The fixtures are piling up and Real Madrid face a pivotal trip to Milan to take on Antonio Conte’s Inter in the Champions League with question marks over the availability of Karim Benzema. Zinedine Zidane’s side were held to a 1-1 draw in the Cerámica by Villarreal on Saturday where Mariano Díaz provided the visitors’ sole strike, laying bare the issues facing Zidane when his compatriot is not available.
Benzema keeping Madrid afloat
Benzema has accounted for six of Madrid’s goals this season with Vinicius the only other forward with more than one to his name. Eden Hazard, Rodrygo and Mariano have one each while Sergio Ramos and Fede Valverde, both out injured, have three apiece. Luka Jovic is hardly Zidane’s go-to solution when he needs a replacement for Benzema and the Serbia striker is sidelined after a positive test for covid-19. Mariano has played 99 minutes this season, 85 of which came against Villarreal in the absence of any other options.
Benzema has been struggling with a muscle issue that forced his substitution in the 4-1 defeat at Valencia and it remains unclear if he will be available to Zidane for the trip to the San Siro. The Frenchman was out on the turf at Valdebebas on Sunday morning but faces a late fitness test for the Inter match.
Casemiro and Éder Militão are also doubts after testing positive for coronavirus and will undergo fresh tests on Monday while Ramos and Valverde will not feature in Milan. Jovic is definitely out for the Champions League clash and Zidane will have to find a solution to the lack of a cutting edge on display in Villarreal where Madrid managed a single shot on target from just six attempts.
Liverpool are set to welcome back a key influence for Sunday’s trip to Manchester City.
The Reds go to the Etihad Stadium looking to return to the top of the Premier League ahead of the forthcoming international break, and knowing that a win would see them strike a huge blow in the title race.
Jurgen Klopp’s men have lost on each of their last three trips to the Etihad in the league, although last season’s 4-0 defeat did come in the days after they had been celebrating winning the title for the first time in 30 years.
One of the key developments since that title win has of course been the serious knee injury sustained by star defender Virgil van Dijk, but Klopp seems set to welcome back Joel Matip for the visit to Pep Guardiola’s side.
Liverpool’s last three matches have each seen a different player start alongside Joe Gomez in the centre of their defence, with Fabinho starting the Champions League clash against FC Midtjylland before going off injured.
The Brazilian was then replaced by Nat Phillips for last Saturday’s Premier League win over West Ham, and then with Phillips not registered for the Champions League it was teenager Rhys Williams who came in for the midweek trip to Atalanta.
Now though, it appears that Matip will return to the side to partner Gomez and make his first appearance since last month’s Merseyside derby.
He started that game with Gomez coming on for the injured Van Dijk, but incredibly this clash at the Etihad seems likely to be the first time that Matip and Gomez start together in the heart of the Liverpool defence.
Klopp faces a dilemma over who to select in attack, with the in-form Diogo Jota and mainstay Roberto Firmino both hoping to start alongside Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
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Defender Joel Matip and midfielder Naby Keita face late fitness tests before Liverpool’s Champions League game at Atalanta on Tuesday (20:00 GMT).
The pair trained on Sunday, but midfielder Thiago Alcantara was absent as he recovers from a knee injury.
“We have to wait until the medical department gives us a green, orange or red light,” said manager Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool have won both of their Champions League games this season and are top of Group D.
Meanwhile, Atalanta, who reached the quarter-finals of the 2019-20 competition, have picked up four points from their opening two matches and are second.
This will be Liverpool’s first European match against the Italian side and Klopp is expecting a tough game.
“They obviously have a really good atmosphere, a good mood and are a proper fighting unit,” said the German.
“They are very well organised; play their system with 100% conviction, they know exactly what everybody has to do.
“I know how good they are. I actually enjoyed the analysis, I enjoyed watching them because it’s really interesting.”
Premier League leaders Liverpool will be playing their sixth game in 18 days.
Matip has only featured twice this season and missed the past four matches, while Keita has been absent for five games because of a muscle injury.
Centre-half Virgil van Dijk is expected to miss most of the season with a cruciate knee ligament injury, while stand-in defender Fabinho sustained a hamstring problem in the 2-0 home win against Danish side FC Midtjylland last week.
“We have, in the moment, more centre-halves available than we probably will line up together, which is good,” added Klopp.
- Atalanta are set to face their third different English opponent, having previously met Everton in the 2017-18 Europa League (played two, won two) and Manchester City in the Champions League last season (played two, drew one, lost one).
- Since losing their first three group-stage games in the Champions League last season, Atalanta have gone unbeaten in their past five group-stage games in the competition (won three, drew two), including both this season (won one, drew one).
- Excluding qualifiers, Atalanta have only failed to score in one of their past 19 games in major European competition (4-0 v Dinamo Zagreb last season), while they have averaged 2.1 goals per game over the course of this run (40 goals in total).
- Duvan Zapata has been directly involved in six goals in five Champions League starts for Atalanta (four goals and two assists), while he scored twice in their 2-2 draw against Ajax on matchday two.
- Liverpool have lost all three of their away Champions League matches in Italy under manager Jurgen Klopp, losing to Roma in May 2018 and Napoli in October 2018 and September 2019.
- Liverpool have won each of their past three away games in the Champions League group stage, after losing four in
Simeone gives update on Atletico star Suarez’s fitness ahead of Champions League clash with RB Salzburg
Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone said Luis Suarez could still start the club’s Champions League fixture against Salzburg, despite training away from the squad.
Suarez trained individually ahead of Tuesday’s Group A showdown with Austrian visitors Salzburg in Madrid.
Simeone – whose Atletico were routed 4-0 by defending champions Bayern Munich on matchday one – provided a fitness update on Suarez, telling reporters on Monday: “He’ll be in the squad.
“We agreed with the doctor that it was best for him to work away from the group [on Monday] and then, according to what we see tomorrow, he’ll [either] start or be on the bench.”
Suarez has been in red-hot form since swapping embattled La Liga giants Barcelona for Spanish rivals Atletico at the start of the season.
The 33-year-old has scored four goals in five league games, including the second goal in last week’s 2-0 victory at home to Real Betis.
Suarez also scored his 150th La Liga goal earlier this month, becoming the second fastest player to reach that milestone in the competition this century – quicker than Lionel Messi and only behind Cristiano Ronaldo.
Asked if he was surprised by Suarez’s impact, Simeone replied: “Surprised, no. I’ve found a player who I listened to on the phone when we first made contact in that first chat to see if there was a chance he could join us.
“He wanted to be here and he’s proving it. Let’s hope we can help him.”
Simeone also hailed Atletico attacker Joao Felix, who has impressed during the early stages of 2020-21.
Joao Felix arrived from Benfica for a club-record €126 million fee last season but injuries hampered the Portuguese after a solid start.
He has a goal and one assist through five La Liga appearances and Simeone added: “It’s always the same. For me, he’s had some very good games since the start of the season. Granada, Huesca, Villarreal despite being tired, the whole game in Munich…
“He’s looked dangerous on a number of occasions. The other day [against Real Betis], when he came on in the 25th minute, the team had a good fluidity.
“I’m happy with his work, except for a few minutes against Celta [Vigo], which weren’t the best. We’re always looking for a situation to find him [on the pitch]. He’s a boy who’s in good form, like many of his team-mates.”
Table-toppers MI are on course to make it to the playoffs but the game is crucial for Rajasthan, who are languishing at seventh place and a loss would mean a step closer to elimination
Skipper Rohit Sharma’s fitness would be a concern for defending champions Mumbai Indians as they aim to continue their dominant run, while a depleted Rajasthan Royals would hope to stay afloat when the two teams clash here on Sunday.
Mumbai roared back to form by crushing Chennai Super Kings by 10 wickets on Friday after their Super Over loss to Kings XI Punjab. Royals, on the other hand, lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad by eight wickets in their last game.
Table-toppers MI are on course to make it to the playoffs but the game is crucial for Rajasthan, who are languishing at seventh place and a loss would mean a step closer to elimination.
Questions remain on whether Rohit, who suffered a hamstring injury and missed the game against CSK, will be available on Sunday. However, Rohit’s absence was hardly felt on Friday as the young Ishan Kishan launched into CSK bowlers with gusto.
So did Quinton de Kock, continuing his sublime run. In the event of Rohit missing out on Sunday as well, the two will open again.
Mumbai’s middle-order has also been among runs — be it Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, all-rounder Kieron Pollard or Krunal Pandya. Their bowlers are also wreaking havoc.