Posts tagged Manchester United
The Counter Press EP 33

Josh and Vijay chat about all the Champions League matchups, PSG giving up 5 goals to Lille, and the Premier League.

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The Counter Press EP 31

The Counter Press is back with another episode. This time it's Puneet who joins Josh on the show. They discuss everything from Manchester United to the rumored expansion of the World Cup format.

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Man U/PSG, Roma/Porto square off as the Champions League knockout rounds begin

After a month of no Champions League football, get ready to hear the famous chorus blast over some of football’s greatest stadiums. We have arrived at the knockout stages of the competition and there are some really fun match-ups in store for us over the next two weeks. High profile match-ups highlight the first leg of the knockout rounds; a resurgent Manchester United meets a banged up PSG squad, Spurs will try and hold on against a dangerous Dortmund team, while Roma and Porto provide some intrigue as well.

Let’s take a look at the four games which will be taking place midweek along with predictions for yours truly and my Counter Press co-host Josh.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Manchester United

The biggest match-up of the week features two of Europe’s highest spending clubs. Both Paris-Saint Germain and Manchester United have spent a lot of money in the past two seasons and last summer was no exception. PSG splashed the cash, as expected, spending over 217 million Euros in transfer fees this summer, most notably signing Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe as he made his loan to the Parc De Princes permanent. PSG also spent 40M Euros on Zenit midfielder Leonardo Paredes and 35M Euros on center back Thilo Kehrer from Schalke. Manchester United weren’t very active last summer but still did spend around 82M Euros, with most of it going towards acquiring midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk.

It’s been mostly smooth sailing domestically for PSG but they have run into some trouble as of late. They lost their first Ligue 1 game of the entire season last week when they fell to third place Lyon 2-1 on the road. The loss doesn’t affect the league title race that much as Paris sits 10 points ahead of second place Lille and with defeats seeming few and far in between; it will take an epic collapse for them to give up first place.

However, they have been hit with the injury bug as of late and it has led to some worries heading into their match against Manchester United. Along with Marco Verratti and Tomas Muneier picking up knocks, PSG will likely be without two of their key attackers. Both Neymar and Edison Cavani, who combined for seven goals in the group stage and 30 tallies in Ligue 1, are expected to miss the first leg at Old Trafford, leaving a huge hole at the top of PSG’s starting XI. With most of the Manchester United defense now focused on Mbappe, it’s going to be tough sledding for the French giants to generate chances. PSG have had to adapt to different formations without Neymar and led manager Tomas Tuchel to employ two strikers up top with a block right behind them to cover the space behind against Bordeaux. They could also go 3-5-2 as they did against Lyon with a trio of two attacking midfielders and Marquinhos in between them to cover the midfield. Without three of his best players in Cavani, Neymar, and Verratti, Tuchel is going to have to get creative. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, PSG is likely to employ a 4-2-3-1 with Mbappe playing as the primary striker. This sets him up in a position where he excelled back at Monaco. Although this time he will be alone at the top of the formation.

Things have gotten better for Manchester United after the firing of Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been brought in as the caretaker manager and things have been going well so far. The team has looked much more potent in attack, and many of the Red Devils’ top players are performing well. They have climbed their way into the Premier League top four as they continue to battle with Arsenal and Chelsea for the final spot. Being nine points off Tottenham, they are still going to have a lot of work to do to move up. United haven’t lost a game with OGS in charge, but this first leg against Paris is the beginning of a gauntlet of games for the squad from Old Trafford; they meet Chelsea in the fifth Round of the FA Cup before hosting Liverpool on February 24th. It’s safe to say this is Manchester United’s biggest stretch of fixtures so far this season, and it could be the time where OGS can prove why he should be the manager for this side moving into next season.

In terms of how they will lineup, OGS likes to mix things up as United deploys many different formations based on the opponent. He’s lined up the Red Devils three different times in the past three games. Outside of the obvious shoe-ins such as Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, Solsjaer has a lot of options to choose from. Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford or even Alexis Sanchez at times can be deployed at striker. Anthony Martial would be a very solid choice down the left wing and Jesse Lingard can be deployed on the right. The backline has been had its share of struggles as Phil Jones, Eric Bailey, Victor Lindelof, and Chris Smalling all have gone through stretches of poor form. If Cavani and Neymar were playing, it would be a lot more troubling for United to handle.

Roma vs. Porto

While this won’t be the main tie on Tuesday, Roma vs. Porto does offer some intrigue. Both teams have had some success in Europe over the last couple of years and the winner will certainly cause some problems for whoever they face in the next round.

This won’t be the first time these two teams have faced off; they met back in the play-off round in 2016 with the winner advancing to the group stage. It was a emphatic 4-1 aggregate win for Porto, capping it off with a 3-0 victory in Rome. The two red cards in eleven minutes of play didn’t help Roma either.

Porto has been a staple in the Champions League for much of the decade, making the competition eight years running. Domestically they have been decent as they are currently on top of the Primera Liga, Portugal’s top domestic league. Porto is currently a point ahead of rivals Benfica and hasn’t lost in the league since the end of October. This is the third straight year they have made the Round of 16 and they will be looking to be more competitive than the last two; last year finalists Liverpool demolished them 5-0 on aggregate, while 2017 runner-up Juventus knocked them out of the tournament 3-0.

The Portuguese side had a very easy time in the group stage, going undefeated and breezing through with 16 points. While there weren’t any big European giants in their group, it shouldn’t take away from how impressive Porto was - four of their five wins came by two goals or more and they finished with a goal differential of +9, tied for second-highest of any team in the group stage.

But like Paris Saint-Germain, Porto will be heavily shorthanded in attacking power when they travel to the Stadio Olimpico. Porto is going to be missing both Moussa Marega and fellow forward Jesus Corona in this one. With eight goals scored between the two, Sergio Conceicao is going to have to rely on some substitutes to be vigilant in front of goal. Luckily they have the home leg in March but grabbing an away goal would be a great result for Porto.

Last year, Roma had a great run in the Champions League, making it all the way to the semi-final before being beaten by Liverpool 7-6 despite an valiant comeback effort in the home leg. In fact, home legs in Champions League knockout ties were Roma’s greatest advantage last year. After losing the away leg in both the round of 16 and the quarterfinal, Roma stormed back to win both ties, completing a historic comeback against FC Barcelona in the latter.

Despite not having the greatest of results, AS Roma matches have been a thrilling ride this season. In the past few weeks alone they had a 3-3 draw with Atalanta and then turned around and got crushed by Fiorentina 7-1. This was followed by a 1-1 draw with AC Milan and then a 3-0 win against Chievo. It’s really hard to get a read on Roma at the moment. They’ve scored 44 goals in Serie A, third most in Italy, and are currently sixth domestically, trailing fourth-place Milan by a point while being tied on points with Atalanta and Lazio. Missing out on the top four would be a disappointment for Roma but they have a chance to garner some momentum by getting a good first leg result.

The danger man for Roma continues to be the Bosnian striker Eden Dzeko. He’s been fantastic for Eusebio Di Francesco’s men in Europe. Dzeko scored five goals in the group stage and finished with eight goals last season. The Porto backline is going to have to make sure they mark Dzeko at all times when the ball is on the wings. He’s great in the air, towering over most center backs, leading to being a target man in set pieces and crosses. If there is a player to watch for on Roma, it’s him.

Predictions:
Vijay (@VJVemu): Manchester United 2 - 0 PSG, Porto 2 -2 Roma
Josh (@@HighBiscuits): Manchester United 2 -1 PSG, Porto 2 - 1 Roma



The Counter Press - You Hate to See It

The Counter Press Boys are joined by Spurs fan @ryne_jones to talk about all things Premier League including Tottenham's list of transfers. We also dive into Champions League matchups along with some Serie A talk.

Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu
Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits

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The Counter Press EP 27
The Counter Press EP 26
The Counter Press EP 24

Happy FIFA Day! Fire up your PS4 and turn The Counter Press up to ignorant levels! Josh and Vijay are back with friend @MindofDharma to talk about the opening month of the soccer season, from Champions League to domestic cup failures in England and a whole lot more!

Follow Josh: @highbiscuits
Follow Vijay: @VJVemu

Premier League Matchday: Five Games to Watch

Chelsea vs Liverpool

The marquee matchup of this weekend will most definitely take place at Stamford Bridge where Liverpool will face off against Chelsea, a quick rematch after these teams faced off midweek in the Carabao Cup with Chelsea emerging victorious, Both of these teams will head into this match with unbeaten records in the league, Liverpool having won all six of their contests so far. Liverpool can become only the second team in Premier League history to win their first seven matches of a PL season, the other just so happens to have been Chelsea in the 05/06 season.

Arsenal vs Watford

At the Emirates this weekend will be two teams trending in opposite directions matching up in red-hot Arsenal and middling Watford. While Arsenal come in having won their last four PL contests, Watford, on the other hand are losing steam, looking for their first win in their last three contests after starting the season with a four game winning streak of their own. The combination of Lacazette and Aubamayeng up top for Arsenal has been lethal as of late for Arsenal and will be looking to put Watford to the sword yet again.

Wolves vs Southampton

Most teams in their first year after promotion to the Premier League come into the season ready to scrape for points and prepare for a relegation battle but this is FAR from the case with Wolverhampton Wanderers. After dominating the Championship last season, Wolves have carried their momentum into the PL and are unbeaten in their last four games, including draws against Manchester City and Manchester United. The only teams with more shots on goal than Wolves heading into this weekend are all in the top three. Southampton have struggled out of the gates and with Wolves looking to stay unbeaten at home, those struggles may not been over yet.

Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth

Wrapping up the match day, on Monday, two mid-table teams in 11th place Crystal Palace and 8th place Bournemouth will clash at the Vitality Stadium. After a hot start to the season, Bournemouth head into this match after being on the receiving end of an absolute hammering by a Burnley team that had not yet won a game heading into last weekend. Crystal Palace continue to look to Wilfried Zaha to provide the majority of their offense and look for him to try to spark the team once again this week. It doesn’t bode well for Bournemouth that the team have never won a PL match played on a Monday but the team will be hoping to put an end to that unwanted record.

Cardiff vs Burnley

An early season six-pointer between relegation candidates Cardiff and Burnley will take place in Cardiff City Stadium this weekend. Sean Dyche and Burnley hope they have put the worst behind them and look to build on their first win of the season, a 4-0 battering of Bournemouth last weekend. Cardiff continue to chase their first win of the season but their recent history against Burnley can only inspire them knowing the team are unbeaten against Burnley in 13 matches since 2007. This may not be the prettiest game to watch but the importance of this result could be significant for both sides come season’s end.

Premier League Player Power Rankings

  1. Eden Hazard, Chelsea

  2. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

  3. Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool

  4. Aleksandar Mitrovic, Fulham

  5. James Milner, Liverpool

  6. Jose Holebas, Watford

  7. Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal

  8. Lucas Moura, Tottenham

  9. Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City

  10. Ruben Neves, Wolverhampton Wanderers

Premier League matchday 6 preview: games to watch, and where each Champions League team stands after matchday 1

After the first round of Champions League fixtures of the season, we’ll assess each Premier League’s teams chances going forward in the competition:

Manchester City - After getting shocked by Nabil Fakir and Lyon in their opening match, still expect Manchester City to coast through Group F as the reigning champions should have no trouble with the likes of Hoffenheim or Shakhtar.

Tottenham - Spurs put Inter Milan to the sword for the majority of the match at the San Siro, that is until the 85th minute where Mauro Icardi scored a magnificent equalizer and Vecino went on to steal all three points for Inter in stoppage time. With a matchup with European giants Barcelona looming in their next Champion’s League fixture, Tottenham must bounce back from their current three-game losing streak immediately if they have any hope of advancing from Group B.

Liverpool - Continuing with their current league form, high-flying Liverpool won yet again, this time against their biggest rival in Group C, Paris Saint-Germain. What looked to be a sure draw after an equalizer by Mbappe in the 83rd minute, Roberto Firmino found the winner in the 91st to keep Liverpool’s winning streak alive. Even after being drawn into a tough group with PSG and Napoli, with their current form, it’s tough to see a scenario in which Liverpool do not advance from this group.

Manchester United - While the rest of the Premier League participants were matched with powerful opponents in the first round of Champion’s League fixtures, United were blessed with a match against BSC Young Boys. United walked through their opening match to three points as expected but with their inconsistent performances in the league so far and with Juventus and Valencia looming in Group H, they will most likely be fighting to escape with second place by the end of this round.

Five Games to Watch

Manchester United vs Wolves

Premier League newboys Wolverhampton Wanderers are finding their footing coming off two wins, and head to Old Trafford hoping to send a message to the rest of the league. On the other side, United have bounced back from consecutive losses with consecutive wins and hope to keep moving in the same direction back up the table. The confidence of Paul Pogba should be revitalized after two goals midweek, but he will have a long day ahead with the likes of Ruben Neves and the electric Wolves midfield running the show.

Bournemouth vs Burnley

Two teams that have defied expectations so far in this early season go head to head at the Turf Moor this weekend. Unfortunately for Burnley, the way in which they have defied expectations so far is in a purely negative sense, as last year’s surprise upstarts have stumbled out of the gate with a measly one point from a possible fifteen. At the other end of the table, Bournemouth find themselves in fifth place at this point in the early season and have scored two or more goals in all but one of their five games. The Cherries will hope to keep their success going while Burnley will be getting desperate to find their first win and escape the bottom of the league moving forward.

Everton vs Arsenal

Arsenal have bounced right back to life by following their opening two losses up with three straight wins and will look to find the fourth straight against Everton this weekend. Everton will head to the Emirates hoping to correct their problems on the road this season in which they have lost the lead both times, leaving with only two points from a possible six. Everton face an uphill battle coming up against an in-form Arsenal and the fact that the Gunners are unbeaten in their last 24 home games in this match-up.

Tottenham vs Brighton

Spurs have struggled mightily in their past three fixtures with losses to Watford, Liverpool and Inter Milan consecutively. Without captain Hugo Lloris in goal, Tottenham are noticeably weaker and their struggles against set pieces continue to plague what should be a dominant back line. While Tottenham have struggled to maintain a lead, losing after going 1-0 up against Watford and Inter Milan, Brighton on the other hand have come from two goals down to draw in both of their last two fixtures. Tottenham look to rebound immediately but Brighton’s refusal to quit could cause another late game struggle.

Chelsea vs West Ham

Unbeaten Chelsea look to continue their early success against a West Ham team coming off their first win of the new campaign. Marko Arnautovic looks to be a game-time decision which could be a deciding factor on this match with Arnautovic factoring in all but one of West Ham’s five goals this season. After resting Eden Hazard in the midweek Europa League fixture, look for Chelsea to be carried by his fresh legs and dominance on the ball. While not as exciting as some of the other London derbies, this match could still prove to be fiery in it’s own right.

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Preview: Group Stage Edition
Photo Credit:  Reuters Photo

Photo Credit: Reuters Photo

We are inching ever so close to having Champions League football back in our lives. The draw a few weeks ago helped us take one giant step towards us hearing “The Champions” blaring across our TV screens. The results turned out to be quite interesting. Sure some of the groups are real cakewalks (looking at you, Manchester City and Bayern Munich) but the rest of the teams surely have their work cut out for them.

There are some amazing matchups we are going to get during the group stages. Let’s take a look at the narratives in each of the eight groups along with who will make it to the Round of 16.

Group A

This is a good group if you want to watch two clubs with some young talent on display. Monaco and Borussia Dortmund both are well known for developing some of the world's best young players and selling them for mass profit. Atletico Madrid got younger too with the signings of Thomas Lemar and Rodri in the midfield. Lemar will have a reunion game as he faces his former club when Atletico and Monaco collide on Matchday 1.

Both Dortmund and Atleti will be looking to bounce back in the Champions League after crashing out in the group stage last year. It didn’t turn out so bad for them in Europe as Dortmund reached the knockout stages of the Europa League while Diego Simeone’s team lifted the trophy when it was all said and done. Atletico looked stronger than ever in the UEL final and in the UEFA Super Cup, beating Real Madrid 4-2. Dortmund had a huge win against RB Leipzig last week then followed it up with a 0-0 dud against Hannover. Lucien Favre has this team playing better than last year but they need to step it up a notch if they want to impress in Europe.

Club Brugge are the team from Pot 4 in this group. The good news for the Belgian side is that they have basically two weeks off before their first matchday and the only game in between is against Lokren, who are 14th in the Belgian Pro League. Then things get a bit tough as they have to play in all three competitions right after. Dortmund in the UCL, Gent in league play, and a Round of 32 cup clash against Deinzel all come in quick succession. They will fight hard in group play to snatch points against the big guns. Their best bet is nabbing some against Monaco.

Madrid and Dortmund are the favorites and rightly so, they are the two most talented squads. Monaco should be expected to finish around third with Brugge coming in the final spot.

Atletico Madrid and Dortmund advance

Group B

After impressing in the group stages last season (remember that 3-0 scoreline against Real Madrid?) Tottenham will be looking to do the same in this group. A summer with no transfers gave a lot of worry as to the squad depth of Spurs but they have started out the season in top form. We will truly get a sense of how much their lack of activity in the summer costs them as they try to advance deeper into cup tournaments along with fighting for a top 4 spot in the Champions League.

After getting a come from behind win against Lazio to get into the UCL, Inter Milan was rewarded by getting into a group with two of the top clubs in Europe. Inter have gotten a lot better in the transfer market, picking up additions such as Radja Nainggolan, Stefan De Vrij, and Keita Balde Diao. With Mauro Icardi up top and Ivan Perisic on the wings, Inter has solid threats in front of goal. They will be a much tougher out than many think and are certainly capable of an upset result in the group stages, especially at home in the San Siro.

PSV Eindhoven has a great young player in Chucky Lozano and he will be someone to watch for in the group stage. Lozano and Steven Bergwijn both possess talent on the wings. Even with PSV likely to finish last in the group, they should provide some highlights.

It’s not hard to determine who the best team in this group will be and it’s Barcelona. The Catalans are ready for a deep Champions League run, especially after the collapse they had against Roma. One of the topics Leo Messi talked about in his captain's speech to the fans was about winning the Champions League. It’s clear they want the Champions League title and should be favorites. With a summer of bringing in talent to solidify the bench, Barca is a deep team. It also helps that young starlet Ousmane Dembele has gotten off to a fast start this season. He scored the game-winning goal in the Spanish Super Cup and has been a menace on the wings every time he has featured for the Catalans thus far. He looks a lot more confident and could show those promising steps in development many Barcelona fans hoped for when he first signed with the club.

This will be a tough road for the top three teams but Barcelona will make it out of the group as winners. The Catalans should get enough points early to see their way through. Inter Milan will put up a fight but ultimately Tottenham should finish second. We will get to see some drama in the later matchdays of this group, including the final one where Barcelona will play Spurs. This could possibly decide who finishes first in the group.

Barcelona and Tottenham advance

Group C

This features a group with three strong attacking teams so look for some really high score lines on their given matchdays. We all know about Liverpool and their potent attack. With Sadio Mane and Mo Salah on the wings, they are a constant threat to burn your back line on counter attacks. Roberto Firmino does a good job as the central striker and his pressing defensively helps make Jurgen Klopp’s system run more smoothly. Liverpool also ramped up their midfield with the arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho. Keita will be instrumental in their success against Europe’s elite. They shocked the world by reaching the Champions League final before running into the buzzsaw which is Real Madrid. While back to back appearances to the final is highly unlikely, they can make some noise. Their defense has seemed stable so far in Premier League but they will be facing two teams with explosive attacks of their own. Both Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli can punch a couple of goals into the back of the Liverpool net if they are not careful.

PSG have had a great start to the Ligue 1 season as they look to dominate the French league once again. Like Liverpool, they have a big three of their own in Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe. It will be a nightmare for the rest of the three to try and stop Paris. They cruised in group play last season despite having giants such as Bayern Munich in their group. The real goal for Paris however, will be in the knockout stages. They will be pushed in this group stage as there are three legit teams who all have a shot at advancing. Questions are going to be asked about their defense as well as their depth in the middle of the park. They still haven’t totally gotten over the loss of Blaise Matuidi and need a real box to box player to solidify things. While the Parisians should be favorites to win the group, as they have the best side, it’s not certain.

Napoli had their share of losses too this summer with Maurizio Sarri and Jorginho heading to Chelsea. It doesn’t mean they have taken numerous steps back, however. Carlo Ancelotti still inherits a very talented squad and despite crashing out of the group stage last year, they have a puncher's chance to advance. It was clear from the onset last season they were more focused on the league and decided not to pursue any other trophies because of it. We will see this season how Ancelotti rotates the squad in Europe. At the very least they are slotted at a solid third. Red Star Belgrade will be a tough place to play and the atmosphere will be great. Against these three teams, however, it’s hard not seeing them finish anywhere other than last.

Liverpool and PSG have the most offensive firepower while their defenses seem more stable than Napoli’s at the moment. The Partenopei will be right with them step for step, though. If either of them slips up, Napoli will be waiting to pounce at a chance of reaching the knockout rounds.

PSG and Liverpool advance

Group D

Out of all the groups in the Champions League, this is the one which is a toss-up. This is actually a pretty crazy group when you think about it as it’s not often you see four teams all with a shot at advancing. There aren’t any European giants or any real minnows in group D. It looks to be an all-out slugfest.

The four teams will be Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray, and Lokomotiv Moscow. If anything, it will be a group which requires a ton of traveling as both Porto and Lokomotiv will have to travel across Europe to play each other. None of these teams are particularly overpowering over the other so it will be hard to tell who is the favorite heading into the first matchday. Both Porto and Schalke have experience in the knockout rounds. Galatasaray and Moscow are tough away fixtures. If both are able to churn out a result or two on the road, it will go a long way in their hopes of finishing in the top two or even the Europa League spot. The team to watch out will be Schalke. They have gotten off to a shaky start in Bundesliga play with two losses to begin the season. Things could get even worse with a fixture against Borussia Monchengladbach awaiting them. A good start to their European season would calm down some of the voices of worry but you have to wonder if they will be able to handle both Champions League and Bundesliga simultaneously.

Out of all the teams in the group, Porto is the ones who are the most likely to advance given their pedigree in Europe. Hector Herrera still runs the midfield and Vincent Aboubakar will poach some goals in this group. Second place is honestly a toss up but in the end, talent tops all. Schalke should have enough to barely scrape by for second place. Lokomotiv will surely be in the battle for second too and are a dark horse to watch in this group. After making the Round of 16 in Europa League last year, it will be a big jump in talent for the Russian side. If there is a group where they can raise some eyebrows, this is the one.

Porto and Schalke advance

Group E

Now we enter the first of the two cakewalk groups. It’s a common joke to say the Bundesliga is essentially Bayern Munich and everyone else. It applies to Group E as well.

It’s clear the Bavarians are through and out the heavy favorites to win this group. Even after looking like they took a step back quality wise in the Champions League, Bayern still has enough depth in the middle of the field to keep things chugging along. Their 5-0 win over Eintracht Frankfurt should ease concerns too. This will be the first real test for Niko Kovac, Bayern Munich’s new manager. Carlo Ancelotti was immediately sacked after their blowout loss to PSG so it shows you how seriously they view their form in Europe. Luckily for Kovac, there isn’t an opponent of the Parisians quality in their group. Bayern should comfortably finish first.

The battle for the second place spot probably won’t be a drama-filled one either. Despite both having to play in the playoff rounds to reach the group stages, there is a gap of quality between Benfica and Ajax. Like Bayern, this should be an easy group for the Portuguese side to navigate. Finishing second won’t be a hard task for Benfica.

This now leaves the third place spot between Ajax and AEK. The Greek side barely scraped by in the play-off round as well and Ajax fought in a tough two-legged battle against Dynamo Kiev. There are gaps in quality between everyone in Group E. The battle for third place is no different. Ajax is the better side and should make their way into the Europa League.

Bayern and Benfica advance

Group F

All you need to do for Group F is take one look at the teams lined up and know who will top it. Manchester City is far and above the best team and should have it all wrapped halfway through the group stage. Even with the injury to Kevin De Bruyne, the Man City machine keeps plugging along. Pep Guardiola’s side has played stellar and has done so despite the likes of Leroy Sane getting off to tough starts. With the addition of Riyad Mahrez and a healthy Benjamin Mendy, Man City have so much firepower to work with. Bernardo Silva looking more comfortable in the system is a boost too. Last year they got bamboozled by Liverpool in the quarterfinals and looked pedestrian during the tie. Guardiola should have this side motivated and ready to go from the start. They are favorites to not only win the league but are in the mix of teams who can win the entire competition.

Now for who will finish behind Manchester City in the second spot is another open-ended question. Shakhtar, Lyon, and Hoffenheim all have what it takes to rally a couple of strong results together and stumble into second. At the same time, there are numerous questions surrounding the consistency of the last two in the group in Lyon and Hoffenheim. You don’t know which versions of these teams will show up on a given matchday. Lyon, for example, has a very underrated attack with Memphis DePay at the helm but they can’t seem to find the back of the net often. A lot of times for Lyon it’s been a lot of low-quality chances from outside the box and on the counter. Hoffenheim have started their season on an ok note but the jury is still out on how they will stack up against tougher competition in Europe. Shakhtar Donetsk should be the leader of the pack in this race for second. Like Porto, Shakhtar has done well in Europe as of late. While they won’t necessarily trouble Manchester City, they should be favorites to finish second.

Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk advance

Group G

Last season was a magical Champions League campaign for both Roma and Real Madrid. It often illustrates the difference in the level of expectations for teams in Europe. While for Roma supporters it would have been grand to see them win the Champions League, just reaching the semi-finals was an amazing achievement. It was even sweeter considering how they reached there, on the heels of one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history. After being thrashed 4-1 in the first leg, Roma staged an epic comeback back home in the return leg. They beat the Catalans 3-0 and advanced thanks to an away goals tie-breaker. It was one of the best comebacks in a Champions League tie the soccer world has ever seen. Now Roma has to play another Spanish giant as it draws defending winners Real Madrid in their group. Apart from their numerous pre-season matches in the summer, 2016 was the last time these two teams played in a competitive game. It was the Round of 16 in the UCL and Real Madrid dominated the tie, earning back to back 2-0 victories to see off the Italian side.

After winning three straight Champions League titles, this will be a completely different Champions League campaign for Real Madrid and we all know why. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus this summer shocked the club and not splashing the cash for a superstar to replace him was perplexing as well. While they almost certainly will try to land a top ten player in the world next summer, it looks like Real Madrid are making Gareth Bale the star of this team. The Welshman is now the star and will be looked upon to bag more goals for Los Blancos. Bale does have the talent to be a star for Real Madrid. His blistering pace causes so many problems for defenders and will open up spaces in the defense for others. Guys like Karim Benzema and Marco Asensio will have more goal scoring opportunities because of it. The midfield and the defense will still be the same as Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the middle of the park. Raphael Varane, who had an exceptional season for both club and country, will lineup along Sergio Ramos. With the loss of Zinedine Zidane factored in as well, it will be a tall mountain to climb for Madrid if they want to win the UCL for the fourth time in a row. They might not make it back to the final but a quarterfinal appearance isn’t an unreasonable expectation.

The two other teams in this group are CSKA Moscow and FC Viktoria Plzn. These two teams will battle for the third place spot of this group with the Russian side being the favorites. They are currently 6th in the Russian Premier League as Zenit and Spartak Moskova have gotten off to great starts domestically. Plzn are huge underdogs and despite being in the thick of things in the Czech league, it will be difficult for them to get results in this group. Their best shot comes on matchday one when they face off against CSKA.

It’s clear who the two best teams are in this group in Real Madrid and Roma. They’ll be the ones who advance to the knockout stages. Expect Madrid to finish at the top despite the transition to a life without Ronaldo.

Real Madrid and Roma advance

Group H

To say it’s been a turbulent season so far for Manchester United is an understatement. Between the comments made by Jose Mourinho and the two losses to start the season, the pressure is on in Old Trafford. Despite finishing second in the league last season, it was still defined as an “ok”. Losing to Sevilla in the Champions League Round of 16 didn’t help either. This is a big year for Mourinho as he enters in the heavily talked about "Year 3 Mou". It's usually around the time things implode and the Portuguese manager is let go. It will be an uphill battle in the league as both Manchester City and Liverpool are favorites to lift the trophy. The Champions League draw did no favors for the Red Devils either. Manchester United can’t afford to have performances like they did against Brighton if they want to do well in this group. They have made some upgrades and depth signings this summer, especially in the midfield with the addition of Fred from Shakhtar. Mourinho still has a lot of questions left to answer about this squad. Who will start on the wings is the first question. Defense is in question as well with Eric Bailly in and out of the lineup constantly. There is a lot of shuffling in those two areas for Manchester United and it shows on match days.

United’s biggest problem will be Juventus. The Italian champions had a fantastic summer picking up Emre Can, Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and some guy named Cristiano Ronaldo. Last season’s UCL campaign ended in infamy as a fantastic comeback in Bernabeu was canceled out by a late penalty awarded against the Old Lady. Juventus are bringing back a lot of their old squad but have replaced Gonzalo Higuain with Ronaldo, an obvious upgrade. The only real question for this squad will be the goalkeeping situation with Gigi Buffon now gone. The adjustment of Ronaldo on this Juventus team has gotten off to a rocky start but expect him to start scoring goals soon. Now it’s up to Max Allegri to see how he can field the best starting XI. Juventus will be very hard to stop in the Champions League this season.

Valencia is a sneaky underdog in this group. They have some young talent in attack with Michy Batshuayi and Goncalo Guedes, who made his move from Paris permanent this summer. They can catch teams on the counter with the pace on the wings too. After finishing 3rd in a group with Gent, Lyon, and Zenit last season they will be itching to make it back to the Round of 16. They certainly have the talent to make this happen.

Valencia has a chance to finish second in this group, especially if Manchester United slips up. However, Manchester United should have just enough to squeak into second. This is setting up to be a group to pay attention to.

Juventus and Manchester United advance

2018-19 English Premier League power rankings: City favorites to repeat, but Liverpool hope to end the drought
PREMIER LEAGUE POWER RANKINGS.jpg

With the European football leagues getting underway this week, The Barber's Chair is taking a look at each of the major soccer leagues across the pond to see how each club stacks up this season. Yesterday, Jonathan Ramos examined the top tier in France, Ligue 1. Today, Vijay Vemu looks at arguably the most popular league in football, the English Premier League.

Premier League Power Rankings

One of the world's best leagues, the English Premier League, kicks off on Friday with Leicester City facing off against Manchester United. It's the beginning of a great soccer weekend (including Arsenal vs. Man City) and hopefully a fun EPL season. Let’s rank the 20 clubs and in the end, I’ll release my entire table predictions.

Class 1: Title contenders

Manchester City
Liverpool

Last year we saw Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City take the crown by the throat, ending the title race by Christmas. Their second-half spell wasn’t as dominant as their start, but it was enough to get the job done and win their third EPL title of the decade. Now with an invigorated squad filled with summer signings like Riyad Mahrez, City are favorites to repeat.

Pep retains the majority of his key players and will get a healthy Benjamin Mendy to fill in at left back this season. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are going to be goal poachers with Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling providing service. However, the title chase will be closer with one team, in particular, having an amazing summer in the transfer market: Liverpool.

The Reds had a fantastic season in 2017/18 and got even stronger in the summer, adding the duo of Naby Keita and Fabinho to shore up the midfield. Both players fit right into Jurgen Kloop's system, with the former having a great motor to press. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah all come back healthy as well. Liverpool even went out and spent money on a quality keeper in Brazil's Allison, who sures up the backline and makes the Reds a dangerous contender in the Premier League. One question worth asking given Klopp’s system: will they run of steam in the second half of the season? If that happens in the middle of a serious title chase, we could see another Liverpool collapse.

Any year in the Premier League is a toss up, but with City being so far above everyone else and Liverpool improving, it’s hard to talk yourself into another big club being a title contender. At least right now. I expect the race to be pretty close, but for now, these are my two teams.

Class 2: European contenders

Manchester United
Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea
Arsenal
Leicester
City

I’m just gonna get this out of the way right now... I don’t see Burnley making a push like they did last season. Sean Dyche’s team did a fantastic job of playing park-the-bus soccer and making the Europa League out of it. They made great use of set pieces and defended like crazy, but we know what happens when you mix a Europa League run with trying to compete in the Premier League. Ask Southampton and Everton; it creates a disaster in one competition or another. The Clarets are going to naturally have to make a sacrifice about which competition to care for; but even if they solely focus on the Premier League, they will need another monster season to qualify for Europe.

As for who will actually be competing for European qualification, expect the rest of the big guns to be competing for Champions League. Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho’s comments have made things especially wild around Old Trafford. The whole thing regarding Anthony Martial raised a few eyebrows but thankfully there are people at United who realize his value. Making Marcus Rashford the number 10 is a big deal; hopefully, he can get more playing time this season. Mourinho has a lot of decisions to make attacking wise and if he can’t get it right, he may be on his way out.

Antonio Conte is finally out at Chelsea, and the Blues have brought in their man from Napoli. Maurizio Sarri will bring an exciting style to Stamford Bridge and hopefully convince Eden Hazard to stay with him by getting more attacking help. Adding Jorginho to boss the midfield along with N’Golo Kante is a big boost. Chelsea fans hope Sarri can make Alvaro Morata look at least 20% of what he was last year. I think if Morata is given a chance in Sarri’s system, he will have a fine season. But one man who is on his way out is Thibaut Courtois. Chelsea reportedly have his replacement lined up in Kepa, but it means even more shuffling defensively. You also have to wonder how Conte’s back three now fit with Sarri’s 4-3-3 system. Marcos Alonso will have real problems playing as a full-time left back.

No movement in the transfer window have left Tottenham fans mad as there have been barely any incomings to the club. Losing Toby Alderweireld and Moussa Dembele won’t ease any of the tension. Spurs still have a super talented squad and manager Mauricio Pochettino will have his guys ready to go. Harry Kane will still be smashing in goals and the likes of Heung Min Son, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli will provide a ton of offensive support, but they needed an upgrade on their squad to take the next step into title contention. Sadly for Spurs fans, there was no upgrade at all.

Arsene Wenger is finally out and Unai Emery is in at Arsenal. The Gunners have a potent attack with Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette up front. Emery will have to figure out make the two strikers together instead of what happened last season when the latter was moved out to the left wing and looked all out of sorts. The midfield got a boost with the addition of Uruguay’s Lucas Torreira. He can be a good cover in front of Arsenal’s shaky backline and will look to be their backbone in midfield. It’s a project that Emery has got in his hands. Wenger left him a depleted squad, and it'll take a couple of years for Emery to get his type of players. Expect another topsy-turvy year from the Gunners.

Another team I would like to throw in for Europe contention is Leicester City. Even after losing Mahrez, they made some smart signings in Ricardo Pereira, Richard Ghezzal, James Madison, and Danny Ward. All of those signings strengthen a talented and dangerous squad with Jamie Vardy still up top, and Ndidi and Vicente Iborra solid in the midfieldl. Getting Jonny Evans to play in the back will help the backline depth, especially if Harry Maguire leaves (which he might this transfer window or next).

Class 3: Mid-table

Crystal Palace
Wolverhampton
Everton
Watford
Newcastle United
Fulham
West Ham
Burnley

The team who will get the most eyeballs here will be Wolves. Like Newcastle last year, they are easily a mid-table team and won’t be fighting for their lives this season. They brought in a lot of quality players in the past two years, and the way they ran the Championship showed they can make some noise in the table. I know it’s ambitious to put them in the top 9 but you can argue given the troubling summers the three teams behind them in the list, it’s not unreasonable. Crystal Palace had a good end to the summer and given the chaos in the middle of the table, if they keep Zaha they will be fine.

Newcastle has had a very troubling summer with Rafa Benitez expressing his concern for the lack of transfers. It’s not out of reason for them to be in the relegation race when the season comes to a close, but I think Benitez is a talented enough manager to pull them out of it.

Fulham will be fun too and they kept their best young players, which bodes well for them staying up. Everton is a toss up under Marco Silva; they could be in contention for 7th, but given how their pre-season has gone it seems they are in a fight for 10th place again. West Ham hope their signing of Felipe Anderson will be a big boost for them; he's a smart purchase who can spark the Hammers offensively like Dimitri Payet did a couple of years ago.

Class 4: Relegation Zone

Bournemouth
Southampton
Brighton
Huddersfield
Cardiff City

There are two teams here who are good bets to land in the relegation zone: Huddersfield and Cardiff City. Both clubs, talent-wise, don’t have enough firepower to stay in the Premier League. It was a miracle that Huddersfield stayed up last year, and this year will be even harder for them. They’ve made some signings which could help them stay up, so it’s an automatic drop but it’s hard to see them trying the same thing they did last year and have it work.

The last relegation spot will come between Brighton and Southampton. Much like Lille in France, Southampton's drop in quality has been shocking and sad to see. The Saints were once in the Europa League, now they are fighting for their Premier League lives. They are going to have to rely on a young core to get them out of this. Bournemouth is also in here but Eddie Howe can get the job done, much like Rafa at Newcastle.

Full table prediction

  1. Man City

  2. Liverpool

  3. Manchester United

  4. Spurs

  5. Chelsea

  6. Arsenal

  7. Leicester

  8. Crystal Palace

  9. Wolves

  10. Everton

  11. Watford

  12. Newcastle

  13. Fulham

  14. West Ham

  15. Burnley

  16. Bournemouth

  17. Southampton

  18. Brighton

  19. Huddersfield

  20. Cardiff City

 

What 2 Watch: Thursday May 10th

We don't have any basketball until Sunday. What the fuck am I gonna do with my life for the next three days?

While I try and maneuver my way through this thing called 'Life without the NBA', there's some pretty high stakes games on tonight, including a Game 7 in the NHL, a possible sweep in the Bronx, and Tiger and Phil teeing off at TPC. Enjoy your Thursday!


Boston Red Sox v. New York Yankees
7pm EST, MLB Network, MLB.TV, MLB At Bat app

The Evil Empire is back on top. The Yankees have won 17 of 18 and go for the sweep of the Red Sox tonight in the Bronx. It's been late hits from Aaron Judge in game one and Brett Gardner last night that have given the Yanks the edge. Now CC Sabathia goes for win #240 and a series sweep of their rivals.


(John Woods/The Canadian Press)

(John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg Jets v. Nashville Predators, Western Conference Semifinal Game 7
8pm EST, NBCSN, NBC Sports App

Thanks to an unusual playoff alignment in the NHL, the two best teams in the Western Conference are playing in the semis. The Jets are trying to make their first Western Conference Final since Winnipeg got their hockey team back a few years ago. The Preds have unfinished business after losing in the Stanley Cup Final last summer, and a Game 7 L at home would crush a lot of spirits in Smashville. Look out for Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, Nashville's PK Subban and Filip Forsberg in this one.


Minnesota Twins v. Los Angeles Angels
10pm EST, FS1, Fox Sports GO, MLB.TV, MLB At Bat app

The Twins take a five-game winning streak into Anaheim to face the Orange County Angels. Jose Berrios (3-3, 3.98 ERA) meets Mike Trout for the very first time as Minnesota looks to break even with the Indians in the AL Central. Garrett Richards (4-1, 3.93 ERA) is red hot coming off of his best outing of the season against Seattle last week.


San Francisco Giants v. Philadelphia Phillies
1pm EST, Facebook

The Phillies go for the four-game sweep in this matinee affair. It would be their fourth of the season, their third at home where they're 14-5. Two teams over .500 and you can watch them while you dodge your family's desperate attempts to get your attention. Fun fun fun!


The Players Championship
1:52pm EST, Golf Channel, ESPN+

TPC at Sawgrass is the biggest non-major of the PGA Tour season, and while golf usually isn't appointment TV for me, it is when Tiger Woods is playing. You factor in he's teeing off with Phil Mickelson? Some mid-afternoon golf just turned into really good background noise for ya boy.


West Ham United v. Manchester United
2:45pm, NBCSN, NBC Sports App

Man U heads to East London in need of a point to secure the second spot in the Premier League table. There awaits former gaffer David Moyes, who got sacked 10 months into his stay at Old Trafford in 2014. Current Man U manager Jose Mourinho has a lot to figure out about his lineup before the summer transfer window opens.

Champions League Round of 16 takeaways

After a month in between legs, the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League is over. 8 teams (Manchester City, Roma, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Liverpool) all advanced to the quarterfinals. The quarter final draw will be announced soon but let’s take some time to reflect on some of the more interesting ties which took place in the Round of 16.

Allegri gets it right in the second leg

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After mismanaging the first leg in Turin which saw his team give up a 2-0 goal lead, Max Allegri made the right moves in the second leg in what was a impressive victory for the away side. In the first leg, Allegri was too conservative and didn’t make the right moves or tactics necessary in order to let Juve see out a two goal advantage. The 2-2 draw gave Spurs a whole new lifeline in the tie and had them the favorites to advance. Allegri did start off the second leg on shaky terms by going with three centre backs at the back and a formation which isolated Barzagli against Heung Min Son on the right hand side. The move clearly backfired as the winger ran circles around the 36 year old Barzagli, giving Juve trouble anytime he touched the ball. It reached a massive problem when Son scored the opening goal in the second leg and it looked Juve where headed for an exit.

Then with around 30 minutes left in the tie, Allegri made two key subs. He took off Mehdi Benatia and Blaise Matuidi in exchange for two wing backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah. Bringing on a defensive right and left back switched Juve from a back three to a back four, with Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini in the middle. This change worked well for Juve as the two fullbacks not only brought defensive stability and allowed the Italian duo in the centre to do what they do best in the middle but they also pressured Spurs on the wings. It was the first time all game Spurs full backs had to deal with opposing pressure and they crumbled. Especially Ben Davies. Lichtsteiner was easily able to get past him and deliver a cross which would eventually end up in the back of the Spurs net thanks to Gonzalo Higuain. The changing of formation plus pressure from Lichtsteiner seemed to rattle Davies and it showed in the second goal. It was Davies who played Paulo Dybala onside as the Juve attack beat Hugo Lloris for an all important goal from the Juve side.

There was more to this than just the brilliant play of Juventus in the 10 minute stretch which sealed off the game but part of the credit should go to Allegri. He saw the mistakes he made in defense in the first half and wasn’t afraid to switch things up. The change of tactics confused Spurs, opening up a chance for Juventus to take advantage and the Italian side pounced. European football is cruel sometimes.

Mourinho mismanages Manchester United

Michael Regan

Michael Regan

While Allegri got his tactics right for Juventus, Jose Mourinho botched it again for Manchester United. At home against Sevilla with the scoreline being 0-0 after the first leg, many still felt like Manchester United would still pull out a win. But it turned out to be the complete opposite as two goals in quick succession from the Spanish side saw the Red Devils crash out of Europe in a rare defeat at home. Defeat at home in the Champions League isn’t something Manchester United fans are used to and it was a punch in the mouth when Wassim Ben Yedder curled a shot in the far right corner to give Sevilla 1-0 lead. Matters got even worse when Ben Yedder’s header off a corner bounced over the line and suddenly it was two away goals for Sevilla. Not even Romelu Lukaku’s late goal could spark Man U back to life and that was all she wrote.

It was a very defensive formation which Mourinho brought out, playing both Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini in the midfield. Two players who won’t give much to Manchester United moving forward. He also played Marcus Rashford out of position and also played Alexis Sanchez, an attacker who is massively out of form at the moment. The game plan should have been for Manchester United to go out and attack Sevilla. Get an early goal, take the life out of the opponent and then sit back to absorb pressure Mourinho style. Instead they let Sevilla’s two holding midfielders in Steven N’Zonzi and Ever Banega boss the midfield. Banega, who led the UCL in passes completed before the game, had a master class of a match alongside his French counterpart. They dictated play in the midfield and made life difficult for Manchester United’s backline from the start. The resistance was broken when Ben Yedder came on. Manchester United gave Sevilla one really good chance and the Spanish side took it graciously. But it shouldn’t have been like that to begin with. Given they were the home and better side, Manchester United should have been the ones attacking Sevilla but instead found themselves shelled in defensively. So when Sevilla struck twice, Manchester United had to quickly bring on two attacking subs but the damage had already been done.

Like with their English counterparts, Tottenham Hotspur, part of the blame goes to the Manchester United players but honestly they were put in a position to fail. Some of the guys were playing out of position and guys with similar playing styles were slotted right next to each other. There was no balance in the Manchester United team. They were way too conservative for it and paid the price for it.

Messi carries FC Barcelona

Twitter

Twitter

What will FC Barcelona do without Leo Messi? It’s a question worth asking in the future but for now, we should keep enjoying the greatness of one of the best ever. Messi was in a mood to get this tie with Chelsea over with from the get go. He scored 3 minutes into the match, following up some nice one-two play with his teammates before a deflection saw the ball go to Luis Suarez. The striker played it to Messi, who drilled it through the legs of Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois and instantly you could feel the tie fully shifted to Barcelona. Especially in a place like the Camp Nou, where only a few teams have came and won.

He also set up Ousmane Dembele for his first goal in a Barcelona shirt and it was the goal which ultimately sealed Chelsea’s fate. Once again, Messi evaded a defender and blazed past him. Getting inside the Blues penalty area with ease, he crossed the ball over to the French winger who then splendidly smashed the ball into the top left corner. It was a world class goal and one which Dembele needed. You could see it on his face and through Messi’s reaction just how much it meant to the team.

Then in the second leg with the game out of reach, Messi put salt on the wounds of Chelsea with another goal, again beating Courtois through his legs. It was his 100th goal in Champions League and was a performance which showed just how dominant he can be. Messi showed this side earlier in the Champions League against Juventus in the group stage in what was a 3-0 win for Barcelona at home.

Coming into this match, there was a little worry that Chelsea could get a result at the Camp Nou. With the way Barcelona played in the first leg, it was certainly possible. But Leo Messi had other ideas and made sure Barca would go through. Even if they weren’t at their best as a team through both legs.

Real Madrid are still a force to be reckoned with

Real Madrid

Real Madrid

Despite their struggles in La Liga, Real Madrid are still on another level when it comes to the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo and company got through their big tie with Paris Saint-Germain and did so with relative ease. Knowing Paris were going to attack them, Real Madrid had to make sure the wings were secure and no chances were created from there. Both Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio made sure the likes of Angel Di Maria were limited offensively. They were tracking back and sat back when needed to provide support to Madrid’s fullbacks. Asensio and Vazquez were active all over the pitch especially the former who ignited the opening goal by Ronaldo which put the tie to bed. He stole the ball in the Paris half then drove into the penalty box. Seconds later Ronaldo climbed up near the back post and headed the away Madrid desperately needed. From there it was nothing Paris could do but wonder how this project went all wrong once again.

By putting away PSG with ease, Real Madrid once again continue to stake their claim as one of the most dangerous teams in this competition. The holders are still in it and seem to hit another gear when the Champions League team comes on. With a La Liga title completely out of the picture, Zidane and his squad can fully focus on the Champions League. A completely refreshed Madrid squad will be expected on most midweek games now. Who knows who they will draw in the Champions League quarter finals but they still will be favorites.

Champions League takeaways
Reuters

Reuters

We are officially halfway through the Champions League Round of 16 ties and there are a lot of storylines to take away from the chaos. There were blowouts (Man City, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich) and there were some interesting matches (Juve-Spurs, Barca-Chelsea). With the second legs happening next week, the Champions League is beginning to heat up as soccer heads towards one of the best stretches of the season. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest storylines to take away from the eight matches over the course of two weeks.

 

Juve was too conservative and Tottenham made them pay

Alessandro Di Marco/AP Photo

Alessandro Di Marco/AP Photo

Aside from the masterful Spurs performance in the second half, the main takeaway from this game was Juventus losing the plot after starting off the match brilliantly. After the first 10 minutes it seemed like it this tie was already over thanks to a brace by Gonzalo Higuain. It was two mistakes by Spurs and two goals struck in the back of their net. But then Max Allegri decided to have his team sit back and absorb pressure for the rest of the 80 minutes. While it was something Juventus has done in the past, the tactic massively backfired. Even with the threat of the counterattack, Juventus failed to generate any serious chances for the rest of the game. They not only saw their lead get split in half twenty minutes later but they saw Spurs get a crucial away goal thanks to the brilliance of Christian Eriksen. A lot of the problems was Juventus allowed Spurs time on the ball and let the likes of Eriksen and Dembele boss in the midfield. They took advantage of a slower Sami Khedira in the middle and tested the Juventus backline for the entire match.

It’s easy to say in hindsight that this was a bad move but even during the game you see this was a bad move. Especially when he had some playmakers on the pitch such as Douglas Costa, who had a brilliant match, and Higuain. Juventus came out firing and grabbed a strong hold on the tie but then decided to absorb the pressure like a bubble. It blew up in their faces and now they have to go to Wembley and try to beat a red hot Spurs team.

Barcelona show lingering problems

AP

AP

In the first leg of the game of Barcelona vs. Chelsea, the team from London were the better side. They played a near perfect match with Antonio Conte getting the tactics and game plan for this his side to succeed down to a tee. However they made one key error and it led to how it usually does against Leo Messi and Barcelona, with the opposing team picking the ball out of the back of their own net. Other than the blunder it was a near perfect game from Chelsea and they showed how to bottle this Barcelona attack. Messi and company were scraping for space all night and other than the goal, had no real shots on target. At least none which caused any panic from the Blues.

Part of this is the great coaching from Conte and on the flip side, it’s on Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde. He played a more conservative side and probably could have gone with a more attacking side which focused on the wings. By playing his normal squad in Champions League, Valverde set Barca up to be vulnerable down the wings. By giving Chelsea space down the channels, Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses had great games and were rock solid defensively.

This sets up for an interesting second leg and one which Barcelona should still be favored in. But given how more conservative Valverde’s Barcelona is compared to different teams in years past, things could get hairy if Chelsea grab one at the Nou Camp.

Mistake by Mourinho and Manchester United

Reuters

Reuters

While Antonio Conte thrived, his Premier League counterpart Jose Mourinho did not. Against La Liga side Sevilla, Manchester United got out shot 25-6 and 8-1 with shots on target. 25 to 6. If not for some amazing reaction saves by David De Gea and Sevilla somehow forgetting how to finish in front of goal, this could have been an ugly result for United.

Some of it goes towards the players with most of the attackers failing to look like threats all night but part of it should also reflect back on Mourinho. Manchester United didn’t come out all aggressive looking for the key away goal to shift the tie their way. They could have gotten one goal quickly and take the air out of the stadium. But instead they decided to sit back and let the game come to them and boy did Sevilla take it to them. They were hoping to just absorb pressure and get a goal while staying compact defensively in their own half. The plan did work in that they didn’t give up any goals but Mourinho’s side didn’t generate anything offensively. This was more on Sevilla not scoring than Manchester United defending.

Zidane made the right moves

Reuters

Reuters

Real Madrid have been horrible in La Liga and the Copa Del Rey but to their credit, they do shine in the Champions League. In a must-win match, Zidane played his cards right and rode his stars to victory. They took advantage of the inexperience of Lo Celso for the first goal and the bad substitutions by Unai Emery for the second and third. For every bad sub Emery made, Zidane made a good one. He brought on the energy boost winger Marco Asensio in exchange for Isco and Lucas Vazquez for Casemiro. They were offensive minded mood and a risk given the scoreline at the time was only 1-1. But Asensio specifically provided the boost Real Madrid needed and next thing you know, Los Blancos were up 3-1 and look to be cruising to a spot in the quarterfinals.

Champions League round of 16 preview

Last week’s Champions League fixtures proved to be what was expected. The big matchups lived up to their billing and the two English squads who were expected to smash their opposition on the road dominated. Now we move on to the next set of 8 teams who are set to do battle in the Champions League. Again we have two English squads in this week but this time they play two La Liga teams who have had great success in Europe in recent seasons. We also see Bayern Munich welcome the winners of Group G, and a very underrated tie taking place in Ukraine. Let’s dive into the matchups.

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FC Barcelona vs. Chelsea

This will be the most star powered matchup of the week and it will be between two clubs who have a rich recent history in European competitions. It’s Chelsea vs. FC Barcelona. The last two times these two met in the knockout rounds, the winner has gone on to win the Champions League. We have seen moments like Andres Iniesta’s last second goal at the Bridge in 2009 and Fernando Torres circling around Victor Valdes to give Chelsea a shock win at the Nou Camp in 2012. Anytime these two teams meet, there is drama involved.

However, unlike most times, both teams are walking in on two different planets in terms of form. Chelsea are trying to find their form as Antonio Conte searches for answers and Barcelona are rolling. One problem for Valverde’s men is he played his main squad in a 2-0 victory over Eibar. Although he did sub off Iniesta, there are still questions about resting certain players before a big match away from the Nou Camp.

In terms of offense for both teams, the spotlight will be on Chelsea’s offense, which has struggled to produce goals against quality competition. Other than Eden Hazard and maybe Marcos Alonso, the Chelsea attack has really struggled. Alvaro Morata has been off form and with Michy Batshuayi off to Borussia Dortmund, there aren’t a lot of options coming off the bench. We already know Barcelona’s offense is going to create chances and control possession so these attacks from Chelsea will have to come from the counterattack. They will certainly need more than just Hazard to break a Barcelona defense which has been great and a goalie in Marc Andre Ter Stegen who is having a career season so far.

Prediction: This is a tough game for Chelsea and given the problems they have had with Conte on the offense, there could not be a worse game to walk into. Also, will this be the first time Messi scores against Chelsea? So many questions to be answered. In all honesty, Chelsea will likely bunker down and give Barcelona majority of the chances. It will be a standstill until Barcelona break through and then a second late goal seals off the tie. 2-0 Barcelona

FC Bayern vs. Besiktas

It’s been another typical year for Bayern Munich. First in the Bundesliga and in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Again they have another favorable draw on paper as they welcome Turkish club Besiktas to the Allianz Arena.

However they have to be wary of Besiktas, who are coming in on a seven game unbeaten streak. They last played on Friday and drew Konyaspor 1-1 in Super Lig play, where they are 4th. Besiktas still have a lot of tournaments to play for as they are only 5 points off the top spot in their domestic tournament and are in the semi-final of the Turkish Cup. That’s three tournaments they have to take account for. There is a chance they can steal an away goal in Bayern but like Chelsea, they will be playing a lot of defense and have to take advantage of counters/set pieces. Besiktas attack took a hit after selling Cenk Tosun to Everton but they can still catch Bayern off guard.

As for the Bavarian giants, they are still rolling. They haven’t lost in the Bundesliga this calendar year and are nearly 20 points ahead of second place Borussia Dortmund. Behind the likes of James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski, Bayern’s attack is thriving and will give the Besiktas defense a lot to handle. You get the feeling the more and more Bayern put pressure, eventually a goal will leak in and the dam will break.

Prediction: Besiktas have a chance to pull off a major upset and are riding in on a hot streak. But they are running into a machine in Bayern Munich. But to the Turkish club’s credit, they might manage a decent result for themselves. 3-1 Bayern Munich

Manchester United vs. Sevilla

It’s another English vs. Spanish matchup as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United face off against Sevilla. Ironically it’s a matchup in the Champions League between two clubs who have won the last four Europa League titles.

For the Spanish side, this will be their second year in a row playing an English side. It didn’t go well the last time as they were knocked out by Leicester City as the Foxes got a goal in the return leg to seal the victory. This time, they are facing a much tougher opponent in Manchester United. Sevilla have shown resilience in the Champions League this year. They came back from a 3-0 deficit against Liverpool in the group stage and it was a big boost for them, especially against a formidable side. Sevilla has experienced success in Europe before. It wasn’t long ago where they won the Europa League three times in a row.

Man U is coming off a victory in the FA Cup over Huddersfield thanks to a Romelu Lukaku brace. It sort of took away the stinger they took from Newcastle United in league play when they lost 1-0 in St. James Park. The big question will be if Paul Pogba will play. If he can’t go against Sevilla, it would leave a huge hole in midfield for Man U. Pogba does so much for them as a box to box midfielder and his absence will show for the Red Devils.

Prediction: This is a tough game to predict but Manchester United are the better squad so you have to give them the edge. 2-1 Manchester United

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

This is the one matchup I’m looking forward to other than Barcelona-Chelsea. Yes, I’m talking about Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk. It’s a matchup of two teams who both could easily advance. It’s one of the most fair draws in the tournament.

Roma are coming into this matchup on a three-game winning streak with a 2-0 win over Udinese in their latest matchup. Thanks to goals from Under and Perroti, they were able to gain a valuable three points as they chase a top four finish in Italy. With Edin Dzeko up top, he is Roma’s target man and their main source of scoring. There’s always a chance Radja Nainggolan blasts a rocket from way outside the box too. His right foot is dynamite.

Like their counterparts, Shakhtar are coming in on a victory again. It was a 5-0 victory for the leaders in the Ukrainian league. However, they are facing some pressure in league play with Dynamo Kyiv only 3 points behind them in second place. One big thing to look for will be the attack of Shakhtar. They boast the likes of Marlos, Bernard, Taison, and Ferreyra who are all dangerous in attack. All four play up top and will give Roma’s defense problems. Especially Bernard, whose small stature might may lead some to think he isn’t a tough player but he is. With the likes of Marlos on the other wing and Ferreyra up top, Bernard could have the chance to dice up the Roma defense.

Prediction: Both teams are hard to figure out as they both rely on skill players to initiate attack. This will be a tie where the pace will be back and forth and both defenses will be tested. I’m honestly so excited for this tie. I’m leaning Shakhtar but Roma has a chance to make this interesting. This is going to be fun. 2-2 draw