FC Barcelona v FC Chelsea - UEFA Champions League Semi Final

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: Chelsea 2 (3), at Barcelona 2 (2)

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Man of the Match: Nothing against Ramires, who gave a man of the match performance with his first half goal and stellar defending, but Petr Cech needs some recognition. He only had five saves (after 11 last week), but three of them were point blank chances that nobody would have faulted him for conceding. Over the course of two legs, Chelsea would have been embarrassed without him. But that’s why he gets paid the big bucks, and that’s why some insist he’s still amongst the world’s best at his position.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • If anybody tells you Chelsea got lucky, print this out post out, crumple it up, and invite them to consume it. Chelsea saw their right center back leave early and their left center back (and captain) commit a random act of stupidity to get excused. They played an hour down a man, found two goals within that span, and deservedly go on to Munich.
  • In addition to Ramires and Cech, Frank Lampard again stood out. Another assist (on the Ramires goal), impeccable positioning, and he always found another gear to get up and provide a ball for a counter, even though he was often dropping to be the deepest  midfielder.
  • John Terry embarrassed himself today. I’m sure he won’t see it any differently. His knee to the back of Alexis Sanchez should have cost his team the game. He deservedly misses the final. Surely, he knows he let his team down. Thankfully the hurdle he erected only accentuates the brilliance of this teammates’ performances.
  • Didier Drogba again worked himself into the ground. He couldn’t make it to 90 this week, but throughout the second half he was perpetually tracking deep into Chelsea’s third, be it to help dig balls out of the corners or to provide help in the air. If he wasn’t so willing to get back up top when Chelsea were trying to come out of their end, he might have lasted longer.
  • But for all of Chelsea’s virtues, this was still Barcelona’s game to win. They played up a man for two-thirds of it and managed to generate two goals. However, their defense failed them again on the Ramires’ goal. Pep Guardiola is left to wonder if re-inverting the pyramid cost him a chance to defend Barça’s European title.
  • Chelsea’s biggest battle might have been won before the match when they convinced somebody to step into Lionel Messi’s boots and pose as the all-world attacker. The Messi we saw on Tuesday missed a number of chances we’ve seen the real Messi convert time and time again throughout this record-setting year. Most are going to remember the penalty kick Messi put off the bar early in the second half, but there were other chances, particularly in the first, that he could have converted.
  • That is not to say Messi was terrible. He assisted on the second goal and forced Cech into two incredible stops (one on each side of half). However, his decision-making in the final 15 minutes was really poor. He always played one too many passes, invariably giving Chelsea that extra split-second to catch up to the play. The only time he ventured a speculative shot on goal, he found the post.
  • But that advice could have been given to the entire Barcelona team: Just shoot the ball, already.
  • Gerard Piqué, reinserted into the lineup after sitting on the bench in London, left early and was taken to a local hospital for tests after an early collision with Victor Valdes. He reportedly is fine, but Barcelona definitely could have used him at the end of the today’s game.
  • Barcelona couldn’t have asked for anything more from this game. Penalty kick, man advantage, and plenty of good chances – they wasted it all. Now, they’re left with the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. Even if they win it, this year will not be remember for what wasn’t. The team desperately needs to find some other options if they’re to meet their expectations.
  • For Chelsea, what looked like a throwaway season after the sacking of André Villas-Boas now has Roman Abramovich within 90 minutes of his biggest prize. They’ll face either a home team (Bayern Munich) or the man who has defined their team (Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid). They’ll need to get Gary Cahill and David Luiz healthy, because John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are going to be suspended (along with Raul Meireles and Ramires).
  • Want to re-live the fun? Here’s PST’s play-by-play. Just ignore that part of the first half where Chrome locked up on my and I had to dust off Firefox.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: Big boys to turn up

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Week 26 of the Premier League season is here. This will be a lot of fun with massive games at both ends of the table.

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ]

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out.

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Arsenal 3-2 Leicester City – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Norwich City 0-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) –  [STREAM]

Man City 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Sunday 11:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United – (Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Everton 2-1 West Brom  – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Swansea 1-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 2-1 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Chelsea 3-2 Newcastle – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Bournemouth 2-1 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) –  [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Ranieri on Leicester City’s dream season: “Nobody wake us up please!”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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There’s plenty to like about Leicester City’s run to the top of the Premier League, but perhaps nothing is more enjoyable that its manager’s musings.

Claudio Ranieri, the Tinkerman himself, has provided some of the best quips of the season.

[ MORE: Top 5 storylines to look for in PL ]

From “I want to be the crazy man in the Premier League” to “It’s like nobody wants to win the league“, the 64-year-old Italian has offered plenty of beauties.

Make way for some more gems, from LCFC.com:

“I think we work so hard to achieve this level. We want to stay at this level. It’s no pressure for us. The pressure was at the beginning to start well, to carry on and maintain the standard of our performance.
“Now we are safe and we want to fight with respect with all our opponents. Face to face, we play with our strength and they play with theirs. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, next match.
“I think the pressure is on the other teams. We have pressure for our little gap. We continue to dream with our fans and we want to continue to dream. Nobody wake us up please!”
We love this man. To go from a short-lived run in Euro qualifying with Greece to this remarkable roll with Leicester has to be a bit dream-like. We get it. And we love that he’s going with it.