By Tim Stannard
1) Coach Zizou celebrates Madrid birthday with Sevilla Copa clash
After a late December spent flouncing around Japan winning the FIFA Club World Cup and a Christmas spent flouncing around the world in places that most mere mortals will never see except through Karim Benzema’s Instagram account, Real Madrid’s footballers are back to life and back to reality with the return of soccer life and the mighty Copa del Rey.
Coach Zizou and his merry men are defending a 37-match unbeaten streak against visiting Sevilla in the Last 16, first leg clash on Wednesday and will be doing so without Cristiano Ronaldo, who is being given extra sofa-selfie time, and the injured Pepe and Sergio Ramos, to leave a back-four a tad exposed to a lively visiting attack to say the least. There is an extra whiff of danger in the air with memories of the last time that Real Madrid had a massive run of good form and then won the Club World Cup two-years ago – it all went a bit pear-shaped after that.
The club’s French manager will be hoping that history does not repeat on the first anniversary of his appointment to the Real Madrid job, succeeding the luckless Rafa Benitez. "I'm passionate about this game and happy to come to work and do this job every day. It is something I will always have," said a chuffed Zidane on Tuesday ahead of the game.
Catch all the action from Real Madrid v Sevilla live on beIN SPORTS from 3PM ET / 12PM ET, preceded by a very tasty match-up between Real Sociedad and Villarreal. And if you miss out, all the best action from those matches and all the rest will be on the XTRA at 7PM ET / 4PM PT.
2) Luis Enrique says MSN back to their best
It is Barcelona’s turn for the Copa del Rey ringer on Thursday – tell Alexa to set your reminder for 3PM ET – and a trip to northern Spain to take on Athletic Bilbao. Luis Enrique was chattering away before the press on Wednesday and boasted that the MSN are in better shape than ever after a Christmas break. "I am very impressed with the way they have come back and with their performances in training," beamed Enrique.
The Barca boss was also probed about rumors that his Bilbao coaching counterpart on Thursday, Ernesto Valverde, would be replacing him on the Camp Nou bench, if he does not make a decision on his contract renewal sooner rather than later - "as for the rumors, they're a part of the sport."
3) Chelsea with chance to equal history
England is ending its Premier League marathon on Wednesday, perhaps with the piece de resistance – Tottenham Hotspur against Chelsea - with Antonio Conte’s men looking for a 14th consecutive EPL win, to equal Arsenal’s record from 2002. The Chelsea boss had come under fire for some grumbling rivals complaining that Chelsea had had more rest time than others to prepare for the White Hart Lane showdown.
"I think they [the rival managers] are angry for our position, not for the fixtures. I'm not disappointed. I think it's normal,” shrugged the Italian ahead of a game that would put Chelsea eight points ahead of Liverpool, if it were to be a win. Tune into the XTRA at 7PM ET / 4PM PT for the best EPL goal action from the game.
Meanwhile, Hull City have started the hunt for a new manager after firing Mike Phelan on Tuesday after three-months in charge. Former Olympiakos boss and proud Portuguese, Marco Silva, is expected to be the lucky fella given the task to keep the Tigers roaring in the Premier League.
4) Ancelotti says Vidal is no-go to Chelsea
Transfer Stuff Time! Middlesbrough have brought in Aston Villa striker, Rudy Gestede, for around $7m. Calm down, everyone. Sevilla, perhaps the shrewdest club in the transfer market, have picked up centerback, Clement Lenglet, from Nancy. Off-the-field trouble-maker and Las Palmas striker, Sergio Araujo, might be packed off to China.
Chelsea have been linked with Bayern midfielder, Arturo Vidal, although this story was pooped on by Carlo Ancelotti on Wednesday. "This is absolute nonsense," retorted the Bayern boss, ruining everyone’s fun.
5) Williams sisters in double KO in Kiwi catastrophe
The world’s best tennis players have been busier than Donald Trump’s spin team after a bout of Twitter diarrhea. Both Williams sisters were knocked out of the WTA ASB Classic in Auckland in round two. Serena lost out to fellow American Madison Brengle, whilst Venus was forced to withdraw through injury. Coverage from New Zealand continues on beIN SPORTS CONNECT from 6:30PM ET / 3:30PM PT with two Americans involved in the quarterfinal stages, Brengle and Lauren Davis.
There was a big shock at the WTA Shenzhen Open with world number four, Simone Halep, losing out in three sets to Katerina Siniakova. Over in Brisbane, Garbiñe Muguruza, battled through a tough match against Daria Kasatkina to the quarterfinals. Coverage of both tournaments continues on Tuesday night on CONNECT with Brisbane live on beIN SPORTS from 8PM ET / 5PM PT.
Over in the Qatar Open, Sir Andy Murray – that’s his new official name – is in third round action against Gerald Melzer and that came is live on beIN CONNECT with coverage already underway.
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