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Messi back to his best ahead of games against Real Madrid

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MADRID (AP) With consecutive matches coming up against Barcelona, Real Madrid got a glimpse of a Lionel Messi that it would rather not see again this week.

After a series of lackluster performances, Messi had a stellar game against Sevilla in the Spanish league, scoring a hat trick and erasing any doubts about his form.

Messi regained his scoring touch just before the two decisive matches against Real Madrid – in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday and in the Spanish league on Saturday, both at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.

“When everything flows, things go well for us,” Messi said after the 4-2 win in Seville on Saturday, when he also set up a goal. “We were back to playing like we know how.”

Messi had struggled recently and had not performed up to his standards since getting injured at the beginning of the month. His right leg injury kept him from playing in the first leg against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey three weeks ago, when Barcelona was held to a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou.

The Catalan club went through a slump while Messi underperformed, winning only one of five matches and losing momentum ahead of the two matches this week. But with one of the best games of his career against Sevilla, Messi quickly put Barcelona back on track.

“We are just a small step away from another final,” Messi said. “It’s a match that is going to be very hard, against Real Madrid, at their stadium. But we are confident that we can go there and win it. Then we will start thinking about the league again. We are going to try to win everything.”

Real Madrid, on the other hand, is far from where it wants to be heading into the two games against its biggest rival.

Despite the advantage of having scored the away goal in the first leg, Madrid has not played well recently. It is coming off a demoralizing home loss to relegation-threatened Girona last weekend, and it struggled in a 2-1 win at Levante on Sunday, when it scored from two controversial penalty kicks.

Real Madrid had been in high spirits ahead of the first leg of the Copa del Rey, carrying a five-game winning streak in all competitions. It was gradually cutting into Barcelona’s lead in the league, but it will be nine points behind when the teams meet on Saturday. It also trails second-place Atletico Madrid by two points, and anything but victory in the league match will practically end the team’s title hopes.

Madrid players downplayed the team’s recent form and said they were fully prepared, even to face Messi at his best.

“We are ready for everything,” Madrid forward Vinicius Junior said. “Messi is an incredible player who does things that nobody else can do. But we are not afraid of him. Even though he is a great player, we have the best players in the world in our squad. We are excited to have these two `clasicos’ this week.”

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

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Season over: Hudson-Odoi suffers suspected achillies tear

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One incident on Monday showed why some players are so desperate to change clubs when given the chance. They may never get it again.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Callum Hudson-Odoi said on his Instagram post Monday evening that he had suffered a ruptured achillies tendon. If confirmed by the club, it’s usually a nine-month recovery process, with some players needing a full year to return to full fitness. Considering the timing of this, towards the end of the season, it means that Hudson-Odoi may miss an entire season of top-flight soccer, as well as possibly miss out on a chance to move to Bayern Munich this summer.

The injury is a huge blow to the 18-year-old, who had forced his way into the Chelsea side after strong performances in the UEFA Europa League, and now he’s making regular Premier League starts at the tender age of 18. Hudson-Odoi had started four-straight Premier League games including Monday, but now he faces a long layoff.

In Hudson-Odoi’s favor is his youth. While it can be a career-ending injury, hopefully Hudson-Odoi could retain his electric pace once he recovers and can return to the starting lineup for Chelsea.

But it’s a big disappointment to the young Englishman, who surely would have played for England youth national teams this summer and could have potentially made a big-money move abroad.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Four midweek Premier League games will be pivotal in shaping the title race, top four battle, race for seventh and the relegation picture.

Tuesday and Wednesday will be a lot of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Tottenham 3-1 Brighton – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 3-1 Southampton – (Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Man United 1-2 Man City – (Wednesday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Wolves 2-1 Arsenal – (Wednesday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Relevant Sports sues USSF over proposed Ecuador match in Florida

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NEW YORK (AP) A promoter has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, asking a court to order the governing body to sanction an Ecuador league match in Florida.

Relevent Sports filed suit Monday in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging the USSF illegally refused to approve its application to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens.

The lawsuit quotes USSF policy as stating the governing body’s secretary general “shall grant such sanction unless it is decided by clear and convincing evidence that holding or sponsoring the international soccer competition would be detrimental to the best interest of the sport.”

The USSF did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Relevent attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Midweek Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Four Premier League games are coming your way, and all four have huge implications in the title race, top four battle, race for seventh place and the scrap against relegation.

Bring it on.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

The full TV schedule for the midweek games are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the next few days.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Tuesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Brighton – NBCSN [STREAM]
2:45 p.m. ET: Watford v. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Wednesday
2:45 p.m. ET: Wolves v. Arsenal – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
3 p.m. ET: Man United v. Man City – NBCSN [STREAM]