AC Milan's Muntari celebrates with teammates after scoring against Barcelona during their Champions League soccer match at the San Siro stadium in Milan

Offshore drilling, UEFA Champions League: at AC Milan 2, Barcelona 0

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If you think today’s result will just be a one-off, your memory’s short. This is how Chelsea did it last year. This is how Manchester United did it in 2008 and how Chelsea nearly derailed them a year later. This is how Barcelona goes out, but unlike recent years that saw opponents get a goal and hold out, Milan got two. And now one of the tournament favorites is on the brink of leaving UEFA Champions League before they’ve even managed to threaten their opponent’s goal.

That’s how surprisingly lopsided today’s match was, though that imbalance won’t be reflected in the possession stat. At 73 percent, Barcelona held even more of the ball than they’re used to. Yet paradoxically, their attack was far more feeble, only putting one shot on Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. Barça never showed the will or ability to solve what’s becoming a surprisingly reliable formula.

That formula: Defend. It’s not complicated. Just keep defending to the extreme and wait for your chances, no matter how long it takes. If you stay focused, camp behind the ball, and force Barcelona to move through you, they can be beat. All you need is one moment – one good bounce, one swift movement – and you can derail one of the best teams in the world.

“The result is definitely unexpected,” Milan midfielder Riccardo Montolivo conceded after his team’s 2-0 victory. “We faced the best team in the world.”

Milan’s first moment came in the 57th minute, the first real chance of a game that had been chance-less. Off a restart near the edge of their attacking third, Milan let midfielder  Montolivo try from distance. His shot from 30 yards out hit a Barcelona player, went off the hand of Cristian Zapata, and fell for Kevin Prince-Boateng. The Milan attacker turned on his left foot and fired with his right from just inside the box, the bang-bang action leaving Victor Valdés flat-footed as the game’s winning goal flexed the right side of his net.

It was a stroke of bad luck for the Catalans, but sauntering through their road leg with the intensity of camel, Barça was ripe to be caught. It nearly happened in the 11th minute, when Milan broke with numbers after a corner kick. It almost happened in the 16th minute, when a poor touch from Stephan El Shaarawy is all that prevented a point-blank chance on goal. Thanks to long passes from Montolivo and the constant threat of El Shaarawy getting behind right back Dani Alves, Milan was always one movement away from taking the lead.

“We couldn’t create chances, Milan was well-organized,” Alves said before conceding, “We could have competed a bit better.”

Lightning stuck for a second time in the 80th minute when a ball chipped forward M’Baye Niang allowed the French teenager to find El Shaarawy in the box. The young Italian lifted a ball over the right side of Barça’s defense for an oncoming Sulley Muntari, whose finish back across goal put Barcelona on the edge of elimination.

“It was the most important goal of my career,” Muntari said afterward.

No doubt Barcelona controlled the match, but their command was passive, their assured but serene possession playing into Milan’s hands. With three compact midfielders, wingers tracking deep, and a defensive so far back they rarely had to worry about anything behind them, the Rossoneri willing ceded a control that never mattered. They may have only held 27 percent possession, but putting three shots on goal to Barcelona’s one, Milan were the more dangerous side.

“This is a very negative result,” Iniesta said after the match. “When you don’t show up for the game, this can happen.”

With their 2-0 victory, Milan proved more than opportunistic. They were the better side, one that leaves Barcelona needing two goals to have a chance of survival. But even before worry about converting chances, Barça needs to figure out who to create some.

source:  Man of the Match: Montolivo and El Shaarawy were key to how Milan set up, but Kevin Prince Boateng’s finish is what set Milan on their way. Not everybody would have gotten that shot on goal, let alone hit a ball so well that the opposition keeper was left flat-footed. Reflexively shooting as he turned on the ball, Prince allowed Milan to reap the rewards of an extreme but highly successful approach.

And the former Ghanian international did his part on the other end, too, coming back from his right wing position to set up in the area normally patrolled by Andrés Iniesta. The Barça star had a quiet day, and although it was unclear Boateng was the cause of that, his positioning and willingness certainly helped, particularly when he was called on to track Jordi Alba’s runs (as he memorably did to win a ball behind Milan’s line in the 43rd minute).

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Allegri, Milan have come a long way – In the wake of the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Thiago Silva sale, Milan got off to a terrible start to the season. They fell to the bottom half of the Serie A table while struggling to get through their Champions League group.

Now the team sits third and have a path into the Champions League quarterfinals. What happened?

Massimiliano Allegri was given time to figure his new team out, something that didn’t look certain to happen as the Rossoneri stumbled out of the gate. But slowly Allegri determined El Shaarawy was capable of carrying the scoring burden. He incorporated Montolivo, tweaked Prince’s role, and forged a viable central defense from Philippe Mexes, Cristian Zapata, and Mario Yepes.

Along the way, he moved away from Alexandre Pato. Robinho is no longer a major part of this team. Antonio Nocerino, a find last season, isn’t a vital cog in midfield.

Six months after fans were calling for his ouster, Allegri took apart Barcelona. That’s how far his team has come.

source: Getty ImagesWhere did Lionel Messi go? – The best player in the world was a complete non-factor. Milan was tight and compact through the middle, giving Messi no space to work, but even when the Balon d’Or winner started going wide right in an attempt to find room to work, he failed to have an impact on the game. Aside from a 29th  flash when he beat left back Kevin Constant, Messi might as well have been on the sidelines.

For only the second time this season, Messi was held without a shot on goal.

It’s not like Barcelona’s other stars were much better. Xavi Hernández and Andres Iniesta played a bigger part in the game, but that’s to be expected. Milan wasn’t crowding the areas were they operate. Cesc Fábregas and Pedro Rodríguez? Their names were rarely called.

Messi, however, usually finds a way to break through. Even when he’s off, he’s capable of finding a moment of brilliance. Tonight, he wasn’t even close.

A portable approach – Milan’s tactics weren’t complicated. They weren’t dependent on anything specific to the San Siro, and as we’ve seen in recent years, other teams have been able to execute this approach on the road. There’s no reason why Milan can’t replicate this performance in Spain. Carrying two goals out of the San Siro, they even have license to be more extreme.

Barcelona may be able to break through in Spain, but odds are they’ll lose if they don’t change things up. They know their recent history. They know they need a Plan B. They can’t just assume dogma will win out.

The question is whether they can change. Do they have enough diversity of talent within the team to make the necessary changes? Is there even enough familiarity with a different approach to make those tweaks viable? Is there the will to try?

Barcelona’s in big trouble, and their problems transcend the score. They’re not a team well equipped to address this kind of challenge. They may be left with no recourse but to play their normal style and hope this time it wins out.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Victor Valdés actually had a good day, particularly in the first half where a couple of aggressive reads helped him snuff out changes before they developed. But there was little he could have done to prevent either goal.
  • The matchup between El Shaarawy and Alves was a particularly interesting one, with the young Italian tasked with tracking the Barcelona wingback. Early, it became evident Milan was going to try and exploit Alves’s want to push forward, with Montolivo constantly firing diagonals behind the Barça right back. Though the matchup never really bore fruit, it still helped define how Milan set up.
  • Mario Balotelli is cup-tied, having appeared in the competition with Manchester City. He was seen celebrating on the sidelines during the match’s final moments.
  • Looking at Barcelona’s bench, it’s unclear how they could have significantly changed their team. Alexis Sanchez came on, and Javier Mascherano eventually replaced a cut Carles Puyol, but the rest of the team represents a series of more-or-less like-for-like options: Alexander Song, Cristian Tello, Martín Montoya, and Thiago Alcantera.

Stay with us throughout Wednesday as we take a look at the day’s other match, Turkish champions Galatasaray hosting Germans Schalke 04.

Premier League Preview: Man City vs. Tottenham

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  • Spurs aiming to win seven-straight PL games
  • Man City 10 points off leaders Chelsea
  • Tottenham beat City 2-0 in October

A massive clash between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur takes place on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium.

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Pep Guardiola has all but conceded the Premier League title following City’s humbling 4-0 defeat at Everton last time out, but Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino are on a roll with six-straight PL wins under their belt and are seven points off leaders Chelsea.

Guardiola and Pochettino clashed as both players and managers during their time living and playing in Barcelona (Guardiola at FC Barcelona and Pochettino at Espanyol) and after Guardiola’s dominance in Spain and Germany as a coach, it is Pochettino who goes into this game as the favorite with Harry Kane and Dele Alli in superb form for in-form Spurs.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium

In team news City will be without the suspended Fernandinho but Gabriel Jesus could make his debut, while Spurs will be without the injured duo of Jan Vertonghen and Erik Lamela.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on Spurs’ improvement since he took charge: “It’s true that now we are in a very good period and all that is related to Tottenham is exciting – you can see here, the new stadium, the squad – all that is happening is very positive. It is true that in two-and-a-half years before I arrived here, you related Tottenham some good, some not so good and today it is looking like we are the best team in the world. That is very good. The hard work is to keep that feeling. It will be difficult but we will try.”

Guardiola on Tottenham’s style of play: “Tottenham dominate really high and are one of the best teams in the Premier League. They are quite similar to Chelsea but they move a little bit more. They know exactly where the other players are. They have the quality to move in small spaces.”

Prediction

Somehow I just think Man City will come out flying after all of the recent criticism and put in a big performance. In the big games this season they’ve stood up, beating Manchester United and Arsenal and leading against Chelsea before collapsing in the second half. Call me crazy, but I think Pep’s men will bag a big 2-0 win to momentarily close the gap to Chelsea to seven points.

Klopp says Liverpool have “had things harder” than title rivals

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Jurgen Klopp is happy with the resilience shown by his Liverpool side as they’ve won just once in five games in all competitions so far in 2017.

[ VIDEO: Spurs’ stunning new stadium ]

Klopp’s men have drawn two Premier League encounters, while a weakened Reds side also drew with lower league Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup third round (before beating them in a replay) and lost at Southampton in the first leg of their EFL Cup semifinal.

Ahead of their clash with Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) Klopp believes his team are battling through well after having four games in 10 days.

“In recent weeks we’ve had things harder than any of the other top teams and I’m really pleased with how my team has coped,” Klopp said. “We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Klopp has come under criticism for fielding weakened teams against Plymouth and Southampton in the cup competitions, but surely Liverpool’s focus has to be on the Premier League and challenging for the title? If they beat bottom of the table Swansea on Saturday then Klopp’s side will momentarily go four points behind leaders Chelsea who play against Hull City on Sunday.

Still, Klopp complaining about the amount of games Liverpool has to play is nothing compared to what the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal will face in the coming weeks. With European action starting back next month, plus all four of the aforementioned sides still in the FA Cup (Manchester United are also in the EFL Cup too), Liverpool won’t be the club complaining about a fixture backlog.

The Reds may be struggling to stay on top of things right now but this time next month Klopp can have no complaints as Liverpool’s competitors battle with severe fixture congestion. That said, there are plenty of theorists out there suggesting that Klopp’s Gegenpressing methods often leave his teams tired towards the end of the campaign. If that is the case then Liverpool must get as many points on the board as soon as possible, starting with what looks like an easy home win against Swansea on Saturday.

There is never an easy game in the Premier League and it seems like Klopp knows his players are feeling the strain after a busy few weeks.

Tottenham’s stunning new stadium taking shape

Tottenham Hotspur has released the first images of the premium experiences inside their new stadium.  One of the premium spaces, the Sky Lounge on level nine, will offer panoramic views of the pitch and across London. The stadium is set to open in 2018, but premium packages are now available to buy.
Tottenham Hotspur
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LONDON — Over the past few months Tottenham Hotspur’s new 61,000 stadium adjacent to their current White Hart Lane home seems to have been rising another 10 meters into the sky on a weekly basis.

Like Tottenham’s current Premier League title challenge, momentum is building.

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On Thursday Pro Soccer Talk was invited to check out the new premium seating options at the stadium which will become the largest club venue in London when it opens in 2018, and also home to at least two NFL games per season from 2018 until 2028. The National Football League will become a big part of this stadium when it is up and running.

The tour included augmented and virtual reality, as a virtual tour around the swanky Tunnel Club area, H Club and Sky Lounge were backed up by the incredible pitchside view of the 17,000 one-tier south stand which will resemble something similar to the Kop at Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall, making it the largest single-tier stand in the UK.

[ PHOTOS: Check out Spurs’ new stadium ]

Hanging out in Lilywhite House, Tottenham’s club offices currently in the shadows of the cranes which encircle the new stadium, manager Mauricio Pochettino spoke to the press on Thursday ahead of their massive clash against Manchester City this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Pro Soccer Talk asked Pochettino if the project at Tottenham is further along the line than he expected at this point and the Argentine coach said they are currently “a thousand miles ahead” in football terms compared to the 2014-15 campaign when he took charge.

“I don’t know, that is too difficult for me to judge because we are ambitious and we want to win every game. I think if we go backwards to our first season and we now start to see, analyse and judge and I think we are a thousand miles ahead but in football it’s about belief, it’s about faith, it’s about working hard and it’s true that the club has moved on in two-and-a-half years,” Pochettino said. “That was our expectation – to push and move the club quickly, but sometimes it’s not possible.

“It’s true that now we are in a very good period and all that is related to Tottenham is exciting – you can see here, the new stadium, the squad – all that is happening is very positive. It is true that in two-and-a-half years before I arrived here, you related Tottenham some good, some not so good and today it is looking like we are the best team in the world. That is very good. The hard work is to keep that feeling. It will be difficult but we will try.”

I have to admit I felt slightly dizzy as I popped on the virtual reality goggles, such was the vividness of the experience as I took a trip around the premium areas of the new stadium. It felt like I was there walking around, bumping into fans enjoying a drink and then I walked out (using a controller to guide me) of a tunnel and into the stadium bowl itself. What a view.

tunnel-club

What struck me was just how close you still are to the pitch at the new White Hart Lane. In many new stadiums across the globe that isn’t the case. One of White Hart Lane’s best current features, and most favorable for Spurs, is how close the fans are to the pitch and that in turn creates an intimidating and inspiring atmosphere.

The new White Hart Lane is set up to not only be a place where the premium experience is mind-blowing, but also where the average fan can generate a phenomenal atmosphere. It all knits together perfectly as the premium seating is located on the east and west stands and the atmosphere will be generated by Tottenham’s hardcore fans behind both goals.

One of the most impressive premium areas is the Tunnel Club, where you can see the players walking out for games in a one-way window as you see in many sporting venues in the U.S. but this is the first-time you can experience anything like this in the Premier League. It will cost a cool $11,681 to have a season ticket there, which can only be bought in pairs. So, $23,362 all in for a season. However, getting the chance to see Harry Kane and Co. in the tunnel in the final moments before kick off, plus maybe a bit of a scuffle at half time or full time with opponents after a fiery encounter, can you really put a price on that?

“It’s dangerous, dangerous,” Pochettino laughed when asked about the Tunnel Club view. “Because there have been a lot of things in the tunnel. It is for that reason that it will be very expensive.”

Overall, premium seating can be purchased for as little as $109 per game, while suites can be purchased by companies and not only used on matchdays but also during the week as their hub.

But this project is about more than creating more luxurious seats for Spurs fans.

stadium-south-transport

It is no secret that the area surrounding Tottenham’s home is one of the most deprived in London. It hasn’t received much funding from the council or government and if it wasn’t for this new stadium project — dubbed the Northumberland Development Project — then the area wouldn’t have a bright future.

Now it does as Spurs are the main stimulus for regeneration as over $360 million is expected to be generated for the area each year.

Over 3,500 new jobs will be created in various capacities thanks to the project, with the London Academy of Excellence opening up a site in the complex this year, plus housing, shops, bars and restaurants all adding to the matchday experience around the Lane.

Local companies and produce will be used and infrastructure will improve drastically in this forgotten section of north London.

Much like the Barclays Center rejuvenated Downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding areas, you can expect Tottenham High Road to be unrecognizable in years to come as the entire area gets a massive boost and gentrification takes place.

When it comes to the NFL, a separate artificial turf pitch is ready for NFL games right away as the grass pitch Spurs play on will slide out and be looked after in a designated area outside the stadium bowl. Four separate locker rooms and areas just for the NFL teams visiting will be built and it will bring over $160 million in extra revenue to the area over the 10-year deal.

With the NFL looking to bring a franchise to London in the years to come, everything is set up to house a potential London NFL team at the new White Hart Lane.

nfl-wide-image

With this incredible stadium rising from the ground at a rapid rate while the old heart of Spurs sits in its shadows on adjacent ground, there will be a nod to the old White Hart Lane in the “Tottenham Experience” museum. That is set to guide fans through just what the old stadium was like and some of the original White Hart Lane buildings and monuments will still be kept.

The past will still be present.

Striking a balance between bringing in cutting-edge technology and keeping tradition is difficult in the modern era, but so far Spurs seem to be hitting the nail on the head.

Plus, Spurs’ new home will feature the world’s first stadium micro-brewery which will produce 1 million pints of craft beer per year and 10,000 pints per minute and also the longest general admission bar in a UK stadium at 86.8 meters long. It will also have a cheese room, artisan bakery and Michelin star dining. Cheers indeed.

Exciting times ahead for Tottenham and their local community as one of the most ambitious stadium projects in Premier League history continues to take shape.

Chelsea confirm Diego Costa available for selection

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Diego Costa is once again available for Chelsea.

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In his press conference on Friday, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte revealed that Costa would be available for selection against Hull City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Costa, 28, is Chelsea’s leading scorer in the Premier League with 14 goals and five assists and he also leads the PL charts in scoring. However, he was not in the squad for their 3-0 win at Leicester City last weekend after news broke of a possible training ground bust up with Conte and his staff amid a back injury.

Since then reports have stated that clubs from the Chinese Super League were offering Costa over $368,000 per week which may have unsettled him, but after training on his own earlier this week and then rejoining the team in the past few days he is now ready to return and lead Chelsea’s title charge once more.

Speaking to the media, Conte revealed that Costa is no longer struggling with a back issue and is fully fit to participate for the Premier League leaders.

“He is available for the game against Hull City. He started to have a training session on Tuesday with the rest of the team. He trained very well. He trained very well. He is good fitness. His pain in his back, he hasn’t had pain in his back. For this reason he is available for the game against Hull City. On Sunday and Monday Diego trained not for himself but for Tuesday to have the training session with us. He trained with a fitness coach. Not alone.”

Conte also stated that he usually has a chat with his players every week with his players, both individually and together. But what about Costa’s future after plenty of links with a move to China? His agent Jorge Mendes was reportedly discussing a move to Tianjin Quanjian which broke down last week and Conte believes Costa will remain at Stamford Bridge for the rest of this season.

“I think the player wants to stay at Chelsea, he is happy to stay here and play for us,” Conte said. “I don’t see any problem with our team. I heard a lot of speculation about Diego, but now the most important thing is he trained with us this week, he does not have any pain in his back and can play.”

This is a massive boost for Chelsea as they look to extend their seven point lead at the top of the table, but Conte wouldn’t confirm if Costa was fit enough to start against Hull.

“Diego is an important player for us. We all know this. When he stays in a good form he has always played for me,” Conte said. “I will see on Sunday [if he starts against Hull]. I don’t want to give an advantage to our opponents.”

With Costa’s mind seemingly back on matters at Chelsea despite a monster contract offer from China lingering in the background, news that he is back fit and ready to score goals will send a shudder of disappointment through Chelsea’s title rivals in the Premier League.