2018/19 Champions League

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Champions League Preview: Tottenham, Dortmund battle in Wembley

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Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League matchup between Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund will be a battle between which team can overcome injuries to star attacking players.

The glamour of the game has been slightly diminished, as Tottenham will be without Harry Kane and Dele Alli while Dortmund are without Marco Reus and Paco Alcacer. Tottenham will then once more lean on Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son, while Christian Pulisic is likely to start for Dortmund, with Thomas Delaney providing the engine in midfield.

[READ: PSG stun Man United in UCL]

One reason for some hope in this match in Tottenham circles is the recent struggles of Dortmund’s defense. The club has allowed six goals in its last two games, including coughing up a 3-0 lead over the weekend against Hoffenheim. While Fernando Llorente could be contained, it may be up to Son to use his creativity and dribbling ability to break through the Dortmund backline, or have Eriksen find him breaking the lines.

Of course, one of the players to watch is Pulisic, who is in England for the first time since completing his record-setting $73 million transfer to Chelsea. The U.S. Men’s National Team star has often started in Champions League and cup matches, even over Jaden Sancho, though it’s possible that Sancho could start in coach Lucien Favre’s 4-3-3 back in his homeland.

[ MORE: UCL: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With Pulisic, even though he’s not been at his best, he injects speed and a dynamism that will challenge Eric Dier in midfield and whoever suits up at outside back for Tottenham, especially if Jan Vertonghen deputizes at left back.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid flies north to face Ajax, with stars Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt hoping to make a big impression at the Johan Cruyff ArenA. Ajax, however, is coming off two defeats in its last three games, including a 1-0 loss last weekend to Heracles, while Real Madrid has won four of its last five as it surges up the table.

Vinicius Jr. has been a revelation the past few months and now he gets a chance to show off his speed and dribbling ability in the Champions League, and Real Madrid is coming off a huge confidence-boosting win at Atletico Madrid, where the side’s defense held strong against an Atleti side looking for a season-defining win.

CL Preview: Liverpool, Spurs have tough tests

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Premier League teams were given tough draws in the 2018/19 Champions League group stages, and that gets under way on Tuesday as Tottenham travels to Italy to take on Internazionale, while Liverpool hosts French giants Paris Saint-Germain to Anfield.

Spurs has a mountain to climb, heading into the trip on the heels of two straight Premier League defeats that saw them squander a lead at Watford and soundly beaten at home by Liverpool. Mauricio Pochettino has the task of getting Harry Kane back on track, without a goal in either of those losses.

[ PREDICTIONS: PST gives CL group stage picks ]

In addition, Tottenham has a number of significant injuries to work around. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has been missing since late August with a thigh strain, leaving Michel Vorm in net for the pair of league losses. Midfielder Dele Alli is also confirmed to be out after picking up a hamstring strain on international duty with England. Spurs released a video on social media showing the team departing for Italy, and neither Lloris or Alli – highly visible team stars – were not present in the video. 19-year-old Alfie Whiteman was present in the video, meaning he will likely be the backup.

Inter also comes into this match with early-season struggles, owning just one win and one draw over four matches to start the Serie A season, including a road loss at newly-promoted Parma.

Meanwhile, Liverpool welcomes PSG to England in a marquee Champions League matchup. The defending French champions have a full bill of health Merseyside, and have high hopes for their Champions League campaign after failing to progress past the Round of 16 in each of the last two seasons. “With the players they have and the manager they have, they all brought it together to go as far as possible in the Champions League and we are aware of that,” Klopp said ahead of the match.

The Reds are preparing to start Daniel Sturridge at striker, with a trio of forwards all set to miss the match. Roberto Firmino was injured in the win over Tottenham this weekend after Jan Vertonghen‘s finger went into his eye. Klopp described his fitness as “close” but it is assumed the Brazilian will miss out. Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke were both injured in a U-23 match, so they will be sidelined.

For PSG, American international Timothy Weah did not make the matchday squad, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is suspended from his antics in last year’s semifinal. Marco Verratti will also sit out after being sent off in the Round of 16 loss to Real Madrid last season. Only¬†Dani Alves and Layvin Kurzawa, who have yet to make their debuts this season, are out injured.¬†Thiago Silva was injured late in the home win over St. Etienne over the weekend, but is expected to return in time.

Elsewhere, Barcelona hosts Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. The visitors are no slouch, having begun the Eredivisie season at the top of the table after five wins out of five, blasting ADO Den Haag and Willem II by a combined 13-1 in their most recent two games. Mexican international Hirving “Chucky” Lozano has already scored six goals this season, while Argentinian Gaston Pereiro and Steven Bergwijn each have five, although the latter’s status is questionable due to a groin problem.

Barcelona will be looking to avenge last season’s early (and stunning) Round of 16 exit, and are at full strength with Sergio Busquets and Philippe Coutinho set to return after being rested over the weekend.

AS Monaco hosts Atletico Madrid in an intriguing first leg. The Spanish side has won just once in its first four La Liga matches, with just three goals in that span. The French side has also struggled to start the season, sitting 15th in the Ligue 1 table with one win and five points in five matches. Monaco could be missing World Cup stars¬†Alexsandr Golovin and¬†Danijel SubaŇ°ińá who have yet to debut this season after struggling to regain match fitness following long summer adventures on international duty.

Christian Pulisic is set for his 100th match in yellow as Borussia Dortmund visits Belgian side Club Brugge. The American has made just one Bundesliga appearance for Dortmund this season thanks to a slight leg injury suffered in the opener against RB Leipzig, but could return on Tuesday according to ESPN. Club Brugge has not won in any of its last 10 Champions League matches, losing nine and drawing just one.

Napoli enters the European competition on a high as they visit Red Star Belgrade. The Italians, having finished second last year in the Serie A table, have wins over Lazio, AC Milan and Fiorentina to start the season, although they did inexplicably fall apart in a 3-0 loss to Sampdoria earlier this month. The hosts have had success of their own of late, into their first Champions League group stage since 1992 thanks to a come-from-behind win over Red Bull Salzburg in the playoff round. Former Le Havre youth product El Fardou Ben Mohammed scored twice in three minutes to complete the comeback, giving Belgrade the spot in the group stage on away goals after a 2-2 draw.

In addition, FC Porto visits German club Schalke, who has suffered a dreadful start to the Bundesliga season with three losses in three. Turkish side Galatasaray also hosts last year’s Russian Premier League winners Lokomotiv Moscow, who are into the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2002/03 competition when they were also matched up against Tuesday’s opponent.

UCL playoff preview: Ajax, Benfica, PSV looking for group stage spot

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The Champions League is nearly back to the apex of its competition, as the final playoff round gets set for its finale and the group stage looks for its final participants. There are only six spaces left among the group stage participants, and some big-name clubs will take the field for their matchup’s second leg.

Dutch giants Ajax are in a solid position, up 3-1 over Dynamo Kiev after the home leg and now hit the road to Ukraine hoping to wrap things up on Tuesday. They have been scoring at will of late, coming off a 5-0 demolition of Eredivisie minnows FC Emmen. They have scored 20 goals over their last eight matches across all competitions, with 35-year-old Klass-Jan Huntelaar owning six of those and former Southampton man Dusan Tadic owning five.

[ MORE: 7 young players who could earn England debut ]

Kiev, meanwhile, has been quite the opposite. Through five matches in Ukranian Premier League play, Kiev has scored just five goals, but has conceded just one, sitting third in the league table with 13 points, although they have a game in hand on those above them and remain the only unbeaten team remaining in league play.

Croatian club Dinamo Zagreb and Swiss champs Young Boys are both level at 1-1 heading to the second leg in Zagreb. The home side will hope for a better start than in the first leg, when Young Boys grabbed the opener just two minutes into the match.

Also on Tuesday, Greek side AEK Athens takes a 2-1 lead back home over Hungarian club MOL Vidi.

On Wednesday, another Dutch club looks to seal up a lead, as PSV Eindhoven returns home with a 3-2 advantage over Belarusian club BATE Borisov in tow. They led 2-1 late in the first leg, and the game finished wildly as BATE equalized in the 88th minute before PSV retook the lead just a minute later. The three away goals are all massive, as is coming home with a lead of any kind. PSV has participated in the Champions League group stage in two of the last three seasons, reaching the knockout stage in 2015/16.

Portuguese giants Benfica sit in a precarious position, heading out on the road to visit Greek side PAOK with that matchup level at 1-1. Benfica held a lead on a goal just before halftime, but they conceded a scrappy away goal in the 76th minute on a set-piece.

Finally, Red Bull Salzburg hosts Red Star Belgrade after a 0-0 first leg in Serbia.