Serge Aurier

Associated Press

UCL Live: Spurs meets Ajax in fascinating semifinal first leg

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For the first Champions League match held in the new stadium, the win over Manchester City was something to savor. It was hyped up, it was loud, and Spurs won a famous victory.

For the second match held in the new stadium, the stakes are even higher.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Tottenham vies for its first-ever place in the Champions League final as it begins a two-leg adventure against Dutch side Ajax in London. Both sides are as battle tested as they come, with Ajax having downed Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus plus defending champions Real Madrid, and Spurs knocking off Premier League powerhouse Manchester City.

While Ajax is on a dream run featuring young future stars like Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, Tottenham comes into this match as potential underdogs thanks to the brutal list of unavailable players. With Harry Kane likely done for most – if not all – of the season, behind him in-form striker Heung-Min Son is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, leaving Fernando Llorente up front. Dele Alli is fit to start in midfield, while Moussa Sissoko only returns from his groin injury with a place on the bench. A banged up Jan Vertonghen recovers enough for a spot in the starting lineup, while Erik Lamela does not appear in the squad while still recovering from his hamstring injury. Harry Winks and Serge Aurier also miss out with fitness problems.

Mauricio Pochettino opts for a three-CB system with Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld, and Vertonghen all in the lineup, utilizing Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier as wing-backs to provide superior width against an Ajax side whose one weakness has been the performance of their full-backs. Look for Alli and Lucas Moura to press the Ajax midfielders hard to win the ball back.

LINEUPS

Tottenham: Lloris; Sanchez, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Trippier, Wanyama, Alli, Rose; Eriksen; Moura, Llorente.
Bench: Gazzaniga, Dier, Walker-Peters, Sissoko, Foyth, Davies, Skipp.

Ajax: Onana; Veltman, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; Schone, De Jong, van de Beek; Ziyech, Tadic, Neres.
Bench: Varela, Sinkgraven, Huntelaar, Mazraoui, Magallan, Dolberg, de Wit.

Man United announces Bailly out for season, AFCON with knee injury

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Manchester United confirmed Monday that defender Eric Bailly will miss the final two games of the season and the Africa Cup of Nations this summer with a knee injury he suffered during Sunday’s match against Chelsea.

The injury, however, could have been much worse.

Bailly looked in serious pain as he clutched his knee after an awkward and crunching collision with Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic. After lengthy treatment which brought the stretcher out, Bailly hobbled off with the assistance of two trainers, refusing the stretcher and instead hopping on one foot all the way down the tunnel.

The scenes Sunday was cause for serious concern, but those were somewhat relieved with Manchester United’s announcement that Bailly suffered MCL damage, not the ACL that was feared. Bailly will miss the final two games of the season but should – according to typical MCL recovery time of around six weeks – be ready for preseason this summer.

“He will need a scan, but I don’t think it is the worst knee injury you can have,” Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the Chelsea match before the extent of the injury was fully confirmed. “He will be out for the rest of the season. But he is a warrior, he played well today, it was just unfortunate that he had to come off.”

Bailly will be a big miss not only for Manchester United as it fights for a Champions League place with remaining matches against Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, but also for the Ivory Coast at this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations. The country has been drawn into a group with Morocco, South Africa, and Namibia and will be without the 32-cap defender for the whole tournament. Tottenham defender Serge Aurier is also injured, picking up a hamstring injury when last on duty for the Ivory Coast, but should return in time for this summer’s tournament.

Preview: Tottenham v. West Ham

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  • Spurs have 4-straight wins at new stadium, with 0 conceded 
  • West Ham have 1 point from last 8 away games
  • Injuries piling up for Tottenham

Tottenham host West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men aim to take another huge stride towards a top four finish with a big win in a London derby.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

With their massive UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Ajax coming up on Tuesday, Pochettino could well rest a few of his key players considering the swathe of injuries Spurs have suffered in recent weeks. And given they now have a four point cushion to Arsenal and Man United outside of the top four, Spurs have a little more breathing room than they did a few weeks ago.

As for West Ham, this season has been all about transition for Manuel Pellegrini with the Chilean boss guiding them to a steady midtable finish although the Hammers will be wondering ‘what if’ as seventh place seemed well within their grasps this season.

In team news Spurs are without Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Erik Lamela, Moussa Sissoko and Serge Aurier, but Danny Rose and Dele Alli could return.

West Ham will be without Samir Nasri again and Jack Wilshere is likely to be on the bench, while Javier Hernandez, Manuel Lanzini and Aaron Cresswell are all being looked at ahead of the game as they recover from recent knocks.


What they’re saying…

Pochettino on Ajax having their league game moved for more rest ahead of the UCL semifinal: “I know the Premier League and FA helped us prepare for the semi-final but it’s true, the Premier League is completely different to the Dutch league. Football in Europe is completely different to England. The reality is they are going to have more time to prepare and avoid risk. When you play Saturday and Tuesday, and the game on Saturday is a derby, playing for big things, the concentration and effort is massive. You can have some problems.”

Pellegrini on how West Ham can reach the next level: “First it’s a big game because it’s a derby, of course. You have that motivation also. After that you must try to play well, as a big team, as a consistent team. Maybe you play away a little bit less attacking and have more players defending and you don’t have the mentality to believe you can win, maybe you have more draws. But it’s better to have just one mentality against every team, the way we played against Manchester United, and now I hope we repeat that against Tottenham, thinking as a big team and playing as a big team.”

Prediction

Spurs’ injuries are mounting up and although West Ham have made it tough for their London rivals in recent seasons, it’s tough to see them getting anything out of this. This should be an open, entertaining game and I think Tottenham will just edge it. 3-2 to Spurs.

Preview: Man City v. Tottenham

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  • Man City go top with a win
  • Spurs sit in third
  • VAR drama in UCL quarterfinal second leg

“More of the same please, lads.”

That will be the message from neutrals everywhere as Manchester City host Tottenham on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), less than 72 hours after Spurs got past City at the Etihad Stadium in one of the most dramatic games in UEFA Champions League history.

VAR drama on both Fernando Llorente’s goal which sent Spurs through to the Champions League semifinals and a late strike for Raheem Sterling which seemed to have rescued City caused chaos, but we won’t have VAR this weekend. Next season is a difference case.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Pep Guardiola‘s Man City must pick themselves up and now focus on winning their final five games of the season to win the Premier League title, while Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino need to win to keep their hopes of finishing in the top four alive. That said, Spurs may rest several first team players with their injury-hit squad creaking and the north London side focused on being ready for their UCL semifinals against Ajax coming up.

In team news City could have Fernandinho back, while Zinchenko will be assessed. Spurs are without Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Serge Aurier and youngsters Juan Foyth, Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters could all play with injuries hitting Pochettino’s side hard.

What they’re saying…

Guardiola philosophical on late winner denied by VAR v. Tottenham: “VAR appeared to help try and cut out mistakes. The referees can take time, seconds, minutes to see the images and different angles. If we make a lot of mistakes with VAR then I wouldn’t agree with it. We have to take one minute, two minutes, five minutes, until the right decision is made. But I support it, from the first time and well before. If the goal from Raheem in the last minute, which was offside, ends up being a goal and Tottenham go out because of one offside, is not right. It’s so tough on them and I don’t like that.”

Pochettino on Spurs making the UCL semifinals: “This is a massive example for us – how important it is never to give up, to always have faith and believe in yourself, your teammates, the club, the fans. All our decisions we take are to help the club and this amazing history we are writing today will be a massive example for us in the future.”

Prediction

City will be determined to put Wednesday right, and even though their dreams of a quadruple are over, they can still win the domestic treble. Spurs will be emotionally exhausted after the 4-3 defeat at City which sealed their path through to the Champions League semifinals on away goals, and City have a bigger squad which they can rotate. 3-1 win to Man City.

Pochettino tabs Champions League game vs. Man City as biggest of his life

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Mauricio Pochettino has taken charge of 22 Champions League matches in his career against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, and Inter Milan.

According to the man himself, none stack up to this week’s meeting with fellow Premier League giants Manchester City in the quarterfinals.

When asked if Tuesday’s game should be billed as the biggest of his life, Pochettino responded affirmatively. “Yes, as a coach. Yes. This is going to be one of the most important games.”

Pochettino then looked to try and downplay the significance of the match, saying Spurs had already reached their goals for the Champions League this season, claiming the rest is icing on the cake. “For us, it is a bonus to play in the quarter-finals. We are going to try to beat them. The [current] objective is to be in the semi-finals but it is going to be tough because Manchester City are a very good team and we respect them.”

The Argentinian hoped that the game brings out the best of the new stadium, and that while the full debut of the venue has passed, the honeymoon phase continues in full force. “We want to start tomorrow being very aggressive and try to dominate,” Pochettino said. “We have had time to prepare for the game. It is our second game in our new stadium and the first in the Champions League so we hope the atmosphere is amazing and tough for our opponent.”

Pochettino conceded that Manchester City has the deeper and more talented squad, especially given City’s return to health with Sergio Aguero, Benjamin Mendy, and Kyle Walker all expected to be fit for the match. “We must match their desire. The thing we cannot match is when we talk about talent but it going to be 11 versus 11 and I hope my team is going to be better than them.”

Amid City’s squad strengthening, Spurs is still missing a number of key players. Eric Dier, forward Erik Lamela, and Serge Aurier are all expected to miss the match through various injuries.