2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

Rotation is the watchword for Manchester United heading into their final Group H Champions League match Wednesday at Valencia as Jose Mourinho’s already-through side are content to hold their runners-up spot versus a Tarongues club who have already assured themselves passage to the Europa League.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Technically, Manchester United can finish atop Group H with a victory and a loss by Juventus, but since the Italian side are hosting Young Boys in their group finale, there is little belief the last-place Swiss club can pull off what would be the biggest shock of Champions League group play.

United come into this match in good spirits for a change, having properly walloped a last-place Fulham side 4-1 Saturday in their last Premier League match. Marcus Rashford continued his stellar run of playmaking, setting up goals by Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata in the first half-hour before adding a strike of his own on 82 minutes.

Ashley Young scored the other goal for the Red Devils, who are unbeaten in five (2-3-0) in all competitions and have lost just once in their last nine (5-3-1). Though there is nothing to play for, Mourinho has opted to bring just two academy players to Spain as he feels his senior players are deserving of playing time for this match.

“The kids won’t start the match. (James) Garner will be on the bench, and Mason (Greenwood) is the protection player, in case we have any injuries,” Mourinho said at his Tuesday news conference. “We have players that need to play; we have players that deserve to play so, in spite of leaving a few players in Manchester, we are going to play with a team only with players from the first team.”

One senior player getting the start will be Paul Pogba, who was an unused substitute versus Fulham and played just 15 minutes in the 2-2 draw versus Arsenal in the previous match. While things have been tense between manager and star throughout the season, Mourinho placed little expectations upon the France international for this match beyond a professional performance.

“I’m looking for him to play well, and to have a good impact in the game and in the team,” Mourinho said.  “[It will be] a team with many players that don’t have many miles in their legs, a team with some players that are not playing a lot.

“So I hope that people like Paul and a couple of others that are normally in the team, who have the number of miles that players need to be at that top level, I hope that they can have a good impact on the team.”

Mourinho will again have a makeshift backline of sorts as Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw did not practice, and Diogo Dalot — who responded well to the pressure of his first two Premier League starts — also is nursing an injury, as is Matteo Darmian. Centre back Victor Lindelof remains a longer-term absentee with a hamstring injury.

Up front, Anthony Martial also did not train Tuesday, and Alexis Sanchez is also sidelined with a hamstring injury. After back-to-back starts for the first time this season, Jesse Lingard will likely be among the reserves.

Valencia are also expected to be without a slew of first-choice starters with nothing at stake, as coach Marcelino already has an eye on his club’s league match against Eibar this weekend. The Tarongues are 15th in the La Liga table, just four points above the drop but also only six out of fifth place.

“I am as strong, convinced and excited as I was on my first day here, if not more. But obviously when you do not win you cannot be so happy, it would be irresponsible if there was no self-assessment. The word surrender is not in my vocabulary. I’m not going to give up,” Marcelino explained about his priorities for this match.

“This is a game we did not want to play, with hopes of qualifying over. Having sealed a place in the UEFA Europa League, and given our Liga situation, the priority has to be the match against Eibar [on Saturday]. At the same time, it’s a Champions League match and they are never meaningless.”

One change will be enforced as defender Jose Luis Gaya is out through suspension. Striker Kevin Gameiro and Jeison Murillo are not expected to play due to injuries, while Goncalo Guedes and Gabriel Paulista are also being held out ahead of league play.

Valencia have been starved offensively for goals in Champions League — the only team they have scored upon in their last eight matches was Young Boys in this term’s group play. Los Che have also lost four of their last six home matches in Champions League.

These teams are no strangers to Champions League play as this will be their eighth meeting. United are 2-5-0 in the previous seven, and goals have been at a premium throughout this rivalry. There have been just five goals combined in the last six matchups, with a scoreless draw on Match Day 2 at Old Trafford.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Valencia are slight 8/5 favourites to pull out a victory in this dead rubber, while United have 19/10 odds to claim all three points. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 12/5.

Given the teams played to a scoreless draw at Old Trafford coupled with there being nothing at stake, oddsmakers are split on whether there will be goals in this match. There are 10/11 odds on either side of the 2.5 goals threshold, with even money on at least one team recording a clean sheet compared to 3/4 odds on both teams scoring.

Continuing the split decisions up and down the toteboard for this match, Valencia’s Gameiro and Lukaku are joint-top options for the first goal-scorer at 11/2, with Martial and one-time Chelsea forward Michy Batshuayi joint-third at 6/1. Santi Mina, who has two of Valencia’s four goals in group play, has 13/2 odds, edging out teammate Moreno Rodrigo and the United duo of Rashford and Pogba.

Gameiro and Lukaku also lead the line for any-time goal-scorers at 7/4, followed by Martial and Batshuayi at 2/1. Santi Mina is 21/10, trailed by the same Rodrigo, Rashford and Pogba trio — all of whom are 9/4. Valencia’s Manuel Goncalo Guedes has 11/4 odds, followed by Dani Parejo at 3/1 and Lingard at 10/3.

PREDICTION

If a tree falls at the Mestalla and no one scores a goal, did it really happen? There is little in the way of expectations for this match, though all eyes will be on Pogba as he gets his first start since United’s 2-2 draw at Southampton in which the France international was lifted before the hour. After that match, word got out regarding another disagreement, albeit a calm one, between Mourinho and Pogba.

That said, having Rashford on his side makes for an intriguing examination to see if the forward’s pace is something Pogba can use to help create offence. That McTominay and not Marouane Fellaini is expected to anchor the central midfield is an added layer of intrigue since McTominay has struggled for first-team playing time for most of the season.

It also would have been interesting to see Dalot play after his impressive showings at right back versus both Arsenal and Fulham. After such a dour reverse fixture, it would not be surprising if the sides played to another scoreless draw, but the hunch here is United have too much firepower to bring in the final half-hour for that scoreline to repeat itself.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Valencia 0, Manchester United 1.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)

Manchester City need just a draw in Wednesday’s Champions League finale to finish atop Group F, something that is not expected to be too demanding as they face group-bottom Hoffenheim 1899.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The reigning Premier League champions, though, are coming off their first loss in domestic play, a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Saturday that ended a 16-match unbeaten streak in all competitions (14-2-0). It was also just the second time Manchester City were held without a goal, the other coming in a scoreless draw at Anfield versus Liverpool.

Even playing without injured striker Sergio Aguero and still without top playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, City still looked the better side as Raheem Sterling was inserted between Leroy Sane and Riyad Mahrez as a false nine. Yet the Citizens were caught out on a counter over the top, finished by N’Golo Kante just before halftime, and they were consigned to a defeat when David Luiz added a second 12 minutes from time.

For all of City’s imperious displays this term, the loss also showed the fine line they are walking because the loss also dropped them behind Liverpool in the Premier League table.

“We still have a target against Hoffenheim to win the game and finish top,” Sane told City’s official website. “We want to finish first and hopefully look good for the Round of 16 draw – it’s important we win and end the group stage strongly.

“Even more so because we lost at Chelsea on Saturday and didn’t start the group stage very well.”

Though there is something at stake, City manager Pep Guardola is going to rotate a good portion of his side given the hectic December fixture list. Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho are both one yellow card from picking up a one-match ban that would rule them out of the first leg round of 16 tie, and while Aguero is in a similar predicament, Guardiola has ruled him out with his adductor injury.

The City boss, in fact, stated he has just 15 healthy senior players available for this match, also ruling out De Bruyne, David Silva and Danilo. Benjamin Mendy and backup keeper Claudio Bravo remain long-term absentees with injuries, which does limit some of Guardiola’s abilities to rotate his side.

“We have 15 players tomorrow it’s a really tough game,” he said at Tuesday’s news conference. “We are in next stage which is important but we have to try and win every game, to finish first. Last-16 is always tough but in general the next Monday when there is a draw it’s a success we are there and the team we will face will be tough.

“They (Hoffenheim) were incredible against Donetsk and they lost. It was incredible and fascinating to watch as a spectator. My admiration for Hoffenheim has increased. I knew about Julian Nagelsmann and his team but now I realise how tough tomorrow will be.”

While Guardiola is effusive in praise of his German counterpart, getting three points to have a chance of reaching the Europa League as third-place finishers in Group F remains a daunting task for Hoffenheim. The 12 goals they have shipped are better than only fellow Group F side Shakhtar Donetsk and both AEK and Red Star Belgrade.

“As an optimist, I can say that it’ll be difficult to get third place,” Nagelsmann said Tuesday. “We don’t have a lot to lose tomorrow, so we want to show the football that got us to the Champions League in the first place.”

Domestic play has not treated Die Kraichgauer much better of late as Hoffenheim have just one win from their last six matches overall (1-4-1) and are winless in their last four (0-3-1). Hoffenheim are coming off a 2-2 draw at Wolfsburg on Saturday as Andrej Kramaric salvaged a point with a goal in the 71st minute.

Kramaric had set up Ishak Belfodil in the fourth minute, but an own goal by Ermin Bicakcic and a strike from Daniel Ginczek four minutes apart left Hoffenheim down 2-1 after 32 minutes.

“I was very satisfied with the opening 20 minutes. We consciously gave up possession in order to have chances to counter,” Nagelsmann told his club’s official website. “We defended too aggressively before the equaliser. Thereafter, we did not get to grips with our pressing too well. During the interval we brought on another striker – we couldn’t get much more attacking than that.

We deserved to get the equaliser and dominated the second half. It was a fair result. The right commitment was there and I like that.”

Kramaric, who helped Croatia reach the World Cup final last summer, has a team-best 10 goals in all competitions and netted four in Champions League play. Joelinton has gone five matches without a goal for Hoffenheim since his brace versus Bayer Leverkusen on Nov. 3.

“Andrej Kramaric also plays in the number eight position and does that well,” Nagelsmann said. “He has a lot more to him than goals and assists. He is very critical of himself but his heart is in the right place”

Hoffenheim have never won a Champions League road match in three tries, though they did draw Shakhtar and Lyon earlier in this group. This will be their second trip to England, with the other result a 4-2 setback in a second-leg qualifying round match last year versus Liverpool.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, City are overwhelming favourites to cap group play on a winning note and enter this match as a 2/9 pick for a victory. Hoffenheim are 12/1 longshots to avoid going winless in group play, and there are 13/2 odds on the teams splitting the points, a result also acceptable for the reigning Premier League champs.

Given the open play of Hoffenheim coupled with City’s quality, oddsmakers are expecting a haul of goals as there are 3/10 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 5/2 odds for it being a low-scoring affair. The odds of both teams finding the back of the net are 4/6, with 11/10 odds on either side posting a clean sheet.

With Aguero out, Jesus has moved to the top of the board for first-goal scoring options at 3/1, followed by Sterling (9/2), Mahrez (5/1) and Sane (6/1). With Guardiola’s expected rotation, some of the bottom players on the 25-man roster are seeing action, including Brahim Diaz (8/1) and Foden (11/1).

Bernardo Silva is also an 8/1 option to make it 1-0 for the hosts, while Ilkay Gundogan is 11/1 to do likewise. Kramaric and Joelinton are the top options for Hoffenheim at 14/1, just ahead of Belfodil (16/1) — who gave Die Kraichgauer a shock lead in the opening minute of the reverse fixture.

Jesus (8/15) and Sterling (10/11) lead the any-time goal-scoring options, with Mahrez checking in at even money. Sane is just off that pace at 5/4, followed by Diaz and Bernardo Silva at 7/4. Kramaric and Joelinton again are the top picks for the visitors with both being offered at 11/4.

PREDICTION

It is a shame Manchester City supporters have not fully warmed up to Champions League group matches at the Etihad because this has the potential to be a wild back-and-forth contest. There were two goals in the first eight minutes of the reverse fixture, which then calmed until David Silva’s 87th-minute winner.

It is admittedly difficult to figure out what exactly Guardiola is going to do with his back line. It could range from anywhere with Fabian Delph being shifted from left to right back to let Oleksander Zinchenko play left back to Otamendi playing in central defence or in central midfield ahead of a partnership of John Stones and Vincent Kompany.

Otamendi sitting on a potential yellow card ban is less than ideal, but if there is going to be one player between him and Fernandinho to sit out this match because of such a possiblity, Fernandinho is going to be the spectator. Additionally, Guardiola had been looking to give his central midfielder a rest ahead of the holiday fixtures, and this is as good a time as any.

Though a 4-3-3 is projected, it would not be surprising to see Guardiola use a 4-4-2 in which Jesus and Sterling are up front with Mahrez and Sane lying deeper behind the pair. Another possibility is a 4-1-4-1 with Jesus as the lone striker, which would allow Sterling to terrorise Hoffenheim’s back four with his pace.

Kramaric has been in exquisite form — his equaliser at Wolfsburg extended his goal-scoring streak to eight matches in all competitions for Hoffenheim. But not having centre back Kevin Vogt could prove problematic for a team that has often looked out of their depth in this tournament and need a win.

City could put this match out of its misery early with a pair of strikes in the first half-hour, though Hoffenheim are more than capable of finding a quick goal for the second time in as many matches between the sides. But in the end, it will be too much City, who will wrap up group honours with a win.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 4, Hoffenheim 1.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)

(y-denotes clinched first in Group B)

It is not “Mission: Impossible” but still a daunting challenge for Tottenham Hotspur at the Nou Camp nevertheless: Spurs must at least match the result of fellow Group B side Inter Milan on Tuesday against Barcelona to reach the knockout round of the Champions League for the second straight year.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Inter are hosting last-place PSV Eindhoven in the other Group B match which is going on simultaneously. The Lilywhites have no one to blame but themselves for this predicament, throwing away points from winning positions at both the San Siro and Philips Stadion in their other two road matches before scrambling to give themselves a chance to advance with wins over both the Italian and Dutch sides.

Tottenham Hotspur, though, will face long odds in trying to deal the Blaugrana their first Champions League defeat at the Nou Camp since Bayern Munich stormed to a 3-0 victory in the second leg of their 2013 semifinal.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at home since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 in those games and not conceding more than once in any of them. The current La Liga leaders have a chance to match the longest Champions League home unbeaten run set by Bayern at 29 games from 1998-2002.

“This is special because it’s special for Tottenham and it’s special for us to have the chance to go to the next stage of the Champions League – and that’s with all the respect to Barcelona,” Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said at his Monday news conference, himself no stranger to Barcelona derbies from his days as a player and manager with Espanyol.

“We are focused on trying to prepare for the game in the best way. After the victory against Leicester I think it’s important in a decisive game to have confidence and a belief we can win. Of course, in front of us, we are going to have one of the best teams in the world and it’s going to be tough, but the most important thing is to be focused and concentrate on trying to play in our best way and trying to win.

“Without belief in football, it is too difficult to win,” Pochettino added. “I think it’s so important to arrive at that moment with the belief and the faith that we can perform in the best way. After that, we will see what happens in the game because you need some luck and some good things to happen for you but we are confident that we can do a good job.”

The big news for Spurs will be the likely insertion of third-choice Kyle Walker-Peters at right back since both Kieran Trippier and Serge Aurier did not make the trip due to injuries. Walker-Peters got a late runout Saturday in Tottenham’s 2-0 win at Leicester City, and the 21-year-old has the complete confidence of manager Mauricio Pochettino heading into this crunch encounter.

“His quality is unbelievable. Younger players always need trust and one day to be given a chance to play and to play here at a difficult place like the Nou Camp will make him stronger. We don’t have a doubt that he can perform,” Pochettino said at Monday’s news conference. “I’m so happy because from the beginning of the season we have three excellent players in that position, three players with different qualities. Kyle has the quality to play.

“He needs to feel free. He’s a very relaxed player and person and the most important thing is that we believe in him, we trust in him and whatever happens he will be a massive success at this Club.”

Walker-Peters is part of a back line who have been severely challenged throughout the season due to injuries as only Toby Alderweireld has emerged unscathed coming off the World Cup summer. Left back Danny Rose and fellow centre backs Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez have all missed time due to injury, with Sanchez still sidelined. A potential centre back replacement, Juan Foyth, is not eligible for this match since he was not on Tottenham’s 25-man roster for group play but is also injured at the moment.

Up front, however, there was good news as playmaking midfielder Erik Lamela was cleared to play and should see his first action since suffering a thigh bruise in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan on Nov. 28. Pochettino must choose between Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and Heung-Min Son among his attacking options alongside striker Harry Kane.

Kane leads the Lilywhites with 13 goals in all competitons, and both he and Son have bagged three in their last five matches in all competitions. Kane also has potted seven goals in his last seven Champions League away matches.

Eriksen has a goal and three assists in that stretch and Alli two goals and two assists as Spurs have racked up 11 goals in those five contests while winning four.

Barcelona have gone a staggering 26-2-0 at the Nou Camp in Champions League play since that loss to Bayern completed an embarrassing 7-0 aggregate defeat. Barca have outscored opponents 87-13 during this unbeaten run and have not conceded more than once in any of those contests. There have been five wins over Premier League teams in that stretch, including three over Manchester City.

The Blaugrana have won back-to-back matches and waxed Pochettino’s Espanyol side 4-0 on Saturday as Lionel Messi had a brace on either side of halftime via a pair of jaw-dropping free kicks. Messi also set up a goal by Ousmane Dembele, who set up a goal by Luis Suarez that gave Barca a 3-0 lead right before halftime.

Ernesto Valverde’s team have nothing to play for in this match — Barcelona will finish atop their Champions League group for the 12th consecutive year and the lone blemish was a 1-1 draw at the San Siro versus Inter. Valverde has already decided to hold out Suarez for this match, while it is possible Messi could also be a spectator for the Catalans.

That could prove largely beneficial for Spurs as Messi has tormented English sides with 22 goals and six assists in 29 career Champions League matches. His 22 Champions League goals are the most of any player against English clubs, far outpacing runner-up Cristiano Ronaldo (12).

“There are players with discomfort and it does not fit into my plans, of course, to play then in two games in three days,” Valverde said ahead of the Nou Camp clash when asked about player availability and maintaining the integrity of the match with nothing at stake.

“Inter has nothing to fear. If they had drawn or won, they would have no problem. We have to look after ourselves. We will go out to win but we respect the competition and we want to win.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, oddsmakers are still fairly confident in Barca being able to win without at least Suarez and potentially Messi as well, entering this contest as 19/20 favourites. Spurs are 5/2 underdogs to get a victory that could potentially propel them to the knockout round, and there are 10/3 odds on the sides splitting the points.

After the ragged six-goal match between the sides at Wembley on Match Day 2, it is also not surprising their are 1/2 odds for the clubs to clear 2.5 goals compared to the 13/8 odds to finish below it. There are similar 1/2 odds for both teams to score at least one goal, while 6/4 odds exist for at least one clean sheet.

With Messi still at least a possibility to play, he leads the toteboard for first goal-scorers at 11/4 with plenty of daylight between him and Kane at 4/1. Dembele is an 11/2 selection as the third-most likely option, while one-time Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho has 6/1 odds. Barca’s El Haddadi Munir rounds out the top five options at 13/2 just ahead of a whole slew of Spurs to make it 0-1 — Fernando Llorente (7/1), Son and Moura (15/2), Alli and Lamela (10/1) and Eriksen (11/1).

Messi is an 8/13 pick to score over the course of 90 minutes, and Kane is even money to do likewise. Dembele again edges out Coutinho for third at 7/5 compared to 8/5 for the Brasil international, with Munir (7/4) and Llorente (15/8) completing the group at better than 2/1 odds. Son and Moura start that group, followed by Alli and Lamela at 11/4 and Eriksen at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Let’s be blunt about this for a second: Spurs are going to have to win this match because the odds of PSV getting a victory at the San Siro are far longer at 17/2 than the Lilywhites at that more modest 5/2 offering. That said, Tottenham are going to have to withstand the first half-hour of this match — no small challenge since Barcelona were two up in the reverse fixture before 30 minutes had passed at Wembley.

That means the spotlight will shine brightest on Walker-Peters, who has not played a minute of the previous five group contests. His under-20 turn with England aside, Walker-Peters’ lone match action for Spurs before Saturday’s late runout came in their Carabao Cup win over West Ham United on Halloween.

While he may miss out on Suarez, Coutinho will undoubtedly be someone to mark, and that does not even account for the interplay between the Brasilian and Messi, who would likely move into the false No. 9 role without Suarez into the middle of Barca’s three-man front. Messi has accounted for six of Barcelona’s 13 goals in Champions League play, but no one else on the La Liga side has more than one.

Tottenham have shown plenty of fight in getting to this point, and they also showed plenty of it in that loss to Barcelona at Wembley, twice drawing within one goal before a 90th-minute marker from Messi sealed that victory. But a victory at the Nou Camp by any English club is rare — the lone one in 30 matches since the start of the 1976-77 season was a 2-1 win by Liverpool in 2007.

There will be plenty of heart for Tottenham to display, but the fact Pochettino’s side have to play an open match to equal Inter’s result means Barcelona will have many opportunities themselves, and the Catalan side are too ruthless to not take advantage.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Barcelona 3, Tottenham Hotspur 2.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Preview — Liverpool (2-0-3, 6, +1) vs. Napoli (2-3-0, 9, +3)

The most straightforward way Liverpool can advance to the knockout round of the Champions League for a second straight year Tuesday is with a 1-0 victory over Napoli at Anfield.

The question is whether their improved defence can live up to that 90-minute challenge or whether their offence will have to deliver like last term to reach the round of 16 in Europe’s most prestigious club tournament.

“It’s going to be a difficult game. That’s how they play but we need to play our game, we need to be ready to do what we’ve been doing almost the whole season,” centre back Virgil Van Dijk said at Monday’s pre-match news conference. “We have plenty of quality to score and we have plenty of quality to defend as well, but at the end of the day it’s all about showing it on the pitch. It is all about showing it on the pitch.”

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Though Liverpool have taken the pole position in the Premier League table following their 4-0 romp at Bournemouth combined with Manchester City’s first defeat — a 2-0 reverse at Chelsea — looking down at their domestic peers has taken a back seat to the urgency of Tuesday’s moment. If the Reds, currently third in Group C on six points, fail to keep a clean sheet, they must beat the Italian side by two or more goals to advance.

The good news for Jurgen Klopp’s team is that the match is being played at Anfield, where they have won both their group matches and been near-invincible. Liverool’s only defeat in 10 matches (8-1-1) across all competitions at home was a 2-1 loss to Chelsea in the Carabao Cup, and they have scored 23 goals with only five in reply while posting seven clean sheets.

“So far at home we were good – we have to be even better tomorrow night. I told the boys, I really think if nothing special happens with referee decisions, we get tomorrow night what we deserve,” Klopp said. “The only way to make that sure is to really perform at our highest level in the two big parts of the game: defensive and offensive. That makes it special. But we caused the situation and we are responsible in a good way and in a bad way.

The group is a hard one; that was clear when we got the draw. Now we have the chance to go through and that is pretty special after the campaign we played so far.”

The Reds have been two distinctly different sides home and away through their first five group matches, always level or ahead at home and failing to grab a lead in any of their three road contests. The seven goals allowed overall are one more than they have yielded in 16 Premier League matches, though Saturday’s 4-0 rout at Dean Court was more about striker Mohamed Salah re-discovering his lethal form from last term with three goals against the Clarets.

The Egypt international has eight goals in his last 10 matches in all competitions and has a team-high 12. Three of the dozen have come in group play, and Liverpool have also struck three times from the spot for nearly half of their eight goals.

“What Mo did around his two goals in the second half was just exceptional,” Klopp said after Saturday’s win. “I don’t know at the moment a lot of players who would have scored these two goals. The first one, it is a foul actually but he wants to score the goal so he stays on his feet and scores it. It was not the most impressive finish but I would say it was pretty surprising [for the goalkeeper]. His third goal was outstanding as well; really, how we set it up and all that stuff was good.”

Klopp does have some selection questions for this match, most notably who will pair with Van Dijk in central defence. Joel Matip got the call this weekend, but the Cameroon international is coming off back-to-back starts on a short turnaround and has yet to be in the first XI for three consecutive matches. That leaves Dejan Lovren, who sat out the last two matches due to a concussion but returned to practice Monday, as the most likely option.

In the midfield, Klopp must also decide whether he will stick to his regular 4-3-3 formation or the 4-2-3-1 he has used on occasion. Jordan Henderson is likely back after being held out at Bournemouth, while James Milner is hoping to get back in the midfield after playing right back — a spot Trent Alexander-Arnold is expected to reclaim.

Naby Keita and Fabinho are also midfield options, with Giorginio Wijnaldum likely to hold down one of those three spots if Klopp goes 4-3-3 or in a defensive midfield pairing in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.

Napoli are atop the group on nine points, one better than Paris-St. Germain, and are unbeaten in 12 matches (8-4-0) overall since a 3-1 loss at scudetto-holders Juventus on Sept. 29. The Partenopei have won three on the bounce after storming past Frosinone 4-0 on Saturday as Arkadiusz Milik had a second-half brace set up by Faouzi Ghoulam after Piotr Zielinski and Adam Ounas scored in the first half.

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti was able to rest some of his regulars ahead of this match, most notably keeper David Ospina and striker Dries Mertens along with centre back Raul Albiol and midfielder Jose Callejon. Despite spending four seasons with Arsenal — mainly as a backup to Petr Cech in the previous three — Ospina has never played at the cauldron that is Anfield.

It was the second brace Milik has notched at home for the Partenopei and is third on the team with seven goals, trailing only joint-leaders Lorenzo Insigne and Mertens — who have 10 apiece in all competitions.

Despite their current form, Napoli are still eight points adrift of Juventus in Serie A through 15 matches. The Italian side are trying to avoid their second straight exit in group play after finishing third in a group behind Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk last term, but Ancelotti is confident his side can get a result after recording a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture Oct. 3 on a 90th-minute goal by Insigne.

“We know what to expect from Liverpool,” Ancelotti said at Monday’s news conference at Anfield. “We know all about the tempo they play at but we have to focus first and foremost on our own game. If we’re smart in defence and incisive in attack, we have an excellent chance of going through.

“The reverse fixture gives us confidence but we don’t know if we’ll be able to reproduce that performance. We certainly won’t sit back and let Liverpool come at us. We believe in our ability and our potential. A lot of what happens on the pitch is down to us, but it also depends on how Liverpool play. We have this final step to take and we believe we can take it even at a very tough ground like Anfield.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Liverpool are 8/13 favourites to get the job done and make a return to the knockout round. There are 7/2 odds for Napoli to hold out enough for a draw and seal their advancement and 9/2 odds to grab a victory that would see them through as the group winners.

Oddsmakers are expecting both teams to press for goals, with 8/15 odds on there being more than 2.5 goals compared to 6/4 odds for failing to reach that threshold. There are also 4/7 odds for both teams to bag a goal, and 5/4 odds of there being at least one clean sheet.

Salah’s current rich vein of goal-scoring has made him the favourite for the match’s first goal-scorer at 10/3, followed by teammates Daniel Sturridge (15/4), Divock Origi (4/1), Roberto Firmino (5/1) and both Dominic Solanke and Sadio Mane (11/2). Mertens (6/1) and Insigne (13/2) are Napoli’s top options, with Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri also 13/2, a step ahead of Milik (15/2).

Salah and Sturridge are better than even money odds to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 4/5 and 10/11, respectively. Origi is at even money, with Firmino lurking behind him at 5/4. Solanke and Mane have 7/5 odds, and Mertens is 8/5. Insigne and Shaqiri are again paired together at 7/4, and Milik has 2/1 odds along with Callejon.

PREDICTION

It really is all there for Liverpool, but the question is which way are they going to take to get there. Obviously, they will try to ride the emotion of the home supporters at Anfield, and the first half-hour will turn into a high-paced match in which the Reds try to turn the screws on Napoli.

The next question is what happens if Liverpool score in those 30 minutes. Do you make the commitment to find the second and then try to kill off the match, or do you have trust in Alisson and Van Dijk at the back four to hold that 1-0 advantage until the final whistle?

The Partonepei did not have an overwhelming majority of the possession in the reverse fixture at 54 percent, but they were far more efficient with the ball — Napoli attempted 16 shots to Liverpool’s four and registered five on target while the Reds failed to do so. Klopp also had to make an injury-forced substitution less than 20 minutes into that contest as Keita suffered a back injury, but Liverpool were clearly second-best and can ill-afford such a repeat performance at Anfield.

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 10 Champions League home matches (7-3-0) since a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid on Oct. 22, 2014. AS Roma was the most recent Serie A side to visit Anfield and took a 5-2 drubbing in last term’s first-leg semifinal.

Napoli are winless in their last five Champions League road contests (0-2-3), though both draws have come this season. The Partonepei are 0-1-3 on Premier League grounds in this competition, suffering a 2-1 loss at the Etihad last term. The only point Napoli claimed was a 1-1 draw at Manchester City in 2011.

This should be a finely balanced match, but in the end, the fire of the Anfield cauldron will again prove too much for a European side as the five-times champions will scrape through into the next round.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Liverpool 2, Napoli 0.

OTHER UEFA Champions League Match Day 6 Previews:

y-Barcelona (4-1-0, 13, +9) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (2-1-2, 7, -1)
x-Manchester City (3-1-1, 10, +9) vs. Hoffenheim 1899 (0-3-2, 3, -2)
Valencia (1-2-2, 5, -1) vs. x-Manchester United (3-1-1, 10, +4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

The past and present for both Marco Silva and Richarlison collide as the current Everton manager and star forward face Watford for the first time since Silva’s acrimonious departure during last season and Richarlison’s contentious move to Goodison Park over the summer.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Watford (6-2-7) looked to be on their way to a promising season under Silva last tern, claiming 15 points from their first eight matches while climbing as high as fourth following a 2-1 victory over Arsenal on Oct. 14. At Everton (6-5-4), the Toffees were coming apart at the seams as Ronald Koeman was unable to follow up on a promising seventh-place finish from 2016-17 – Everton endured a disastrous Europa League adventure and their defence was porous.

Nine days after the Hornets reached their highest position in the table, Everton fired Koeman after a 5-2 hiding at home by Arsenal that dropped them to their worst spot – the top of the drop. Everton actively pursued Silva, incurring the ire of Watford owner Gino Pozzo, who rejected the Merseyside club’s overtures on multiple occasions even as they raised their offer to £12 million.

Watford eventually sacked Silva in January after the club had fallen off their torrid start and were in 10th place after a 2-0 defeat to Leicester City, replacing him with current boss Javi Gracia. Pozzo cited Everton’s interest in Silva as a primary reason for the backslide and filed a complaint with the Premier League.

To no one’s surprise, Silva was named Everton manager on May 31 shortly after they parted ways with caretaker boss Sam Allardyce, who did guide them to an eighth-place finish. Over the summer, Everton then reunited Silva with the 21-year-old Richarlison in July for £35 million – a figure inflated by the animosity between the sides and one that could also reach £50 million with add-ons.

“It is not the first time in my life and for sure it will not be the last,” Silva told the Watford Observer about facing his former side. “I look forward to the match, a tough match for sure, and it will be good to see some of the players who worked with me, some good friends as well I have in the club.”

Everton have claimed points in four of their last five matches after playing Newcastle United to a 1-1 draw midweek. Richarlison scored the equaliser on 38 minutes for his seventh goal – two more than he had at Watford all of last term while netting those goals in their first 12 matches – but offence has been a concern for the Toffees, who have just two goals in their last four matches.

The struggles prompted a post-match query to Silva if Everton would pursue a forward in the January transfer window, a question he deftly sidestepped.

“I understand your question, but how many clubs are trying to find one striker to score more than 20 goals, or 25 goals, or 30 goals,” he mused. “I think it’s a question at the moment for all the managers in the Premier League.

“I am happy with the players we have. Of course we are doing our homework. We know what we want to do as well.”

For the second straight season, Watford have faded to a degree after a strong start and have just two wins in their last 11 league matches (2-2-7) after claiming the maximum 12 points from their first four contests. The Hornets have dropped three on the bounce but gave Manchester City all they could handle midweek before losing 2-1 at Vicarage Road.

Abdoulaye Doucoure gave Watford hopes of nicking a point from the reigning champions with a goal on 85 minutes, but the Hornets were unable to find an equaliser despite throwing everyone forward – even keeper Ben Foster. For his part, Foster does not think there is any on-pitch animus towards Silva among his teammates, but did note there is a different atmosphere.

“I am sure it will have an impact from the club’s point of view in general,” Foster said. “But it is not something me personally or any of the players out on the pitch on Monday night will be thinking too much about.

“We will just be focusing on the job as usual, go about the game as we normally do and try to get the three points and hopefully we can put on a good display.”

Like Everton, Watford have endured their troubles generating offence with just two goals in their last five contests. They have not gotten a goal from a striker since Isaac Success completed the scoring in their 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town on Oct. 20.

Watford had their second appeal of the straight red card given to defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue denied Sunday, meaning he will sit out this match and the Hornets’ next contest at home versus Cardiff City on Saturday. Capoue was sent off following his collision with Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho on Dec. 1, but the team felt the three-match ban was too severe and filed a second appeal citing Rule K of the Rules of the FA.

“The Rule K arbitration proceedings which #watfordfc commenced against The FA have now been concluded & the outcome is the original 3-game ban has been upheld,” the team said in a statement released via Twitter. “We remain extremely disappointed at the process & this decision but now consider the matter closed.”

Nathaniel Chalobah will likely get his second consecutive start alongside Doucoure in the defensive midfield of Gracia’s 4-2-2-2 set-up.

The home team won both matches last term, with Everton engineering a fightback from two down in the final 23 minutes for a 3-2 win in the corresponding fixture as Oumar Niasse and Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored before Leighton Baines converted a penalty on 91 minutes.

Richarlison and Christian Kabasele scored for Watford, who have taken just one point from their five Premier League matches at Goodison Park while shipping 12 goals.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Everton are solid 4/5 favourites to pick up all three points and extend Watford’s recent run of misery in this first Silva derby, while the Hornets are 4/1 underdogs. The odds of the sides splitting the points are 11/4.

Oddsmakers are torn on the proficiency of the sides’ offences, with 10/11 odds in both directions regarding the 2.5 goals threshold. There is a slight lean for both teams to score at 4/5 odds, slightly better than the 19/20 offered for at least one clean sheet.

Richarlison and Tosun lead the line for potential first-goal scorers at 9/2, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin a surprising third choice at 11/2 ahead of Theo Walcott (6/1), Gylfi Sigurdsson (7/1) and a trio of Toffees at 8/1 — Bernard, Ademola Lookman, and Kieran Dowell. Deeney is also in that group at 8/1 for Watford’s top option, with a trio of his mates — Success, Gray and Stefano Okaka all at 9/1.

Tosun and Richarlison are also joint-favourites for an any-time goal at 11/8, with Calvert-Lewin (7/4), Walcott (15/8) and Sigurdsson (9/4) rounding out the top five. Deeney is again the best of the bunch for the Hornets at 13/5, with Success, Gray and Okaka all behind him at 3/1.

PREDICTION

Since the animosity that fuels this intriguing match is consigned largely to the executive boards of these two sides, it is hard to imagine it will be an ill-tempered affair, but one never truly knows. But there is one thing clear about this contest: Everton need a win here ahead of their mini two-match gauntlet at Manchester City and home to Spurs since those contests could go a long way to determining if the Toffees do indeed have European ambitions.

The expectation is Silva will return to the customary 4-2-3-1 in which Richarlison leads the line after slotting him on the wing to give Cenk Tosun some run up front versus Newcastle. Theo Walcott will likely return on the right flank, and the only other question mark is whether Kurt Zouma will get a second consecutive start with Michael Keane expected to be restored to the first XI.

Watford will miss Capoue, but there were positives to be had from their late flourish versus Manchester City. How the Hornets carry that into this match will be key to halting their recent slide. It also means their left side tandem of Jose Holebas and Roberto Pereyra have to provide menace on the offensive side to get Gracia’s team to kick on.

While the Toffees have not been in a purple patch themselves offensively, they have been effective on defence with three clean sheets in their last eight league contests while allowing more than one goal just once in that stretch. This time, that airtight quality gets them three points and a nice fillip ahead of their trip to the Etihad to face Manchester City.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Everton 2, Watford 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 16 Preview — Newcastle United (3-4-8) vs. Wolverhampton (5-4-6)

New boys Wolverhampton have proved they can punch above their weight class, but the challenge for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side Sunday at St James’ Park versus Newcastle United is maintaining that level of play against their peers.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The “Other 14” clubs of the Premier League have gone a combined 3-5-51 against the Big Six through the first 15 matches of the season, and Wolves (5-4-6) have claimed one of those victories and three of those draws. They picked up a vital three points midweek, rallying to defeat Chelsea 2-1 on goals by Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota four minutes apart in the second half.

The victory ended a six-match winless drought in league play during which they claimed just one point, and it was all the more impressive considering they played without their best midfielder Ruben Neves – who returns for this contest after serving a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation.

“We knew it was going to be hard coming into the season,” defender Ryan Bennett told Wolves’ official website. “Obviously with the teams which are in this league there were always going to be points when things would be tough. But it’s about how you get through them, and we managed to do that the other night against Chelsea, so it’s nice to be back on track.

“The aim is to get three points, that’s how we go into every game. We found it tough in the last couple of games, against Huddersfield and Cardiff, but with a good result at Chelsea we want to take that into the game at Newcastle, which is going to be a tough place to go. But it’s a game we look at to try and get all three points.”

The win over Chelsea showed the potential Wolverhampton have – many consider them to be one of the best promoted sides of the Premier League era – but their November struggles that included losses to relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City also showed just what kind of grind the top flight is according to the defender.

“You look at the sort of dip we just had, and it makes you realise how hard it is in this league, but we’ve got a pretty good perspective of where we’ve come from and how hard it is, but we’ll be trying to achieve that top ten finish and we’ll see what happens.”

Nuno made three changes to the starting XI that lost to Cardiff City, but the insertion of teenager Morgan Gibbs-White in the midfield for his first Premier League start to replace the suspended Neves proved influential. Gibbs-White, who captained England to the U-17 World Cup title last year, has logged 734 minutes since winning that tournament – the most of any player in the starting XI from that win over Spain.

Nuno has yet to start Gibbs-White and Neves together, only bringing the starlet off the bench thus far.

While Wolves have shown the technical ability and talent to play with the top sides, Newcastle United (3-4-8) get by on graft and the guile of manager Rafa Benitez. The Magpies have yet to nick a point from the Big Six – losing all five of those matches by one goal – but came out of Merseyside with a credible 1-1 draw midweek versus Everton.

Salomon Rondon continued his fine form with a goal in the 19th minute, his third in four matches, but Newcastle conceded before halftime. Christian Atsu had a gilt-edged chance in the closing minutes inside the penalty area but saw his low shot parried by Toffees keeper Jordan Pickford.

The draw marked the fifth time in six matches (3-2-1) Newcastle gained at least a point as they have finally kicked on from their dismal start that was top-loaded. One of Benitez’s challenges now is to carry that road form into consistent play at home – the Magpies were denied a third consecutive win at St James’ last time out with a 3-0 defeat to West Ham United last weekend.

“We have to be a team that is compact, well organised and difficult to break down,” Benitez noted in his Friday news conference. “That is the main thing if you want to win games or get results.”

Benitez will be forced into one change for this contest since centre back Fabian Schar picked up his fifth yellow card in the draw versus Everton and will serve his one-match ban. It is a somewhat dubious achievement considering the Switzerland international has played only six league matches and accrued his five cautions in 484 minutes.

On the positive side, winger Matt Ritchie will return after serving his yellow card ban, and Paul Dummett should be available at left back after resuming training following a hamstring injury. Further up the left side, Kenedy is also expected to be available after missing out midweek with a toe injury.

The improved player availability means Benitez may be able to go to his traditional four at the back after using a 5-4-1 set-up versus the Toffees. The Magpies manager singled out talisman Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey for their patience and veteran leadership as the two have struggled for first-team playing time in recent contests.

“They know they have to wait and keep pushing to get back in the team,” Benitez said when asked about them. “I think they understand that a team that was winning and in the position they were needed support behind the scenes and they were doing that.”

The teams have not met since playing in the Championship in the 2016-17 season. The road team won both matches, and Newcastle recorded a 2-0 victory in the third round of the League Cup.

Wolves have never beaten Newcastle in Premier League play, though the sides have split the points in four of their six top-flight meetings. Neither team have recorded a clean sheet in those matches.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Bet365, Wolves are slight favourites to bring all three points back to Molineux with 17/10 odds, rating slightly better than the Magpies (19/10). The draw is the longshot of the trio at 11/4.

Oddsmakers are not expecting the sides to ring up the goals, as there are 4/7 odds the total will stay under 2.5 compared to 11/8 odds to cross over that threshold. There are also 3/4 odds there will be at least one clean sheet compared to an even money pick for both teams to score.

Despite making the trip to St James’ Park, Wolves have the top three options for first-goal scoring honours — Jimenez (11/2) and Jota (13/2) flanking Leo Bonatini (6/1). Newcastle’s top two picks are exactly who you would expect — Rondon and Joselu — and both are 7/1 picks. Magpies playmaker Ayoze Perez has 15/2 odds while Ivan Cavaleiro, Helder Costa and Yoshinori Muto are all a step back at 8/1.

Jimenez also leads the line to score over the course of the match at 21/10, followed by Bonatini (9/4) and Jota (5/2). Rondon and Joselu are both 11/4, while Perez, Cavaleiro, Costa and Muto are all 3/1 picks to bag a goal.

PREDICTION

This is a very curious match of tactics and managers and managers’ tactics. Newcastle United appear to be as close to full strength as they have been in weeks as Kenedy and Dummett are available. Whether Benitez restores Shelvey to the starting XI is yet to be seen after he did so with Lascelles last match, but there are options, and when Benitez has options, he’s at his best.

There is something about Wolverhampton that smarter people than myself have noted of late, claiming the reason Wolves have fared so well against the higher-placed teams is because there is more technical football being played. That is also a backhanded dig that Wolves do not have the cynicism or desire to get down and dirty and apply the graft to get those points against their peers. Results lend credence to this argument, but this is a match where Newcastle could play either way and test Wolves to see how they either stick or twist.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Newcastle United 1, Wolverhampton 1.

OTHER EPL MATCH DAY 16 PREVIEWS

Manchester United (6-5-4) vs. Fulham (2-3-10)
Chelsea (9-4-2) vs. Manchester City (13-2-0)
Leicester City (6-4-5) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (11-0-4)
Everton (6-5-4) vs. Watford (6-2-7)

Dec. 7 — NCAA Basketball Picks

These are the condensed versions of picks for Thursday’s college basketball games for Winners and Whiners. A link to the full preview is below, and confidence ratings are in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does not represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick of each individual game.

Massachusetts at Providence

Side Prediction/Full Game: Providence -9.5 (3/5) — LOSS!
Total Prediction/Full Game:  Over 149 points (4/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/Full Game:
Side Prediction/1st Half: Providence -5 (3/5) — WIN!
Total Prediction/1st Half:  Over 70.5 points (5/5) — WIN!
Prop Prediction/1st Half:

Previous Day’s Record: 3-1 (.750)
December Record 27-19-2 (.583)
November Record: 81-91-6 (.472)
Season Record: 108-110-8 (.496)

1-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-0 (.000) in December)
2-Star Pick Record: 0-0 (.000)          (0-1 (.000) in December)
3-Star Pick Record: 1-1(.500)        (11-11-1 (.500) in December)
4-Star Pick Record: 1-0 (1.000)           (8-3-1 (.708) in December)
5-Star Pick Record: 1-0 (1.000)           (8-4-0 (.667) in December)