Beyond our doubts: Messi leads Barcelona to history, Champions League quarters

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It’s so easy now, after witnessing what became a route in Catalonia, to wonder why we ever doubted Barcelona, but we had good reason to think Milan would hold the two-goal lead they carried into today’s Champions League eliminator. Nobody had ever squandered that kind of a league. But perhaps more importantly, recent losses to Milan and Real Madrid (twice) provided hints Barcelona’s attack had been figured out, with good teams able to sit back and absorb the Catalans’ attack rather than waste time chasing tikis and takas.

We had every reason to think Barcelona would bow out of Champions League, but their 4-0 win (4-2, aggregate) reminded us, Milan, and the European soccer world that there’s one aspect of Barcelona’s attack that defies solution. The only options you have against Lionel Messi are containment, hope, and prayer that he doesn’t decide to do something special.

Three weeks ago at the San Siro, those options worked, but it only took five minutes for Messi to make his mark on Tuesday, the first touch on a shot from 19 yards placed immaculately into Christian Abbati’s upper-right hand corner. The ball left Messi’s foot so quickly, Milan’s defense was left frozen as the ball buckled the back of the net.

(MORE: Highlights of Messi’s brilliant opener.)

Messi added his second five minutes before half, a score produced by a Barcelona defense that was much more disruptive on Tuesday than it had been three weeks ago. In the 40th minute, as Milan attempted to transition the ball out of their final third, Andrés Iniesta forced a turnover, found Messi outside the area to the right of goal, and set up the Argentine for the equalizer. Using the lunging Philippe Mexes as a screen, Messi beat Abbiati well inside the right post, sending the matchup into halftime tied at two.

Ten minutes into the second, Barcelona’s defense created the winner, with a bold read from Javier Mascherano again disrupting Milan’s transition. The Barça defender intercepted a clearance and started a short movement that ended at the feet of David Villa. Open 15 yards out to the right of goal, Villa calmly passed the ball into the left side netting, putting Barcelona in front.

Milan’s approach was never one to play from behind. Despite three subs that changed their side, the Rossoneri couldn’t gain control of the match. The closest they came to an equalizer was a late cross for Robinho, a ball that was cut out by Jordi Alba before Victor Valdes’s help was needed.

In the 93rd minute, Alba got his reward, sprinting the length of the field to complete a counter that sealed Barcelona’s place in the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Galatasaray compounds Schalke’s season of contradictions)

With the win, Barcelona became the first team to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit and advance in the Champions League, a fact that should haunt a Milan side that couldn’t muster the resiliency they leveraged three weeks ago. The Italians never posed the same threat on the counter, and the space between their midfield three and central defense proved easier to exploit. Perhaps it was too much to ask them to maintain the same standard they performed to in Milan.

And perhaps it was too much to ask them to stop Messi twice in a row. In Italy, the Ballon d’Or winner was surprisingly ineffectual. In Spain, he defined the match in the same way we expect him to define any match he starts.

Villa may have got the winner, and Alba may have provided the insurance, but it was Messi who steered his side to history. Maybe we were wrong to doubt.

Preview: New-look teams collide as Man City host Everton

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Manchester City welcome Everton to the Etihad Stadium on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with two Barcelona legends colliding on the sidelines.

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Both Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman have spent big this summer to rebuild their respective teams and both Man City and Everton secured shutout wins on opening weekend.

For City it has been all about strengthening their defense with Kyle Walker, Ederson, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo all arriving this summer. Everton have added Gylfi Sigurdssson, Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez to share around the goalscoring responsibility after Romelu Lukaku‘s departure.

In team news Man City have both Ilkay Gundogan and Mendy fit, while Everton will be without Ross Barkley who is recovering from a groin injury ahead of his expected departure from the Toffees in the next 10 days. New club-record signing Sigurdsson will play at Man City, Koeman confirmed.

What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola

Ronald Koeman

Prediction

Expect an open, entertaining game with City doing most of the pressing. Everton will take a while to click in attack, while City have no problem in that department. 2-0 to Man City.

Neymar slams Barcelona; Mbappe kicked out of Monaco training

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It is all happening in Ligue 1.

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Fresh from dazzling on his home debut for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday Neymar — he scored twice, had two assists and generally pulled of some ridiculous skill, especially for his second goal — has launched a scathing attack on those in charge of Barcelona.

Speaking to reporters after the game the Brazilian superstar, who joined PSG from Barca in a world-record $262 million 10 days ago, revealed that many of his former teammates are not happy with the way the Catalan club is being run.

“I spent four beautiful years there and parted happy But with them [the board], no. For me, they are not the people who should be there, for the direction of Barca. Barca deserve much better,” Neymar said. “I cannot speak now I am in another team. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I see my old team-mates sad, and it’s that which makes me sad because I have a lot of friends there. I hope that things will improve for Barca and that they will become a team that can rival others.”

Intriguing from Neymar, especially with reports Lionel Messi’s representatives are set to meet with Manchester City as the 30-year-old has yet to officially sign a new contract.


Down at Monaco 18-year-old star Kylian Mbappe is in a bit of trouble.

Mbappe, rumored to be heading to Real Madrid or PSG in a huge $210 million deal, was kicked off the training field after clashing with teammate Andrea Raggi in training last week.

The French international striker was sent home from training and did not feature in their victory over Metz last Friday.

Mbappe has yet to play in Ligue 1 with his future with the French champions in jeopardy and although Real Madrid remain interested, PSG are the frontrunners to sign Mbappe.

It seems like incidents such as this could speed up any potential move with the teenager set to become the second-most expensive player in history.

Report: Barcelona give up on Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho

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Some of the latest reports from Spain suggest Barcelona have given up hope of signing Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool in the summer transfer window.

[ MORE: Liverpool beat Palace

Spanish outlet Marca claims that Barca offered an ultimatum when it came to their latest bid of $145 million (reports claim it was rejected) for Coutinho and have yet to hear back from Liverpool.

Per the report Barca have turned their attentions to Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri who can slot in alongside new signing Paulinho in central midfield and is more likely to cost around $35 million.

With Coutinho, 25, handing in a transfer request he has yet to appear for Liverpool this season in the Premier League or UEFA Champions League. The Brazilian playmaker is said to be suffering from a back injury and is therefore unavailable for selection, but given the fact he’s still at Anfield 10 days before the window, a change in his situation seems imminent.

Of course, a lot can happen in 10 days and this could purely be a pressure tactic from Barcelona to force through the move.

Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), issued a statement on the eve of the new Premier League season saying he would not be sold in this window and Jurgen Klopp has repeatedly said the same.

However, with Coutinho wanting out, this is a tricky situation for Liverpool, like many other PL clubs, to handle.

Look around the PL at Virgil Van Dijk, Alexis Sanchez, Ross Barkley and the summer-long saga involving Gylfi Sigurdsson. Most clubs know they will earn plenty of cash for selling their star players but most are digging their heels in and would rather keep an unhappy player around than sell.

It seems like Liverpool fall into this category when it comes to Coutinho. Does Klopp keep an unhappy player around and turn down a hugely inflated fee due to Barcelona selling Neymar for $262 million? Or does he cash in and bring in two to three new stars?

Whatever happens it appears the end-game is approaching fast and with 10 days to go until the window closes, Liverpool will not want to lose Coutinho right at the end of the window with no time to bring in replacements.

Dempsey’s last-second PK lifts Sounders past Minnesota

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SEATTLE (AP) Clint Dempsey converted a penalty kick in the final seconds of stoppage time on Sunday night, lifting the Seattle Sounders to a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United.

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A corner kick by Seattle’s Joevin Jones floated into the penalty area, and Minnesota’s Jermaine Taylor was called for a hand ball in a scrum of players battling for possession. Dempsey stepped up and drilled his kick to the right side past Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the fourth minute of stoppage.

Dempsey’s goal was his 11th of the year.

Referee Ismail Elfath blew the final whistle as soon as Minnesota kicked off.

Chad Marshall also scored for the Sounders (11-7-7), who tied a club record by extending their unbeaten streak to nine games (6-0-3). The team had an identical 6-0-3 mark from May 28-July 16, 2011.

Seattle was forced to rally after its club-record shutout streak ended at 421 minutes on a goal by Minnesota’s Ethan Finlay in the 21st minute.

The Loons (6-14-4, 22 points) are still looking for their first road win of the season. They are 0-8-2 away from Minneapolis.