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Preview: USMNT face Italy in 2018 finale

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The U.S. men’s national team end their 2018 campaign with a friendly against Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. ET.

This is a clash between two teams who failed to reach the 2018 World Cup and have now turned to youth to try and turn their programs around.

[ MORE: How will USA line up v Italy? ]

It has been a strange year for everyone connected with the USMNT, as interim head coach Dave Sarachan has now been in charge for 13 months but still no new permanent coach had been announced and the U.S. were humbled 3-0 by a much-changed England at Wembley last Thursday.

[ MORE: Dortmund issue Pulisic update

Roberto Mancini and the Azzurri are the final test of a gruelling few months for the USMNT, as they’ve now faced Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and England in the fall, winning just one of those games as several youngsters have been given the chance to shine but there’s still no long-term plan.

Christian Pulisic is back in the U.S. setup and will be looking to lead a team which has an average age of just under 24 to an upset of No. 19 ranked Italy. Mancini has sent home several of his more experienced players ahead of this game and will give plenty of youngsters a chance, including teenager Sandro Tonali who Italy have high hopes for as a deep-lying playmaker.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

In team news Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre all left the USMNT squad over the past few days due to injury, but Josh Sargent is fit to play against Italy as the Werder Bremen forward didn’t feature against England due to a small knock. Sarachan has said there will be plenty of changes to his lineup, and it will be intriguing to see if the USMNT players who will be involved in the MLS Cup playoffs next week will feature.

Pro Soccer Talk will be at the Luminus Arena in Genk and you can follow live updates on Italy v. USA here.


What they’re saying…

Dave Sarachan on Italy and possible USMNT lineup: “We respect them. It will be an important test for our guys. We will have a number of changes in the lineup and it will be one of those tests that will go a long way down the road. We are excited about it and it should be a good night.”

Roberto Mancini on giving youngsters a chance: “We are working, trying to renovate the Nazionale with young players and a different tactical approach. We need to get to know them better, to see them in action. Hopefully, many young players will get a chance to feature, as that’ll mean we’ve got a bright future ahead of us. I think there are many talented players out there, they just need to gain some experience.”


Prediction

This is a very tough game to call. There’s no doubt that the USMNT youngsters will want to end a tough year on a high as they try to impress the incoming coach (expected to be Gregg Berhalter) but Italy’s youngsters will want to grab their chance to impress too. Pulisic could be the difference in this game and I’m going for a 1-1 draw in Genk as Sarachan will leave his time in charge of the USMNT with his head held high. A draw would be a very respectable end to a tough 12 months for the U.S. program. 2019 can’t come soon enough as they plan for the long road ahead and a shot at redemption.

UCL, Live: Chelsea v. Bayern; Napoli v. Barcelona

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is back and the Round of 16 games continue this week as Chelsea host Bayern Munich and Barcelona head to Napoli in what should be two epic battles.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

This is arguably the biggest test yet for Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea youngsters as they face the German giants Bayern who are in imperious form in Europe and have Robert Lewandowski leading their charge. What Chelsea lack in experience they make up for in talent and despite some attacking injuries, Lampard will be keen to take the game to Bayern at Stamford Bridge. Given Chelsea’s defensive flaws so far this season, their best form of defense is attack.

Lampard knows Chelsea must lock down Lewandowski and his battle with Antonio Rudiger is one, among many, we are really looking forward to.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Elsewhere, Barcelona warmed up for their big trip to Napoli in fine style as Lionel Messi scored four times in a thumping win against Eibar in La Liga on Saturday. Messi, 32, will be Barca’s main men in the cauldron that is the Estadio San Paolo and despite their patchy form in Serie A, Gennaro Gatusso’s Napoli are a dangerous proposition in the Champions League. Especially at home in Naples.

Below is the full schedule for the two UCL last 16 first leg games on Tuesday, with bothgames kicking off at 3 p.m. ET. You can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.


Tuesday Champions League action

Chelsea v. Bayern Munich
Napoli v. Barcelona

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings are here and there are new faces pushing their way into the upper echelons.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Stars from Premier League giants Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal, Man City and Wolves dominate our power rankings after some impressive performances and there are plenty of new entries and plenty of players from the same teams.

[ MORE: Club Power Rankings

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry
2. Diogo Jota (Wolves) – New entry
3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) – Up 16
4. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) – New entry
5. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Up 6
6. Richarlison (Everton) – Up 1
7. Dwight McNeil (Burnley) – New entry
8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 2
9. Moussa Djenepo (Southampton) – New entry
10. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) – Down 5
11. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – New entry
12. Bruno Fernandes (Man United) – Up 4
13. Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) – Down 9
14. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Even
15. Martin Dubravka (Newcastle) – New entry
16. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Down 4
17. Harry Maguire (Man United) – Down 9
18. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United) – Down 12
19. Stuart Armstrong (Southampton) – New entry
20. Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal) – Down 7

Key battles: Chelsea v. Bayern; Real Madrid v. Man City

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Two Premier League teams play in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 this week as Chelsea host Bayern Munich and Man City head to Real Madrid in the first legs.

Which battles will determine the outcome of these games?

[ MORE: Predicting the UCL last 16 encounters ]

Below we take a look at three crucial head-to-head clashes which will be pivotal in deciding which teams will reach the quarterfinals.


Chelsea v. Bayern Munich

Antonio Rudiger v. Robert Lewandowski: The former has become a real threat from set pieces for Chelsea but his main role will be to stop the most lethal striker in Europe this season in Lewandowski’s. Bayern’s target man is ageing like a fine French win and has 40 goals to his name in all competitions for club and country. Chelsea’s defense has struggled at times this season and Lewa must be licking his chops in anticipation as he tries to win his first-ever Champions League title.

Jorginho v. Thiago Alcantara: Two pass-masters in central midfield will be a joy to watch. Jorginho has a more defensive role to play with N’Golo Kante out and the Italian will look to deliver perfectly weighted passes to get Chelsea’s attack going. As for Thiago, his vision works really well alongside some of Bayern’s more defensive midfielders and he is so assured in possession. The Spanish international has class on the ball and he and Jorginho are very similar. What a battle this should be.

Reece James v. Alphonso Davies: This is a battle we should all look forward to. Canadian star Davies has been a revelation at left back for Bayern and is encouraged to steam ahead and join in attacks whenever he can. James does exactly the same for Chelsea and has made the position his own in his debut season in the Premier League. These two players will be around at the top level and playing in the Champions League for a very long time and you can expect incisive runs up and down as they go head-to-head.

Real Madrid v. Man City

Casemiro v. Kevin De Bruyne: This will be one heck of a job for Real’s Brazilian destroyer. Of course, Casemiro can play too but his main role will be to shut down Kevin de Bruyne who has been in imperious form for Man City in recent weeks. When KDB is fit and firing on all cylinders he is almost unstoppable and he is a player who continues to be linked with a move to Real this summer amid the uncertainty over Man City’s two-season European ban.

Sergio Ramos v. Sergio Aguero: The master of the dark arts against the master of finishing will be fascinating viewing. The Sergio’s will put on a show and Aguero will fancy his chances of wriggling past Ramos and being the hero. That said, how many times have we written off Ramos in the past? The Real Madrid and Spain skipper seems to always find a way of coming out on top but he will be stretched to his limits as his Real defense try to put out fires all over the place with Aguero, KDB and Raheem Sterling or Gabriel Jesus popping up.

Karim Benzema v. Aymeric Laporte: The latter has been influential since his return from injury and his absence is the main reason Man City are so far behind Liverpool in the Premier League title race. Benzema’s physicality could cause Laporte some issues and like Ramos, he is underrated for a player who has been pivotal in winning four Champions League titles with Real Madrid. Laporte is good on the ball and Benzema’s clever turns and flicks means this battle will be more about brains than brawn.

Lyon-Juventus gets green light despite virus concerns

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LYON, France (AP) French club Lyon says its sold-out Champions League home game against Juventus will go ahead as planned on Wednesday despite the coronavirus outbreak in nearby Italy.

Lyon said in a statement on Tuesday it received the go-ahead from French authorities for the match to take place “in its initial configuration.”

Up to 3,000 Juventus fans coming from different regions of Italy are expected to attend Groupama Stadium for the last-16, first-leg match.

The fast-spreading virus from China has led to the postponement of Serie A games in northern Italy, where a cluster of the COVID-19 disease has caused seven deaths and towns to be locked down.

Health Minister Olivier Veran told RTL radio on Tuesday that France is not considering closing its border with Italy, nor banning big gatherings of people because it would not make sense.

Asked specifically about the Lyon-Juventus match, Veran said: “Should we ban gatherings? Should we stop the (Paris) Fashion Week? Should we stop matches? Should we close universities? The answer is no.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports