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)

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)

Liverpool can potentially clinch a spot in the knockout round of the Champions League for a second successive season if they can complete the double over Paris-St. Germain on Wednesday at Parc des Princes and get a little bit of help.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jurgen Klopp’s side opened group play with a thrilling 3-2 victory at Anfield over the Ligue 1 leaders in September as Roberto Firmino’s goal in stoppage time the winner after PSG nearly escaped with a point after Kylian Mbappe’s equaliser on 83 minutes.

Yet therein, lies the rub for the Reds. They have played arguably their two worst matches of the season on the continent in group play, suffering a 1-0 loss at current Group D leaders Napoli and then a stunning 2-0 setback at Red Star earlier this month with a chance to put one foot through the door to reach the knockout round.

Liverpool can clinch a spot in the round of 16 with a victory and a win or draw by Napoli against Red Star.

“Two very ambitious teams will face each other in a very, very interesting competition, in an interesting situation in the group because we brought Belgrade back in the group [by losing in Serbia], so we go for everything and that’s how football should be,” Klopp said at Tuesday’s news conference. “Very often when you see groups after the draw you know immediately who will go through. The first two are pretty clear most of the time, but in this group it was clear from the beginning it was a difficult one and that’s it. We are here, we didn’t ever think negatively about it, we were looking forward to the game in Paris.”

Liverpool have won both their matches since the defeat to Red Star, recording clean sheet victories over Fulham and Watford, including a 3-0 romp past the latter at Vicarage Road last weekend. Mo Salah has scored in both contests and has five goals in his last five matches across all competitions, but the more welcome news was Firmino ending a four-match goalless drought with a marker right before the final whistle.

The match also showed what could be Klopp’s eventual evolution from a 4-3-3 set-up to a 4-2-3-1 formation in which Salah is the most forward striker and Firmino in the hole behind him flanked by Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri. It does not seem likely Liverpool will hold that formation for this match given PSG’s offensive prowess and Shaqiri’s ability to make a bigger impact in Champions League play given the style of competition, but Klopp has been pleased Firmino has adapted to the new role asked of him.

“In the last home game against Fulham, I had 20 German coaches in the stadium. Most of them were friends of mine, and I know them all,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. “They watched the game. I’m not sure what the critics were saying about Bobby Firmino after the game, but when I saw the coaches later and we had drinks together, they were like ‘Bobby Firmino… what a player!’

“It’s because of the small things he is doing, he is working hard, he is here, he is there, he has five goals now and he opens 5,000 gaps for everybody. It’s about how you see it.”

Klopp has a midfield that is almost 100 percent as Fabinho was the only regular who did not make the 21-man roster who traveled to Paris. But it will be the central defence pairing of Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk who will likely be the most influential factors in whether Liverpool can shake off their road blues while wearing their trademark home red kits.

“We know they are top players – their strike force is something they are known worldwide for,” Gomez said. “As a team we just have to play our way. We have fundamentals that we stick to, that the gaffer gives us; we have to defend as a team regardless of who we’re playing.

“We do analysis and we have to prepare for different formations and different set-ups but our general philosophies in defending stay the same. That’s what we have to stick to.”

PSG could not figure out a way to beat Napoli as the two sides played to draws at both venues, and their Champions League play runs in stark contrast to their seeming invinicbility in Ligue 1. Les Parisiens retained their 100 percent record domestically last weekend with a 1-0 victory over Toulouse.

Thomas Tuchel held out both Neymar and Mbappe to let the superstars nurse injuries, and the third part of their potent strike force, Edinson Cavani, supplied the contest’s only goal in the ninth minute. It was the ninth goal in as many league matches for the Uruguay international, whose 10 overall goals are third behind the pair’s 13 apiece.

Both players are expected to be in PSG’s first XI for this game, but Teuchel believes his defence is going to be as important, if not more, to the chances of the French club’s side of getting through to the round of 16.

“The key will be to defend well against Liverpool’s attacking trio, that’s always difficult because they can change position. Firmino can play everywhere, he’s fluid, able to change rhythm,” Tuchel said.  “They can also play in 4-4-2, but that doesn’t change much in terms of their structure or their approach to the game.

“It’s necessary for us to play with confidence and play attacking football and have the desire to win. The ball has to move around quickly, we have to take the right decisions quickly, and we have to limit the number of touches in our opponents’ half.”

PSG will have at least two notable changes from the reverse fixture as keeper Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Marco Verratti are expected to be in the starting XI. Buffon served a suspension for his red card while with Juventus as they lost to eventual champions Real Madrid in the second leg of last year’s Champions League semifinals while Verratti served a one-match ban for his two yellow cards accrued in PSG’s second-leg exit to the reigning three-time champions in the round of 16.

Liverpool will conclude their group play at home versus Napoli, while PSG caps their six group play matches at last-place Red Star.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, PSG are firm favourites to hold serve and claim all three points with 11/10 odds, while Liverpool are a 21/10 pick to return to Anfield with a vital three road points. The odds of the sides splitting the points and contributing to a free-for-all in the final match day are 27/10.

The French side have 9/5 odds on winning with more than 2.5 goals scored, while a like result for Liverpool offers 16/5 odds. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw is the next-most likely outcome according to the oddsmakers with 19/4 odds, while PSG get 11/2 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory compared to Liverpool’s 17/2 for the same such results.

PSG’s attacking trio of Mbappe, Neymar and Cavani are all joint-top options to open the scoring at 9/2, while Liverpool’s trident of Salah (5/1), Mane (7/1) and Firmino (15/2) are joined by teammate Daniel Sturridge (6/1). Angel Di Maria is a distant fourth option for Les Parisiens at 10/1, which is also 10th overall.

Surprisingly, no one is better than even money to score a goal in this match, with Neymar and Mbappe joint top at 5/4 and Cavani just off their pair at 11/8. Salah is 7/5 to lead Liverpool’s options, trailed by Sturridge (7/4), Mane (21/10) and Firmino (11/5). Expected to come off the bench because Klopp is likely to use a 4-3-3, Shaqiri offers a 10/3 return to score during the contest.

PREDICTION

First off, is there anyone who really thought Mbappe and Neymar would not play in this match? Ok, just wanted to get that out of the way. Onto the match.

Though it sounds like hyperbole, it does not feel out of place to say Liverpool’s season could hinge on getting at least one point from this contest. No one will say it out loud, but there has to be a certain amount of exhaustion and frustration chasing Manchester City in the Premier League. Yes, Liverpool are just two points behind the reigning champions, but how quickly do good feelings wash away after a 3-0 road victory when scoreboard watching reveals a 4-0 victory by City?

In this competition, Liverpool only have themselves to blame for what could be a potentially disastrous plight. The Reds should have taken at least one point from their other two road contests and clearly played below their capabilities in both contests against sides they were perceived to be better than or, at worst, equal to.

Paris-Saint Germain, it can be argued, are a side better than Liverpool. They are unbeaten in 12 (10-2-0) since the loss to Liverpool and have conceded just seven goals in those contests. The trip of Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani have accounted for 24 in that span. And while Liverpool have a good amount of pressure on them to return to the Champions League knockout round, it still dwarves the amount on Les Parisiens, who in some ways have become France’s answer to Manchester City as an ultra-rich squad who have yet to crack Europe’s true elite.

It says a lot Buffon is going to get the start in this match over Alphonse Arreola, having appeared in only one other Champions League match for the side, their 1-1 draw at Napoli in which the Italian side scored their lone goal from the spot. This could be Buffon’s last go-round at the one trophy which has eluded him all these years, and the self-applied pressure could also factor here.

This is a game that could be played in fits and spurts, where individual defensive breakdowns lead to goals scored. The winner of this match is who will have the lesser amount, and given Liverpool’s road form in this group, it is hard to imagine PSG not getting the inside track to advancing with a victory here.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Paris-St. Germain 2, Liverpool 1.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Lyon (1-3-0, 6, +1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)
Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)
Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)

Tottenham Hotspur’s bid to return to the Champions League knockout round for a second straight year has hit a seminal moment as the Spurs host Inter Milan in a crunch encounter Wednesday at Wembley Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

(Editor’s Note — Miranda likely to start at right back for the injured Vraslko for Inter)

Left for dead with just one point from their first three matches after being held to a 2-2 draw at PSV Eindhoven, the Lilywhites (1-1-2) began their fight back with a 2-1 victory over the Dutch side in their most recent Champions League contest. Harry Kane’s brace in the final 12 minutes erased an early deficit, and Tottenham got some help from Barcelona, who recorded a draw at Inter earlier this month to raise the stakes for this contest.

The motivation to prove the naysayers wrong runs deep for Spurs gaffer Mauricio Pochettino, who told The Guardian at Tuesday’s news conference, “Yes, a massive motivation. When people say that something is going to be difficult, for me, it’s like, ah, I’m so excited to show them it’s completely different.”

The victory over PSV is one of five on the trot currently for the Spurs, with Pochettino showing his tactical chops in his side’s most convincing performance of the season, a 3-1 romp over London derby rival Chelsea in which Tottenham dealt Maurizio Sarri his first loss since arriving at Stamford Bridge.

Pochettino’s decision to play a diamond in font of his back four with Dele Alli serving as the top point to feed Kane and Heung-Min Son completely defused Sarri’s 4-3-3 set-up as Spurs turned Jorginho’s lack of elite pace against him and exploited the gaps created when Chelsea’s midfielders pressed forward.

Alli and Kane both scored off passes from Christian Eriksen in the first 16 minutes, and Son completed the scoring by latching onto a pass from Alli on the flank and blazing past and around Jorginho before slotting home shortly after the restart.

But the Argentine manager is rightly concerned about his threadbare defence for this contest, and with good reason. Jan Vertonghen is being pushed back into duty in central defence after missing the past 10 matches with a hamstring injury. Pochettino would have preferred to use Juan Foyth to partner with Toby Alderweireld, but the Argentine was not one of the 17 non-locally players Tottenham submitted to UEFA for their group play roster.

“When you need to take a decision from the beginning, you cannot guess what’s going to happen,” said Pochettino, who placed the blame for his side’s imbalance at the feet of the club’s higher-ups following their dormancy in the summer transfer window. “Central defence was a position where we had players, but we have Davinson injured and Jan was injured. That is why we use Juan. I am happy with Juan and his evolution but I am so disappointed we cannot come with him in the Champions League.”

Left back Danny Rose could make his return in this match after an eight-game absence due to injury, though Ben Davies has deputised well in his absence. Serge Aurier again gets the call at right back since Kieran Trippier remains sidelined due to a groin injury.

Inter (2-1-1) enter this match with a margin of error since they have the easier final Champions League tie of the two — at home versus PSV compared to Tottenham having to try and get a result at Barcelona.

The Nerazzurri will be without right back Sime Vrsaljko, who picked up a thigh injury while on international duty with Croatia and did not make the trip to London. He also missed the first encounter between the teams, and like that match, Miranda is expected to take his place.

Luciano Spalletti’s side ended a two-match winless spell with a 3-0 drubbing of Frosinone on Saturday as Keita Balde had a brace on either side of halftime and assisted on Lautaro Martinez’s goal on 57 minutes. Inter are a comfortable third in the Serie A table but also nine points adrift of front-running Juventus and one back of Napoli through 13 matches.

“The game tomorrow will be a straight knockout to ensure that things remain in our hands,” Spalletti said as Inter look to progress out of the group stages for the first time in six years. “To just approach it as an ordinary group stage game is a risk we can’t take. We want to keep going down this road. We must think that qualification depends on the result tomorrow night.

“From when the draw was made, we knew that we’d have to knock out one of the biggest European teams to make the next round. Tottenham are a strong team with a great manager but we have the quality to take anyone on. Inter had been waiting for years to play in matches like this. The important thing is to show the fans that we’re ready to give anything to win. We need to work till the final drop of sweat to go through.”

Mauro Icardi, who began Inter’s fight back in the reverse fixture with a goal in the 86th minute at the San Siro, has a team-high 10 goals for the Nerazzurri. At three goals, Radja Nainggolan is the only other player with more than two as Inter have 30 goals overall.

Also of note is keeper Samir Handanovic has yet to post a clean sheet in the group stage despite having seven in Serie A.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Spurs are strong 8/11 favourites to win and carry their hopes of advancing into the final match day at the Nou Camp versus Barcelona. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 14/5, while Inter are 7/2 underdogs to win at Wembley and end Tottenham’s hopes of returning to the knockout round for a second straight season.

The Lilywhites have 6/4 odds to post a victory with a goal total above 2.5, and there are 15/4 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline for the hosts at Wembley. There are 21/5 odds on a draw that ends either 0-0 or 1-1, while the Nerazzurri are an 11/2 choice to post a second win over Tottenham with more than 2.5 goals. A win with fewer than 2.5 goals for the visitors or a 2-2 draw or higher have 10/1 odds.

Kane, to no one’s surprise, is the top option to open the scoring in the match with 13/5 odds, followed by Spurs reserve striker Fernando Llorente (9/2). Icardi is Inter’s first listing at 11/2 with Tottenham’s Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela rounding out the top five at 13/2. Son sneaks in behind the Lilywhites duo at 7/1. Martinez and Ivan Perisic complete Inter’s top three choices with 9/1 odds, with Eriksen just ahead of them at 17/2.

The Three Lions talisman is a better than even money pick to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 4/5 odds, with Llorente again second at 6/4. Icardi again tops the toteboard for Inter options, this time at 9/5, while Moura and Lamela are paired together once more — this time at 21/10 while Son is an 11/5 pick. Martinez rates slightly higher at 14/5 for an any-time goal compared to Perisic’s 3/1 potential return.

PREDICTION

It’s hard to tell if Pochettino was feeling good about himself after that Chelsea win or genuinely aggravated about not being able to use Foyth in this match, but there is no doubt the English media are going to have a field day with his comments about what Tottenham failed to do during the summer window.

This will undoubtedly start a whole new round of rumours regarding his desire to stay at Spurs, which in some ways has been par for the course in a season of fits and starts that includes an unexpected second season at Wembley Stadium due to the extended delays of renovating White Hart Lane.

Yet Pochettino is correct in the sense this is not entirely his fault, though no one would have expected Tottenham’s defence to be ravaged so thoroughly by injury. Foyth is arguably the fourth centre back on the depth chart and seventh overall, so it does also speak to the side’s scouts they have coped so well to this point.

Spalletti’s comments about going for it in this match are somewhat surprising given Inter can play for the draw in this match and then wrap things up at the San Siro versus PSV. But with already-qualified Barcelona likely to field a second-choice lineup in that last match versus Tottenham, there is some merit to his belief the Nerazzurri should be playing for three points.

And with neither team recording a clean sheet in group play, it has all the makings of a combustible up-and-down match. Much of Tottenham’s play is going to be carried through the middle without Trippier, though Davies has been a revelation and can offer support on the left. Pochettino used a 4-3-1-2 formation in the first match between the teams, so it is feasible the diamond midfield he used versus Chelsea will get a second look here.

If Inter can withstand Spurs’ pressure in the first half-hour, there will be opportunities for them to break down the Lilywhites defence. Just how willing the Nerazzurri pour forward after that, specifically in terms of testing Vertonghen’s match fitness, will go a long way in determining if Spalletti’s side are truly viewing this as a knockout contest like he claims.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Tottenham Hotspur 3, Inter Milan 1.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Lyon (1-3-0, 6, +1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)
Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)
Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs. Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Lyon (1-3-0, 6,+1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)

Manchester City can wrap up the top spot in Group F of the Champions League and avenge their only loss in all competitions this season Tuesday night when they face French side Olympique Lyon at Groupama Stadium.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

City have gone unbeaten in their last 13 matches (12-1-0) and have won eight on the bounce in all competitions since their stunning 2-1 loss to Lyon to open group play on Sept. 19. Only Liverpool — their closest pursuers in the Premier League — have been able to take points off the reigning domestic champions, and since that 0-0 draw, Pep Guardiola’s imperious side have racked up 30 goals while conceding only two.

The Citizens made quick work of West Ham United on Saturday, thrashing the London side 4-0 in their first match against former manager and Guardiola’s predecessor, Manuel Pellegrini. David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane all scored first-half goals, and Sane completed his brace in second-half stoppage time.

Normally tasked the role of playmaker, especially with Kevin De Bruyne injured, Silva has netted a goal in his last four matches across all competitions and his eight goals overall trail only Sergio Aguero (9).

“All I can say is we want to get better. We want to improve. It’s a new season, we need to be on top of our game,” winger Raheem Sterling told the club’s official website, expressing the same relentless drive as his manager. “I thought at times we did some very good stuff. But at times we could have been better. Great win but at the same time a lot to improve on.

“We gave them too many chances. On another day if they had took them, it could have been more difficult. We know what we done last year and it’s easy to be complacent. He (Pep) wants to keep us at a high level. We are trying to be better, do our best. That’s what will take us to the next level. Every day we need to perform and win games.”

Guardiola was able to rest some of his regulars as centre back John Stones was held out and Riyad Mahrez made a late runout in the final quarter-hour for Sterling. The one expected change Guardiola will make for this match is the introduction of Phil Foden, who will join the midfield since both Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan did not make the trip due to injury.

Guardiola is putting an emphasis on winning this match, and by extension, the group so he can begin rotating his players ahead of the busy holiday fixture list domestically.

“I want to qualify, that’s the first target,” he stated. “When you start the season to now, most important is qualifying in the Champions League. “If you make one or two mistakes, then you’re out. When you believe it’s already done, it’s not done until it’s done. We like that pressure. To play against Hoffenheim in the last game (already qualified) would be a big advantage, but first: let’s qualify.”

Qualification would have come quicker had Lyon not thrown an early spanner into Guardiola’s plans back in September. The French side have not lacked for excitement in their group matches, having scored nine and shipped eight while playing three successive draws following that win at the Etihad.

Les Gones are unbeaten in their last seven matches (4-3-0) in all competitions since a 5-0 thrashing by Paris-St. Germain on Oct. 7 and have won back-to-back matches following a 1-0 victory over St. Etienne on Friday. Jason Denayer’s goal just after the hour was enough to separate the sides as Lyon held out for the victory despite playing the final 20 minutes with 10 men after Rafael was given a direct red card.

Bruno Genesio’s side moved up to second in the Ligue 1 table, but Lyon are 15 points adrift of PSG through 14 matches.

“In recent days we started feeling that it was a different match with a special atmosphere,” Denayer told OLTV after the win. “I hope we can continue this momentum. Manchester City will be different for me, too. We will do our best to win and get the three points.”

Playmaker Nabil Fekir is expected to play despite being forced off at halftime due to a knock. He has four goals, and his four assists are second only to Memphis Depay. Depay, the one-time Manchester United winger, has team bests of six goals and six assists in 18 matches across all competitions.

Lyon would move atop the group with a victory given the head-to-head sweep, but Genesio has warned his side they cannot sit back and try to hold out for a point in a bid to get out of the group.

“This is a team that is superior to us on paper. We’ll have to be at 150 per cent to win,” he remarked about City. “We have to play. If we just defend, we will suffer and we will concede. That much is obvious. We must play with ambition in front of our home fans and have no regrets.”

Manchester City will conclude group play at home versus Hoffenheim, while Lyon travel to last-place Shakhtar Donetsk for their final Group F contest.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are still solid 2/5 favourites to claim all three points despite losing the first meeting between the sides. The odds of a draw are 4/1, and the hosts have 11/2 odds to claim all three points and the inside track to the top of the group.

The Citizens are a 3/4 pick to win with more than 2.5 goals, while a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline offer 17/4 odds. The odds of the teams splitting the points with fewer than 2.5 goals are 13/2, while a Lyon victory with over 2.5 goals checks in at 17/2. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has 10/1 odds, while a low-scoring Les Gones victory is the longshot of the bunch at 20/1 odds.

Aguero is the frontrunner to score the first goal of the match at 10/3, followed by his understudy Gabriel Jesus at 10/3. City’s wingers — Sterling, Sane and Mahrez — round out the top five as Sterling is 9/2, edging out Sane and Mahrez (5/1). Silva has 15/2 odds, and then Lyon’s strikers — Depay and Moussa Dembele — are the French club’s top options at 9/1.

Aguero (8/11) and Jesus (5/6) are both better than even money odds to score over the 90 minutes, while Sterling is third at 23/20. Mahrez and Sane again round out the top five, with the Algeria international edging out the German at 13/10 to 7/5, respectively. Depay and Dembele again lead Lyon’s options at 12/5, with Fekir just behind the duo at 14/5.

PREDICTION

It needs to be stated that City’s lone loss this season came when Guardiola was not on the touchline — he served his ban during the reverse fixture for his actions during the second-leg Champions League quarterfinal loss to Liverpool last term. At the same time, it also needs to be stated the Citizens were second-best for much of that game and failed to recover from first-half goals by Maxwel Cornet and Fekir.

Both teams have improved since that match in September, though Guardiola’s side are currently operating with a peak ruthless efficiency that is all the more impressive they are without arguably their best player (De Bruyne) and currently dealing with a spate of injuries that include left back Benjamin Mendy in addition to the short-term woes of Bernando Silva and Gundogan.

Lyon have risen from seventh in the table to their current spot of second in the two months since beating Manchester City, and the France side’s lone loss in 14 matches since their 2-0-2 open to the season was that hiding administered by PSG. Despite all the talk of how Group D was going to be the most entertaining of the four with PSG, Liverpool and Napoli, it is possible this contest could be the most entertaining of all the group matches in Champions League.

The man with the most to prove for City is centre back Aymeric Laporte, who appears to have been frozen out of the France national side by coach Didier Deschamps. While the World Cup winners do not lack for quality on the back line, it confuses to frustrate both Guardiola and Laporte — whom Guardiola has defended and praised as perhaps his best defender. A strong showing here would be sweet vindication for Laporte, especially against a Les Gones side with quality in attack, and the prize of a spot in the round of 16 all the sweeter.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Lyon 1, Manchester City 3.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)
Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs. Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)
Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)

Champions League Match Day 5 Preview — Manchester United (2-1-1, 7, +2) vs. Young Boys (0-1-3, 1, -8)

Another motivating ploy or just a genuine fear of a malaise? A testy Jose Mourinho looks to get Manchester United nearer to qualification of the Champions League knockout rounds Tuesday when they host Swiss side Young Boys in a Group H match.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

Any hopes Manchester United harbour of making a run at their eternal rivals Manchester City are rapidly fading as the Red Devils are now 14 points adrift of their noisy neighbours and in seventh place in the Premier League following a scoreless draw at home versus Crystal Palace on Saturday.

The thought United had turned a corner after their smash-and-grab raid at Juventus in their previous Champions League match proved to be a false dawn as they followed that victory up with a 3-1 derby loss to City and this tepid draw coming out of the international break. Adding two more points to the already yawning chasm in chasing an imperious City side clearly rankled Mourinho, who told The Times afterward:

There was not enough intensity and not enough desire. We played the game like one more game but it is not one more game, it is a game we really need to win. You have to play with your brains, but also your heart and there was not enough heart.”

Romelu Lukaku’s goalless drought reached 11 matches in all competitions dating back to his goal versus Watford on Sept. 15, and United went a second consecutive league match without a goal in the run of play. Midfielder Paul Pogba, who sat out the derby due to injury, also returned to the fray and his ineffectiveness incurred the wrath of Mourinho, who tweaked the France international post-match for chartering a plane to Paris with teammate Anthony Martial and fellow compatriot City left back Benjamin Mendy to attend a friend’s party.

“There are people who will have a bad dinner, there are people who will have a nice dinner and there are even people who will party. That is the way it is,” Mourinho said.

Despite their uneven play domestically, Manchester United (2-1-1) can clinch a spot in the last 16 of the Champions League with a match to spare if they win this match and Valencia fail to win at Juventus in the other Group H contest Tuesday.

Mourinho will make at least two changes to his back line from Saturday’s draw. Left back Luke Shaw returns having served a one-match ban for yellow card accumulation, but centre back Victor Lindelof is sidelined with a hamstring injury, which makes Eric Bailly the likely replacement to pair with Chris Smalling.

Bailly has not played for United in any competition since Oct. 6, getting a quick hook from Mourinho 19 minutes into their match versus Newcastle United in which the Red Devils conceded twice in the opening 10 minutes before rallying for a 3-2 win.

It also seems unlikely Lukaku will get another crack to lead the line as Mourinho was hoping the Belgium international would end his slump versus Palace. Marcus Rashford appears most likely to replace him, with either Jesse Lingard or Juan Mata on the right after both played for an hour Saturday.

“It’s really hard to point a finger to what’s going on,” Shaw said at Monday’s news conference. “Of course, it’s frustrating to watch, especially with me [being suspended] on the weekend, but we all know that we are much better than that. We train really hard during the week.

“We always train hard, we always want the best from each other, we always push each other as a team,” he added, “But it’s easy for me to come here and say we need to do this, we need to do that. We need to show it on the pitch, starting with tomorrow.”

Young Boys are all but mathematically eliminated from advancing out of Group H, and the Swiss side have been better than only Lokomotiv Moscow and AEK Athens in this competition. Gerardo Seoane’s side have won their two league matches on either side of the international break since a 3-1 loss at home to Valencia in their least Champions League match and are coming off a 1-0 victory over Lugano on Saturday.

Miralem Sujelmani scored seven minutes from time as Young Boys moved a staggering 15 points clear of FC Basel in the Swiss Super League through just 15 matches. Seoane will be without midfielder Sekou Sanogo, who was given a straight red card in the 77th minute of Young Boys’ loss to Valencia for a two-footed challenge on Frances Coquelin.

Forward Guillaume Hoarau, who has three of the club’s five goals in Champions League play — including their two qualifying matches — will also miss out through injury.

“We have to go beyond our limits and hope Manchester United that Manchester United aren’t at the races. We will miss the physical presence and personality of Sanogo (suspended) and Hoarau (injured).

“We have learned some lessons in this Champions League campaign. The team has learned its lessons from past games. This will be a very different game to the reverse fixture in Bern.”

United will wrap up their group play at Valencia in what could be a winner-take-all encounter, while Young Boys will host Juventus.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, United are 2/7 favourites to claim all three points and give themselves a chance for advancing to the knockout round. There are 9/2 odds Young Boys can claim a historic point from Old Trafford, and 11/1 odds the Swiss side can pull off the shock win.

Despite United’s woes, oddsmakers expect goals in this game as the Red Devils have 4/5 odds to win while getting more than 2.5 goals. A United win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline has 27/10 odds, and a draw with less than 2.5 goals — something United did earlier in group play at home versus Valencia — has 6/1 odds. A high-scoring draw or a Young Boys win with more than 2.5 goals offer identical 18/1 odds, while a low-scoring win for the Swiss outfit is the longshot at 22/1.

Oddsmakers also feel Lukaku is due to end his scoring woes as he is the top choice to open the scoring at 10/3 odds. Martial, who capped the scoring in the reverse fixture — a 3-0 United win — is second with 7/2 odds, while Rashford and Alexis Sanchez are joint-third at 4/1. Pogba, who had a brace in the first match with a goal in play and from the spot, has 9/2 odds to again score first versus Young Boys, while Lingard and Mata are both 6/1 options.

Young Boys strikers Jean-Pierre Nsame and Roger Assale are the top options for the visitors at 10/1 and 11/1, respectively.

Lukaku is even money to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Martial just off that mark at 21/20. At 23/20, Sanchez edges out Rashford (13/10) for third, and Lingard and Mata are both 9/5 picks. Nsame and Assale again lead the toteboard options for Young Boys, this time at 3/1 and 10/3.

PREDICTION

If ever there was a time for United to put together a solid 90-minute effort, it is here and now. On paper, the schedule breaks kindly for Mourinho’s team this week — they are prohibitive favourites for this match and will be again at St Mary’s against a beleaguered Southampton side who could sack Mark Hughes by the final whistle of that contest should United win.

There are two players who will be under the microscope for this match — Lukaku and Bailly. Lukaku’s lack of goals will be a talking point until he does put one in the back of the net, but for Bailly, this is a chance to get in Mourinho’s good graces since Lindelof’s hamstring injury likely will sideline him the rest of the calendar year. The only other central defender Mourinho can turn to besides Bailly is Phil Jones, whose last match action came in their Carabao Cup loss to Derby County in late September.

There will be a fair amount of scoreboard watching because if United take care of business, and Juve does them a solid and beat Valencia, that final Champions League match becomes a much-needed dead rubber in which Mourinho can blood the youngsters and reserves to begin rotating personnel ahead of the hectic holiday fixture list. This game will likely lack the wanted aesthetics of United picking their number, but right now, any win will do.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester United 2, Young Boys 0.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Lyon (1-3-0, 6, +1) vs. Manchester City (3-0-1, 9, +9)
Paris-St. Germain (1-2-1, 5, +4) vs. Liverpool (2-0-2, 6, +2)
Tottenham Hotspur (1-1-2, 4, -2) vs. Inter Milan (2-1-1, 7, 0)

Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Manchester City (2-0-1, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)

Even without their most creative player, Manchester City have shown they have more than enough ways to find goals of late. The Citizens look to take a huge step in advancing out of Group F of the Champions League on Wednesday when they look to sweep their home-and-home set versus Shakhtar Donetsk.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

After an initial stumble at home versus Lyon, City have regrouped with back-to-back wins to move atop the group with six points at the halfway point, one better than the French side. Pep Guardiola’s team also have a plus-3 goal difference, the best in Group F after swatting aside the Ukraine side 3-0 a fortnight ago.

That victory is part of a five-match run in all competitions that was extended Sunday with a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton. Raheem Sterling had two goals and two assists while Sergio Aguero chipped on a goal while helping on two others as City moved on quickly in response to losing winger Kevin De Bruyne for a prolonged period for the second time this season.

The Belgium international is expected to miss at least four weeks with a knee injury suffered late in City’s mid-week victory over Fulham in the Carabao Cup, but the front line more than picked up the slack as Leroy Sane made the most of his turn in the rotation with a goal and an assist.

About the only negative was City’s shutout streak in league play ending at 10 1/2 hours after Danny Ings converted a penalty on the half-hour for the Saints. City, who have scored 17 goals during their current win streak, have shipped just seven in 16 matches across all competitions. And ever the perfectionist, Guardiola saw plenty to pick apart from his side despite the lopsided win that moved them two points clear atop the table.

“Without the ball we conceded a lot.,” he said. “We conceded a lot of corners, free kicks and they have the best corner-taker in the Premier League,” he told the club’s official website. “It’s always dangerous, but of course I am so satisfied with the result and performance.

“At 3-1, they created problems for us. Their crosses were always dangerous, and we had problems controlling long balls. Scoring in the last minute of the first-half made it better for us in the second. Southampton, I felt, could score more. But at the same time, we also could have scored more goals.”

While most news between matches off the pitch revolves around who is and who isn’t starting each match for City, there is a fresh new round of controversy involving the club’s finances after leaked documents were part of a report in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. The documents showed that a substantial portion of sponsorship money — £59.5 million of an estimated £67.5 million — that was supposed to come from Etihad actually came from the club’s ownership group, which would be a violation of UEFA’s fair play principles.

While Europe’s football governing body has yet to offer a comment on the story, it is possible an investigation could be re-launched. City were fined approximately £17.5 million in 2014 for breaching FFP rules, and further leaked documents from that same article showed a secret agreement between current FIFA president and then-UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino which allowed City to avoid a Champions League ban.

The club released a statement last week reading “We will not be providing any comment on out of context materials purported to have been hacked or stolen from City Football Group and Manchester City personnel and associated people. The attempt to damage the club’s reputation is organised and clear.”

City did field close to a full first-choice lineup versus Southampton, and Guardiola gave late run-outs to Vincent Kompany, Fabian Delph and Phil Foden. Riyad Mahrez and Gabriel Jesus were unused substitutes, and with the Manchester derby looming this weekend versus eternal rivals United, it would not be surprising to see Jesus leading the line like he did in the reverse fixture in search of his first goal in six matches.

In that 3-0 win over Donetsk, Guardiola did some experimenting as he used Nicolas Otamendi in central defence and let centre back John Stones play out wide on the right. With a chance to put a hammerlock on the group, Guardiola likely will play a more straightforward back four.

One other side note for this match has been the home support for Champions League matches by City supporters. Guardiola has been on record about wanting a more vocal backing at the Etihad, though City supporters have had a long-running antagonism against UEFA and boo the Champions League anthem that is played before kick-off.

Guardiola has seen the empty seats during group play both this term and last — City have averaged nearly 10,000 shy of a sellout in their 55,000-seat stadium in the last four home Champions League contests in group play — and noted before the reverse fixture to The Times that “still we don’t have that feeling, the feeling that the fans are pushing that we have to win the Champions League.”

City are also trying to avoid a dubious feat, as a loss would make them the first English side to lose four consecutive Champions League home contests. They lost what was essentially a dead second-leg rubber to Basel before their quarterfinal exit at the hands of Liverpool and lost to Lyon to open group play this term.

Shakhtar Donetsk continues to rule the Ukrainian Premier League and have won their three matches since losing at home to City. They are coming off a 2-1 victory over Dynamo Kyiv last weekend that extended their lead atop the table to eight points through 14 matches.

After conceding late in the first half to Mykola Shaparenko, Junior Moraes pulled Shakhtar level nine minutes after the interval against his former team and Viktor Kovalenko scored a 95th-minute winner against a 10-man Kyiv side in a testy match that saw nine yellow cards issued in total along with the double booking of defender Tomasz Kedziora three minutes before Kovalenko’s winner.

“All the players did well today,” the 22-year-old Kovalenko told the club’s official website. “In the scoring episode, I received the ball having the possibility to net one, and it worked, I reckon, just spectacularly. This may be one of my most beautiful goals for Shakhtar.”

Moraes has 11 goals in 13 matches across all competitions and seven in his last eight games. Marlos is second with six goals but is looking to end a five-match scoring drought.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, City are overwhelming favourites to break their duck at home and have 1/10 odds to claim all three points. Even a draw seems unlikely to oddsmakers at 17/2, while Shakhtar are 25/1 underdogs to pull off an upset that would turn the group into chaos.

City are also expected to pump a few goals past Andriy Pyatov, getting 2/5 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals scored. They are a 7/2 pick to win either 1-0 or 2-0, and a low-scoring draw checks in at 11/1. A 2-2 deadlock or higher is 28/1, while the Shakhtar longshots read as: 45/1 with a victory over 2.5 goals and 60/1 for a 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline.

Aguero leads a lengthy list of nine City players who are more likely to score the first goal of the match before top Shakhtar option Moraes at 14/1. Aguero is listed at 23/10 despite the strong likelihood he might not start, while potential replacement Jesus is the second choice at 13/5. Sterling and Mahrez are together at 7/2, with Leroy Sane lurking behind them at 9/2.

Aguero, Jesus, Sterling, and Mahrez are all better than even money to score during the course of the match, ranging from Aguero at 4/9 to Mahrez at 10/11. Sane is just off even money at 6/5, and both Silvas are better than 2/1 to score as Bernardo is 7/4 and David is 9/5. Moraes again is Shakhtar’s top option at 10/3. with Marlos second-best at 5/1.

PREDICTION

What was supposed to be a straightforward match in which City all but assure themselves of advancing and overturn their rotation enough to have as many first-choice players available for the Manchester derby has turned into something much larger and perhaps more nefarious if the findings alleged in the Der Spiegel are true.

There may not be any short-term ramifications as City try to progress further than last year’s quarterfinal exit, but there could be very serious and lasting long-term repercussions for the club should Europe’s governing soccer body and even the English FA come down with punitive measures.

For Guardiola, the potential distraction of the article comes at the worst possible time with these two matches, more so for Sunday’s tilt versus United. For this match, however, it is a chance for Jesus and Mahrez to get themselves a good lather to be available for Sunday’s contest, and maybe give Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan a late run-out. Of course, Guardiola might go all guns blazing for this match as a response for the article, and create an insurmountable goal difference for the last two matches.

Shakhtar’s primary goal will be to limit the damage and potentially steal a late marker after the result is decided. That, however, would also be wildly optimistic considering City played their best match of the three in the Ukraine a fortnight ago and can now put them to the sword at home.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Manchester City 5, Shakhtar Donetsk 0.

OTHER CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)
Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)

Champions League Match Day 4 Preview — Juventus (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Manchester United (1-1-1, 4, +2)

Juventus can wrap up first place in Group H of the Champions League with two matches to spare if they can complete a home-and-home sweep of Manchester United on Wednesday in Italy.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Bianconeri have a 100 percent rate through the first three group matches and are five points clear of closest pursuers Manchester United (1-1-1), who are on four points and two ahead of Valencia for second.

Juventus took command of the group with a convincing 1-0 victory at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, riding a 17th-minute goal by Paulo Dybala as the Italian side controlled most of the match by subduing United’s offence and controlling possession for more than 60 percent of the match.

The victory started a current three-match win streak for Juve, who have yet to lose in 14 matches across all competitions (13-1-0) and are one of two unbeaten clubs left in the top five European leagues along with German side Borussia Dortmund. Technically, Chelsea have not lost a match but did begin their season with a loss to Manchester City in England’s traditional Community Shield opener.

Juventus remained six points clear of Inter Milan and Napoli in Serie A with a 3-1 victory over Cagliari on Saturday. Dybala opened the scoring just 43 seconds into the match, and after Juve allowed an equaliser, they were gifted an own goal by Cagliari midfielder Filip Bradaric in the 38th minute that restored their one-goal advantage.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who was honoured for scoring his 400th club goal in Europe before the match, set up Juan Cuadrado’s insurance marker on 87 minutes. While Ronaldo leads Juve in scoring with seven goals in all competitions — they have all come in Serie A matches — Dybala has done his damage in Champions League, where he has netted four of his six goals. Five of the Argentina’s last six shots that have been on target have ended in the back of the net.

“I’m happy we got all three points tonight and that’s all that matters,” Cuadrado told Juve’s official website. “We’re not setting any limits. We want to improve every with game. We know that’s what we have to do if we want to grow as a team.”

Juventus’ side Saturday looked fairly similar to the first XI who played at Old Trafford. There were three exceptions with left-side defenders Mehdi Benatia and Mattia De Sciglio starting in the place of Giorgio Chiellini and Alex Sandro, while Douglas Costa started up front over Cuadrado, who entered Saturday’s match at halftime when Costa was sidelined with an adductor injury.

Another injury concern for Juve is midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who came off late over the weekend with a hip problem. Mario Mandzukic, who missed the match at Old Trafford with an ankle injury suffered right before the contest, is not likely to play, though he has been practicing.

Manchester United kicked off a hectic week heading into the international break by rallying for a 2-1 victory at Bournemouth to move into seventh place in the Premier League behind the Cherries on goal difference. Marcus Rashford was able to corral a cross from Paul Pogba just above the six-yard box and beat Asmir Begovic in the 92nd minute for the match-winner.

The victory, though hid a lot of blemishes for Jose Mourinho’s side, who were nearly run out of Dean Court in the first half-hour as Bournemouth set a torrid pace and took the lead inside the first quarter-hour. David De Gea, as he has done so many times already this season, kept the deficit manageable with some timely saves before Anthony Martial, continued his purple patch of scoring with an equaliser before the interval. It was his fourth goal in five matches across all competitions.

“It wasn’t just the start [that was bad], it was all of the first half. At half time, I thought I was the luckiest manager in the Premier League, to be at 1-1 in a half in which it should be 5-2 or 6-2 [to Bournemouth],” Mourinho said post-match. “We were really lucky because we were really poor. Defensively awful, absolutely awful, and when I say defensively, I don’t just look to my defenders but to the whole team as a team. We didn’t start pressing up, the work we did during the week. I felt like people watching this game don’t believe how hard we have worked this week, our pressure on this opponent in the first half was a disaster.

“Then, in the second half, it was exactly the opposite. We created a lot of chances, we pressed higher, with much more aggression, intensity and intention. We created lots of chances, we deserved to score before the 92nd minute. In the end, we got the goal which gave us the important points.”

Mourinho must choose among Martial, Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata among his attacking front three since Romelu Lukaku is not likely to be available for this match. The Belgium international, who was dropped from the starting XI in United’s win over Everton and has gone nine matches without a goal, was a late scratch at Bournemouth due to a muscle strain suffered in training.

Sanchez made his first start since United’s scoreless draw against Valencia more than a month ago. Mourinho’s high-pressure week concludes Sunday with the Manchester derby at the Etihad against reigning champions City, who are 10 points clear of United through 11 league matches.

Captain Nemanja Matic caused a stir ahead of the match when he announced he would continue to not wear the poppy, which was worn by Premier League teams last weekend and throughout this week ahead of Remembrance Sunday, which also marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Matic, a native of Yugsolavia who did not wear the poppy in the victory at Bournemouth, said in a social media post the poppy “is only a reminder of an attack that I felt personally as a frightened 12-year- old boy living in Vrelo, as my country was devastated by the bombing of Serbia in 1999. I do not want to undermine the poppy as a symbol of pride or offend anyone; however, we are all a product of our own upbringing and this is a personal choice for the reasons outlined.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Juventus are decided favourites to retain their 100 percent record as they are installed as 4/7 favourites. Manchester United are 5/1 underdogs to win their second road match in group play. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 14/5, a result which would keep United on the inside track for second place in the group.

Juve have 8/5 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored, but a 2-0 or 1-0 scoreline is not far off with 5/2 odds. A draw that finished with no goals or two has 18/5 odds, while a United victory on either side of the 2.5 threshold offers 10/1 odds.

Ronaldo leads the way for first-goal options at 3/1, narrowly ahead of reverse fixture scorer Dybala (4/1) and Mandzukic (4/1). All told, eight Juve players are listed before scanning down the toteboard to find Lukaku as the top United option at 9/1, but even he is below the “no goal-scorer” choice at 8/1.

Ronaldo is an almost even-money pick to bag a goal over the course of 90 minutes at 11/10, with Dybala (7/5) narrowly edging out Mandzukic (6/4) for second. Federico Bernardschi and Douglas Costa are 2/1 and 23/10, respectively, with Lukaku again United’s top option at 3/1. Rashford and Martial lag just behind the Belgian at 10/3 and 7/2, respectively.

PREDICTION

After the 1-0 loss at Old Trafford, Mourinho pretty much conceded the group to Juventus, and as The Times reported, said “we knew when the draw was made that we’d be fighting Valencia for second place in the group.”

So even though United played one of their more impressive 45 minutes of the season at Bournemouth to overturn a deficit — though it came after a half-hour of insipid play — everyone knows what’s coming to Turin.

The bus. And not just any bus. It’s going to be one of those big, shiny double-deckers that England made famous as United look to strangle this match for a point before deciding if they have enough to try a smash-and-grab raid in the final quarter-hour if things go according to plan. In theory, this is not an unwise maneuver since Mourinho has seen his side play a full 90-minute match so few times this term.

Add in a lead striker in Lukaku who is both injured and currently ineffective, and you have the makings of a 4-3-3 that could very well morph into a 4-1-4-1 set-up in which Matic shields the back four and Sanchez will be left to his industry up front to try and find a moment of magic. It also means Juan Mata likely retains his spot on the right wing and Rashford comes off the bench, though Ander Herrera could be a lively insertion into the midfield with Pogba after a solid effort off the bench versus Bournemouth.

The biggest problem with this is Juventus have pace to burn on the flanks, whether it be right back Joao Cancelo bombing forward or Ronaldo using his still staggering straight-line speed to give defenders nightmares and twist Ashley Young into a pretzel. He and Dybala have a very underrated comprehension of playing off each other and are not locked into fix areas of space in the final third. That is how Dybala got his goal at Old Trafford, and without De Gea’s quality, there would have been more.

United are still a mess at times in front of De Gea, evidenced by the first half against Bournemouth. But this is also the type of match that makes Mourinho, well, Mourinho. There is a reason United have conceded just four times in their last 10 European away matches. And given they go right from one high-powered club in Juve to another in their eternal rivals City this weekend, the whiteboard and drilling for these two contests probably started at least a month ago.

Juve are likely going to have more than the 60 percent possession they enjoyed at Old Trafford, the issue is where United cede it to them. Lindelof and Smalling must be massive for this defence-first strategy to work, and too many times it has failed to deliver. The resiliency United have shown after getting punched in the mouth has been impressive, but one wonders if they have taken too many shots in recent weeks to recover from a haymaker from a quality foe.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Juventus 2, Manchester United 0.

Tottenham Hotspur (0-1-2, 1, -3) vs. PSV Eindhoven (0-1-2, 1, -5)
Red Star Belgrade (0-1-2, 1, -9) vs. Liverpool (2-0-1, 6, +4)
Manchester City (2-0-1, 6, +4) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2-1, 2, -3)