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An alarming pileup of FC Barcelona woe frames today’s Champions League clash with AC Milan

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Barcelona and “painful defeat” have linked themselves astonishingly of late.

Losses to rival Real Madrid have leaked into a recent Champions League setback to form a pool of despair that seemed so unlikely – some might even say “unimaginable” – just a month ago.

(One article has seemed to find a middle ground between “unlikely” and “unimaginable,” settling on the slightly less dramatic “alarming” in assessing the Catalan’s surprising slump.)

Whatever descriptive adjective we choose, all signposts around the Nou Camp point to the same arrival point: Who would have thought such darkness could creep into one of the Earth’s most evocative collection of fabulous feet?

Perhaps Tito Vilanova’s unfortunate absence, stacked on top of Pep Guardiola’s still-recent departure, has finally caught up with the Blaugrana. Or perhaps things have finally gone stale for a team whose core has changed so little over the last few years. For whatever reason, the club is 6-4-3 with just one shutout over its last 13 contests.

But with all that … It’s all there for the turning over today at the Nou Camp, where the energy inside the ginormous Blaugrana ground will carry an unfamiliar nervousness. Milan carries a 2-0 lead in the Round-of-16 second leg clash (3:45 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel).

An FC Barcelona collection still blessed with Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi (and that trio just headlines the fabulous cast) remained was a Champions League favorite moving into the Round of 16. Then came the fateful march into and out of the San Siro, where suddenly surging AC Milan left Barca’s European ambition on the skids.

Tactical cracks have developed in the Barca attack as teams have settled into a formula, defending with those two stingy banks of four and clogging the middle against a Barca bunch that seems so dead-set determined to come through there anyway. So how the Blaugrana attack an Italian defensive arrangement, and which players see the field, may say a lot about today’s outcome.

Or, is it something less tactical, as Xavi suggested in a pre-match news conference?

“We have lacked the old movement in attack and the accompanying defensive intensity,” he said. “Perhaps winning so comfortably in the league has caused us to drop our level a little.”

Perhaps. Either way, things won’t be easy today for the Catalan club; Milan is unbeaten in 10 games now, now third in Serie A and nipping at Napoli for second.

Reports: Man City to trigger $60 million Laporte release clause

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 17: Luis Suarez (L) of FC Barcelona kicks the ball next to Aymeric Laporte (C) of Athletic Club during the Spanish Super Cup second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on August 17, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola isn’t in Manchester yet, but he’s already making plans for his side.

According to reports in Spain, Manchester City is ready to bring Aymeric Laporte to the Etihad, one of the most highly-rated defenders in Europe.

[ MORE: Burnley clinch PL promotion ]

The 21-year-old center-back has already made more than 100 appearances for Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, and City would need to pay nearly $60 million to trigger his release clause.

Guardiola has coached against Laporte while in charge of Barcelona, and it is believed he is Pep’s top defensive target to move in for the likes of Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis.

Named to the La Liga Team of the Year as a teenager in 2013-14, Laporte has been on the radar of all the major clubs around Europe. However, he saw his season cut short in March after suffering a terrible leg break on international duty with the France U21 side, ruling him out until August.

[ MORE: UEFA Champions League semifinal preview ]

Although he could miss the beginning of next season while still recovering from injury, bringing Laporte to Manchester would be a move that could set up the club defensively for years to come. Should City meet Bilbao’s massive release clause, Laporte would add to the magnificently expensive City back-line, joining Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi to form a trio of center-backs worth more than $150 million.

VIDEO: Post-match melee breaks out between Spurs and Chelsea

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Tensions boiled over on the touchline after Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham as players had to be separated while heading down the tunnel.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

A testy match that saw referee Mark Clattenburg issue 12 yellow cards, the battle continued after the final whistle as a melee erupted in front of the benches.

It is unclear as to what caused the disruption, but it was not the first skirmish of the night. Earlier in the match, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino found himself on the pitch in the middle of a shoving match between players.

[ VIDEO: Leicester pubs erupt as Foxes clinch Premier League title ]

Seen in the video above, Spurs’ backup goalkeeper Michel Vorm seemed to be in the middle of things with who else but Diego Costa. Harry Kane and John Terry tried to quiet things down, but to little avail.

There are only two matches left in the Premier League season, but the FA will certainly be reviewing video of this incident and sanctions could come down on players or the clubs.

Emotional Ranieri thanks former club Chelsea; set for incredible return

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LONDON — Am emotional Claudio Ranieri called Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink after their 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur on Monday which sealed the title for Leicester City.

Ranieri, 64, was manager of Chelsea from 2000-4 and was a fan favorite at Stamford Bridge despite never winning a trophy. He was replaced by Jose Mourinho in 2004 but has remained in the hearts of Chelsea’s fans ever since.

[ MORE: Latest Leicester news after PL win ]  

On Monday that was clear.

The amiable Italian is a charming individual, a grandfather figure to most, and one Chelsea fan held up a sign which simply said: “Do it for Ranieri” and Chelsea fans sung his name and “Leicester, Champions!” as they reveled in Tottenham’s demise at the final whistle.

They won the league for Ranieri, as Chelsea rallied from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Eden Hazard‘s stunning late goal sealing the title for Leicester.

Chelsea’s old boss flew back to Italy on Monday to spend time with his 96-year-old mother and on his return to Leicester and England he will lauded as a hero. His team will go down in history and so will he. Calls continue for him to be knighted by the Queen of England. It is highly likely he will be. He deserved it after masterminding the greatest Cinderella story in sporting history.

[ VIDEO: Fans react in Leicester to winning the PL ]

Here’s what Hiddink had to say on his phone call with Ranieri.

“I got a call from Claudio Ranieri and he thanked us, especially for the second half,” Hiddink revealed. “I congratulated him on being champion. His voice was trembling.”

Ranieri is an emotional man who has been welling up after recent wins and as the momentum continued. The tears will be flowing in the coming days and weeks as what he and his team have achieved starts to sink in.

In his first season as Leicester manager he has turned a 5000-1 shot and heavy favorite for relegation into the champions of the Premier League. Ranieri was the bookies’ favorite to get be the first PL manager to be fired at the start of the season.

Now he’s the manager who delivered the PL trophy in the most remarkable fashion imaginable. With, of course, a little help from his old club.

Want to know what makes this even better? Ranieri returns to his old club Chelsea on the final day and the Foxes will receive a guard of honor from last seasons champions, Chelsea.

Chelsea let him go in 2004 as owner Roman Arbamovich didn’t believe he could win the west London club the title.

Yeah, about that…

From League One to PL champion: Andy King has seen it all

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Andy King of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Bromwich Albion at The King Power Stadium on March 1, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Andy King has been through it all, and now he’s a Premier League champion.

With more than 300 appearances for Leicester, King never could have imagined being champions of England when he was playing with the Foxes in the third division just a few years ago.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester City coverage ]

King joined Leicester City’s academy as a 15-year-old, climbing the ladder from League One to the top of the Premier League.

Speaking to the BBC after clinching the title, an emotional King reflected on this achievement.

I thought I’d seen everything with this club, but I never thought I’d see this. It’s difficult to put into words. The players deserve it, the gaffer and the staff deserve it, and the fans deserve it. It’s been an unbelievable season.

The story of where this team has come from to get to this point has been all over the world recently and I think the lads deserve great credit for the way they’ve taken it in their stride, stayed focused and kept delivering results – especially with a great side like Spurs chasing us so hard. We’ve been so consistent and just determined not to let the opportunity pass us by. We deserve this.

King has only managed seven league starts this season, stuck behind standout performers N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater. However, he has been an important player off the bench and a veteran presence in the dressing room, despite still being just 27-years-old.

King is the first player to win the League One, Championship, and Premier League titles all with the same club.