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Manchester United to beat PSG? Liverpool lose?



Manchester United to beat PSG? Liverpool lose?

Editor’s Note: This story was published in December but has been updated to reflect Manchester United’s change in manager, Neymar’s foot injury, as well as other key developments since the draw was made.

The path to the 2019 Champions League final in Madrid has become clear following the draw for the round of 16, which has thrown together some of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Heavyweight clashes between Liverpool and Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain, Atletico Madrid and Juventus, and Ajax and Real Madrid ensure that some of the most successful clubs in the game will be facing elimination at the first knockout stage.

The draw has been kinder to leading contenders such as Manchester City and Barcelona, but who will come out on top when the Champions League resumes?


It might lack glamour, but Manchester City’s pairing with Schalke is a dream draw for the Premier League champions.

Schalke, who qualified as runners-up behind Porto in Group D, are languishing in the bottom half of the Bundesliga, having won just six league games all season. Coach Domenico Tedesco has a squad low on the quality needed to worry City, so this tie should be a formality for Pep Guardiola’s team.

Leroy Sane will return to Germany to face his former club, and it really should be a happy homecoming for the City winger in what is likely to be a mismatch. As for omens, City’s only European title — the 1970 Cup Winners’ Cup — came after beating Schalke en route to the final.

Who will go through? Manchester City


Arguably the tie of the round sees two of the Champions League’s unluckiest clubs collide. Atletico and Juventus have each reached, and lost, two finals during the past decade and both have pushed the boat out financially to ensure that 2019 is their year.

Atletico, who host the final at their own Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, brought in Diego Costa, though he has suffered from poor form and injury, as well as Thomas Lemar and Alvaro Morata. They also retained the services of Antoine Griezmann and Diego Godin. Juventus gambled heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo and also brough Leonardo Bonucci back to the club after a year in Milan.

This tie is very close to call. Both possess outstanding defences, terrific work rate and quality forwards, but Atletico’s determination to play in their own final might just swing things in their favour.

Who will go through? Atletico Madrid


When the draw was made in mid-December, this tie threatened to be the biggest mismatch of the round, with Manchester United in crisis and PSG cruising at the top of Ligue 1, having won their qualification group ahead of Liverpool and Napoli.

But within 24 hours of the pairing being made, Jose Mourinho was sacked by United, whose subsequent revival under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given them real hope of success against the French champions. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have been two of the big beneficiaries.

PSG, meanwhile, have been beset with problems. Neymar will miss both legs because of injury, as might Edinson Cavani, Adrien Rabiot continues to be overlooked because of a contract dispute and there are fitness concerns over Marco Verratti. A 2-1 Ligue 1 defeat at Lyon on Feb. 3 also dented confidence.

Who will go through? Manchester United


Tottenham made it into the knockout stages only after a final-day draw against Barcelona in the Camp Nou earned second spot in Group B for Mauricio Pochettino’s team and the subsequent pairing with Dortmund, who they beat twice in last season’s group stage, looked give them a route to the quarterfinals.

Despite Lucien Favre’s team topping the Bundesliga, the Premier League side appeared to have the edge, but injuries to Harry Kane and Dele Alli will rule the England pair out of the first leg and could also see them miss the return game in Germany. Dortmund, meanwhile, boast attacking quality that includes Jadon Sancho.

This tie is now a tough one to call, but although Spurs appear slight favourites on current form, will it be enough?

Who will go through? Tottenham


Barcelona still regard last season’s Champions League as a missed opportunity after being humiliated by Roma in the quarterfinals, crashing out after a 3-0 defeat in the Stadio Olimpico. But their mission to make amends by winning this season’s competition in Madrid has been boosted by the pairing with Lyon, who will see qualification for this stage as success in itself.

Lyon beat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and drew with the English champions in France during the group stage, but they will be heavy underdogs against Lionel Messi & Co.

Barcelona’s biggest danger will not be the unpredictable talents of Lyon’s Memphis Depay; it will be the threat of complacency. But after the defeat in Rome last season, don’t expect them to fall short again.

Who will go through? Barcelona


A real clash of European heavyweights, with the reigning champions Real coming up against Erik ten Hag’s resurgent Ajax team.

Ajax emerged as runners-up behind Bayern Munich in Group E and did so with an unbeaten record, despite the inexperience of their team. Matthijs de Ligt (19) and Frenkie de Jong (21) are the young stars driving Ajax back to prominence, with the experienced Dusan Tadic netting eight goals in 12 European games this season.

Real, meanwhile, have been poor in defence of their trophy, with managerial upheaval and the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo hitting them hard. They qualified as group winners, despite losing twice to CSKA Moscow, and should have the pedigree to beat this young Ajax team, but don’t rule out the Dutch outfit.

Who will go through? Real Madrid


A tie worthy of the final, with both clubs possessing the pedigree to target success in Madrid.

Bayern have been inconsistent under Niko Kovac, however, with the perennial German champions five points adrift of leaders Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. They will be without Thomas Muller for the first leg at Anfield following his red card against Ajax, although Liverpool will also miss the suspended Virgil van Dijk in that game.

Liverpool top of the Premier League and will be favourites on current form, with former Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp relishing a return to Germany. But it is a tough draw for both teams and the pendulum could swing back toward Bayern, who are unlikely to be fazed by the Anfield atmosphere in the first leg.

Who will go through? Bayern Munich


Roma are struggling in sixth position in Serie A, but have great experience throughout their squad and memories of last season’s run to the last four should make them slight favourites in this tie.

Porto are difficult to gauge, having qualified as winners of the weakest group ahead of Schalke, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv Moscow, but they top their domestic league and are still unbeaten in Europe this season. In Moussa Marega, they have a forward in Champions League form, with five goals in six games.

Who will go through? Roma

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Top seed Thiem knocked out of Rio Open in first round




Top seed Thiem knocked out of Rio Open in first round

FILE PHOTO – Tennis – Australian Open – Second Round – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 17, 2019. Austria’s Dominic Thiem in action during the match against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Top seed Dominic Thiem was knocked out the Rio Open in the first round on Tuesday, going down 6-3, 6-3 to Laslo Derje, a result that gave the unheralded Serbian his first victory over a top 10 player in his career.

The world ranked No. 90 broke Thiem’s serve five times in what was a surprisingly lackluster display from a man who has won eight ATP titles on clay.

Thiem served five double faults in a tournament he won in 2017.

“He played a bit worse than normally I think, to be honest,” Derje said. “But I had a great day. I felt the ball really well, hitting well from the baseline and then attacking well when it was time for that.”

“The biggest win in my career so I’m really happy right now.”

In another upset, third seed Marco Cecchinato was beaten 7-5, 7-6(1) by Slovenian Aljaz Bedene.

Cecchinato was on a high after winning the Argentina Open on Sunday but he never hit the same heights against the unseeded Bedene.

Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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NFL notebook: Brown, Steelers decide to part ways




NFL notebook: Brown, Steelers decide to part ways

After meeting with team president Art Rooney II on Tuesday, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown announced on Twitter that both sides have decided to part ways.

FILE PHOTO – Dec 23, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown prior to kickoff against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

“Had a great meeting with Mr. Rooney today we discussed a lot of things and we cleared the air on several issues! We both agreed that it is time to move on but I’ll always have appreciation and gratitude towards the Rooney family and @steelers organization! #CallGod #Boomin,” Brown tweeted.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and vice president Omar Kahn joined the meeting.

“Everyone agreed the trade will be for the best,” a source told Schefter.

—All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is still mulling over whether to retire or return to the New England Patriots for a 10th NFL season, Rosenhaus said.

“He’s thinking it through, he’s giving it a lot of thought,” the agent said on ESPN’s “NFL Live,” adding, “I imagine a decision will happen in the next couple of weeks.”

NFL Network’s Mike Giardi tweeted Tuesday afternoon that “Gronkowski told multiple teammates/associates that he wanted to win another ring in the first few days following the Super Bowl.”

—The Kansas City Chiefs are likely to apply the franchise tag to linebacker Dee Ford, according to multiple reports.

The franchise tag period opened and will run until March 5. The linebacker tag for 2019 is expected to be $15.78 million, according to ProFootballTalk.

In the 2018 regular season, Ford played in 16 games and recorded career highs in sacks (13), tackles (55), tackles for loss (13) and QB hits (29). The 27-year-old told WFNZ in Charlotte on Monday that he wouldn’t object to playing under the franchise tag while a longer deal is worked out between the sides.

—The New York Jets are not picking up the options on three defensive players, the team officially announced.

Defensive tackle Mike Pennel, safety Terrence Brooks and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis will become free agents.

The Jets had a deadline of Tuesday to pay a $1 million bonus to Pennel, 27, who signed a three-year contract last March. Had the team paid the bonus, the final two years of the contract would have been activated.

—New York Giants defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo will interview Thursday for the Cincinnati Bengals’ vacant defensive coordinator position, according to multiple reports.

New Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Anarumo, 52, worked together on the Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff from 2012-15. Anarumo was interim defensive coordinator with the Dolphins in 2015 but otherwise he only has coached defensive backs during his seven seasons in the NFL.

He spent more than 20 years in college coaching prior to moving to the NFL.

—Tight end Scott Simonson re-signed with the Giants, the team announced.

The 26-year-old played in 16 games (four starts) in 2018 and caught nine passes for 86 yards and one touchdown in his first season with the Giants.

Simonson, who attended Assumption College, signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He then spent two seasons with Carolina before spending the 2017 season on injured reserve with a back injury.

—The Arizona Cardinals signed former Buffalo Bills tight end Charles Clay to a one-year contract.

The Bills released Clay last week, with the eight-year veteran heading into the final year of a five-year $38 million contract. His deal with Arizona is worth up to $3.25 million, including a $350,000 signing bonus, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

—The Atlanta Falcons agreed to a three-year extension with offensive lineman Ty Sambrailo, the team announced.

Sambrailo, 26, started the last four games of the 2018 season for Atlanta, playing both left guard and right tackle. His contract was set to expire next month. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

—The Jacksonville Jaguars hired 31-year NFL coaching veteran Dom Capers as a senior defensive assistant, the team announced.

NFL Football – Super Bowl LIII – New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams – Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. – February 3, 2019. New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski makes a catch during the fourth quarter. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Capers, who was the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator from 1999-2000, most recently served as the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator from 2009-17.

Capers, 68, has been the head coach of two NFL expansion teams — the Carolina Panthers (1995-98) and Houston Texans (2002-05). He was named the Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year in 1996.

—Field Level Media

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Plenty at stake for Duke, North Carolina




Plenty at stake for Duke, North Carolina

Annually one of the most hyped games of the regular season, this season’s Duke vs. North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium is no different — and this time, it’s a lot more expensive too.

There has been a significant difference in the attention given to both teams this season. Duke has been on the national radar since the preseason, as the Blue Devils have Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and a couple more first-round picks surrounding them. They also beat Kentucky by 34 points on the opening night of the season. North Carolina isn’t exactly flying under the radar since, you know, they’re North Carolina — but the Tar Heels are clearly playing second fiddle to Duke on Tobacco Road this season.

So what’s at stake on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET on ESPN)?

First, let’s look at the ACC title race. North Carolina can forge a three-way tie at the top of the standings if the Tar Heels can get a win in Durham. Virginia’s win at Virginia Tech on Monday moved the Cavaliers to 11-2 in the league, and both of these teams would be the same if Carolina wins on Tuesday.

Duke likely stays at No. 1 in the 1-seed pecking order regardless of result on Wednesday. The Blue Devils clearly have the best NCAA tournament resume in the country, and the team behind them is Virginia — who Duke already beat twice this season.

North Carolina is squarely in the mix for a 2-seed at this point, and a win in Cameron would be a huge boost to the Tar Heels’ profile. They’ve already beaten Gonzaga, but the next-best wins on their ledger are over Louisville and Virginia Tech.

Both teams love to push the pace, both teams love to crash the glass — Carolina a little bit more on the defensive end — and the game will likely come down to individual matchups. Coby White has been one of the more underrated freshman stars in the country this season, but Duke’s Tre Jones will look to shut him down. Will Carolina go big and try to put Luke Maye on Williamson or Barrett? Will they go small and play Nassir Little for extended minutes — and is Little fully healthy?

Monday: Put Kentucky in the top tier now, please

Is it time to expand the elite group to five teams and include Kentucky?

The temptation is there after the Wildcats obliterated Tennessee in the second half of Saturday’s 17-point win in Lexington, but remember, we’ve gone down this path a few times with the Wildcats this season.

Obviously, we did it at the start of the season before they lost by 34 to Duke. Then we did after they handled North Carolina in Chicago and won at Louisville by 13 — but they then lost at Alabama by two points. The bandwagon got full again after the 10-game winning streak in January and February, prior to the home defeat to LSU.

And now, we try it again after the win over Tennessee.

Take the entire season into account, though, and it’s pretty clear Kentucky is among the five best teams in the country right now. The Wildcats have lost three games since Nov. 6, by a combined five points. They’re No. 5 at KenPom and No. 6 in the NET, BPI and Sagarin rankings. They’ve beaten Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas and Louisville, and have eight Quadrant 1 wins — third-most of anyone in the country.

They have an elite defense, one that has improved considerably since Ashton Hagans took over the starting point guard duties. It’s currently ranked No. 8 in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom, but if you take into account just the games since Hagans moved into the starting lineup, has the Wildcats with the No. 4-ranked defense.

Offensively, they still have some issues shooting the ball, making 10 or more 3-pointers just three times all season — but they’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and get to the free throw line at a high rate. More importantly, they finally found a consistent go-to-guy: PJ Washington. Washington has played as well as anyone in the country over the past month, making a push for All-American honors. He has scored 20 or more points in seven of his past eight games.

We’re not saying John Calipari has a perfect team or is even a Final Four favorite, but the Wildcats have steadily improved since the opening-night embarrassment and are hitting their stride according to the typical Calipari timeline.

The Tennessee rematch in Knoxville on March 2 is going to be a true litmus test for the young Wildcats away from home — and will go a long way toward determining the SEC regular-season champion — but right now, Kentucky has a strong case as being a solidly top-five team.

1. Duke Blue Devils (23-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. North Carolina (Wednesday), at Syracuse (Saturday)

The first of two Duke-North Carolina games comes up on Wednesday, and the Blue Devils can begin to get some separation in the ACC race with a win in Durham. RJ Barrett‘s recent play is cause for optimism for Mike Krzyzewski, as the freshman star is coming off just the fourth triple-double in Duke program history — in a game in which Barrett also had zero turnovers.

2. Virginia Cavaliers (23-2)
Previous ranking: 3
This week: Beat Virginia Tech 64-58 on Monday, at Louisville (Saturday)

Virginia still only has the two losses to Duke on its ledger, but the Cavaliers have looked off the pace a little bit in recent weeks. They went to Virginia Tech and beat the Hokies on Monday, but turnovers were once again an issue. It was the fourth time in the last six games that Virginia turned it over on at least 20 percent of its possessions — a number they hit just four times all last season. Tony Bennett will hope to see his team tighten up its passing and uncharacteristic decision-making moving forward.

3. Tennessee Volunteers (24-2)
Previous ranking: 2
This week: Beat Vanderbilt 58-46 on Tuesday, at LSU (Saturday)

Tennessee bounced back from its first loss in two months with a win on Tuesday, but the Volunteers had their worst offensive performance of the season, against a team that’s winless in the SEC. Tennessee has shot just 13-for-46 from 3-point range in the past two games, and the Volunteers rely on that perimeter balance to open up the lane for Grant Williams & Co. up front. Tennessee did have its best defensive performance of the SEC campaign on Tuesday, though.

4. Gonzaga Bulldogs (25-2)
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. Pepperdine (Thursday), vs. BYU (Saturday)

Josh Perkins played his best game in weeks on Saturday, finishing with 15 points, nine assists and just one turnover. Perkins is still the biggest key to Gonzaga’s hopes of winning a national championship, and more performances like his on Saturday will go a long way. He’s a four-year starter with plenty of big-game experience, and he has had his best season in a Gonzaga uniform in 2018-19.

5. Kentucky Wildcats (21-4)
Previous ranking: 6
This week: at Missouri (Tuesday), vs. Auburn (Saturday)

The PJ Washington second-half resurgence continued against Tennessee on Saturday night. After averaging 20.7 points and 8.6 rebounds over his past six games, Washington more than held his own against Tennessee’s vaunted frontcourt tandem of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield. Washington finished with 23 points and five rebounds and also blocked two shots.

6. Michigan Wolverines (23-3)
Previous ranking: 5
This week: at Minnesota (Thursday), vs. Michigan State (Sunday)

The first of two Michigan-Michigan State showdowns takes place on Sunday, but the Wolverines must first travel to Minnesota to play a Golden Gophers team that could use another marquee win for their tournament hopes. The first time around, Michigan needed some last-second help to beat Minnesota by two — and Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews really struggled offensively. It can’t be a game the Wolverines overlook.

7. Houston Cougars (25-1)
Previous ranking: 7
This week: vs. South Florida (Saturday)

Houston caught fire in the second half against Tulane — including a 35-5 run that spanned just about 10 minutes and featured nine Houston 3-pointers — for the Cougars’ 25th win of the season. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. have been the stars for Kelvin Sampson all season, and Sunday was no different: The two combined for 14 3-pointers and 50 points. Houston’s résumé continues to improve, and the December win over LSU looks better and better.

8. North Carolina Tar Heels (20-5)
Previous ranking: 8
This week: at Duke (Wednesday), vs. Florida State (Saturday)

One thing to monitor in the days leading up to the Duke showdown on Wednesday will be the status of Nassir Little, who played 11 minutes in the first half against Wake Forest despite suffering an ankle injury against Virginia last week — but then didn’t play in the second half after getting hit in the chest. Roy Williams told reporters after the game that Little was “OK,” but given the importance Little could play in terms of matching up with Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, it’s worth watching.

9. Michigan State Spartans (21-5)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Rutgers (Wednesday), at Michigan (Sunday)

How will Tom Izzo adjust to life without Nick Ward moving forward? He was able to replace some of Joshua Langford’s production with Kyle Ahrens and an increased role for Aaron Henry — but there are fewer options up front. Xavier Tillman fits the Michigan State mold, and Thomas Kithier will provide depth. But more than ever, this is going to be Cassius Winston‘s team moving forward. The Spartans will go as far as Winston can take them.

10. Nevada Wolf Pack (24-1)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: at San Diego State (Wednesday), vs. Fresno State (Saturday)

While Eric Musselman has preached for much of his Nevada career that depth isn’t really needed in college basketball, he did play three bench players for 20-plus minutes apiece on Saturday. One of those was Jordan Brown, who has now played at least 13 minutes in five of his past six games — after hitting that number just seven times all season. Is that a product of Nevada blowouts, Musselman saving some legs for March or really extending the rotation?

11. Kansas Jayhawks (20-6)
Previous ranking: 11
This week: at Texas Tech (Saturday)

Well, look at the Big 12 standings now. Kansas is just a half-game back of Kansas State, tied with Texas Tech for second place. Can the Jayhawks win the Big 12 yet again? They have a week off before heading to Lubbock for their toughest remaining game on the schedule: at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have won four in a row, but Kansas blew them out by 16 earlier this month in Lawrence.

12. Marquette Golden Eagles (21-4)
Previous ranking:
This week: vs. Butler (Wednesday), at Providence (Saturday)

Theo John has picked up at least four fouls in seven of his past eight games, limiting his minutes on the court. He’s averaging 7.4 fouls committed per 40 minutes on the season, and Marquette’s defense suffers when he’s not in the game as a result. He’s one of the nation’s best shot-blockers and is the team’s best defensive rebounder in conference play. The Golden Eagles need him on the court come March.

13. Purdue Boilermakers (19-7)
Previous ranking: 13
This week: Beat Indiana 48-46 on Tuesday, at Nebraska (Saturday)

Purdue isn’t going to win too many games with Carsen Edwards shooting 4-for-24 from the field, but the Boilermakers got a tip-in from Matt Haarms with 3.2 seconds left to beat Indiana in Bloomington. They are now in a dead heat with Michigan and Michigan State for first place in the Big Ten — and they have the easiest schedule remaining of the three teams.

14. LSU Tigers (21-4)
Previous ranking: 15
This week: vs. Florida (Wednesday), vs. Tennessee (Saturday)

With Tennessee losing at Kentucky on Saturday night, the Tigers are now in a tie for first in the SEC with the Volunteers. And look at the schedule: This Saturday, Tennessee visits Baton Rouge. LSU just has to get through Florida first. Will Wade has done a tremendous job with this team in SEC play, losing just one game by one point since Dec. 12. One thing to watch: The Tigers have allowed at least one point per possession in five straight games and just allowed Georgia to score 1.23 points per possession.

15. Louisville Cardinals (18-8)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: at Syracuse (Wednesday), vs. Virginia (Saturday)

Louisville nearly had a disastrous week but ended up with a key split to keep the damage to a minimum. Had the Cardinals lost on Saturday to Clemson, they would have been on a three-game losing streak heading into games at Syracuse and vs. Virginia. On the other hand, they need to take care of the ball far better. In the past three games, the Cardinals have 37 assists and 52 turnovers.

16. Iowa State Cyclones (19-6)
Previous ranking: 16
This week: vs. Baylor (Tuesday), at TCU (Saturday)

Iowa State sits one game out of first place in the Big 12, but the Cyclones are in fourth place. According to BPI projections, they have the worst chance of the four to win the conference thanks to having the toughest remaining schedule. They still have to go to TCU and Texas, while also hosting Baylor, Oklahoma and what could be an all-important season-finale matchup against Texas Tech on March 9.

Dropped out: None

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