Lionel Messi injury leaves PSG-Barcelona result open to interpretation


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.

Social media reacts to Jamie Vardy’s Premier League history-making goal

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The Internet exploded at around 12:50 p.m. ET on Saturday after Jamie Vardy — yes, Jamie Vardy — broke Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record for most consecutive games with a goal.

[ WATCH: The goal | The game — Leicester City vs. Manchester United ]

Yes, an Englishman is back atop the charts. An Englishman who was playing for Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town before heading to Leicester.

He’s perhaps the reminder, as Rio Ferdinand Tweeted below, that the most unlikely of scenarios is still not impossible.

Well done @vardy7! You're number one now and you deserved it. #11inarow.

A photo posted by Ruud van Nistelrooy (@rvnistelrooy) on

VIDEO: Vardy sets Premier League record, scores in 11-straight games

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He did it. He actually did it.

Jamie Vardy made Premier League history on Saturday, scoring for the 11th consecutive game to become the first player in history to achieve that magnificent feat.

[ MORE: Twitter reacts to Vardy ]

Tied with Manchester United legend Ruud van Nistelrooy heading into Leicester’s clash against United on Saturday, it took Vardy just 24 minutes to set the new record as Christian Fuchs played a delicate ball in-behind United’s defense and Vardy did the rest.

[ MORE: Can Vardy, Leicester achieve unthinkable? ]

Watch the video below to see the King Power Stadium erupt as a truly memorable moment arrived.

Now, the next record for Vardy to break is from the 1931-32 English top-flight season, before the PL was formed. Sheffield United’s Jimmy Dunne scored in 12-straight games way back then.

Anyway, congratulations Mr. Vardy for making PL history.

WATCH: Insane finish as Everton, Bournemouth trade stoppage time goals

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This was an all-timer.

Bournemouth came back from a 2-0 halftime deficit only to watch Ross Barkley hand Everton a one-goal lead with a score in the final minute of stoppage time.

[ MATCH RECAP: Bournemouth 3-3 Everton ]

But after fans were cleared from the field, Junior Stanislas provided the dramatic answer for Bournemouth to force a 3-3 draw at Dean Court.

Pardew: “I don’t want to say a lot about” Newcastle after thumping his old employer

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 08:  Alan Pardew, Manager of Crystal Palace celebrates towards the fans following the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Crystal Palace at Anfield on November 8, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew tried hard not to throw shade on his former side, or at least put in a post-match press conference that choked down his passive aggression.

The Eagles thumped Newcastle United 5-1 on Saturday at Selhurst Park behind braces from Yannick Bolasie and James McArthur, as well as a tally from Wilfried Zaha.

[ MATCH RECAP: Crystal Palace 5-1 Newcastle United ]

And the former Newcastle boss held back, mostly, from further embarrassing his old side, instead heralding the starring role of former Sunderland forward Connor Wickham, who put in a Team of the Week performance despite not scoring himself.

“We caused problems everywhere,” Pardew said. “Connor Wickham gave a centre forward’s performance we always hoped he would. We were irresistible today.”

“We are sixth in the division because we are a good team, it was not about the opposition today. I have a lot of friends and family at Newcastle but I don’t want to say a lot about them because I get criticised whatever I say.”

Newcastle, for its part, was mostly useless after scoring early on a classy chip pass from Daryl Janmaat to Papiss Cisse. Could Steve McClaren be fired after just 14 games in charge? Newcastle’s 19th place status says it wouldn’t be unfair.

And after losing to Sunderland last week, Pardew doubled-down on his status as a Newcastle plague in the Northeast.