Four things to look out for: Have Real Madrid found a new star? Can Bayern Munich get a much-needed boost?

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Vinicius Junior has already got fans hoping he is Real's new Ronaldo. (AFP)
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Updated 08 February 2019
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Four things to look out for: Have Real Madrid found a new star? Can Bayern Munich get a much-needed boost?

  • Vinicius has already made a name for himself at the Bernabeu.
  • Juventus looking for a boost after recent stumbles.

LONDON: With the second round of the Champions League just around the corner, now is the time for leading teams to rest key men or put in a five-star performance, or, in an ideal world, both. Here are four things to look out for
this weekend.

IS VINICIUS JUNIOR THE NEW RONALDO?

When Cristiano Ronaldo left Real Madrid last summer, Gareth Bale was supposed to be the one to step into the Portuguese’s big boots and drive the Bernabeu boys to more glory. But while the Welshman has failed to excite this season, Real fans have not been left without a hero to worship. Step forward an 18-year-old Brazilian. Vinicius Junior arrived in the Spanish capital in July 2018 and has been one of the few positives for Real in a season that has seen Julen Lopetegui sacked and Real trail bitter rivals Barcelona by eight points in La Liga. Vinicius has started in Real’s past five matches and looked every inch the main man. This season he has scored four goals and drawn comparisons with another young talent, Kylian Mbappe. He will surely start ahead of Bale for today’s clash against City rivals Atletico, and if he can put in another good 90 minutes and help Real leapfrog their neighbors into second place, the hype surrounding him will only increase.



WHICH CITY AND CHELSEA WILL TURN UP ON SUNDAY?

Much depends on this mouth-watering clash for both sides. City, having returned back to the top of the table midweek, will be keen to maintain their title challenge, knowing Liverpool could go three points clear against Bournemouth today. Chelsea are a hugely erratic side under Maurizio Sarri. They have been spectacularly bad in their past two away matches — at Arsenal and Bournemouth — but with Eden Hazard still pulling the strings and Gonzalo Higuain looking like he could be the man to solve the side’s striker problem, they can never be ruled out. The Blues beat City 2-0 in December. That may be only two months ago, but eight weeks is an age in football.



BAYERN NEED A BOOST

Usually a home match for Bayern in the Bundesliga is nothing more strenuous than a stroll in Munich’s famous Englische Garten park, such is the predictability with which they win the title. This season, thankfully for all those who do not support FC Hollywood, is a different matter. They face Schalke today on the back of a 3-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. The only thing worse than the result was the performance — Bayern were torn apart on the break and looked anything but the dominant force of old. A result against Schalke is essential not only to keep pace with Borussia Dortmund, who are seven points clear of Bayern at the top of the table, but also as a morale boost ahead of a daunting away leg at Liverpool in the Champions League in a week’s time.



CAN JUVENTUS FIND TOP GEAR?

The Old Lady may be nine points clear at top of the Serie A table, but there is a sense that the Turin club are far from their best at just the point when they face the Champions League knockout stages. Juventus may have dropped only six points in 22 games, but they have conceded six goals in the past two matches. The first was a 3-0 defeat to Atalanta in the Coppa Italia and the second a 3-3 draw against Parma in the league — a match that saw them lose a two-goal lead. It is the first time during Massimiliano Allegri’s reign that Juventus have conceded six goals in the space of two matches. The club’s president, Andrea Agnelli, wants his side to win all titles they are contesting. On the evidence of 2019 so far, he is going to end up very disappointed.

 


Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

Updated 21 February 2019
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Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

  • Former world No.1 blames three-set loss on tiredness after nine matches in 13 days.
  • Halep has high hopes for the rest of 2019, saying her game is in good shape.

LONDON: Simona Halep is still certain a good year lies in store for her despite losing to Belinda Bencic in the Dubai quarterfinals.
The Romanian former world No. 1 was the favorite to win her second title in the emirate but ran out of steam as her Swiss opponent ran out 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 winner.
It was Halep’s ninth match in just 13 days and she admitted tiredness had caught up with her.
“It was really difficult physically. I was tired,” the world No. 2 said.

Bencic came from a set down to beat the favorite in the last-eight encounter in Dubai. (AFP) 


“After the second set, I felt like I’m getting cramping a little bit. It’s normal. I was sweating a lot.”
While, her fatigue was clear for all to see, Halep was not using it as an excuse, admitting Bencic, who has now beaten her in two of their three matches, was the deserved winner.
“Yeah, she played well. She played very well. In the end, she was a little bit stronger,” the Romanian said.
Having lost in the Qatar final last weekend and failed to make the last-four in Dubai you might think Halep would be disappointed with her Middle East stint. She was, however, far from glum and revealed she is looking forward to landing more titles to add to her collection during the rest of the year.

Cheerio from Halep after her defeat to the Swiss. (AFP) 


“I think were three good weeks. Tough weeks. A lot of tension, a lot of pressure. Also the Fed Cup,” she said.
“I take only positive things. I had great matches. My level is good. Physically also I’m good. But day by day I had to play, so is not easy.
“I’m confident for the next tournaments.”