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Champions league

5 players to watch out for

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On Wednesday night, millions of European football fans from all over the world will have their attention glued on to the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, where hosts Real Madrid will take on Premier League giants Manchester City in the first-leg clash of the UEFA Champions League 2019-20 round-of-16.

While Real Madrid are looking to win their fourth UCL title in five years, Manchester City are keen to add their maiden European trophy to their list of achievements. At the same time, pressure is mounted equally on both sides – Los Blancos are seeking to make amends for a trophyless 2018-19 season, while the Sky Blues intend to make their efforts count this season, before they head into the next two years when they will not play in Europe as a result of UEFA’s ban for violating Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

Meanwhile, here are some details that would help in the build-up to the upcoming match:

Both teams’ performance since the Champions League 2019-20 group stage concluded:

Real Madrid
Form: LDWLWWWWDWWDDD
Latest result: Levante 1-0 Real Madrid, February 22
Where they stand: 2nd in La Liga

Manchester City
Form: WWLLWWDWWWWWLWWW
Latest result: Leicester City 0-1 Manchester City, February 22
Where they stand: 2nd in Premier League, FA Cup round of 16, League Cup final

Possible line-ups

Real Madrid
Courtois; Carvajal, Varane, Ramos, Mendy; Modric, Valverde, Casemiro, Kroos; Vinicius Junior, Benzema.
Injured and ruled out: Asensio (match fitness), Hazard (ankle)

Manchester City
Ederson; Walker, Fernandinho, Laporte, Zinchenko; De Bruyne, Rodri, Silva; Bernardo, Aguero, Sterling.
Injured and ruled out: Sane (match fitness)
Misses next game if booked: Mendy


Let’s now take a look at the five players to watch out for:

5. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)

Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City in action during the UEFA Champions League group C match against Atalanta at Etihad Stadium on October 22, 2019, in Manchester, United Kingdom.

One of the most underrated players in the star-studded Manchester City lineup, midfielder Kevin de Bruyne would be one of their most important players against Real Madrid. His on-field movements, along with his ability to play inch-perfect passes to attackers makes him a big threat to Zinedine Zidane and his boys.

4. Federico Valverde (Real Madrid)

Federico Valverde of Real Madrid in action during the UEFA Champions League group A match against Galatasaray at Santiago Bernabeu on November 06, 2019, in Madrid, Spain.

A rising superstar, Federico Valverde started creating an impact at Real Madrid late into the last season. This year, he has only grown stronger, as evident from the numerous brilliant displays he has exhibited so far. The El Clasico in December 2019 comes to mind, and one can say for sure that Valverde would be one of Zidane’s go-to men against Manchester City.

3. Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League group C match against Atalanta at Etihad Stadium on October 22, 2019, in Manchester, United Kingdom.

Former Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero returns to the home ground of his former local rivals, and we can for sure expect the old rivalry to bring out the best in him once again. The Argentine forward is one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the world right now, and it will not be a surprise if he scores one or more goals against Real Madrid.

2. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)

Karim Benzema of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League group A match against Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Santiago Bernabeu on November 26, 2019, in Madrid, Spain.

Karim Benzema has been a central character in most of Real Madrid’s goal-scoring chances, both successful and otherwise, ever since Cristiano Ronaldo left them. It would do good for City’s defenders to know that the former France international should be the one who they should be most wary about, on Wednesday night.

1. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City)

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match against Shakhtar Donetsk at Etihad Stadium on November 26, 2019, in Manchester, United Kingdom.

England star Raheem Sterling would definitely be one of the best players on the pitch on Wednesday, as no one can doubt his ability. the pacy winger has been at his best for Pep Guardiola’s side in the past few years, and as the years roll by, he only seems to get better. Rumours have it that even Real Madrid are interested in a summer move worth £180million for him – and that simply goes on to prove how he is valued even by his opponents.

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Champions league

Brilliant Leipzig shine uncomfortable light on Mourinho’s elite credentials

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Jose Mourinho’s time at the top table of European football looked done and dusted as RB Leipzig put his Tottenham to the sword.

As Tottenham’s Champions League dreams unravelled in line with Jose Mourinho’s drip-drip doomsaying, it was tempting to wonder how the Spurs boss might have talked up RB Leipzig’s chances were he in the stylish shoes of opposite number Julian Nagelsmann.

How could you expect success for a team looking to Manchester City’s third choice left-back, who was parachuted in as a loan January signing, for a chunk of their attacking threat?

And what about your star striker being unable to train for two weeks, cruelly robbing him of match sharpness?

Oh, that’s before you consider he must line up in a front three alongside a Paris Saint-Germain reject and a big money flop sent packing by Roma.

Of course, Angelino produced a rip-roaring display in this thumping 3-0 win to crown a 4-0 aggregate triumph – raiding relentlessly down the Tottenham right and setting up Marcel Sabitzer’s second of the evening after seeing a fit-again Timo Werner convert his earlier low cross from an offside position.

Had Werner entered this match with ideal preparation under his belt, he might have left Eric Dier marooned permanently in another dimension. Particularly before half-time, the Spurs defender needed every ounce of his commendable grit as the Germany striker tore into him repeatedly.

Dier’s attempt to clear Angelino’s cross that led to the third goal from substitute Emile Forsberg was that of a performer battered and broken by thankless exertions.

Alongside Werner, Christopher Nkunku and Patrik Schick were winning duals and shuttling with creative intent. You could not spot any lingering effect from the back-to-back draws domestically that have checked Leipzig’s Bundesliga title ambitions this month.

Theirs was a performance of purpose, belief and riotous swagger, at least until the final half an hour when they slowed the tempo and tightened the control, squeezing any last lingering drop of Amsterdam fuelled belief in the improbable from a forlorn Tottenham side.

Special legacy compounds ordinary present

Dayot Upamecano imperiously commanded the Leipzig backline, with the sort of performance John Terry or Marco Materazzi might have supplied in one of Mourinho’s great sides.

All the Special One has now are those special memories.

It really is remarkable how quickly this latest scene in the increasingly torturous third act of his career has reverted to recent type.

Mourinho gave a sparky, twinkle-eyed news conference on November 21 last year after he succeeded Mauricio Pochettino. Following three consecutive wins – albeit with six goals conceded – in all competitions – Tottenham were beaten by Manchester United on December 4.

Thirteen days. There ended a honeymoon period shorter than many honeymoons. Spurs did not win consecutive games again until another burst of three in a row at the start of February. They have not won since, with Leipzig extending this slump to six outings.

During this time, Mourinho has played the hits no one wanted to hear. Sure, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min’s injuries leave him significantly compromised in attack, but talent remains. Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura – the hero of that unforgettable Ajax comeback – are not woe-is-me no hopers.

To quote Alli in his interview to BT Sport immediately afterwards: “We can’t use that as an excuse, we still have quality on the pitch.”

No romance in tough love

Tanguy Ndombele has copped frequent public criticism, presumably because the tactic worked so well with Paul Pogba. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who clatters from one accident-prone 90 minutes to the next at the moment, should be grateful he isn’t a rangy and gifted midfielder. Mourinho really would be fuming then.

But even when the old tricks had lost their shine, Mourinho was still capable of putting together robust defensive outfits.

Tottenham have kept three clean sheets in his 26 matches in charge, with just Aston Villa (42) conceding more than their 37 during this period. Villa’s fellow Premier League relegation candidates Brighton and Hove Albion and Bournemouth are the only teams with fewer shutouts since Mourinho’s November appointment.

Don’t worry, though, because he’s a serial winner, trophies in every job. Well, roll on 2020-21 for that part of the dubious bargain after Leipzig followed Norwich City in making a mockery of supposedly favourable cup draws.

This man for the big occasion is without a Champions League knockout win since April 2014. All that remains is the top-four race in the Premier League. Tottenham are eighth and host a revitalised United on Sunday.

Nagelsmann’s brilliant Leipzig shone a blazing light on this uncomfortable body of evidence that begs an uncomfortable question concerning one of this century’s defining football figures: if you are a club with elite ambitions in Europe, why on earth would you ever appoint Jose Mourinho?

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Champions league

Mourinho: No team in the world would cope with Spurs’ injuries

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Tottenham’s injury issues would be too much for the likes of Liverpool and Barcelona, Jose Mourinho said after their Champions League exit.

Jose Mourinho believes no team in the world would be able to cope with the injuries Tottenham have had to endure.

Tottenham limped out of the Champions League on Tuesday as they were beaten 3-0 by RB Leipzig in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Errors from Hugo Lloris helped Marcel Sabitzer put Leipzig in command with a first-half double before substitute Emil Forsberg rounded off a 4-0 aggregate triumph late on.

It meant Spurs’ hopes of winning a trophy this season came to an end, and they also face an uphill battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Tottenham have been without Son Heung-min since February because of a broken arm, while a hamstring injury has kept fellow forward Harry Kane on the sideline since New Year’s Day.

Full-back Ben Davies missed the trip to Leipzig with a hamstring problem and Davinson Sanchez was also absent, with Spurs’ defence ran ragged by Leipzig on the counter.

Asked in his post-match media conference what problems beyond injuries contributed to the defeat, Mourinho replied: “It’s difficult for me to speak about injuries, but you want me to speak about other things when the obvious problems relate to accumulation of injuries?

“If you want to make a mental exercise and imagine Leipzig tonight without Sabitzer, [Patrik] Schick, [Timo] Werner, do you think they would win the way they did?

 

“You want to make an exercise of Liverpool without [Mohamed] Salah, [Sadio] Mane, [Jordan] Henderson, Barcelona without [Antoine] Griezmann, [Lionel] Messi, [Luis] Suarez, [Gerard] Pique, you want to make this exercise with every team in the world? I think every team in the world would struggle with five or six of their most important players missing.

“It’s as simple as that and to look at in a very pragmatic and simple way, it’s as simple as that.

“All the players on Leipzig would play, Forsberg would play, [Yussuf] Poulsen would, all of them would play in this moment in my team.

“I know that automatically our team will improve next season with these players [returning from injury], but we also know we have to improve in other areas.

“Our problems don’t end with injuries but no team in the world would cope with injuries for such a long time. You can cope for one or two matches you cannot cope for three or four months, it’s too much.”

Spurs are seven points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and four behind fifth-placed Manchester United in the Premier League. Fifth would secure Champions League football if Manchester City’s ban from the competition stands.

“With the squad we have at the moment it’s going to be very, very difficult,” Mourinho said of their prospects of qualification. “We have matches to play, we have matches to fight. It’s not like we cannot fight. We are going to fight.”

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Coronavirus: Champions League and Europa League finals postponed

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The Champions League and Europa League finals will not take place as scheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic, UEFA has announced

UEFA has formally announced the postponements of the Champions League and Europa League finals due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Champions League final had been due to take place on May 30 in Istanbul, with the decisive Europa League encounter scheduled to be contested in Gdansk three days earlier.

However, those games, along with the Women’s Champions League final – originally allocated for May 24 in Vienna – will now be played at later dates.

The decision is no surprise, with the vast majority of club football in Europe having been put on hold due to the spread of the virus.

A working group, established last week following a conference call between the stakeholders of European football, is to analyse the available options for fulfilling the fixtures.

In a statement confirming the postponements, UEFA said the group had already begun its examination of the calendar, with an announcement to be made in due course.

Only half of the eight Champions League last-16 ties have been completed, with Paris Saint-Germain, Atalanta, Atletico Madrid and RB Leipzig progressing.

The Europa League is at the same stage, with just six first-leg matches completed.

The Women’s Champions League has reached the quarter-finals. The first-leg matches, scheduled for March 25, and second-leg clashes, pencilled in for April 1, were all postponed because of the pandemic, which has killed over 16,000 people worldwide.

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