FC Barcelona v AC Milan - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

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.

Report: Manchester City makes final bid for John Stones

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and John Stones of Everton compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on January 16, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Take it or leave it.

Manchester City has made a final push for Everton defender John Stones, and has set its last offer at $52 million. Last month, the Citizens made the same exact bid for the 22-year-old, which was rejected by Everton.

[ MORE: Italian legend Christian Vieri looks to join Chinese Super League ]

City is said to be looking to avoid overpaying for Stones, after compensating Porto over $55 million for centerback Eliaquim Mangala two years ago.

While Stones has gone on record saying that he wants to play for manager Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium, it remains to be seen if Everton will part ways with its prized defender.

NASL weekend preview: Rayo OKC faces stiff test against Minnesota

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Following a midweek loss against FC Edmonton, the New York Cosmos will try to rebound at home against Puerto Rico FC.

The Cosmos currently have two losses during the Fall Season, having conceded 10 goals in six matches, which is the second-most in NASL.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview ]

With no unbeatens remaining, Spring Season champion Indy Eleven looks to keep its place near the top of the table against Miami FC.

Minnesota United looks to build off of its strong start against league leaders Rayo OKC, with the two teams separated by a mere two points.

Meanwhile, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers continue to search for their first win of the Fall Season against the struggling Jacksonville Armada.

Saturday

New York Cosmos vs. Puerto Rico FC

Ottawa Fury vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies

Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. Jacksonville Armada

Miami FC vs. Indy Eleven

Rayo OKC vs. Minnesota United

Sunday

FC Edmonton vs. Carolina RailHawks

Liverpool keeper Karius to miss two months

MEYRIN, SWITZERLAND - JULY 22:   Loris Karius of 1. FSV Mainz 05 in action during the pre-season friendly match between 1. FSV Mainz 05 and AS Monaco at Stade des Arberes on July 22, 2015 in Meyrin, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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He was tabbed to be Liverpool’s opening day starter in goal, but Loris Karius could now miss the first two months of the Premier League season after suffering a hand injury in Wednesday’s International Champions Cup loss against Chelsea.

[ MORE: Real looking at Sissoko, Verratti as midfield options ]

The 23-year-old was brought to the Reds this summer from Bundesliga side Mainz for over $6 million.

Karius opted not to represent Germany at next month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in order to avoid missing any game action with Liverpool. Unfortunately, the young keeper will now likely miss between eight and 10 weeks.

Italian legend Christian Vieri looks to make comeback

ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 19:  Christian Vieri poses with the UEFA Champions League Trophy during the UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour 2012/13 on October 19, 2012 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images for UEFA)
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His career ended over seven years ago, but former Italy international Christian Vieri is looking to make an improbable comeback in a country that continues to attract big stars.

The 43-year-old Vieri is reportedly coming out of retirement to join the Chinese Super League, and posted a video on Twitter confirming his plans.

Last playing in 2009, Vieri finished his career where it began — in Italy — with Atalanta. During his career, the striker played for 10 clubs in his native country, while also spending time in Spain and France with Atletico Madrid and Monaco, respectively.

Vieri made his name with Inter Milan, where he recorded six straight seasons with double-digit goals. At the height of his career with Internazionale, Vieri netted 27 times across all competitions during the 2002/03 season.