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Champions League preview: Bayern visit Anfield; Lyon v. Barcelona

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Liverpool and Bayern Munich are set to battle for 180 minutes beginning on Tuesday, when last season’s UEFA Champions League finalists host the reigning Bundesliga champions at Anfield, and Reds boss Jurgen Klopp is as anxious as anyone to watch the drama unfold.

[ FA CUP: Paul Pogba scores, assists as Man Utd bounce Chelsea (video) ]

“It’s another one of those games I’m really happy to be involved in, and if I wasn’t involved, I would try and buy tickets,” Liverpool’s German manager said this week. “It’s a tough one against a really strong, experienced team, but we are strong as well. Only more stress [facing Bayern], because all the people wanted 600 extra interviews with German news.”

Liverpool will be fully prepared and well drilled after having no game during the most recent FA Cup weekend. By the time the referee’s whistle blows for kickoff at 3 p.m. ET, 10 days will have passed since the Reds thrashed Bournemouth in PL play.

Liverpool will definitely be without the trio of Virgil Van Dijk (suspension), Joe Gomez (leg) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee), while Roberto Firmino (illness), Dejan Lovren (hamstring) and Xherdan Shaqiri (abdominal strain) are questionable to varying degrees. Central midfielder Fabinho could be forced into central defense as a result. On the other side, Niko Kovac’s side will be without the services of Thomas Mueller (suspended), Jerome Boateng (illness), Corentin Tolisso (knee ligaments) and Arjen Robben (thigh). Kingsley Coman (ankle) is expected to be available for selection after picking up an injury over the weekend.

[ FA CUP DRAW: Man City, Man United avoid derby showdown ]

Elsewhere in Europe, runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona will visit Ligue 1’s third-place side, Lyon. Though Lionel Messi and Co., head into Tuesday’s first leg as heavy favorites to reach the quarterfinals, Ernesto Valverde’s side has won just one of its last four games (all competitions).

They have, however, been nearly infallible in Europe competition this season, as they waltzed to the top spot in Group B, finishing a full six points clear of Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. Even Messi has seen his form dip ever so slightly in recent weeks, as the Argentine magician has scored just once in his last three appearances (two starts). Those relative struggles comes on the heels of a nine-game goal streak which saw the 31-year-old score a dozen times. He has been his usually brilliant self this season, and will cause Lyon all kinds of problems from the outset.

Lyon will be without star attacker Nabil Fekir (suspension), which could prove a further crippling blow to their chances.

Lovren, Firmino huge doubts for Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

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Liverpool could be seriously shorthanded for their massive UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern Munich at Anfield on Tuesday.

[ MORE: PL or UCL priority for LFC? ]

Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino did not take part in Liverpool’s final training session before their game against Bayern to give Jurgen Klopp more selection worries.

It has been reported that Firmino has a virus, while Lovren has been struggling with a hamstring problem and was always going to be a last-minute decision for the clash against the German giants.

Fabinho now looks certain to start alongside Joel Matip in central defense for Liverpool on Tuesday, as Virgil Van Dijk is suspended and Joe Gomez is injured.

As for up top, the likes of Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge could be placed in Firmino’s spot but it is likely Xherdan Shaqiri (if he is fully fit) will come into the team and Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane will switch to a central position in the front three.

Either way, not ideal for Liverpool as they have a huge week with this game against Bayern followed by a massive Premier League game at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday.

In terms of Bayern’s injury news, Kingsley Coman has recovered from a knock in Friday’s win at Augsburg but Jerome Boateng is out through illness. Arjen Robben is recovering from injury and did not travel with the squad, while Franck Ribery will arrive in Liverpool separate from the team after becoming a father late on Sunday.

Premier League or UCL more important for Liverpool?

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Jurgen Klopp has admitted that Liverpool’s fans care more about winning the Premier League than the UEFA Champions League this season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Ahead of Liverpool’s UCL last 16 first leg tie against Bayern Munich on Anfield on Tuesday, Klopp spoke to the media and was asked if they are prioritizing either of the two competitions they are left in.

“It’s difficult for me to answer the question but for all Liverpool fans it’s the Premier League. That’s clear,” Klopp said. “But for now it’s the Champions League and we have to do our best tomorrow. Thank God we don’t have to decide that right now.”

The more cliched response came from Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson, who was sat alongside Klopp in the press conference.

“If we had to choose? We’d choose both. It’s not about favouring one competition. We’ve got a good enough squad to challenge in more than one,” Henderson said.

Shoot for the stars, Hendo…

It is an intriguing situation for Klopp and Liverpool to ponder heading into the crucial final months of the season. Liverpool have won five European Cups and have reached the final three times in the last 14 years, last winning the tournament in 2005. That is more than a decent record in the UCL.

As for league, well, I think we all know Liverpool last won the Premier League title 29 years ago and despite sitting second behind Manchester City in the table only on goal difference, Klopp’s men have their game in hand this Sunday at Man United.

Klopp’s team selection on Tuesday will go a long way to showing us exactly which competition is more important to him and team this season.

In terms of team news for the visit of Bayern, Klopp revealed that Dejan Lovren will be given the chance to play right up until it is possible he can return from injury. That is key as Virgil Van Dijk will miss Tuesday’s clash through suspension and Joe Gomez is out injured. If Lovren isn’t fit, Fabinho is likely to feature alongside Joel Matip in central defense.

Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to Liverpool training

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The long road to recovery is almost over for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

That sentence will be music to the ears of Liverpool fans.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, 25, suffered a serious knee injury in the UEFA Champions League semifinal win against Roma last April and has been out for almost 10 months.

But the Reds revealed that the Ox took part in the first part of a team training session on Tuesday during their warm weather training camp in Marbella, Spain.

Jurgen Klopp confirmed that Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rhian Brewster, Ben Woodburn and Nat Phillips all took part in the session but James Milner, Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum did not take part.

Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez remained back in Liverpool with the former a big doubt for the upcoming game against Bayern Munich with a hamstring injury. That is not great news with Virgil Van Dijk suspended for the first leg versus Bayern on Feb. 19 at Anfield, thus meaning Joel Matip is Klopp’s only fit center back right now.

“The boys had to do a bit of core work, passing and the rondos and it’s nice [they could be involved],” Klopp said. “These things Ox can do, and Rhian can do, and Ben can do and Nat Phillips could do most of them. That’s all good. This afternoon they will have to do their own stuff again and hopefully we can integrate them step by step.”

The initial timeline for Ox’s return stated that he would miss the entire 2018-19 campaign. However, if he can return for the final few games of this campaign it would provide Liverpool with a huge boost in their battle for the title and a deep run in the UEFA Champions League.

The photo gallery below is well worth a flick through, as Klopp’s side went on a bike ride and the German coach looks to be lifting the spirits as his side have slipped off of top spot in recent weeks.

With Bayern and Manchester United in their next two games, Liverpool know a pivotal moment has arrived in their season.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool v. Bournemouth

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  • Liverpool is on a club-record 33-game home unbeaten run
  • 2 goals for Salah in the next 4 games would make him the quickest to 50 PL goals
  • Bournemouth has lost 7 PL away games in a row

With four points dropped over their last two Premier League matches and Manchester City capitalizing, all eyes will be on Liverpool on Saturday as they host Bournemouth at 10:00 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

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With a win over Everton on Wednesday, Man City took over the top spot in the Premier League on goal differential, but Liverpool can wrestle back the lead with any result this weekend. Still, fans will be looking for all three points in the hopes of keeping City and Tottenham at arms length.

Mohamed Salah in particular will be watched intently, with the Egyptian on a nine-goal burst over an eight-match span before Liverpool’s two game skid, in which he has not found the back of the net. Salah has not gone three league matches without a goal in his entire Liverpool career, and you have to track all the way back to his Roma career to find his last three-match stretch of league play without a goal, spanning the turn of the 2015/16 calendar year, a spell that was interrupted by both injury and international duty.

On the flip side, Salah can write Premier League history if he gets back on the scoresheet. Salah needs just two goals in his next four matches to become the quickest player to 50 goals with one club in Premier League history, topping Alan Shearer’s 66 games. He currently stands on 48 goals in 61 matches.

Liverpool has dealt with injuries aplenty over the last month, but they could return a core of players that have missed significant time. Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Trent Alexander-Arnold have all returned to training and are in contention to play on Saturday. Dejan Lovren, however, is not healed yet from his hamstring injury, while Joe Gomez is still missing with his broken leg, unsure of his return.

For Bournemouth, Callum Wilson and David Brooks are still missing with injuries, leaving 17 goals this season on the sidelines. Still, the Cherries are playing for European positioning in the Premier League table and could be motivated by the chance to jump as high as eighth with a win.

What they’re saying

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on the title race: “It’s getting exciting now. The only chance to improve our position, even though it is a good position, is by winning football games. I know that with each fibre of our bodies we will be ready to fight for everything. The only thing I want to say after the season is we gave our everything.”

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe on a potential season-defining win: “In the Premier League every game when we first came into the league was a case of rewriting history and proving we could do things for the first time. I think we tend to look at these things as a nice thing to do, to try and write new history for the club all the time.”

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Prediction

Too much is on the line for Liverpool, at home, against a banged up offense and a porous defense on poor away form. It would be against all notions to pick against Liverpool in this match, and the Reds will come home with a convincing 3-0 win to put fans at ease before a key run of matches against Bayern Munich and Manchester United. Anything less than all three points in this match will instill serious doubt into their title chase.