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UCL Preview: An American at Anfield, Chelsea in France

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American manager Jesse Marsch leads Red Bull Salzburg into Anfield on Tuesday for a UEFA Champions League clash with Liverpool, and he understands well that the building his team is walking into is half-cauldron, half-cathedral.

In fact, both managers are making Anfield a character in the story of Tuesday’s 3 p.m. ET kickoff.

[ MORE: Tuesday UCL wrap ]

“Anfield is a special stadium,” Marsch said. “Today we had the opportunity to get used to the dimensions and the myth. Tomorrow, the atmosphere is added. We will absorb all that.”

Marsch admitted that there will be temptations to lose focus for his young team, but stressed that if his club sticks with “our strengths and not let ourselves be scared, then we are dangerous.”

Salzburg, of course, is the former club of Liverpool star Sadio Mane, and the Senegalese winger admits that he still follows the Austrian side closely.

And Jurgen Klopp said that Salzburg’s next up-and-coming attacker, Erling Braut Haland, is just one more reason to be wary of the visitors.

“He is young, hungry, fast and direct,” Klopp said of Haland. “He is very dangerous. Nonetheless, it is our job to make Salzburg feel that they are here on Anfield.”

There are other Americans in action in the UCL, though Lille’s Timothy Weah will miss a chance to match up with Christian Pulisic and Chelsea on Tuesday.

That’s if Pulisic plays in France, where Frank Lampard will be laser-focused on a result after Ross Barkley‘s missed penalty helped doom Chelsea in the opener.

Barkley’s been in the news for other reasons this week, having reportedly been escorted to an ATM by police after refusing to pay a taxi driver following an incident with french fries in the back of a vehicle.

“The lads were given a day off on Sunday. He hasn’t committed a crime other than eating chips in the back of a cab, which is probably a bit out of order for the cabbie, but on a serious note what he has done from my point of view is be naive to be out on that evening in the buildup to a Champions League game.”

Sounds like Barkley’s going to get some leeway from his boss, who will need an improved showing out of the former Everton man if he wants to collect points in France.

In Spain, there will be a huge clash between Antonio Conte‘s well-running Inter Milan and a challenged Barcelona who is facing turmoil on-and-off the pitch but did pick up a much-needed win over the weekend.

Finally, there’s one more American likely to make a UCL appearance on Wednesday, though the bigger story here will be whether Ajax’s Sergino Dest is named in Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT squad.

Dest, 18, only made a substitute’s appearance against Groningen at the weekend and is a likely starter at Valencia. The right back played left back for Berhalter during the last international break, but expressed hesitance to commit to the USMNT when the Netherlands could come knocking. If he accepts a call-up for the CONCACAF Nations League games next week, he could be cap-tied to the USMNT for life.

UCL on Wednesday

12:55 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Borussia Dortmund
Genk v. Napoli

3 p.m. ET
Liverpool v. Red Bull Salzburg
Lille v. Chelsea
Zenit Saint-Petersburg v. Benfica
Valencia v. Ajax
Barcelona v. Inter Milan
RB Leipzig v. Lyon

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

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

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

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

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

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

The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.