Gareth Barry rescues Manchester City, delivers 93rd minute winner

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After 92 minutes of nothing, Gareth Barry gave Manchester City something: Two extra points.

Reading had held out the whole way at the Etihad, the relegation-embattled Royals within minutes of a valuable point against the defending champions. Manchester City had was in control the entire time but had generated very few chances. Through regulation time, the Citizens had only put two shots on Adam Federici.

But until there’s a goal, you only need one shot to win it, and minutes before referee Mike Dean was set to call time on what would have been City’s bitter disappointment, Barry got his chance.

Or, better put, he made his chance, and in the process gave City a Saturday victory:

Gareth Barry has been the subject of much criticism over the years. After a drawn-out courtship by then-Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez failed to pry him from Aston Villa (where he lost his captaincy), his game was rightly scrutinized against LFC’s implied evaluation. When Manchester City overpaid to take him from Villa Park, the criticisms became more germane.

But as he continues to illustrate, Barry is a one of the few points of consistency in the City side, and as the reliability entails efficiency with the small things while playing mistake-free soccer, he’s been one of the holders’ better players.

It’s fashionable to bemoan the idea that a straight-forward, limited player like Barry can be so important to such an ambitious club, but those thought exercises ignore the fact that he’s actually very good, if straight-forward and limited. As the absences of Darren Fletcher and Frank Lampard have shown, Almost every club around City in the table could use someone like Barry.

So he’s not Sergio Busquets. You know what the really great thing about Busquets is? Nobody is like him.

And he’s not Bastian Schweinsteiger. But guess what the great thing about Schweinsteiger is.

Gareth Barry only needs to be Gareth Barry. That means solid play, the right decisions, and an occasional 93rd minute goal. And City’s two points better for it.

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.