Ranking Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League Top Fantasy Picks from 1 to 9 (No Goalkeepers).

1 – Lionel Messi – Barcelona (vs Ferencvarosi)

2 – Neymar – PSG (vs Manchester Untd)

3 – Kylian Mbappe – PSG (vs Manchester Untd)

4 – Philippe Coutinho – Barcelona (vs Ferencvarosi)

5 – Sardar Azmoun – Zenit St. Petersbourg (vs Club Brugge)

6 – Angelino – RB Leipzig (vs Istanbul Basaksehir)

7 – Sergino Dest – Barcelona (vs Ferencvarosi)

8 – Yussuf Poulsen – RB Leipzig (vs Istanbul Basaksehir)

9 – Christopher Nkunku – RB Leipzig (vs Istanbul Basaksehir)

Happy Drafting!

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Ranking Today’s Top MLS Fantasy Picks from 1 to 9 without goalkeepers

1 – Diego Rossi (F) – LAFC (vs SJ)

2 – Diego Valeri (M) – Portland Timbers (vs VAN)

3 – Alejandro Pozuelo (M) – Toronto FC (vs CLB)

4 – Nicolas Lodeiro (M) – Seattle Sounders (vs LAG)

5 – Kacper Przybylko (F) – Philadelphia Union (vs MIA)

6 – Pedro Santos (M) – Columbus Crew (vs TOR)

7 – Gustavo Bou (F) – New England Revolution (vs DCU)

8 – Franco Jara (F) – FC Dallas (vs ORL)

9 – Cristian Pavon (F) – Los Angeles Galaxy (vs SEA)

Top Goalkeeper Pick

GK – Andre Blake – Philadelphia Union (vs MIA)

Happy drafting!

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Ranking Today’s Top EPL Fantasy Picks from 1 to 9 without goalkeepers

1 – Son Heung-Min (F) – Tottenham Hotspur (vs NEW)

2 – Raheem Sterling (F) – Manchester City (vs LEI)

3 – Kevin De Bruyne (M) – Manchester City (vs LEI)

4 – Phil Foden (M) – Manchester City (vs LEI)

5 – Riyad Mahrez (M) – Manchester City (vs LEI)

6 – Harry Kane (F) – Tottenham Hotspur (vs NEW)

7 – Matt Doherty (D) – Tottenham Hotspur (vs NEW)

8 – Raul Jimenez (F) – Wolverhampton Wanderers (vs WHU)

9 – Pedro Neto (M) – Wolverhampton Wanderers (vs WHU)

Top Goalkeeper Pick

GK – Hugo Lloris – Tottenham Hotspur (vs NEW)

Happy drafting!

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Ranking Tomorrow’s Top EPL Fantasy Picks from 1 to 9 without goalkeepers

1 – Timo Werner (F) – Chelsea (vs WBA)

2 – Wilfried Zaha (F) – Crystal Palace (vs EVE)

3 – Dominic Calvert-Lewin (F) – Everton (vs CP)

4 – Bruno Fernandes (M) – Manchester United (vs BHA)

5 – Marcus Rashford (F) – Manchester United (vs BHA)

6 – Tammy Abraham (F) – Chelsea (vs WBA)

7 – Anthony Martial (F) – Manchester United (vs BHA)

8 – James Rodriguez (M) – Everton (vs CP)

9 – Olivier Giroud (F) – Chelsea (vs WBA)

Top Goalkeeper Pick

G – David de Gea – Manchester United (vs BHA)

Happy drafting!

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

MLS Fantasy Picks ranked from 1 to 6

1 – Diego Rossi (F) – LAFC

2 – Kacper Przybylko (F) – Philadelphia Union

3 – Raul Ruidiaz (F) – Seattle Sounders

4 – Franco Jara (F) – FC Dallas

5 – Cristian Pavon (F) – L.A. Galaxy

6 – Gyasi Zardes (F) – Columbus Crew

Happy drafting!

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Kepa Arrizabalaga
Source: Bryn Lennon / Getty Images Europe

Tottenham Hotspur-Chelsea Preview

If drama was a category in the Premier League table, Chelsea would be runaway winners this term.

After an outlandish moment in the Carabao Cup finals in which Kepa Arrizabalaga defied manager Maurizio Sarri and refused to be substituted, the question ahead of Wednesday’s derby at Stamford Bridge against Tottenham Hotspur is whether the world’s most expensive goalkeeper will be between the sticks.

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Arrizabalaga had been battling a hamstring problem that made him a question mark for Sunday’s match against Manchester City, and it appeared he had aggravated the injury making a save in the final minutes of extra time and even sought out medical attention. Sarri, with an eye on the impending penalty kicks in the scoreless match, told backup Willy Caballero to get ready to enter the game.

The fourth official held up the board to signal the substitution, only for Arrizabalaga – signed by Chelsea for £72 million before the start of the season – to refuse to come off the pitch. Captain Cesar Azpilicueta did not intervene, and only David Luiz made any movement in his keeper’s direction. After a back-and-forth between Arrizabalaga and the Chelsea bench, the keeper remained in the match and sent Sarri into a furious rage while Caballero stewed in embarrassment.

In the interim between the end of extra time and the penalty kicks, Sarri had to be restrained by defender Antonio Rudiger from confronting Arrizabalaga and had barely any interaction with his side before they lined up for penalties. Arrizabalaga made a valiant effort to redeem himself in the spot kicks, nearly stopping Sergio Aguero’s attempt in the second round and successfully punching away Leroy Sane’s shot in the next round to give Chelsea a lifeline.

Luiz, though, cannoned the next attempt off the woodwork, and that was enough daylight for Manchester City to produce a victory, with Arrizabalaga guessing wrong on Raheem Sterling’s match-winning attempt. With Sarri denied his first trophy at any level as a manager in such dramatic and bewildering fashion, all of the post-match talk centered around whether Sarri has lost the dressing room and if there would be any repercussions for Arrizabalaga going forward.

Both used the word “misunderstanding” in separate statements in explaining themselves, and Chelsea fined Arrizabalaga one week’s worth of wages for his insubordination. In his statement, Sarri said his keeper “realises he made a big mistake in the way he reacted” and added “he has apologised to me, his team-mates and the club.”

The apology, though, offers no insight into whether Arrizabalaga will be in goal for this contest. Football media throughout England have been sent into overdrive because of the incident, with some publications talking of dressing-room rifts with players in support of Caballero and the club desperate to avoid another bust-up similar to the one between Antonio Conte and Diego Costa that ultimately contributed to Conte’s demise at Stamford Bridge and Sarri’s arrival.

In the Premier League picture, Chelsea (15-5-6) are sixth in the table on 50 points, three points behind fourth-place Manchester United with a match in hand. The Pensioners are also still vying for a back-door entry into the Champions League via the Europa League, having progressed to the round of 16 opposite Dynamo Kyiv.

Chelsea’s 3-0 second-leg win over Malmo that preceded Sunday’s loss took away some of the sting of their 6-0 battering by City a fortnight ago that prompted a fresh round of inquest regarding Sarri’s future. Those questions will continue until the final whistle of Chelsea’s final match, with the club’s ban on signings the next two transfer windows also playing a key role in the club’s future.

Less than 25 kilometres to the north, Tottenham Hotspur (20-0-7) look to regroup from a lost opportunity to draw closer in the title race. Owning a match in hand on Manchester City last weekend, the Spurs squandered it with a 2-1 defeat at Burnley on Saturday. The loss, coupled with Liverpool’s draw at Manchester United, dropped the Lilywhites six points behind the table-topping Reds with 11 matches to play and five adrift of City for second.

Harry Kane made an instant impact on his return from an eight-game absence due to an ankle injury, scoring a contentious second-half equalizer, but a late breakdown led to a controversial goal for the hosts and an incandescent Mauricio Pochettino blasting referee Mike Dean post-match.

“It’s very disappointing,” Kane told Spurs’ official website. “It was one of those games, a tough battle, a dry pitch, we know how Burnley play, especially at home and it was physical. We did well to get back into it at 1-1 but we couldn’t find the next level to push on and get the win and then unfortunately we conceded again.

“It’s a game we should be winning. We had time off, so we were fresh and we expected to come here and step it up a level and give it a massive push for the rest of the season. Now it puts us behind and in a tough position. It’s a big week to come and we have to move on as best we can.”

Pochettino admitted afterwards he “crossed a line” in confronting Dean, and the FA agreed as it handed down two charges of improper conduct at the Argentine boss on Monday. The charges could bring a touchline ban after this match for Pochettino, who is about to embark on the biggest week of the season for Spurs as they play back-to-back derbies – Tottenham host Arsenal in the third north London grudge match – ahead of their second-leg round of 16 Champions League tie at Borussia Dortmund in which they will try to protect a 3-0 lead earned at Wembley earned a fortnight ago.

One minor point for this match is Dean was taken off fourth official duties for this match due to his tete-a-tete with Pochettino. Dean was moved to the Manchester City-West Ham United match, and Andre Marriner was tabbed as his replacement.

This is the fourth match between the sides this term, with Spurs looking for a measure of revenge after being bounced on penalties after the second leg of the Carabao Cup semifinals at Stamford Bridge on Jan. 24 after failing to protect a one-goal lead from the first leg.

Despite Spurs claiming victories in two of the three matches, the only one they showed clear superiority was in their 3-1 win at Wembley in November when Pochettino opted for a diamond midfield that isolated Jorginho and exploited the Italian in Sarri’s 4-3-3 set-up. In the last match, though, Chelsea claimed a 2-1 victory through goals by N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard. Fernando Llorente’s goal for Spurs created a 2-2 aggregate that resulted in penalties to decide the match.

Last season, Tottenham recorded their first Premier League win in 26 tries (1-9-16) at Stamford Bridge with a 3-1 victory thanks to a brace by Dele Alli.

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Paulo Dybala (center) & Cristiano Ronaldo (right)
Source: Getty Images Europe

Atletico ‘inspired’ by possibility of home final

Atletico Madrid and Juventus go head-to-head in the Champions League knock-outs for the first time on Wednesday night.

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The pair both hold unwanted European Cup records – Juventus have finished as runners-up seven times, more than any other team in the competition’s history, while Atletico are the only team to reach three finals without ever winning the tournament.

For the Spanish side though, there is an extra inspiration for victory at the Wanda Metropolitano on Wednesday; should they make it to the final, they will be back in their home stadium which will host the showpiece game for the first time.

“Of course we are inspired by playing a final in our own stadium, in our own city, in front of our own fans,” said manager Diego Simeone. “But it is pointless only to imagine it. The reality will be what we deserve.”

Juventus are running away with Serie A as they chase an eighth straight domestic title, and their 13-point lead over Napoli may well prove unassailable.

That has left their focus strongly on the Champions League – and Paulo Dybala, whose five goals in the competition so far have helped the club to their fifth last-16 clash in a row, thinks they can put that focus to good use and go all the way.

He said: “We’ve got a great squad with some top professionals, who have gained a lot of experience over the course of these years.

“We’re clearly contenders, but we have to go out there and prove it.”

Team news

Diego Costa is in contention to play having returned to action in Atletico’s win at Rayo Vallecano last weekend. But Lucas Hernandez missed that game, and looks unlikely to recover in time for Wednesday.

Juan Cuadrado is missing having been absent with injury since December. Alex Sandro, who missed their last game with Frosinone, may return having trained on Tuesday.

Stats

Atlético Madrid have met Juventus seven times previously in European competition, although five of those matches were played in the Fairs Cup in the 1960s. In fact, Juventus’ last victory against Atlético Madrid dates back to June 1965 in a Fairs Cup semi-final second-leg replay (3-1)

Atlético Madrid and Juventus’ only previous Champions League encounter was in the 2014/15 group stages. Only one goal was scored in the two matches, an Arda Turan winner for Atlético at their home stadium of Vicente Calderón

Atlético Madrid are unbeaten in the Champions League against Italian opposition under manager Diego Simeone (W4 D2). In those six games, they have only conceded one goal, by Kaká in a 4-1 win against AC Milan in March 2014

Atlético Madrid have reached the Champions League knockout stages in five of their six campaigns under manager Diego Simeone. The only exception was last season when they finished third in their Champions League group and went on to win the Europa League

Atlético Madrid are unbeaten in their last 12 home games in the Champions League knockout stages (W7 D5). In fact, they’ve only conceded one goal in their last 10 matches at home in the knockout phase, an Isco strike for Real Madrid in May 2017

Only Atlético Madrid (6) have conceded fewer shots on target from inside their own box than Juventus (9) in this season’s Champions League

Juventus have won four of their last five away games in the knockout stages of the Champions League (D1). Their last defeat dates back to March 2016 in the last-16 second leg against Bayern Munich

Antoine Griezmann has scored or assisted a goal in each of his six Champions League games at the Wanda Metropolitano (6 goals, 3 assists). This season, he’s been directly involved in six of Atlético Madrid’s nine Champions League goals (67%), with four goals and two assists – that’s the highest ratio among the 16 teams left in the competition

Paulo Dybala has scored six goals in his last seven Champions League appearances, that’s more than in his previous 24 appearances in the competition with Juventus (5 goals). All 11 of his goals in the competition have come with his left foot

Juventus’s Cristiano Ronaldo has scored only one goal in his last eight Champions League games; he’d found the net 11 times in his eight previous games. He has failed to score in four of his last five UCL games against Atlético Madrid.

Massimiliano Allegri has reached the knockout stages in each of his nine campaigns as manager in the Champions League. He was a beaten finalist in two of the last four seasons with Juventus.

Prediction

This is another belter. Cristiano Ronaldo is back in Madrid but Atletico don’t give too much away and it will be physical. I must admit that I don’t like watching Atletico Madrid play but I respect them. You could see them getting to 1-0 and then shutting up shop and blocking off Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala and sneaking a result with Antoine Griezmann getting the winner to keep his reputation floating along.

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Kevin De Bruyne
Source: Alex Livesey / Getty Image Europe

This is it. The UEFA Champions League kicks back off this week as the knockout rounds are here.

With all four Premier League teams competing in the last 16, three of them (Man City, Liverpool, Tottenham) face Bundesliga opponents over two legs in the coming weeks, while Manchester United square off with Paris Saint-Germain.

Huge clashes between Ajax and Real Madrid, plus Atletico Madrid v. Juventus, Roma v. Porto and Barcelona against Lyon make up a mouthwatering first knockout round.

Below is a prediction of how each of the eight last 16 clashes will go, as Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Spurs all eye deep runs in the competition.

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AS Roma v. FC Porto
First leg: Feb. 12 at Stadio Olimpico
Second leg: Mar. 6 at Dragao
Score prediction – Roma will have too much going forward for Porto and their experience will count here. 4-2 aggregate win to Roma.


Manchester United v. Paris Saint Germain
First leg: Feb. 12 at Old Trafford
Second leg: Mar. 6 at Parc des Princes

Score prediction – Injuries to PSG’s key players is a huge help for United. 3-3 draw on aggregate, United to go through on away goals.


Tottenham Hotspur v. Borussia Dortmund
First leg: Feb. 13, at Wembley
Second leg: Mar. 5 at Signal Iduna Park

Score prediction – Not having Harry Kane and Dele Alli for the first leg hurts, but Spurs will fancy their chances with the duo back for the second leg. Tottenham to win 5-4 on aggregate.


Ajax v. Real Madrid
First leg: Feb. 13, at Johan Cruyff Arena
Second leg: Mar. 5 at Santiago Bernabeu
Score prediction – Given their wobbles all season long, Ajax will aim to end Real’s dominance in the UCL. I just can’t see it happening. 4-1 win on aggregate to Real Madrid.


Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

First leg: Feb. 19 at Anfield
Second leg: Mar. 13 at Allianz Arena
Score prediction – Such a tough tie for Jurgen Klopp‘s men against an improving, and experienced, Bayern. Everyone expects Liverpool to win, but this is so close to call. 4-4 on aggregate, Bayern to win on penalties.


Lyon v. Barcelona
First leg: Feb. 19 at Groupama Stadium

Second leg: Mar. 13 at Nou Camp
Score prediction – Over the past few years Lyon’s youngsters have punched above their weight, but Barcelona look hungry. Messi and Co. will take care of business. 6-2 aggregate win for Barca.


Schalke v. Manchester City
First leg: Feb. 20 at Veltins-Arena
Second leg: Mar. 12 at Etihad Stadium
Score prediction – A tricky test for Pep Guardiola‘s men who are the heavy favorites. Schalke sit in midtable in the Bundesliga and their full attention will be on these games. City’s attack will have too much for them. 5-3 win on aggregate to Man City.


Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
First leg: Feb. 20 at Wanda Metropolitano
Second leg: Mar. 12 at Allianz Stadium
Score prediction – What a tie this promises to be. Two teams used to making deep runs in this competition and Ronaldo returning to try and haunt Atletico again. Diego Simeone’s men have stumbled a few times this season. Juve will get the job done at home in the second leg. 3-2 to Juventus on aggregate.

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Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Cristiano Ronaldo
Source: Getty Image Europe

With the Champions League group stage in the books, the Round of 16 draw produced some juicy matchups.

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Highlighting the results is a trio of clashes between English and German sides, plus Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Madrid.

Schalke did what needed to be done in a weak Group D but scored just six goals doing so, the lowest goal total for any of the teams that advanced to the knockout stage. With all due respect, Manchester City should progress to the final eight with relative ease.

7) AS Roma vs. FC Porto

Roma is not the same side that advanced to the semifinals in last year’s competition, and expectations should be tempered as a result. Porto, meanwhile, enters the Round of 16 as just one of three undefeated group stage teams and could be a dark horse to make a surprise run.

6) Olympique Lyonnais vs. FC Barcelona

Lyon gave Manchester City fits in Group F, handing the defending English champion its only loss of the group stage and playing to a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture. And though they lead La Liga, this is not the dominant Barcelona of years past so we could see a closer tie than expected.

5) AFC Ajax vs. Real Madrid

Real Madrid ended the group stage in disgrace, falling 3-0 to CSKA Moscow for the title holder’s worst-ever European defeat on home soil. And another upset could be in the cards: led by highly-touted Dutch youngster Frenkie de Jong, Ajax challenged Bayern Munich in the group and came within minutes from finishing above the German giants. If Real Madrid is going to challenge for a fourth straight European title, it will have to get past this tricky tie.

4) Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain

There is some concern for PSG going into this one. Both Neymar and Cavani are out because of injuries. It now all comes over the shoulders of Mbappe to lead his team to victory. At the same time, it will be on Jose Mourinho shoulders to lead the Red Devils past the french squad and guarantee his job security.

3) Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

Ronaldo’s return to Madrid against his former club’s arch-rival will be sure to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to this mouth-watering Round of 16 tie. And it’s likely CR7 will be a difference-maker here, as these are two of Europe’s stoutest teams – goals will be at a premium.

2) Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund

Spurs got into the knockout stage by the skin of their teeth and are rewarded with a clash against the current Bundesliga leaders, who are off to a scorching start under new manager Lucien Favre. Tottenham boasts loads of English talents, but one of the country’s most exciting young talents plays for the opposition: Jadon Sancho, who leads the Bundesliga with seven assists.

1) Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich

The best tie of the Round of 16 features the Premier League leaders and the only remaining undefeated club in England’s top flight against six-time defending Bundesliga champions Bayern, who are struggling in third place in the league. Munich is a team Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp knows well from his time on the Dortmund sidelines.

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Gonzalo Higuain
Source: Claudio Villa / Getty Image Europe

Potential players comings and goings are all the talk ahead of Saturday’s mouth-watering London derby at the Emirates between top-five sides Chelsea and Arsenal.

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For fourth-place Chelsea (14-5-3), the rumours are that Gonzalo Higuain could be available for this match if the Pensioners are able to formally complete a loan deal with AC Milan and register him before the 12 p.m. Friday deadline.

If the signing goes through as expected, it would be a reunion of the Argentina international and coach Maurizio Sarri – their one season together at Napoli in 2015-16 resulted in Higuain scoring 36 goals in 35 league matches. That haul matched Gino Rosetti’s mark for most goals in the Italian top flight set in 1928-29 as Napoli finished runners-up to Juventus.

Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016 and totaled 40 goals in 73 league matches to help the Bianconeri win the scudetto each of the last two years. With the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus this season, the 31-year-old Higuain was surplus to goods and loaned to AC Milan, where he has six goals in 15 Serie A contests and eight in 22 overall.

With Higuain’s arrival comes the expected departure of Alvaro Morata, who has similar numbers – nine goals in 23 matches in all competitions – to the Argentine but has never truly found a comfort level in Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation.

Morata’s likely move back to Spain – Atletico Madrid is reportedly his destination – would leave Higuain and Olivier Giroud as Chelsea’s lone centre-forwards, a position where Sarri has not had more than two players all season while also using Eden Hazard in that role as a false nine.

In the event Higuain is not registered in time for this match, he would likely make his Chelsea debut Thursday in the second-leg semifinals of the Carabao Cup at Stamford Bridge where the Pensioners will attempt to overturn a 1-0 deficit to Tottenham Hotspur.

Less than 13 kilometres to the north, the talk regarding Arsenal (12-5-5) again centers around Mesut Ozil. The former Germany international has been working his way back from an injury, but there have been times first-year manager Unai Emery has opted not to use Ozil, citing “matchups.”

Ahead of a match which could all but scuttle any chance of a top-four finish for the Gunners – a loss would leave them nine points adrift of Chelsea – Emery continued to be non-committal on what the midfielder’s role would be if he had one.

“I like to create the same spirit for all, and that spirit is every player gets and gives consistent work and moments with their performances but it’s not easy,” Emery told Arsenal’s official website about whether the whole Ozil saga is frustrating. “Sometimes you are better and sometimes you are worse. The most important thing for me is how he can helps us and how every player can help us with their consistency.”

Emery downplayed talk of Ozil potentially leaving in the January window but also did not commit to having him on the roster for the derby, simply saying that “after these two weeks maybe this Saturday will be okay for him.”

On the pitch, the Gunners seemed to be in need of Ozil considering their lack of playmaking options in a 1-0 loss at derby rival West Ham United. The lack of creativity was made all the more glaring as one-time Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri provided the cross for Declan Rice’s 48th-minute goal that proved decisive.

Aaron Ramsey tried to make something in his minutes as a substitute – Emery’s decision to drop him from the first XI was curious considering he also had fellow midfielder Lucas Torreira on the bench – but there was something clearly lacking from the Gunners, who are 3-1-4 in all competitions after having gone unbeaten in 23 matches.

“I think Saturday is a big test and our first objective is to be in the top four,” Emery said. “It’s more difficult after our defeat against West Ham but we can take positives, like if we win on Saturday.

“It’s a difficult, tough match and I think it’s a good test for us also. We wanted to go into this match with three points difference in the table, but our defeat at West Ham doesn’t give us this possibility. But Saturday, I am looking forward to playing this match because I want to look at my team, our team, playing with a good performance and also to show our supporters we can do more and we can do better than we are doing away.”

Chelsea, who may have felt unlucky to lose to Spurs mid-week, channeled that frustration into a 2-1 win over Newcastle United last weekend. Willian ended a 10-match goalless drought with his go-ahead marker on 57 minutes, a well-taken shot after being set up by Hazard – playing the false nine as Morata failed to rate to be on the bench, where Giroud watched all but the final three minutes.

The Pensioners controlled the match for the final half-hour after a lack of focus following Pedro’s goal allowed Newcastle to draw level before halftime.

“It’s an important win, it’s three points at home and we did the job,” said David Luiz to Chelsea’s official website after his long ball set up Pedro’s goal on nine minutes. “It was not an easy game for us. I think we could have killed the game in the first 25 minutes, but we didn’t score the second goal.

“In the Premier League every team can be dangerous from set-pieces and that is what happened. ‘They scored the equaliser and after that it is always difficult but I think the team was mature enough to be calm at half-time. Then, in the second half, we controlled the game and scored the second goal.”

Though Higuain is close to signing, there is still no understudy for midfielder and playmaker Jorginho following Cesc Fabregas’ departure to Monaco. Based on the current roster, Hazard, Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic would handle such responsibilities if the Italy international were to be sidelined.

Chelsea are seeking their first league double over Arsenal since the 2015-16 season after winning the reverse fixture 3-2 at Stamford Bridge in August. The first half was marked by frenetic bursts of clubs transitioning to their first-year managers – Chelsea raced to a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes on goals by Pedro and Morata, only to have Arsenal peg them back before halftime through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Iwobi four minutes apart.

Hazard entered as a substitute on the hour and set up Marcos Alonso for the match-winner on 81 minutes. Chelsea are 1-3-2 in their last six visits to the Emirates but 4-4-2 in their last 10 league matches there.

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Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Virgil van Dijk
Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Liverpool vs Newcastle preview: Reds aim to maintain lead at top

Liverpool defender, Virgil van Dijk, has urged The Reds to maintain their momentum when they host Newcastle on Boxing Day.

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The Reds are four points clear at the top of the Premier League after beating Wolves on Friday and then seeing Manchester City lose to Crystal Palace.

Eight of the last nine teams to lead at Christmas have won the league, but Van Dijk said: “There is a long way to go yet.

“It’s a position that everyone wants to be in and we are in it at the moment. That’s the only thing it is and we need to keep going.

“The next game is Newcastle United on Wednesday and then Arsenal and Manchester City, so it can change but we are not going to think about that. We take it game by game.”

Newcastle were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Fulham on Saturday, leaving them five points above the relegation zone.

Liverpool News

Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold is set to return after missing the last two matches with a foot injury.

Naby Keita is expected to resume training ahead of the game after sustaining a foot injury and bruised ribs at Wolves on Friday.

Centre-backs Joe Gomez (fractured leg) and Joel Matip (broken collarbone) remain sidelined for another three to four weeks.

Newcastle News

Newcastle will be without Ki Sung-yueng after he headed off to the Asian Cup.

Central midfielder Ki was required to meet up with the South Korea squad in Abu Dhabi ahead of next month’s tournament by December 26 and with Jonjo Shelvey struggling to shake off a thigh injury, Isaac Hayden could come into contention.

Defender Ciaran Clark missed Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Fulham because of an ankle problem, although Federico Fernandez was included among the substitutes after recovering from a calf injury, but keeper Karl Darlow (elbow) is still out.

Expected Lineup

Position in Red = Injury

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Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

Sporting KC vs. Portland Timbers | 2018 Conference Championship Preview

Sporting Kansas City vs. Portland Timbers
Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs — Conference Championship, Second Leg
Children’s Mercy Park — Kansas City
November 29 — 9:30 pm ET
WATCH: ESPN, TSN2, TVAS2, ESPN Deportes

It is all to play for at Children’s Mercy Park for the second leg of the Western Conference Championship after the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City played to a 0-0 draw at Providence Park on Sunday.

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Heading back home, where they were 10-2-5 during the regular season, Sporting KC will be confident of securing a first trip to MLS Cup since winning the title in 2013, while the Timbers know an away goal can go a long way toward their first MLS Cup appearance since lifting the silverware in 2015.

In a fiercely competitive opening leg, both teams laid claim to solid chances to score the lone goal, with Jorge Villafana firing off the post in the first half. David Guzman slipped the ball past Tim Melia on a set piece in the 70th minute, but the goal was called back following Video Review when it was ruled Liam Ridgewell was in an offside position.

SKC’s best opportunities were by Johnny Russell, who fired over the crossbar early in the second half and Daniel Salloi, whose stoppage-time attempt inside the box was blocked by Ridgewell.

Sporting Kansas City

Of course, it wasn’t a perfect result for Sporting, especially since they didn’t score an away goal, but they have the advantage of the “Blue Hell” on Thursday and the knowledge that a home win sends them back to the MLS Cup.

“It’s a final at home. You know you’ve got to win,” Peter Vermes said. “But at the end of the day, whether it’s here or there, it’s a final now for both teams and we have to be very disciplined going back, but it’s a good result going back home. Obviously, we would have preferred to win. It didn’t happen, but now we get to go home and have the next game.”

It was the third time SKC shut the Timbers out this season. And there’s a strong confidence in the Sporting locker room that they can keep Diego Valeri and Portland off the scoreboard again on Thursday.

“I can’t tell you other than that it’s a credit to the guys. They work hard,” Vermes said. “They were very disciplined here. I think they have been throughout the season. I think we’re a pretty good defensive team and we’ve been consistently that for a long time. And at the same time I think it also takes guys to be concentrated and a lot of hard work, and I think we did that tonight.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: D – Jimmy Medranda (knee surgery), M – Cristian Lobato (quad injury)

Projected Starting XI
(4-3-3, right to left)
GK: Tim Melia — Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic — Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Felipe Gutierrez — Johnny Russell, Diego Rubio, Daniel Salloi

Notes: Melia saved six shots against Portland in the first leg, tied for the most saves by a Kansas City goalkeeper in the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2007. He is the 20th keeper since 2010 to keep 3+ clean sheets against one team in a single season (inc. playoffs). … Sporting Kansas City are 15W-2L-4D at home all-time in the MLS Cup Playoffs, conceding an average of 0.8 goals per game.

Portland Timbers

The Timbers haven’t scored a goal against SKC all season, but they’ve found the back of the net multiple times in each of their last two Audi MLS Cup Playoffs games and believe they can do the same at Children’s Mercy Park.

Pressure after a scoreless first leg? What pressure, says Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese.

“I don’t see it as what kind of pressure. We have to go there and try to get a win,” Savarese said. “We have to go there with the mentality that it’s one game, like it is in the regular season, and we have to go there to try and get a win. Prepare the plan, prepare the players to make sure that we get there, recover a few of the guys that today were not available and then make sure we go there to win.”

Savarese was forced to make a change in the first half when central defender Larrys Mabiala went down with an ankle injury. It was the second change Savarese had to make, with Andy Polo suffering a calf strain.

“I’ve been very proud because anybody that steps on the field does the job and Bill did that,” Savarese said of Bill Tuiloma. “It’s very difficult to come in, having to replace a guy like Mabiala, coming in and I thought he did with the right mentality, did everything the right way. Unfortunately [he] could have had a goal right there, but a great save by Melia. I thought [Tuiloma] played very, very well.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: D – Roy Miller (right thigh injury), GK – Jake Gleeson (bilateral tibial stress fracture); QUESTIONABLE: F – Samuel Armenteros (thigh injury), M – Andy Polo (calf strain), D – Larrys Mabiala (ankle injury)

Projected Starting XI
(4-2-3-1, right to left)
GK: Jeff Attinella — Zarek Valentin, Bill Tuiloma, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana — Diego Chara, David Guzman — Dairon Asprilla, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco — Jeremy Ebobisse

Notes: Valeri created seven chances in the first leg of the series, becoming the ninth player since 2007 to record 7+ chances created in a MLS Cup Playoff match and the first to do so since Sacha Kljestan against Montreal in 2016. … The Timbers are 4W-2L-2D on the road in the MLS Cup Playoffs, scoring multiple goals in all but two of those games.

All-Time Series (Regular Season)

Overall: Sporting Kansas City 7 wins, 15 goals … Portland Timbers 3 wins, 10 goals … 4 draws
At Kansas City: Sporting KC 3 wins, 10 goals … Timbers 1 win, 5 goals … 2 draws
Last meeting at Kansas City: Sporting Kansas City 3, Portland Timbers 0 (August 18, 2018)

Officials

Referee: Mark Geiger
Assistant Referees: Joe Fletcher, Matthew Nelson
4th Official: Baldomero Toledo
VAR: Dave Gantar

Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks

New York Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United
Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs — Conference Championship, Second Leg

Red Bull Arena — Harrison
November 29 — 7:30 pm ET
WATCH: FS1, TSN2, TVAS2

Atlanta United’s first win over the New York Red Bulls in history put the Five Stripes on the brink of history as “Tata” Martino’s squad takes a commanding 3-0 aggregate lead into the second leg of the Eastern Conference Championship Thursday night at Red Bull Arena.

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While Atlanta are looking to book a first MLS Cup Final berth, the Red Bulls will need a historic comeback to reach the final for the second time 10 years after their first trip.

MLS Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez opened the scoring on Sunday, chesting down a perfect Jeff Larentowicz cross and beating Luis Robles.

The Red Bulls thought they had the equalizer, and a critical away goal, when Bradley Wright-Phillips put a low shot past Brad Guzan. But the goal was called back following Video Review when it was ruled Alex Muyl screened the Atlanta goalkeeper in an offside position.

Franco Escobar fired home an insurance tally with a sensational first-time strike in the 71st minute and Hector Villalba came off the bench to score what could prove to be the decisive goal in the series, a low stoppage-time strike to give Atlanta a comfortable 3-0 lead after 90 minutes.

New York Red Bulls

No team has ever won a two-leg aggregate playoff series in MLS after after a three-goal deficit in the first leg.

The Red Bulls, though, have a strong belief that they can buck the odds.

Head coach Chris Armas, who was criticized heavily for changing his team’s tactics in Atlanta, uses the example of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, when the Red Bulls won 3-0 at home against Columbus Crew SC after losing the opening leg, 1-0, at MAPFRE Stadium.

“Look, it is going to be difficult. It always was going to be,” Armas said after the game. “We put ourselves in a hole, but we came out of a series where we scored three in our building. That is the goal. That’s the starting point. We will score the first goal, and the rest will follow. We will come out a little bit differently with the energy and the fight that is going to be needed. It is pretty clear what is needed to be done. We are going to go home, and we are going to get it done.”

The health of star fullback Kemar Lawrence will be a big talking point until kickoff. The Jamaican international suffered a meniscus injury in training leading up to the first leg. He was replaced by Connor Lade.

“Kemar is a big part of things around here. He has had a great year, we all know that,” Armas said. “Maybe he will be back for Leg 2, we’ll see, he is day-to-day. But more importantly, Connor Lade stepped in and did a good job. He was solid. He gave everything like we knew that he would. It was a big test, a lot of direct play. He was fearless on the night. Connor stood up admirably, I believe.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: M – Florian Valot (torn left ACL), D – Kyle Duncan (torn right ACL), M – Vincent Bezecourt (right MCL surgery), D – Tommy Redding (shoulder surgery), M – Ben Mines (broken left clavicle surgery); QUESTIONABLE: D – Kemar Lawrence (meniscus injury)

Projected Starting XI

(4-2-3-1, right to left)
GK: Luis Robles — Michael Murillo, Tim Parker, Aaron Long, Connor Lade — Tyler Adams, Sean Davis — Alex Muyl, Kaku, Danny Royer — Bradley Wright-Phillips

Notes: New York won just one possession in the attacking third in their 3-0 defeat on Sunday, tied for their fewest in a game this season. They are 0W-2L-1D in those games in 2018. … The Red Bulls scored 3+ goals in seven league home games in 2018 (7W). Five of the seven games had scorelines that would send this matchup to extra time or allow New York to advance to the MLS Cup Final.

Atlanta United

He is not the most heralded Atlanta United player, not even close. But fullback Franco Escobar came up with a man-of-the-match performance in the opening leg, with a sensational goal and a huge assist in the second half to send the Five Stripes to Harrison with a 3-0 cushion.

“When we wanted to sign Franco, this is the player we wanted to sign: the Franco we’ve seen the last five or six games,” Martino said after the game. “He’s adapted very well to the position, he’s able to get forward, is versatile and physical. He’s scored two goals in the last six or seven games for us that have been very important.”

In addition to sparking the offense, Escobar was part of a defensive unit that has conceded just once in three playoff games.

“We knew that we had to be solid defensively,” Martino said. “We knew going into the playoffs it was going to be very important to be able to keep clean sheets. And that’s what we tried to do. And we’ve played three games now against top teams in the Eastern Conference, and we’ve held them to one goal. So, we knew that was going to be key.”

Suspended: None
Suspended after next caution: None
International duty: None
Injury Report: OUT: D – Sal Zizzo (right knee injury), D – Mikey Ambrose (right knee surgery), F – Brandon Vazquez (foot injury)

Projected Starting XI

(5-3-2, right to left)
GK: Brad Guzan — Franco Escobar, Jeff Larentowicz, Michael Parkhurst, Leonardo Gonzalez Pirez, Greg Garza — Darlington Nagbe, Eric Remedi, Julian Gressel — Josef Martinez, Miguel Almiron

Notes: Atlanta allowed New York to complete just 62.0% of their passes in the first leg of the series, the fifth-lowest passing accuracy they have ever allowed in a MLS match (inc. postseason). … Atlanta have won six of their last nine road games (3L), conceding multiple goals in four of the matches. They have allowed 3+ goals in a league road game seven times in franchise history (1W-6L).

All-Time Series (Regular Season)

Overall: New York Red Bulls 3 wins, 7 goals … Atlanta United 0 wins, 2 goals … 1 draw
At New York: Red Bulls 1 win, 2 goals … Atlanta United 0 wins, 0 goals … 1 draw
Last meeting at New York: New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 0 (Sept. 30, 2018)

Officials

Referee: Jair Marrufo
Assistant Referees: Frank Anderson, Brian Poeschel
4th Official: Ismail Elfath
VAR: Christopher Penso

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Posted in EPL/MLS, Top Fantasy Picks