituted during the match at Alaves because of unspecified injuries. Marcelo and Dani Carvajal were already unavailable, while Francisco “Isco” Alarcon is recovering from surgery to treat appendicitis.

“This is a difficult moment and the coach is always the one who is responsible,” Lopetegui said. “We still have time. But it is clear that first we must get some important players back, as well as our verve and confidence. Obviously, confidence comes through scoring goals.”

Madrid’s next match is against Levante on Oct. 20. It will then play in the Champions League against Viktoria Plzen before it visits rival Barcelona on Oct. 28.

DEFENSE WANTED

Fortunately for Lopetegui, Barcelona is also in a domestic dip despite Lionel Messi’s best efforts.

Messi scored to salvage a 1-1 draw at Valencia on Sunday, but Barcelona’s winless streak in the league reached four games.

Barcelona had hoped to reproduce its stellar midweek performance at Tottenham when Messi scored twice in a dominant 4-2 victory in the Champions League.

But despite dominating long stretches of the match at Mestalla Stadium, its defense had another of the kind of momentary lapses that have plagued Barcelona recently and allowed Valencia to score early from a poorly defended corner.

“It is true that we are in a rut this season that we avoided last year of either having to come from behind or have the match turn against us,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

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VIDEO: Rashford scores stunning goal v. Brighton

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Marcus Rashford goal v Brighton will be trending very soon.

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Rashford scored a simply superb solo goal in the second half to put Manchester United 2-1 up against Brighton.

The England forward was set free by Bruno Fernandes and ran towards goal but still had four Brighton defenders and a goalkeeper to beat.

He did that, beating one defender twice, as he cut past Ben White easily, turned Brighton’s defense inside out and his shot found the top corner as Man United’s players celebrated wildly and Brighton’s players were left on the floor in a heap.

Rashford had a goal disallowed in the second half as the England star was a real threat on the break and even though Brighton dominated the game and hit the woodwork five times, Man United’s extra clinical edge shone through.

Their academy product led the way as Rashford added another fine strike to his collection as he stands tall for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side early in the season.

Check out the Rashford stunner in the video above, as the England and Man United was at his very best to lead his team at Brighton.

Lyon president provides update on Aouar to Arsenal

Aouar to Arsenal
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Aouar to Arsenal doesn’t seem like it will happen soon, but it’s in the works.

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Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas confirmed that Arsenal have made an opening bid for Houssem Aouar, 22, but that he rejected it.

Posting a message on social media, the outspoken Lyon president had the following to say about the bid which is believed to be around $44.6 million.

“For Houssem Arsenal is too far from his value,” Aulas said. “We are counting on him to play a great match in Lorient [on Sunday] and lead OL in the CL [Champions League] in the next year.”

Aulas is making it very clear that Arsenal will have to significantly up their bid to land Aouar, who was superb in Lyon’s unexpected run to the UEFA Champions League semifinal in 2019-20.

Known to drive a hard bargain, Aulas will be looking to offload Aouar for top dollar given that Lyon are not in European action this season due to Ligue 1 being ended early in 2019-20 and the French giants out of the European spots on average points per game.

The French international midfield is a perfect player for Mikel Arteta’s system. He is silky on the ball and calm to help dictate possession, while he also isn’t afraid of his defensive duties.

With Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos the two starting central midfielders in a 3-4-3 formation, Aouar arriving would mean Arsenal have three players for that key position. It also suggests that Lucas Torreira, Mateo Guendouzi and Mohamed Elneny are all set to move on as Arteta focuses on quality over quantity.

Aouar to Arsenal would be another statement of intent from the Gunners who have added Gabriel at center back plus Willian out wide and Arteta has developed a host of young players.

Brighton – Manchester United: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

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Brighton – Manchester United: Impressive Brighton and Hove Albion hopes to continue Manchester United’s winless league season when the Red Devils visit the Amex Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

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It will be the first two meetings in several days, as Brighton’s win at Preston North End and United’s takedown of Luton Town set up a League Cup fourth round date at the Amex.

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United handled Brighton well last season, winning 3-1 and 3-0, so this will be a great test at the acumen of both managers: Graham Potter in his second full season with the Seagulls and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempting to prove his doubters wrong.


Team news: Brighton – Manchester United (INJURY REPORT)

The Seagulls will not have Yves Bissouma, who was suspended three matches for his no-look, studs-up kick into the face of Newcastle defender Jamal Lewis. Brighton manager Graham Potter revealed that the long-term recovery of Jose Izquierdo is about two weeks away from being complete, while he has brought Adam Lallana back into the starting lineup as he’s now fully recovered.

 

Manchester United are without Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones as Solskjaer brings Wan-Bissaka, Matic and Greenwood coming into the lineup.


What they’re saying

Potter on the League Cup win setting up consecutive Man United tests: “It’s a big week for us with those two matches and then Everton before the international break. That’s what we wanted because we wanted to go through in this competition. Players always want to play and the best thing for them is to be out on the field on nights like tonight to keep everyone in the group ready for when they’re needed. You saw that today. There was a willingness to run and fight for the team and get the result and that’s why I’m very happy.”

United’s Solskjaer after goalkeeper Dean Henderson starred on his senior debut: “The goalkeeping department and training level has been really high, of course, you can see driven and dedicated people and I’ve enjoyed watching them. Dean in goal, good save, you can see he’s having to concentrate and it’s a different job to what he’s done a few times last season and he came up with the save when he had to.”

League Cup results
LUTON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 22: Dean Henderson of Manchester United saves a shot at Kenilworth Road (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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

Brighton is +375 to win at home, while a draw nets the wagerer +260. Manchester United is expected to win and thusly -130 to take all three points.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Brighton – Manchester United prediction

The only thing keeping us from pegging a very impressive Brighton team to collect another win is the shadow cast by Manchester United’s 2019-20 season (and long tradition of winning). United was rusty in its loss to Crystal Palace and had to work hard to defeat Luton Town in the League Cup. If that rust was there last week, how do the legs feel after a week? Anyway, the Red Devils still have Bruno Fernandes and it just doesn’t seem like this team starts 0-2 (or even 0-1-1). I grimace as I write 2-1 to Manchester United.


How to watch Brighton – Manchester United stream and start time

Kickoff: 7:30 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

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

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea.

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


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

West Brom – QUESTIONABLE: Ahmed Hegazi (thigh), Kamil Grosicki (back), Hal Robson-Kanu (leg) | OUT: Kieran Gibbs (suspension), Conor Gallagher (loan rules), Kenneth Zohore (calf)

Chelsea – QUESTIONABLE: Christian Pulisic (hamstring), Cesar Azpilicueta (thigh) | OUT: Hakim Ziyech (knee), Andrea Christensen (suspension)


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


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

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com