Real Betis Balompie v FC Barcelona - La Liga

Lots of love and links for Barcelona-A.C. Milan in Champions League

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With the Fascination Factor cranked up to 11 on so many other elements of Champions League – the mighty tussle in Manchester, Bayern breaking out against Arsenal, etc. – poor old bedraggled Barcelona just hasn’t gotten much love.

That will change today at the San Siro, where the Spanish leaders and their stockpiles of dazzle meet AC Milan. Win or lose, this will be a story. Kickoff is 2:45 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel.

Barcelona has been tipped all along by oddsmakers to find their way to Wembley Stadium – and to lift a trophy there. There’s a real element of history here, too, for the Blaugrana, who have played two previous European championship finals at London’s hallowed ground, claiming glory in both. Barca won in 1992 and again just two years ago in 2011. In that one, Pep Guardiola’s men made stunningly easy work over a fine Manchester United team.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Barca assistant Jordi Roura, speaking at the teams’ official press conference ahead of today’s match in Italy, says the teams are closer in talent than people might think. Perhaps that was a counter balance to everything else said about this one, as few are giving Milan much chance.

So much so, in fact, that AC Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri took some umbrage, reminding everyone that his team fully intends to show up at the sold-out San Siro rather than just hand Barca the ticket into quarterfinal play.  “It annoys me that we are already considered as a sacrificial victim,” he said.

The clubs did meet just one year ago at the very same San Siro, where the Italians frustrated Barca and in a 0-0 draw in 2011-12 Champions League quarterfinal play. Here’s how the Serie A giants did it, with lots of dogged midfield physicality and by “pressing and sitting” in just the right balance.

In case you were wondering about trouble-making man-child Mario Balotelli, who has recently found his way to AC Milan, he can’t play. Doggone shame.

For Barcelona, midfield maestro Xavi appears fit after missing two consecutive La Liga contests. Just in case, here’s how the team might perform without him.

And now we’ve done it! We’ve already gone 250 words and change without mention of him. That would be the fabulous Leo Messi, among the game’s best yet.

Messi just recorded goals Nos. 300 and 301 for Barca while extending his record scoring streak to 14 consecutive La Liga contests. Let that sink in.

The dude is just 25. And yet, if he retired today Messi would do so as the fourth leading scorer in Champions League history. He has 56 goals and could easily climb to second on the all-time list before the current UCL campaign is complete. Heck, considering how Messi has changed the meaning of “plausible,” he could even do it today! The man truly is playing at a different level.

If you prefer to study team stats over individual ones, Tito Vilanova’s side can certainly supply those. For instance: the possession specialists from Barcelona have completed a whopping 85 percent of their passes in six previous Champions League matches this year, and have held the ball for 71 percent of the time in those contest. Find a few other statistical whoppers here.

Mourinho’s agent: Coach paid $27 million in taxes in Spain

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United stands alongside his substitute Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Jose Mourinho’s agent says the Manchester United manager paid more than 26 million euros ($27 million) in taxes when he lived in Spain from 2010-13.

The information was made public on Tuesday by Gestifute, a company run by Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes.

[ MORE: Pulisic wanted by Arsenal, Spurs ]

The Portuguese company has been releasing details about its clients’ tax declarations after European media outlets published what they claimed were details of apparent tax arrangements made by top soccer players and coaches, including Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil.

Gestifute, which also has Ronaldo as a client, has already published documents allegedly showing that Spanish fiscal authorities have certified that Mourinho and Real Madrid star Ronaldo are “up to date on … obligations.”

Mourinho coached Real Madrid from 2010-13 and took charge of United this season.

Staying in Dallas: New contract for MLS Defender of the Year Hedges

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 12:  Giles Barnes #10 of the Houston Dynamo battles for the ball with Matt Hedges #24 of FC Dallas during their game at BBVA Compass Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
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This is going to turn out to be one of the most exciting years of Matt Hedges’ life.

The FC Dallas man lead one of the best back lines in Major League Soccer to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield.

[ MORE: PST talks with Hedges, Zimmerman ]

He’s also likely set for a chance to return to the USMNT fold under new coach Bruce Arena, as Hedges is one of the best players to be largely ignored by Jurgen Klinsmann.

Hedges, 26, was named the MLS Defender of the Year and made the Best XI, and now he’s inked a new long-term deal with FC Dallas.

The four-year deal will keep Hedges in Dallas through his 30th birthday. Capped once, Hedges has 159 appearances with 11 goals for FCD.

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Two more Pulisic suitors in North London? USMNT teen in demand

Dortmund's Emre Mor, left, celebrates with Dortmund's Felix Passlack and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, right, after scoring during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and SV Darmstadt in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Dortmund defeated Darmstadt with 6-0. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Christian Pulisic is one of the most exciting young prospects in the world.

It’s a statement that isn’t often said without hyperbole when it comes to American standouts, but the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund man has seen his names in the gossip pages a few times this year.

While Liverpool has often been the destination, Italian site Calcio Mercato says Premier League interest is wider than Merseyside. The clubs? Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VOTE: Who should win USMNT player of year? ]

Dortmund doesn’t want to sell the youngster, who is locked up through 2019. The whispered price has been $31 million at a minimum, but perhaps BVB would be tempted given their wealth of young attacking options.

Pulisic has made 27 appearances for Borussia Dortmund, nabbing four goals and six assists. He has 11 caps and three goals for the USMNT as well.

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Real Madrid asks for “utmost respect” to Ronaldo following tax drama

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after missing a chance during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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Cristiano Ronaldo had been linked with massive tax evasion, but Real Madrid would ask you to kindly go back to treating him like a king now that he’s proven his innocence.

In a move usually reserved for politicians aiming for high office, Ronaldo’s agent released some of his tax documents to prove everything’s above board.

It all looks good, unlike what befell Neymar and Lionel Messi, so back off, huh?

[ MORE: Wednesday’s Champions League preview ]

From Real Madrid:

In view of the stories published over recent days and in consideration of the certificate issued by the Spanish Tax Agency which confirms that our player Cristiano Ronaldo is up to date with all of his tax obligations, Real Madrid C. F. call for the utmost respect to be shown towards Cristiano Ronaldo, whose conduct has been absolutely exemplary throughout all of his time at our club.

Only the utmost for CR7.

Real Madrid hosts Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in a match which will decide Group F of the UEFA Champions League.

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