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UCL preview: Messi back for Barcelona v. Dortmund, Liverpool visits Napoli

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The Champions League group stage is back. So is Lionel Messi.

Tuesday kicks off the 2019/20 Champions League in earnest, with a litany of powerhouse matchups dotting the landscape. Most notably, Barcelona’s five-time Ballon d’Or winner is in the squad for the trip to the Rhur valley to take on Borussia Dortmund, potentially set for his first appearance of the season after missing Barcelona’s first four matches of the season with a calf injury.

[ PST writers predict the CL group stage ]

Those two teams are both roaring back from disappointing league losses, and come into this match in good attacking form. Barcelona fell to Athletic Bilbao on the opening weekend of the La Liga season, but is unbeaten in their last three with 12 goals in those three games. Dortmund, meanwhile, fell to Union Berlin at the end of August but crushed third-tier Ergenie Cottbus in cup action before blowing out fellow Champions League participants Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 this past weekend. 19-year-old Jadon Sancho provided two assists in that most recent game and will get his first crack at the La Liga giants.

Defending champions Liverpool are on the road at Napoli, with the Italians having integrated Hirving “Chucky” Lozano into the squad. The Mexican international got his first start against Sampdoria over the weekend in a 2-0 win, playing 65 minutes. The Reds fell in this same fixture last season en route to the title, losing 1-0 at San Paolo Stadium in one of their worst performances of the season. This time around they are top of the Premier League through five matches – all wins – but will be without Divock Origi, Alisson, and Naby Keita through injury while Andy Robertson is a game-time decision.

[ Villa, West Ham meet in scoreless draw ]

Chelsea hosts Spanish side Valencia in an absolutely wide-open and loaded Group H that features four quality sides, meaning every game will be a significant challenge. The Blues’ defense has been quite poor so far this season, and will again be without Antonio Rudiger thanks to a groin problem picked up after just making his return over the weekend from knee surgery. Chelsea has never lost to Valencia in six European meetings, their joint-most games without losing against any European opponent.

On the other end of that brutal Group H, new-look Ajax hosts French side Lille. The visitors finished second in Ligue 1 last season and have three wins in their first five this campaign, proceeding without Nicolas Pepe after his sale to Arsenal this summer. Ajax has also lost highly valued young talent, with Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt having left for greener pastures, although they have thus maintained an unbeaten record this season, earning a berth in the group stage while proceeding through two qualifying stages.

Benfica hosts RB Leipzig in another brutal group, Group G that also features Zenit St. Petersburg and Lyon who match up in France. Leipzig leads the Bundesliga with an unbeaten first four matches, including a draw against defending champions Bayern Munich. Striker Timo Werner has a fabulous five goal haul through RB Leipzig’s first four league matches including a hat-trick against Borussia Monchengladbach. Benfica has also started its league campaign well with four wins in five, a solid sign after the loss of young star Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid.

FC Salzburg takes on Genk in Austria, with Salzburg boss Jesse Marsch set to become the first American head coach of a Champions League side. He has quite the home record to protect, with the Austrian side unbeaten in 18 European home matches.


Tuesday Champions League matches:

Inter v. Slavia Prague (12:55pm ET)
Lyon v. Zenit St. Petersburg

Ajax v. Lille (3:00pm ET)
Benfica v. RB Leipzig
Borussia Dortmund v. Barcelona
Chelsea v. Valencia
FC Salzburg v. Racing Genk
Napoli v. Liverpool

Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed

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A list of possible new strikers for Manchester United has been revealed and it includes players you probably weren’t expecting to suit up for the Red Devils.

According to our partners Sky Sports in the UK, forwards Odion Ighalo and Islam Slimani are possible loan options for United this month.

With Marcus Rashford out injured until March, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to bolster his forward line with only Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood as center forwards.

But Ighalo and Slimani I hear you cry…

Well, in short, both are available and both would obviously be very willing to move to Man United on a short-term basis to put themselves in the shop window for either a permanent move or to give themselves another crack at the Premier League for next season.

Ighalo, 30, is currently playing for Shanghai Shenhua in China and the forward Watford forward has been pushing for a move back to England for some time. It seems that the Nigerian international (who scored 39 goals in 99 appearances for the Hornets in two-and-a-half seasons from 2014) is linked with a PL move each and every window.

As for Slimani, 31, the Algerian striker cost Leicester City $35 million in 2016 but has been out on loan to Newcastle, Fenerbache and most recently Monaco as things just haven’t worked out for him with the Foxes. Slimani has been playing well in France so far this season, scoring seven goals in 13 Ligue 1 games for Monaco, and like Ighalo he is a target man who can hold the ball up and bring others into play. That would be perfect for United’s fast wingers and both men would be good short-term loan options.

With other forwards such as Edinson Cavani, Fernando Llorente and even Carlos Tevez mentioned as short term options, the deals for Ighalo and Slimani seem more realistic if not slightly uninspiring. With the move for Bruno Fernandes stalling as United are $14 million off Sporting Lisbon’s asking price plus youngster Jude Bellingham a target but one for the future, their attack needs immediate help to try and stay in the top four hunt in the final months of the season.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and Solskjaer has revealed United are pushing hard to complete one or two deals before the January transfer window shuts next Friday, Jan. 31.

Nobody would have speculated that Slimani and/or Ighalo would be the deals United are trying to make happen.

Chelsea issue update on Abraham injury, striker search

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Chelsea boss Frank Lampard has issued an update on Tammy Abraham‘s ankle injury and has also been talking about their search for a new striker.

Lampard isn’t shy when it comes to admitting the Blues need help up front as he’s already lavished praise on Edinson Cavani this month and given the uncertainty around Abraham’s injury, he looks set to dip into the market in the final days of the January window.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Hull City in the FA Cup, Lampard gave this update on the knock Abraham suffered in the closing stages of their wild 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Tuesday.

“The good news is that he hasn’t fractured anything, we were worried about a hairline fracture,” Lampard said.  “The other news is we will have to see how he develops. It’s not clear cut,” Lampard said. “He’s not fit for the weekend, whether he’ll be fit for Leicester we’re still not sure. It’s not clear at the moment.”

In short, they aren’t sure how long Abraham will be out for and that is concerning as he’s been their main man up top all season long.

Lampard was perhaps more candid than he has ever been when discussing Chelsea’s ongoing hunt to find some help for Abraham, who has

“I think the impetus to bring in a striker or a player to get on the end of chances is there and we have to be honest about that,” Lampard added. “Recent games have shown that if we are creating chances that’s one problem, but if you’re creating 20 chances a game then it can be crucial. It doesn’t absolutely change [the situation], but with Tammy being our main source of goals it’s very relevant. I think there is choice. It is not the ideal window. I think history has proved that though there have been good acquisitions in the short term and long term. It is about getting it right. The club know my thoughts on it.”

When it comes to strikers leaving Chelsea, both Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi have been linked with moves away from Chelsea in the final week of the window and Lampard admitted Giroud, 33, could leave as Inter Milan circle.

“With Olivier, we are still in the same position. We will keep contact with other clubs and if and when that’s agreed then we will let you know. So he’s still our player on those terms,” Lampard said.

Unless Chelsea bring in a new striker it would be wild for them to let one of Giroud or Batshuayi leave with the severity of Abraham’s injury not clear.

Even if Abraham does return soon, he needs help as his goals have dried up. The Chelsea academy product was on fire at the start of the season, scoring 10 of his 14 Premier League goals by the start of November. He also scored his first England goal in November but has hit a bit of a barren spell with three goals in his last 10 appearances in all competitions. The chances have been created but Abraham just hasn’t been putting them away like he was earlier in the season.

An experienced striker like Cavani or someone else is a must and they can help ease the burden on Abraham who is now set for a spell on the sidelines. Fourth-place Chelsea have a six-point gap to Man United in fifth and if they want to keep their Champions League qualification hopes on track they need a new striker to arrive in the final week of the window.

New Premier League schedule for March announced

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The Premier League have announced their new schedule for March as date and times have been switched for certain games.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Some of the matches changed to new windows include the Manchester Derby on Mar. 8, a potentially huge clash in the top four battle between Tottenham and Man United on Mar. 15 and what could be a very special Merseyside Derby (for Liverpool, anyway) as the Reds travel to Everton on Mar. 16 with the title surely in reach by that point.

Chelsea v. Man City on Mar. 21 is also a very tasty looking clash as there are a smattering of local derbies and intriguing clashes in the battle for Europe which have also been switched to new dates.

Below is the new schedule for March in full and remember, due to Daylight Savings kicking in there will be just four hours time difference between ET and GMT for a few weeks in March.

That means extra time in bed on weekend mornings and that, above all else, is the gift dedicated Premier League fans across the USA truly deserve.


Saturday 7 March 2020
7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Bournemouth
12:30 p.m. ET: Burnley v. Tottenham

Sunday 8 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Everton
12:30 p.m. ET: Man United v. Man City

Monday 9 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Leicester v. Aston Villa

Saturday 14 March 2020
8:30 a.m. ET: Watford v. Leicester
1:30 p.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Chelsea

Sunday 15 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Wolves
12:30 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. Man United

Monday 16 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Everton v. Liverpool

Friday 20 March 2020
4 p.m. ET: Tottenham v. West Ham*

Saturday 21 March 2020
8:30 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Man City*
1:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace*

Sunday 22 March 2020
10 a.m. ET: Leicester v. Brighton*
12:30 p.m. ET: Southampton v. Arsenal*

*Matches subject to FA Cup participation

Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given an update on potential transfers at Manchester United and he’s also used a very bizarre analogy about a house roof to sum up their current struggles following their defeat at home to Burnley.

You be you, Ole.

Ahead of their FA Cup fourth round trip to Tranmere Rovers on Sunday (upset alert!), Solskjaer was asked about potential arrivals and current injuries during the January transfer window.

“It is stretched but we’re getting players back after the break as well. We will be better off for the break. We’re still working on one or two things so let’s see if the club get it over the line,” Solskjaer said.

With a deal for Bruno Fernandes seemingly off as United are $14 million short of Sporting Lisbon’s asking price, they’ve been linked with moves for the likes of Jude Bellingham, Edinson Cavani and Carlos Tevez who are at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of their experience.

United’s manager seems to be keen to stay on track with the process and isn’t feeling the pressure of being six points off the top four.

“For me we do have a way of doing things,” Solskjaer said about United’s plan to sign young players and stay patient. “Of course you can see other teams have done well. You can see Jurgen [Klopp] has spent four years building his team and they’re doing well now, so of course I’ve said it so many times, it’s not going to be a quick fix. It’s not going to be eight players in, or 10 players in, in one transfer window. We’ve had one transfer window, a proper one, in the summer, because Januarys are difficult, but we are still trying to do something now.”

Solskjaer then came out with this gem when asked about the pressure building after United’s recent defeats and try to fight off negative vibes from fans and pundits.

“I think our fans know what we have started on. I’ve been trusted to do that job and that rebuild doesn’t go one way all the time. We’re doing great, I’ve said it so many times,” Solskjaer said. “The foundation has to be laid and the culture properly set and laid down and this group is a good core of players that believe in what we’re doing to carry us forward, with signings and players coming back. You need to knock the house down, you don’t just start with the roof. We’ve had some rainy days and wish that roof was on but we can’t hide.”

Time for Ole to get his hard hat on and start hammering the roof shut on what is a very expensive but dilapidated house.

To continue with this analogy, United have laid some of the foundations with the signings of Maguire, Wan-Bissaka and James while promoting the likes of Williams and Greenwood too, but they seem to have hit a snag when completing the foundations.

Instead of finding an ancient burial ground under their house which takes time to excavate properly they have been hit by a lack of balance and cover in certain positions (center forward and central midfield). That will take time to rectify and Solskjaer knows this is a slow build, something executive vice chairman Ed Woodward keeps saying after they’ve thrown so much money at expensive signings under several different managers.

How long will United’s fans and everyone connected with the club wait until this house is firmly built and is looking shiny and stable? That is the $600 million (and probably more) question as their long and muddled squad rebuild continues, hitting plenty of delays and repairs along the way.