Manchester City face another Premier League test; Lionel Messi could return for Inter Miami vs. Monterrey

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Hey there! The Premier League is keeping us busy as an enticing round of games continues this week, while Lionel Messi just might be back for Inter Miami in time for tonight’s Concacaf Champions Cup clash with Monterrey. I’m Pardeep Cattry, let’s get to it.

📺 Footy fix

All times U.S./Eastern

Wednesday, April 3
🇩🇪 DFB Pokal: Leverkusen vs. Dusseldorf, 2:45 p.m. ➡️ ESPN+
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 EPL: Manchester City vs. Aston Villa, 3:15 p.m. ➡️ Peacock
🌍 CCC: Inter Miami vs. Monterrey, 8 p.m. ➡️ FS1

Thursday, April 4
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 EPL: Chelsea vs. Manchester United, 3:15 p.m. ➡️ USA Network

⚽ The Forward Line

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Premier League’s race to the top continues

The Premier League’s title race takes center stage yet again this week, when the top three return to play and stake their claim on top spot. Wednesday’s fixtures favor Arsenal, who take on relegation-threatened Luton Town in a match the Gunners are heavily favored in. The same goes for Liverpool, who take on last place Sheffield United Thursday in a match that could help them stay atop the table for at least another few days.

The most compelling matchup this week, though, is arguably Manchester City’s clash with Aston Villa, which is full of implications for both the title race and the battle for Champions League spots. It seems unlikely that City will make up the three-point gap between them and Liverpool this week, but the high-profile matchup means that there’s a big opportunity for City to prove their credentials, especially since the reigning champions have not beaten a top five side in league play this season.

There’s also an increased spotlight on Erling Haaland, who faced much publicized criticism from Roy Keane, who said he looked like a League Two player after failing to score against Arsenal in Sunday’s 0-0 draw. Though he’s scored just four goals in eight games since returning from injury, Haaland’s manager, Pep Guardiola, stood up for him yesterday and called him “the best striker in the world” and as Antia Jones notes on Morning Footy, there’s very little reason to underestimate him.

  • Jones: “He seems to be a player that really thrives on those situations and since his injury, we haven’t seen him reach the heights he did previously but he’s still one of the top scorers in the league. … Any manager would back him when you think about how he got the golden boot last season. He just blew all of us out of the water. Players have these peaks and troughs and as I mentioned, he hasn’t been in the best form since coming back from his injury but he’s still an incredible goalscorer. I know some people feel that he is almost unnecessary if he’s not contributing to goals. I didn’t feel that his overall performance was great against Arsenal but I’d never write this man off. That could just be the motivation he needs.”

As for Villa, this marks another chance to make a big statement as they eye their first Champions League berth since the 1981-82 season, but City are a tricky uphill climb for a team battling injuries and inconsistent form. They have three wins in their last five league games, two of them coming against relegation contenders, and recorded a 4-0 drubbing by Tottenham Hotspur in between. They sit just two points ahead of Spurs, who failed to take advantage of a big opportunity Wednesday when they tied 1-1 with West Ham, but with arguably the toughest remaining schedule of any of the Premier League’s teams, it feels like an awfully tight gap with nine games to go.

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🔗  Midfield Link Play

🦩 Is Messi back (again)?

After missing a handful of games for Inter Miami and Argentina last month with a leg injury, Lionel Messi made an appearance at Miami training yesterday ahead of tonight’s Concacaf Champions Cup meeting with Mexico’s Monterrey. His availability offers a boost for Miami, but head coach Tata Martino is playing coy on the type of role Messi could play in the match, per ESPN.

  • Martino: “We’ll define [his role] tomorrow. Today I don’t know, but he trained. We’re still defining it, we still have 24 hours. Leo has an injury, and we have to manage his minutes. We have an important game tomorrow but we have to think that we’re just starting April. For us, this is all just starting and we cannot put the conditions of our players at risk. We will determine fundamentally what is the best for Leo and every other player, and then we’ll make the correct decisions.”

Messi could be crucial for Miami, who are writing the latest chapter in MLS’ long-standing on-field rivalry with Liga MX. The CCC quarterfinals are stacked with three matchups between teams in the neighboring leagues, which is already off to an imperfect start for the U.S.-based sides. While MLS Cup winners Columbus Crew tied 1-1 with Tigres last night, the New England Revolution lost 4-0 at home to current Liga MX leaders Club America, resembling the history of a tournament that has frequently leaned in Mexico’s favor.

The World Cup winner, naturally, could be a deciding factor in this tie, something Monterrey head coach Fernando Ortiz admitted in his pre-match remarks. Despite Miami’s aged all-star team featuring Messi and his ex-Barcelona teammates Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, Ortiz seemingly embraced that spirit of competition and offered up a few fighting words before the game, per ESPN: “We have a better squad than Inter.”

🔗  Top Stories

🏆 SheBelieves Cup is back: Here’s what to know before the USWNT return to action in the SheBelieves Cup on Saturday, including an update on team culture after Korbin Albert’s anti-LGBTQ+ social media content came to light last week.

NWSL rewind: Catch up on the weekend that was in the NWSL with the latest batch of power rankings and the season’s emerging worst-to-first narratives.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England check-in: Arsenal’s defensive resolve against City showcases their evolution under MIkel Arteta, Pep Guardiola jokes that his post-match words for players is something he does for the cameras, and a look at how Tottenham might play a big role in the title race.

🗣️ Hayes vs. Eidevall: Incoming USWNT head coach Emma Hayes accused Arsenal counterpart Jonas Eidevall of showing “male aggression on the touchline,” demonstrating that she will be a more outspoken leader than the U.S. team has had in some time.

🇺🇸 USMNT player pool: Here’s a look at Tyler Adams’ importance to the national team and the evolution his career needs to take, plus an examination of the USMNT’s options at striker after Haji Wright’s big showing at the Concacaf Nations League.

🔵🔴 Xavi in?: Barcelona are reportedly considering convincing Xavi to stick around a little longer as the manager, which might be an admission that the team’s star has fallen.

🟣 Danny Cruz on Morning Footy: Danny Cruz, head coach of the USL Championship’s Louisville City, joins Morning Footy to preview his team’s game against Indy Eleven — and the potential of an appearance by rapper Jack Harlow.

💰  The Back Line

💵 Best bets

  • DFB Pokal: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf, Wednesday, 2:45 p.m.
    💰 THE PICK: More than 3.5 goals scored (+110)
    — A matchup between Bundesliga-leading Leverkusen and second-division side Dusseldorf is perhaps as lopsided as it gets in a cup semifinal, so expect the hosts to dominate and pick up a fairly straightforward victory en route to the final.
  • Premier League: Chelsea vs. Manchester United, Thursday, 3:15 p.m.
  • 💰 THE PICK: Marcus Rashford to score (+220) — There are a handful of strong candidates to bet on in this match since neither side has demonstrated a particular interest in defending this season. Rashford’s one of a few players on both sides in a decent run of form with three goals in United’s last five, so picking him to add to his team’s goal tally might be a wise one.

📺 What’s on CBS Sports Golazo Network

☀️ Morning Footy (Weekdays 8-10 a.m.): Hosts Susannah Collins, Charlie Davies, Nico Cantor and Alexis Guerreros help fans get their day started on the network’s flagship morning show with highlights, interviews and the biggest soccer storylines. Morning Footy is also available in podcast form, so you’ll never have to miss an episode.

📦 Box 2 Box (Weekday afternoons): The news-driven show quickly recaps all the latest headlines from around the world with panelists previewing the top matchups of the day. Catch Box 2 Box on CBS Sports Golazo Network on the CBS Sports app, PlutoTV and Paramount+. 

3️⃣ Attacking Third (Monday, Thursday): The leading women’s soccer podcast and social brand is now a live studio show. The NWSL season is back and our coverage of the women’s game is stronger than ever. Our analysts will be breaking down the USWNT, NWSL and European domestic season all year long.

👟 Kickin’ It (Tuesdays): CBS Sports Golazo Network’s unfiltered interview show releases Tuesday. Hosted by Kate Abdo, Clint Dempsey, Mo Edu and Charlie Davies, the group chat candidly with the biggest names from the Beautiful Game and share their stories from on and off the pitch. 

Call it What You Want (Monday night): A weekly podcast where Jimmy Conrad, Jesse Marsch and Charlie Davies cover all things USMNT and the state of the beautiful game in the United States.

🥅 Scoreline (Daily): Scoreline is the newest place for fans to catch up on all the biggest news and results impacting global football, match highlights from the top soccer competitions and all the can’t-miss goals from the day’s action, starting Thursday and airing seven days a week.

📺 How to watch: CBS Sports Golazo Network is a free 24/7 channel exclusively dedicated to offering unparalleled coverage of all the top soccer competitions worldwide. You can stream for free on the CBS Sports app, Pluto TV and Paramount+.

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