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Champions League preview: Man City visit Schalke; Atleti v. Juve

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Manchester City’s quest for European glory resumes on Wednesday, when the reigning Premier League champions travel to Gelsenkirchen, Germany, to take on a struggling Schalke side in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Liverpool blunted by Bayern, and vice versa, in first-leg draw ]

Schalke sit 14th in the Bundesliga with barely a point per game (23 from 22 games) nearly two-thirds of the way through a disastrous league season. Manager Domenico Tedesco’s position will surely come under consideration this summer, though he could do himself a massive favor by knocking off a heavy favorite to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

Man City come into the first leg in fine form, having won 12 of their last 13 games (all competitions) after their season nearly went up in smoke back in December. Sergio Aguero’s red-hot finishing touch has been at the center of recent successes, with the Argentine scoring in five of his last six appearances (nine games during that time, including a pair of hat tricks). City will, however, be without the services of three key figures: left back Benjamin Mendy (knee), forward Gabriel Jesus (hamstring) and center back John Stones (groin); meanwhile, Vincent Kompany (muscular strain) has been passed fit and made the trip to Germany.

[ MORE: Lyon strong at home, hold Barcelona to 0-0 draw (video) ]

All Atletico Madrid have to do to compete in this season’s final at their brand new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the Spanish capital is run through three home-and-away ties over the next three months, beginning with seven-time reigning Serie A champions Juventus. To further complicate matters, the Bianconeri are now led by Atleti’s old nemesis, Cristiano Ronaldo, from his days at Real Madrid. On the plus side, Atleti haven’t lost a home knockout game in 22 years, so they’ll almost certainly head to Turin with a puncher’s chance of sneaking through.

Massimiliano Allegri and Juve, on the other hand, intend to leave little to chance in the second leg on March 12.

Our team is growing physically, mentally and technically and we have to keep going as we enter the most important stage of the season,” the Juve boss said this week. “We have to be focused, knowing that we face a compact team that make the most of set pieces, and who in recent years have achieved a lot of good results in Europe. I wouldn’t take a draw now — I said to the lads that it’s important to score goals.”

PL Sunday Preview: Man City hosts Chelsea in high-profile matchup

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There’s plenty on the line in Sunday’s high-profile matchup between Manchester City and Chelsea. Meanwhile, in the first match of the morning, surging Tottenham takes on Leicester City side that is winless in its last five.

[READ: Liverpool back on track with win over Bournemouth]

Man City v. Chelsea — 11:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

After a week in which Manchester City defeated Arsenal and Everton in somewhat comfortable fashion, Pep Guardiola‘s side faces a new, even tougher test.

It was only Huddersfield Town last week, but Chelsea looked back to its best once again in its 5-0 victory, with Gonzalo Higuain already looking like a terrific fit at the top of Chelsea’s attack. Higuain’s addition will take up a lot of Manchester City’s mental energy as they plan to face Chelsea, which could leave more space for Juninho to quarterback the Blues attack or for Eden Hazard and Willian to break down the wings on the counter attack.

Then again, this is Manchester City. Guardiola has his team firing on all cylinders. Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are set to return to the starting lineup. Manchester City can set a new Premier League record if they score two goals; it will be their 15th consecutive home match with at least two goals scored.

Though this is the Premier League, this game could be played with some caution. Both teams face each other again later this month at Wembley Stadium in the Carabao Cup final.

INJURIES: Man City —  OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Vincent Kompany (muscular) | Chelsea — OUT: None; PROBABLE: Callum Hudson-Odoi (Illness), Gary Cahill (back)


Tottenham v. Leicester City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

They won’t be on the field, but Harry Kane and Dele Alli gave Tottenham a huge boost this week by returning to training. That could be just what the team needs as it makes a mid-season push to stay in the top four, and potentially – who knows?! – try and win the Premier League title. Tottenham can win its fourth successive Premier League match and could come within two points of Man City before it plays Chelsea. Despite cup defeats in late January, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has found a way to win in each of its last three league matches, all one-goal victories.

On the other side, Leicester City has dropped to 12th in the table as discontent for manager Claude Puel grows. Leicester hasn’t won a match since New Year’s Day, but they suffered a narrow loss to Manchester United and drew with Liverpool, perhaps showing some improvement, even without the result. Youri Tielemens appears to have improved the midfield, and Jamie Vardy has a great history facing Tottenham. He’s scored four goals with three assists in his last seven matches against Spurs.

INJURIES: Tottenham —  OUT: Dele Alli (hamstring), Harry Kane (ankle), Ben Davies (groin), Vincent Janssen (knee), Eric Dier (illness) | Leicester City — OUT: Mark Albrighton (hamstring), Daniel Amartey (ankle)

PL Sunday preview: Man City v. Arsenal, plus Man United in action

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Manchester City’s title hopes are on the line while Arsenal and Manchester United fight for a place in the top four in what should be an incredibly important day of matches.

[READ: USMNT takes down Costa Rica]

Manchester City v. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With a loss to Newcastle last weekend, Manchester City’s margin for error continues to shrink as it fights to win the Premier League again. However, it will be a tough task against an Arsenal side with three wins in its last four, including a confidence-building victory over Chelsea.

Working in Manchester City’s favor is the history and form of Sergio Aguero, who has scored seven goals in his last 11 matches against Arsenal. Man City has won its last three matches against Arsenal and if they make it four, it will be the first of that occurrence since 1937, according to the Premier League.

In the past, Manchester City’s midfield passing and vision would be talented enough to break down Arsenal’s porous backline. However, Arsenal seems to have shored up its defense, which could make for an interesting matchup against the likes of Kevin De Bruyne.

On the other side, Arsenal has a chance to debut its new signing, Dennis Suarez. Suarez was the only first team signing to come in this winter, when Arsenal requested reinforcements along the wings and fans wanted in in defense. But Suarez could play anywhere across the front three and in attacking midfield. An interesting storyline related to this is what Arsenal manager Unai Emery does with Mesut Ozil. The German playmaker made his first start since Boxing Day in last Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Cardiff at home, but with Suarez in the fold, is Ozil now out for good?

INJURIES: Manchester City —  OUT: Vincent Kompany (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Benjamin Mendy, Ederson (both knee injuries) | Arsenal — OUT: Sokratis, Danny Welbeck (both ankle), Rob Holding (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (jaw), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (knee), and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (foot)


Leicester City v. Manchester United — 9:05 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s 100 percent record as Man United manager came to an end last Tuesday in a surprise 2-2 draw at home against Burnley, where the Red Devils came back down to earth a bit. Late goals from Paul Pogba and Victor Lindelof saved Man United’s blushes but it was only a matter of time before they delivered a sub-standard performance. However, Solskjaer’s formula, allowing his players the creative license to attack, especially down the wings, has paid dividends handsomely since the Norwegian took over as manager in December.

A bonus for Man United fans on transfer deadline day was not only the departure of long-time midfielder Marouane Fellaini for China, but the announcement of a new contract for Anthony Martial. The young French winger has looked promising this season, and could make a big impact for Man United down the stretch as they work to secure a top-four finish.

As for Leicester City, Claude Puel‘s side has been in a terrible rut recently. Yet, the Foxes have somehow managed to draw or beat Liverpool (draw), Chelsea and Manchester City (both wins) since late December. It seems that against some of the bigger clubs, they rise to the occasion, especially when those clubs leave space in behind for Jamie Vardy and co. to attack on the counter. In fact, Vardy is tied with Aguero and Gylfi Sigurdsson for the most goals against Man United since the start of the 2014-2015 season, scoring four in that span. Youri Tielemans, Leicester City’s new signing and a talented Belgian midfielder, could make his debut against Man United at home. Tielemans, who – fun fact – once displaced Sacha Kljestan at Anderlecht as a 16-year-old, never really settled in at AS Monaco over the last 18 months. Perhaps a change of scenery for him will help. Puel’s side will surely avoid relegation, but another big result against a top-6 side could help the Frenchman’s case to remain as manager for the long term.

INJURIES: Leicester City —  OUT: Daniel Amartey (ankle) | Manchester United — OUT: Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Anthony Martial (knock); PROBABLE: Paul Pogba (knock), Chris Smalling (toe)

Guardiola recommends off-field role for Kompany

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For more than a decade, Vincent Kompany has been a fixture at Manchester City. But his time on the field for the club may be coming to a close.

Heading into the final months of Kompany’s contract, Pep Guardiola addressed the issue and said that he hoped Kompany would stay at the club, but understood that there may not be a place for him on the field in the future.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League picks]

“We miss him when he isn’t able to play, he is our captain and, on the field, he gives us something extra that few centerbacks around the world can give us,” Guardiola said. “He’s incredible, but the reality is in the last five years he has played few games. That is the situation – we will put on the table with the club. We will discuss with his agent and work out what is best solution for both.

“I don’t like clubs to say OK it’s done, go, but at the same time there is one moment when it’s over. It’s not my decision, like him, like with Sergio, David always to be together with the club. I’ve spoken to him many times about the reality of how we can help. But it’s his decision with the club and his agent. I’m not involved, I just give my opinion.”

The 32-year-old Belgian international is one of the only players (likely only?) left in Man City’s squad to pre-date the club’s takeover by Sheikh Mansour, which changed the club’s fortunes overnight. Kompany was signed in August 2018, just days before the takeover. Within a season or two, Kompany established himself as the rock in the middle of the defense, and a player that Man City built itself around as it went on to win the Premier League title in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

However, the reality – as Guardiola said – is that injuries have kept Kompany off the field for many, many games. Kompany hasn’t played 30-games or more in a Premier League season since 2012 and 20 games in a Premier League season since 2015. Last season, he started just 17 times in the league, and this season he has just six starts in nine league matches. For playing purposes, it makes sense why Guardiola might think it’s time to move on, and Kompany, when fit, still has plenty to offer.

PL Sunday preview: Man City, Spurs visit relegation favorites

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Title/top-four contenders v. relegation favorites — that’s the name of the game on Sunday, when a pair of Premier League giants visit the bottom two teams in the league table…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huddersfield v. Man City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The good news for 20th-place Huddersfield Town: the Terriers’ eight-game losing streak came to an end last weekend. The (still) bad news: a 0-0 draw against one of the other two teams currently occupying a relegation spot, Cardiff City, didn’t very little to chip away at what is now a 10-point gap between themselves and safety. Steady worse news, depending on how you look at it: manager David Wagner stepped down on Monday, leaving the club with interim boss Mark Hudson in charge. The (far) worse news: second-place, and resurgent, Manchester City are set to visit John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday.

Liverpool ground out a 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday to stretch the Reds’ lead back to seven points in the title race. Put simply, Sunday’s fixture is a must-win scenario for Pep Guardiola‘s side, no matter the opponent, but doubly — or, triply — so against a side like Huddersfield. After losing three out of four PL games in mid-December, the defending champions have regained a bit of form in their last three games, winning all three — including a season-saving victory over Liverpool — and conceding just two goals in the process. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are back amongst the goals, having between them scored five of the eight during the current run.

INJURIES: Huddersfield —  OUT: Aaron Mooy (knee), Danny Williams (knee) | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Claudio Bravo (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Vincent Kompany (undisclosed)


Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham’s latest spell without star striker Harry Kane (ankle) begins on Sunday, with a trip to Craven Cottage to take on relegation-threatened Fulham. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will also be without Kane’s most logical replacement, Son Heung-min, as he is with the South Korea squad at the Asian Cup. Kane was lost for up to two months in last weekend’s narrow defeat to Manchester United, a result which saw Spurs fall five points back of City and their respective leads on Chelsea (one point) and Arsenal and Man United (then seven, but since reduced to four) eroded as well. Either Fernando Llorente will start up top, or Pochettino will opt for a striker-less formation and rely upon the fluidity and attacking versatility of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela.

As for Fulham, the Cottagers wish their greatest concern was as simple as losing a forward or two. Instead, Claudio Ranieri‘s side sits 19th after 22 games, now seven points (and another 17 goals in the goal-differential column) adrift of safety following Newcastle United’s emphatic victory over fellow relegation battlers Cardiff on Saturday. With just one win in their last nine league games (two in their last 19; three all season), the west London club’s return to the PL appears to be a one-season wonder before an immediate drop back down to the Championship. Having conceded 49 goals in 22 games, Fulham are on pace to give up 87 goals. The last side to concede more 80 goals in a season was — you guessed it — Fulham (85), the last time they were relegated in 2013-14.

INJURIES: Fulham —  OUT: Alfie Mawson (knee), Aboubakar Kamara (disciplinary) | Tottenham — OUT: Harry Kane (ankle), Lucas Moura (knee), Moussa Sissoko (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee)