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UEFA Champions League Preview: Tottenham hosts Leverkusen, Juventus takes on Lyon and more

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While several sides have the opportunity to book their spots in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, Tottenham and Bayer Leverkusen battle on Wednesday in a match that could decide who advances from group play.

Entering Wednesday’s clash, just one point separates Tottenham from Bayer Leverkusen as the two chase AS Monaco in Group E play. The two sides are set to collide at Wembley Stadium, where Tottenham will look to bounce back from a recent cold streak.

Group F action could all but wrap up on Wednesday afternoon if Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid can win their respective matches, while a draw may be enough to get Leicester City through to the knockout rounds from Group G. Juventus and Sevilla could also lock up Group H, although the former faces a difficult task in facing a dangerous Olympique Lyon team.

Here’s a closer look at Wednesday’s Champions League action:

GAMES TO WATCH

Tottenham (4 points) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (3 points), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Injuries of note: Tottenham will be without key players at both the front and the back due to injuries to Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld, while Erik Lamela may also miss out due to illness. Leverkusen, on the other hand, will miss several midfield options, including central midfielder Lars Bender and speedster Karim Bellarabi. Centerbacks Omer Toprak and Jonathan Tah may also be out of action due to injury.

Key to the game: For Tottenham, it’s a question of confidence. Spurs enter Wednesday’s match winless since Oct. 2, a span of five matches. The absence of Kane has obviously played a part, as has the level of competition, but Tottenham just hasn’t looked like last year’s title contenders. The biggest issue? Their carelessness in front of goal, and players like Heung-Min Son and Vincent Janssen will need to step up in one of Tottenham’s most important games of the season.

Player to watch: Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez always seems to show up when his team needs him most. The Mexican star hasn’t scored in five matches, a considerable drought for a player of his caliber. ‘Chicharito’ was held in check when these two sides collided in a 0-0 draw several weeks back, but expect the forward to challenge a Tottenham backline without a key starter in Alderweireld.

Quote: “We know from the first game how tough Tottenham are, but we showed in the second half that we can cause them problems,” said Leverkusen manager Roger Schmidt. “We’ll be looking to do the same again here. We know that Tottenham are outstanding in the transition. But so are we.”

Juventus (7 points) vs. Olympique Lyon (3 points), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., ESPN 2 

Injuries of note: Juventus will be without two of the club’s biggest stars. Georgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala will both miss out on Wednesday’s clash, while midfielder Mario Lemina joins them on the sideline due to suspension. Lyon will also be without a pair of regular starters, as diminutive playmaker Mathieu Valbuena joins Christophe Jallet on the injured list.

Key to the game: Without their most creative and athletic forward in Dybala, Juventus faces some questions at forward. Gonzalo Higuain is one of the best in the world, but without Dybala in the fold he lacks a natural partner. Mario Mandzukic is an option, but plays a bit too similarly to the Argentine to make the situation up top work. Other than Mandzukic, there’s no natural forward ready to step in, so it may be a case of jamming a square peg in a round hole for Wednesday’s clash.

Player to watch: Alexandre Lacazette has quietly become one of the game’s most electrifying forwards. Utilizing his combination of blazing speed and clinical finishing, the French star became one of the world’s more in-demand forwards while firing Lyon to a second-place finish last season. Lacazette proved a handful the last time these two teams met, a 1-0 Juve win, so expect him to challenge an always-stout Juve defense again on Wednesday.

Quote: “Lyon played well against us and had a good away win at the weekend but we cannot waste what we did in Lyon two weeks ago,” said Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri. “We respect Lyon because they are a very good team, with two dangerous forwards who can trouble any side. We are doing well but we can obviously improve.

 

Borussia Dortmund (7 points) vs. Sporting CP (3 points), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., Fox Sports 2 

Injuries of note: Marco Reus remains on the shelf for Borussia Dortmund, while fullbacks Erik Durm and Marcel Schmelzer join him in missing Wednesday’s clash. The return of Raphael Guerreiro should help, though, as Dortmund faces a Sporting CP team without one of their own fullbacks, Jefferson.

Key to the game:  Keeping Dortmund quiet in Germany will be a tough ask for Sporting CP, but not impossible if the team can buckle down in the center of the field. The midfield battle will be key, with Portuguese destroyer William Carvalho breaking up play from a deeper position. If Sporting CP can frustrate Dortmund early in front of their home fans, the mood in the Westfalenstadion may change quickly due to the club’s recent struggles in the Bundesliga.

Player to watch: There are few more entertaining forwards in the game than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabon international may just be the fastest player in the world, and his finishing has seen a noticeable improvement in recent years. Aubameyang is the perfect representation of Dortmund’s free-flowing, rapidly-moving style, one which should see the forward get loose at least once or twice on Wednesday.

Quote: “In the first match we saw that the two sides are almost on a par,” said Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel. “We had chances, they had chances. We had lots of injuries and we were a bit lucky to win in the end. But that’s normal, it’s the Champions League so it’s tough”

Leicester City (9 points) vs. FC Copenhagen (4 points), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., Fox Soccer 2 Go/ESPN 3

Injuries of note: Forward Islam Slimani is likely to miss out for Leicester City, as is Nampalys Mendy, the player brought in to replace N’Golo Kante following his Chelsea move. Winger Danny Amankwaa will be absent for Copenhagen, who generally have a fairly clean bill of health.

Key to the game: Leicester City have handled the Champions League better than any could have expected, earning maximum points through three matches thus far. While they are favored, Leicester faces a tough test against a Copenhagen team that has lost just one of their last 27 matches in all competitions. The key for Leicester will be to take advantage of their now-famous counter-attack, allowing Jamie Vardy, Ahmed Musa and Riyad Mahrez room to run.

Player to watch: Knowing how lethal Leicester is on the break, Copenhagen likely won’t take too many risks in an effort to expose themselves as little as possible. With that in mind, it’ll be up to Mahrez, Leicester’s most creative and technical player, to break things down. If Copenhagen bunkers, Mahrez will be the key to unlocking a defense that should have plenty of players behind the ball.

Quote: “When it’s our home game we maybe have to risk something more during the game than we did in the periods when we controlled things in their stadium,” said Copenhagen coach Ståle Solbakken. “Obviously our way of dealing with their counterattacking ability has to improve. William Kvist and the two centerbacks are the key figures for us.”

Monaco (5 points) vs. CSKA Moscow (2 points), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., Fox Soccer 2 Go/ESPN 3

Legia Warsaw (0 points) vs. Real Madrid (7 points), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., Fox Soccer 2 Go/ESPN 3

Porto (4 points) vs. Club Brugge (0 points), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., Fox Soccer 2 Go/ESPN 3

Sevilla (9 points) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (1 point), Wednesday, 3:45 p.m., Fox Soccer 2 Go/ESPN 3

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