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.

VIDEO: James Corden becomes Arsenal’s new coach… for the day

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Arsene Wenger is celebrating his 20th anniversary in charge at Arsenal this week, but there’s a new guy on the block.

[ MORE: Pulisic in dreamland ]

In this hilarious video, British comedian James Corden takes the Arsenal squad on a tour of LA and leads a training session with Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin front and center as they work on psychology, teamwork and goal celebrations.

Corden, the host of the “Late, Late Show with James Corden” on CBS, filmed the piece during Arsenal’s preseason tour of the USA this summer as they played against the MLS All-Stars in San Jose, California before heading down to LA to face Chivas Guadalajara at the StubHub Center.

Judging by Corden’s performance though, I don’t think Wenger has much to worry about…

And don’t forget, you can watch the special Premier League Download episode “Inside the mind of Arsene Wenger” on NBCSN this Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN as Roger Bennett sits down with Wenger one-on-one to discuss his two decades leading the Gunners.

Mourinho sticks up for Allardyce after England humiliation

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04:  (L-R) Opposing managers Jose Mourinho the manager of Chelsea and Sam Allardyce the West Ham manager greet each other prior to kickoff during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham and Chelsea at the Boleyn Ground on March 4, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is standing by Sam Allardyce.

[ MORE: Pulisic in dreamland ]

On Wednesday Manchester United’s manager was asked about Allardyce’s shocking exit as England manager after just 67 days in charge.

Following an undercover investigation by The Telegraph in the UK which showed the veteran coach talking about ways to circumvent the FA’s rules on third-party ownership (TPO) of players, Allardyce agreed to leave the Three Lions after just one game in charge.

[ MORE: Allardyce: “Entrapment has won” ]

Despite some words against each other in the past, Mourinho spoke glowingly about Allardyce and stood by the Englishman despite his disgrace.

“The only thing I can say that I like Sam. I feel sorry for that because I know that was the dream job and I feel very sorry for it. The second thing I can say is that what happened obviously is not going to interfere in any way with my relation with him. I like him. I respected him before and that is not going to change,” Mourinho said. “The third thing is that this is between him and the Football Association. I have nothing to say about it, really.”

Right now, Allardyce needs all the friends he can get as he faces potential action from the FA over his comments as the investigation continues regarding any involvement he made have had with TPO’s, agents and beyond.

USMNT Pulisic on assist vs. Real Madrid: “There’s no better feeling”

Real Madrid's Luka Modric, left, and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic challenge for the ball during the Champions League group F soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid in Dortmund, Germany, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Christian Pulisic continued his fairytale rise up through the ranks of the soccer world on Tuesday as the 18-year-old jumped off the bench and notched a crucial assist as Borussia Dortmund scored a late equalizer in the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid.

[ MORE: UCL  roundup ]

Trailing the reigning European champions heading into the final few minutes at home in their Group F game, Pulisic picked up the ball on the right flank (see video below) and drove towards Real’s defense. He then clipped a dangerous ball to the back post which eventually found Andre Schurrle who rifled home. Dortmund’s fans went nuts and so did Pulisic.

The U.S. national team attacker has now made five appearances in all competitions for Dortmund this season, scoring once, and the Hershey, Pennsylvania native revealed what it felt like to play against Real in a huge UCL game at the Westfalenstadion.

Speaking to TV cameras after the game, Pulisic was still on a high from his game-changing assist in just his second Champions League appearance.

“It was an amazing game to come into, especially because the level was so high. It was an intense game, so I was just excited to get in there and show what I could do and try to help the team,” Pulisic. “Yeah [the goal] was amazing, I mean what a goal to score in that moment in that in front of the home fans. It was amazing for both of us, for everyone.”

Pulisic also revealed his pride as his stellar start to the new season continues.

“There’s no better feeling. Playing in the Champions League is a whole other sense of pride and it is amazing,” Pulisic said. “You always watch it as a kid and coming on in such a big game, it is incredible. I can’t describe it.”

The rising star of U.S. Soccer did describe what it was like to be playing and making an impact at the elite level in Europe and he hopes to stay there for a very long time.

“That’s the goal when you want to play professional soccer, you want to get to the highest level you can and that’s how you get better,” Pulisic said. “At such a young age I want to keep playing at the highest level so I can improve more and more and become the best player I can be.”

Ahead of the USA’s friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand coming up, Pulisic’s star continues to rise and there’s no doubt that when the Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying kicks off in November that he’ll be a crucial part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans.

Safe to say that will likely be the case for many years to come as we simply have never seen a young U.S. player making such a significant impact on such a big stage at such a tender age.

Allardyce on losing England job: “Entrapment has won”

BOLTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Former England manager Sam Allardyce leaves his family home on September 28, 2016 in Bolton, England. Allardyce left his position as the national football manager after only one match in charge following allegations made by a national newspaper. (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
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The fallout from Sam Allardyce‘s shocking departure as England’s manager continues.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Allardyce ]

After being caught in a “sting” operation by undercover journalists discussing how to get around FA rules regarding third-party ownership of players, plus criticizing his employers, former England manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant Gary Neville.

Following lengthy meetings on Tuesday at Wembley Stadium, Allardyce, 61, agreed to leave his “dream job” as England’s manager after just 67 days and one game in charge.

Speaking to Sky Sports news he said the meeting where undercover footage of him discussing how to circumvent FA rules was filmed, was a favor to a close friend, agent Scott McGarvey.

Allardyce spoke to a large group of journalists on Wednesday morning outside his him before flying out of the county to “chill out and reflect” on a hugely damaging 24 hours for the veteran coach.

“On reflection it was a silly thing to do. I was trying to help out someone I’d known for 30 years. Unfortunately it was an error of judgement on my behalf, I’ve paid the consequences. Entrapment has won on this occasion and I have to accept that. The agreement was done very amicably with The FA and I apologize to those and all concerned in the unfortunate situation I’ve put myself in.”

Asked if this would be the end of his managerial career in the game, Allardyce didn’t seem too hopeful. “Who knows. We will wait and see,” Allardyce said.

The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Bolton manager lives in hope and he previously told Sky Sports he is “not a quitter” and hopes to get another job, but it is tough to see Allardyce returning to the game as a manager at the elite level in England ever again.

There is also the threat that Allardyce could face further action over his comments, with the FA waiting on the full transcripts from The Telegraph to decide if the matter will be taken further and if he broke any rules.

Yes, Allardyce only suggested he knew ways around transfer rules via agents and he wasn’t paid by the fictitious businessmen played by undercover journalists, despite agreeing  fee of over $518,000, but the fact of the matter is he obviously knows people who are up to no good in the game and the FA may well use his information to try and stamp out any kind of corruption.

It’s been a sad few days for Allardyce and for English soccer as the national team is without a manager after a shocking and quite unbelievable demise for Big Sam.