Tuesday Champions League preview: Chelsea v. Ajax, Liverpool v. Genk

Champions League draw
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The Champions League group stage is halfway complete, and while the groups are taking shape, there’s still plenty to sort out as teams look for openings through to the knockout stage.

Two Premier League teams are in action – both at home – as Chelsea hosts Ajax at Stamford Bridge while Liverpool gets set to host Genk at Anfield.

[ MORE: Liverpool to rotate squad in Champions League? ]

The Reds will be watched closely as this could be a potential trap game for Liverpool, knowing the massive tilt against Manchester City looms over the weekend. Jurgen Klopp as refused to answer questions about Man City, saying he is “not in the mood” to talk about the weekend’s game knowing they still must traverse the 90 minutes against the Belgian side.

The match is a critical one for Liverpool, who sits second in Group E, a point behind leaders Napoli and three ahead of third-placed Red Bull Salzburg. Dropped points against Genk could see Liverpool placed in a perilous position, especially should Salzburg shock the Italian side in Naples. The Reds have looked vulnerable at times in Europe this season, losing at Napoli for the second straight season while staving off a Salzburg comeback at home in a wild 4-3 win. Klopp may rotate the squad with the Man City game looming, but he will almost surely not take this game for granted.

Napoli, meanwhile, hosts Salzburg in the other Group E fixture, with an opportunity to bounce back from the weekend’s loss to Roma in Serie A play. The Napoli defense, anchored by Kalidou Koulibaly, gave up 17 shots to the home side in the nation’s capital despite a 57% possessional advantage. That defense will now deal with a Red Bull Salzburg side that leads the Austrian Bundesliga table and has scored an astonishing 53 goals in 13 league matches.

Chelsea hosts a quality Ajax side in London with the two teams level on points atop Group H in a game that could put any winner on the brink of qualification should other results go their way. The Blues won the reverse fixture in the Netherlands two weeks ago thanks to a late Michy Batshuayi winner, but Chelsea is in even better form now than they were at that point.

American Christian Pulisic has risen to a contributing role at the club in Premier League play, and therefore could be rested should manager Frank Lampard wish to save him for the domestic match against Crystal Palace over the weekend, potentially giving Calum Hudson-Odoi a chance to shine. Should Pulisic find the field, he could once again match up with international teammate Sergino Dest, who recently committed to the United States long-term. He beat Dest to assist Batshuayi’s winner last time these teams matched up.

A fascinating match in Germany sees Borussia Dortmund host Inter Milan at Westfalenstadion with both teams in good form. Inter has lost just twice all year in all competitions – to Barcelona and Juventus – sitting second in the Serie A table. They also knocked off Dortmund at home in the reverse fixture behind bookend goals from Lautaro Martinez and Antonio Candreva, with the former in incredible form having scored in five of his seven October matches. Dortmund, meanwhile, has lost just once in league play and is on a seven-match unbeaten run, but only three of those produced wins and a poor result to Inter would leave them vulnerable in Group F, currently level with Inter on four points behind leaders Barcelona on seven.

Barcelona welcomes Slavia Prague to the Camp Nou looking to put the Catalan giants on the brink of qualification to the knockout stage. A win plus a Dortmund or Inter victory in Germany would mean the La Liga side’s magic number decreases to just one. The reverse fixture in the Czech Republic saw a 56th minute own-goal prove decisive in a 2-1 Barcelona win, but they were poor on the ball and gave up a whopping 24 shots – nine on target – on the road. A repeat of that performance could see Group F thrown into deepening chaos.

RB Leipzig travels to Zenit St. Petersburg in a matchup of the two top teams in Group G in a critical game for both sides as the group remains logjammed, with just three points separating top from bottom. The trailing two sides Lyon and Benfica meet in France as they both look to pounce on any potential slips of the aforementioned squads leading the pack. Finally, Valencia hosts Lille as the Spanish side hopes to capitalize on any potential Group H loser in London.

Man City vs Man United: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester City vs Manchester United: Erling Haaland is set for his Manchester derby debut when the two-time defending champions host the rapidly improving Red Devils at Etihad Stadium on Sunday (watch live, 9 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE MAN CITY vs MAN UNITED

Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm with an absurd 11 goals scored in his first seven games after (ostensibly) choosing Man City over Man United before leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Six weeks ago, Manchester United had not a single point from their first two games, including a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of tiny Brentford, but Erik ten Hag has since switched tactical course en route to four straight wins, including a 3-1 victory over PL leaders Arsenal last time out, to set up this hugely intriguing showdown on Sunday.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Man City vs Man United

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester City vs Manchester United live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 9 am ET, Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Despite a pair of disappointing draws (Newcastle and Aston Villa), it’s been an unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season for Man City, who still lead the PL in possession (66.4 percent per game) while also becoming an unstoppable offensive force from last season (14 goals in their first seven games) to this season (23). That’s not to say it’s been easy as Manchester City go through a tactical shift of their own to better appeal to the big Norwegian’s poaching abilities. Though they have been forced to grind out results a few times already this season, it’s highlighted a newfound spontaneity for a side that’s been as regimented as any in the world. Will that freedom be what ultimately lands Pep Guardiola his first Champions League trophy since 2011, and perhaps a third straight PL title (and a fifth in six years) to boot?

As for Manchester United, the Ten Hag era has been a wild roller-coaster ride already, short as it’s been. The back-to-back defeats were one thing, but the abject performances were the real cause for discontent. While picking up the four straight victories, the Dutchman has also settled on a midfield setup with Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen operating in (effectively) a double pivot with Bruno Fernandes the most advanced of the three. It has brought defensive stability, of course, but more importantly the change has revealed a deadly counter-attacking side. Each of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Fernandes have scored twice during the winning run, with new boy Antony also getting in on the fun on his debut. With space in behind (and the proper service from deep), Ten Hag might just have his first winning formula (albeit quite unlike him).


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Aymeric Laporte (knee)

Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Harry Maguire (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (thigh), Brandon Williams (undisclosed), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE, Donny van de Beek (knock), Martin Dubravka (knock)

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WATCH: Lionel Messi spins gorgeous free kick goal past Nice’s Schmeichel

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Lionel Messi got the better of Kasper Schmeichel with an outstanding free kick as Paris Saint-Germain outlasted Nice 2-1 on Saturday at the Parc des Princes.

The world’s greatest scorer was fouled to set up a free kick just inside the arc. Nice, of course, got into a wall and former Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel arranged it to his liking.

As he does so many times, however, Messi spun a free kick just over the wall. The ball, which came so close to taking a slight turn off a leaping wall member (actually, did it?), tumbled down and right into the side netting to give PSG a 1-0 lead before the match was a half-hour old.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi scores relentless Groningen goal ]

Gaetan Laborde tied the match before halftime, and Nice’s revamped roster looked set to hold tight for a point (The club’s signed familiar Premier League names Schmeichel, Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsey, and Mario Lemina).

Even that wouldn’t be enough, though, as Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to replace young Hugo Ekitike to finish a Nordi Mukiele assist for a 2-1 win.

PSG has eight wins and a draw this season, good for a two-point lead on second-place Marseille. Messi has five goals and a joint-league-best seven assists, tied with Neymar. Mbappe and Neymar are tied for the league goals lead with eight.

Lionel Messi free kick goal video

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi defies xG with relentless goal (video)

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USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi’s goal while trying to will Groningen back into an eventual 4-1 loss to AZ Alkmaar on Saturday will not be one of the expected variety.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Augsburg, ran onto an audacious long pass from 20-year-old defender Neraysho Kasanwirjo but had plenty of work to do with AZ leading 2-0.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez scores audacious overhead goal ]

Pepi sees one defender fall in a race to the ball, then bodies up AZ’s Sam Beukema a little outside the six-yard box.

Hand-to-hand combat sees both players hit the turf, and Pepi probably could won a penalty.

But the World Cup hopeful spins while on the pitch and snaps a shot past charging AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst to make it 2-1.

Video after the jump.

Ricardo Pepi
fotmob.com

Ricardo Pepi goal video: Fantastic start to Groningen loan

Pepi now has a goal or an assist in his first three Eredivisie outings, not unlike his fantastic start to life in a USMNT shirt.

His goal contributions have taken a dive since his first two USMNT matches — World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Jamaica — and he only has one assist from the following 10 outings in a U.S. shirt.

Still, Pepi is clearly one of Gregg Berhalter’s favorite options for the upcoming World Cup, and his performances will be measured against Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira, and others.

In a tournament where every moment matters, his work for this scrappy finish will be well-noted by the USMNT staff.

Josef Martinez scores vicious overhead kick in Atlanta United loss (video)

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If this is the last goal of Josef Martinez’s (likely) final season with Atlanta United, it will be very appropriate.

So for Martinez, even in a losing effort, to go airborne for an overhead kick that is a simply sensational feat of athleticism and power, well, it just feels right.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan forward joined the Five Stripes in 2017 in what seemed a massive capture for the club at the time and now seems downright gargantuan, but he’s fallen out with current manager Gonzalo Pineda and was even suspended for a match last month.

[ MORE: West Ham beats Wolves | Klopp reacts to latest setback ]

Martinez has nine goals and four assists in an injury-abbreviated 25-game season, giving him 111 goals in 156 appearances for ATL UTD. The former Torino and Young Boys striker is still being capped for Venezuela and would leave with an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup as well as a boatload of individual honors.

Atlanta lost 2-1 to New England on Saturday and returns home for their season finale next weekend versus New York City FC. The Five Stripes won’t make the playoffs unless at least two teams decide not to field teams, so if the NYCFC game doesn’t go well, let’s pretend this one was his final appearance for the club.