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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.

La Liga: Barcelona restores 7-point lead, Atletico moves second

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Barcelona restored its seven-point lead at the top of the La Liga table with a casual 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid. They held the visitors to zero shots on target at the Camp Nou and Lionel Messi did the job on the other end.

Goalless through the majority of the first half, Messi opened the scoring in the 40th minute by slotting home a controversial penalty given after Gerard Pique was awarded a foul inside the area under pressure from Valladolid defender Michel who stepped in the back of Pique’s legs, but still the Barcelona defender crumpled into a heap quite easily. The referee pointed to the spot, and Messi buried his low effort into the bottom-right past a diving Jordi Masip who guessed correctly but could not reach the shot.

Atletico Madrid also found itself on the right end of a 1-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano as Antoine Griezmann put the visitors through in the 74th minute, scoring a deflected strike served up by Alvaro Morata. The game also marked the return of an injured Diego Costa from two months on the sidelines, coming on for the final half-hour. The win pushed Atletico up to second, above Real Madrid by two with Los Blancos set to play tomorrow.

Real Sociedad moved into seventh with a convincing 3-0 win over Leganes behind a brace from Mikel Oyarzabal. The game was scoreless at halftime but the 21-year-old put the hosts up for good in the 50th minute, with Adnan Januzaj delivering a cross that Oyarzabal headed in. He doubled the lead nine minutes later for his eighth league goal of the season, and Willian Jose added the cherry on top 15 minutes from full-time.

Levante hammered 10-man Celta Vigo 4-1, already 2-0 up when the hosts lost Ryad Boudebouz to a straight red card for a truly absurd tackle, massively late and with his studs showing all the way up near the groin of Borja Mayoral. With Celta Vigo reduced to 10, Jose Luis Morales scored his second of the game just after the hour mark, and Mayoral grabbed one late to finish the scoreline. The result is disappointing for Celta Vigo who have slipped into the relegation battle with seven losses and just one win in their last nine matches.

La Liga: Leaders Barcleona held, Sevilla rescues late draw

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Barcelona’s lead at the top of the La Liga table shrunk after they were held off the scoresheet in a 0-0 draw with Athletic Bilbao at San Mamés Stadium. Lionel Messi rattled the post in the 26th minute on what would have been a wild strike, but otherwise managed just two shots on target.

The visitors held two thirds of the possession, but they were unable to find a breakthrough. Messi sailed a free-kick over the bar in the 57th minute in another of Barcelona’s few good chances, but otherwise there was little for them to savor. Ousmane Dembele thought he had a penalty won with the last kick of the game, but referee Carlos del Cerro waved it off after a chat with his VAR team.

Athletic nearly gave Barcelona something bigger to think about in the 17th minute, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen was on hand to produce a wonderful save, denying a curling effort from Markel Susaeta that was destined for the top corner. The hosts also saw defender Oscar de Marcos sent off in the 91st minute for a second yellow after a handball prevented a Barcelona break.

The draw moves Barcelona to 51 points, six clear of Real Madrid on 45 points, with Atletico Madrid one back of their cross-town rivals in third.

Elsewhere, Sevilla saw the gap between third and fourth increase after a 2-2 draw against Eibar at home. Sevilla only rescued the point on a 92nd minute goal from Pablo Sarabia with the team down to 10 men. With Ever Banega sent off in the 84th minute for a second yellow card, Sarabia slotted home a cross from Dutch winger Quincy Promes. With Sevilla now on 37 points, they sit seven behind Atletico Madrid.

Valencia drew 0-0 with Real Sociedad in a game that featured just five shots on target, including just one by visitors Sociedad despite holding nearly 60% possession. Despite the possessional disadvantage, Valencia was unlucky not to come away with the win, with Kevin Gamiero missing right in front of goal in the 65th minute.

Finally, Leganes hammered Real Betis 3-0 on a hat-trick from 21-year-old Moroccan Youssef En-Nesyri who scored his sixth goal in the last three league matches. En-Nesyri’s hot streak has been critical for Leganes, with the team garnering seven points in that three-match stretch to jump out of the relegation scrap and into 11th, six points clear of the drop.

Messi practices ahead of Copa ‘clasico’ against Real Madrid

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has returned to training, a day before Barcelona hosts Real Madrid in the first leg of the semifinals of the Copa del Rey.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Messi was sidelined from Monday’s training session because of a right leg injury sustained in a Spanish league match on Saturday.

He re-joined his teammates on the practice field on Tuesday and showed no signs he was bothered by the injury. The media could only watch the first few minutes of the session, when players warmed up and played keep-away.

Coach Ernesto Valverde had said earlier Tuesday he would wait for the training session to end before deciding whether Messi will play on Wednesday at Camp Nou Stadium.

Messi doesn’t practice prior to El Clasico in Copa del Rey

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi has not practiced with his teammates on Monday, raising doubts about his presence in the Copa del Rey match against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Messi hurt his right leg in the 2-2 draw against Valencia in the Spanish league on Saturday and remains doubtful for Barcelona’s home game against Madrid in the first leg of the Copa semifinals.

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Barcelona had not yet given full details about Messi’s condition, although reports said the injury wasn’t serious enough to keep him from facing Madrid at Camp Nou Stadium.

The injury appeared to happen when he was hit in the leg by Valencia defender Antonio Lato while they challenged for a ball in the second half on Saturday.

Messi missed Barcelona’s 5-1 league rout of Madrid in October because of a broken right arm.

He has scored at least a goal in nine straight games in all competitions and is the league’s leading scorer with 21 goals in 22 matches.

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