Lionel Messi injury leaves PSG-Barcelona result open to interpretation

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For the second straight round, Barcelona will return to Spain with more questions than answers. While today’s 90-minute score is far kinder to the Blaugrana than during their Round of 16 scare, today’s 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain comes with four ominous words: Lionel Messi is hurt.

The Barcelona star came off at halftime after putting his team up 1-0 in the 38th minute. The final moments of his day were spent near the sideline pushing at what appeared to be a right hamstring problem.

With Cesc Fábregas on in the second half, Barça and PSG looked destined to take the one-goal game back to Catalonia. Then a late rush of goals left the sides on even footing: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 78th minute goal fulled PSG even; a late Xavi Hernández penalty kick seemed to give Barcelona the win; but Blaise Matuidi’s stoppage time tally eventually provided PSG’s silver lining.

But until we know more about Messi’s injury, it’s impossible to put this result in context. If Messi can’t play eight days from now, Paris Saint-Germain are in great shape. True, they were drawn in their home leg and allowed two away goals, but for much of the match at the Parc de Princes, they seemed to be the better side. Messi’s opener against the run of play changed that dynamic, but with the teams even ahead of kickoff next Wednesday, PSG has reason to hope their plan can send them into the semifinals.

(MORE: Bayern worlds ahead of Juventus.)

Ancelotti’s plans go to waste

If Messi plays, however, that plan my prove as irrelevant as it was on Tuesday. So what if PSG were the better team over the first 38 minutes? Ezequiel Lavezzi’s shot off the woodwork in the fifth minute ultimately didn’t matter. Lucas Moura’s success down the right? Ibrahimovic’s 18th minute direct kick, forcing a diving stop from Víctor Valdes? Or the shot Ibrahimovic scuffed wide in the 25h after being set up eight yards?

source: APWith two pieces of gold in the 38th minute, Barcelona rendered all that insignificant. That’s when Daniel Alves, with the outside of this right foot, curled a ball over a defense pushing out from a corner kick. Messi sprinted by Moura and Javier Pastore, past a PSG defense that’d failed to reestablish its shape, and onto Alves’s ball. He drilled his left-footed volley into the ground, off Sirigu’s left post, and in for the opening goal.

As the teams went in for halftime, you couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the mind of Carlo Ancelotti, the PSG coach whose plan seemed so right from the get-go. His team was dropping very deep in defense, his back four willing to camp inside the penalty area long before Barcelona’s attack forced them to retreat. Ancelotti allowed his central defenders to come into midfield and challenge the withdrawn Messi, while the team’s counterattack was generating threat after threat with Moura on the right. Sometimes those threats resulted in shots on goal, other times they won free kicks that made the surprise selection of David Beckham seem prescient.

But just Lionel Messi can dominate a match (his Tuesday goal lifting his season total to a context-defying 59), the world’s best player can just as readily serve as an equalizer. For so many reasons, Paris Saint-Germain looked more likely to find the first goal, with Barcelona’s only hints of potential being Andrés Iniesta’s 20-plus-yard shots taken in front of a recoiling midfield. Yet with a sharp angle finish that did justice to the brilliant ball he was served, Messi’s moment of magic proved more valuable than 38 minutes from PSG’s 11 stars.

If it weren’t for Víctor Valdes’s work before the goal, Messi’s may not have been the opener. Defender Gerard Piqué was particularly strong, giving one of his better performances of the season. The near 70 percent possession Barça held during the first half also limited their exposure. And Alves’s pass? It was the best of the Champions League season.

But ultimately, it was Messi who made all that work pay off.

(MORE: Three goals in 15 minutes close PSG-Barça – Highlights)

source: Getty ImagesLate match explosion

Barça’s clean sheet was ruined in the 79th minute after being left to defend a restart without two defenders. Given how the ball was served, it’s unlikely Javier Mascherano or Jordi Alba (injured in the preceding sequence) could have helped when Thiago Silva provided the high point of his stand-out performance, uncoiling on a ball from 12 yards out. The resulting rebound off the left post came to Ibrahimovic, who pulled the Parisians even.

Barcelona regained their lead just before fulltime when Xavi Hernández converted from the spot, the penalty kick rewarded after a clumsy Sirigu takedown of Alexis Sanchez following a backheel from Fábregas. Yet minutes later, a ball knocked down by Ibrahimovic for Blaise Matuidi set up the midfielder for a deflected shot that beat Valdes.

The way PSG scored their goals will be particularly concerning to Barcelona. Defending aerial balls will always be a problem for them, but with Carles Puyol, it becomes a major liability. Silva’s play on the 79th minute restart came as Gerard Piqué and little else had to defend Silva, Alex, and Ibrahimovic. Then in stoppage time, a ball lofted from the right by Christophe Jallet allowed Ibrahimovic to set up Matuidi.

(MORE: Highlights of Bayern’s cruise past Juve.)

Just deserts and moving on

A sliver of controversy will follow the tie to Barcelona, with Ibrahimovic appearing to have been offside position ahead of his goal. Yet the result was no less than the Parisians deserved. While the teams played an even match after Messi’s opener, it was PSG that came out the better team with a superior plan. Had they broken through with one of their early chances, Barcelona would have been left to solve an often debilitating scenario: Breaking down a deep, tightly organized team with a group particularly ill-equipped to bust bunkers.

But thanks to Messi, Barcelona got on the board first, a fact that brings us full circle. Until we know Messi’s status for leg two, it’s impossible to assess the value of today’s result. If he’s healthy, Barcelona did well to get two goals in Paris. If he can’t go, they may be left wishing they’d got more than one score in the 45 minutes where they had their star.

Day Three: All the action from the U20 World Cup

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With the 2017 U-20 World Cup underway in South Korea, we can forgive you if you haven’t seen much of the action yet.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Due to the time difference most of the games kicking off in the wee hours (if you’re on the East Coast of the U.S.), so we thought we’d give you a chance to catch up on what you might have missed while you were sleeping.

Click on the link above for all the latest news from the U-20 World Cup, while below are video highlights from Monday’s four games as Groups E and F were in action.


Group E – France 3-0 Honduras

Group E – New Zealand 0-0 Vietnam 

Group F – Ecuador 3-3 USA 

Group F – Saudi Arabia 0-2 Senegal

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanchez to Bayern; Lukaku to Chelsea

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The Alexis Sanchez to Bayern Munich links continue with the Arsenal forward having just one year left on his contract and now Arsenal out of the UEFA Champions League for next season.

[ MORE: Kroenke speaks out ]

Sanchez’s international teammate, and Bayern Munich midfielder, Arturo Vidal has added further fuel to that fire.

Vidal spoke to Spanish outlet Sport and revealed he has been asked about Sanchez by the Bayern hierarchy and he wants the Chilean star to swap the Premier League for the Bundesliga.

“He is doing great at Arsenal but I think he needs to take an extra step to fight amongst the best in the world and that is why he has to come to the best team in the world. He would do great here,” Vidal is quoted as saying.

Would Bayern be a good fit for Sanchez? It would certainly be the preferred choice for Arsenal if they did have to sell him this summer.

The Gunners would be reluctant to sell to any of their Premier League rivals, so this could suit everyone. Of course they wouldn’t want to lose the man who scored 24 PL goals and added 10 assists this season, but the reality is stark for the Gunners.

Sanchez would surely slot in seamlessly with Bayern’s fluid attacking front three and as the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery enter the twilight of their careers, Sanchez could be the main man in Bavaria for the next three to four years. This move would also provide Sanchez with a return to UCL action, something Arsenal can no longer offer him.


Just one day after the season came to a close Romelu Lukaku is being heavily linked with a return to Chelsea.

The London Evening Standard reports that Chelsea have put Lukaku, 24, at the top of their summer wishlist and ahead of Alvaro Morata.

Lukaku has two years left on his current Everton deal but has refused to sign a new contract and the Belgian international is being chased by several of Europe’s top clubs. His 25 goals this season meant he was the second-highest goalscorer in the PL and as reports about Diego Costa‘s leaving Chelsea for China this summer continue, Lukaku would be the perfect replacement.

Everton boss Ronald Koeman has admitted that the Belgian forward will leave to go on and become a star at a giant club but the Toffees were perhaps hoping it would be for the 2018-19 season.

As for Lukaku, he may feel like he has some unfinished business at Chelsea after being loaned out to West Brom and Everton after joining Chelsea in 2011 for a fee rising to $25 million. He played just 15 times for Chelsea and failed to score.

With his power, pace and aerial ability, you have to think Lukaku would be perfect for Chelsea’s counterattacking style. That said, his hold-up play is the one thing holding him back and that’s where Costa excels.

Chelsea sold Lukaku to Everton in 2013 for $36 million and it is believed he would cost Chelsea over double that amount to buy him back. The Blues have bought back players they sold in the past with Nemanja Matic and David Luiz prime examples, but this deal to bring back Lukaku would be a huge admittance by Chelsea that they got this one wrong.

John Terry explains 26th minute exit; winning bets revealed

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John Terry was subbed out of his 717th and final appearance for Chelsea in the 26th minute of their 5-1 victory against Sunderland on Sunday.

[ MORE: Chelsea hungry for more glory ]

Chelsea’s legendary captain called an end to his 22-year career with the Blues and the 36-year-old is yet to announce if he will retire from the game this summer or continuing playing elsewhere.

There is plenty of controversy surrounding how his final moments on the pitch for Chelsea played out.

Despite coming off in the 26th minute (his shirt number is 26) with a guard of honor from his teammates, applause from the Sunderland players and a huge ovation from the supporters at Stamford Bridge, many believe this wasn’t the right way to do things.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the game, Terry revealed that he and Conte struck an agreement before the match and that it was his idea.

“I kind of negotiated with the manager to play 26 minutes and come off,” Terry said. “I think he wanted to get the boys that didn’t play on Monday night against Watford and give them a run-out. It was a compromise between the two of us.”

Following the planned farewell it has also been revealed that several UK bookmakers have paid out on bets on Terry being subbed out in the 26th minute. Odds of 100-1 were being offered on Terry coming off in the 26th minute and although it was technically the 28th minute by the time he walked off, bookmakers in the UK were still paying out.

As things stand the bets placed on Terry’s early exit will not be investigated by the soccer authorities.

The planned nature of this farewell has not sat well with plenty of soccer purists and those suggesting that Terry wanted to milk his farewell.

I understand those arguments but with Terry able to captain Chelsea for one final time, the man who led the Blues to five Premier League titles as skipper and also won 15 major trophies at the club should be the one to decide how he bows out.

Conte was fine for it as he got to rest Gary Cahill for nearly 30 minutes ahead of the FA Cup final. Chelsea’s fans loved it. Terry’s teammates loved it. And so did Terry.

He said farewell once and for all and this final game was all about two things for Chelsea: lifting the PL trophy at the end, and Terry saying goodbye. The result didn’t matter and no matter how you feel about Terry’s planned farewell, you have to accept it happened.

Stan Kroenke releases statement on Arsenal

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Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has issued a statement regarding his future ownership of the club.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

The American billionaire was at the center of fan unrest on Sunday as Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League, missing out on a top four finish for the first time in 21 seasons under Arsene Wenger.

Kroenke’s fellow Arsenal shareholder Alisher Usmanov (he owns 30 percent of the shares) last week offered over $1.3 billion for Kroenke’s 67 percent stake in the Gunners but Kroenke turned the bid down.

Now the company which also owns the LA Rams, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, have issued the following defiant statement.

“KSE UK, Inc notes the recent media speculation concerning its holding in Arsenal Holdings PLC and confirms that its shares are not, and never have been, for sale. KSE is a committed, long term investor in Arsenal and will remain so.”

That is about as definitive as it gets.

Kroenke will remain at Arsenal and until the situation regarding Wenger’s future, and that of star players Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez is sorted out, fans will continue to vent their anger at the American businessman.

With the Gunners preparing for Europa League action next season, the only thing which could save Kroenke and Co. from more unrest over the summer is if Arsenal beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Even that would only provide momentary respite before fans, former players and everyone else begins to look for answers to the bigger-picture questions on where Arsenal are heading on Kroenke’s leadership.

What a mess.