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Champions League Preview: It’s PSG-Barcelona, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets to play

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Anytime Zlatan Ibrahimovic faces Barcelona, the main subplot will be about one of the world’s best players facing the team that rejected him. Though Barcelona shelled out what was eventually booked as a $100 million price to get the Swedish superstar from Inter Milan in July 2009, the Catalans shipped him back to Italy 13 months later in what stands as the biggest failure of the all-world striker’s career. Despite winning a title in Spain, Ibrahimovic ended the season in Pep Guardiola’s dog house, with Barcelona eventually taking 30 cents on the dollar to give AC Milan one of the world’s transcendent talents.

While with the Blaugrana, Ibrahimovic (right) collected 22 goals and 13 assists in 46 appearances, many of which failed to give the striker his customary 90 minutes. In the two-plus years that’ve following, Ibrahimovic has 87 goals and 36 assists across 122 appearances with Milan and his current team, Paris Saint-Germain.

With Guardiola having left Barcelona, much of the underlying conflict between player and club is gone. In the buildup to the teams’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, Ibrahimovic has shown the same respectful awe most opponents hold ahead of a match against what he calls “the best team in the world.” Nearly three season after his disappointing year in Spain, “Ibra” seems to have found peace with his rejection.

source:  What’s left amid Ibrahimovic’s continued brilliance and Barcelona’s inability (read: unwillingness) to utilize a traditional striker or an attacker with any aerial ability is incredulity. Chalk it up to an anomaly, bad timing, or a conflict of styles between “Ibra” and a fellow superstar (Lionel Messi) being converted to a through-the-middle player, but it’s still remarkable one of the world’s best clubs couldn’t make room for one of the planet’s defining talents. Generations from now, fans who won’t have the time to watch all of their games will ask why a Messi-Ibrahimovic tandem couldn’t be made to work.

But Barça’s loss has ultimately become the Parisians’ gain, with Ibrahimovic having moved to Ligue 1 this summer. His addition has allowed PSG to put last year’s disappointing second place finish behind them. Thanks to Ibra’s 25 league goals, PSG sits seven points clear in France. To put Ibrahimovic’s performance in perspective, last season’s Ligue 1 Player of the Year (Eden Hazard) had 20 goals over the entire season.

Clearly Ibra would be a threat to any team has faces, but with Barcelona’s best defender (Carles Puyol) out, he is a particular threat to his former team. With the Parisians presumably willing to sit back, absorb Barça’s pressure, and use Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura, and Ezequiel Lavezzi to hit them on the counter, Ibrahimovic could find himself isolated against Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano.

That puts the big Swede in a position to be decisive in a match he was supposed to miss. A harsh red card in PSG’s first game against Valencia originally had Ibrahimovic suspended for Tuesday’s game. After UEFA corrected the error, France’s best player is set to take on a side he still calls “without doubt, the best team in the world.”

(MORE: Too soon for Bayern-Juventus.)

Notes

  • In addition to Puyol’s absence, Barcelona should be without attacker Pedro Rodríguez. Cristian Tello will likely start up top.
  • Left back Jordi Alba will return to Barça’s XI. Eric Abidal, returning from last year’s liver transplant, is expected to make Barcelona’s 18.
  • And David Beckham? Yeah, he’ll be there, likely starting on PSG’s bench.
  • PSG is still without midfielder Thiago Motta. Marco Veratti will start along side Blaise Matuidi in Carlo Ancelotti’s midfield, though it would be interesting to see Thiago Silva, the team’s best defender, put into a midfield role that would allow him more freedom to track Lionel Messi. PSG could then start Alex and Mamadou Sakho in central defense.
  • Messi set another record this weekend, scoring in his 19th consecutive La Liga match. His seven goals in Champions League trail Burak Yilmaz and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have each scored eight times.
  • Paris Saint-Germain returns to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1995 when they eliminated Barcelona. That year’s semifinal appearance is the club’s best showing in Champions League.

Possible lineups

Paris Saint-Germain (4-4-2/4-2-2-2): Salvatore Sirigu; Maxwell, Thiago Silva, Alex, Gregory van der Wiel; Javier Pastore, Marco Veratti, Blaise Matuidi, Lucas Moura; Ezequiel Lavezzi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Barcelona (4-3-3): Víctor Valdés; Jordi Alba, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Piqué, Daniel Alves; Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández; David Villa, Lionel Messi, Cristian Tello.

Liverpool hires EA Sports executive as new CEO

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14:   President of Electronic Arts Sports (EA Sports) Peter Moore talks about new games at an EA press briefing ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) at the Orpheum Theater June 14, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The annual video game trade conference and show at the Los Angeles Convention center runs from June 15-17.  (Photo by Michal Czerwonka/Getty Images)
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Liverpool has named Peter Moore as the successor to chief executive office Ian Ayre.

Ayre, 53, is off to 1860 Munich this summer, and has stepped down early to allow Moore to take over.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops vs LCFC ]

A Liverpool-born executive, Moore was the chief operating officer at EA Sports and has also worked with Microsoft and SEGA.

The move “completes a transitional phase” which saw several new names join the fray. From The Liverpool Echo:

The appointment completes a transition plan by FSG which included appointing Michael Edwards as sporting director while Billy Hogan was promoted to the role of managing director and chief commercial officer.

Palmer-Brown heads U.S. U-20s to win over Mexico (video)

Erik Palmer-Brown
@ussoccer_ynt
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The United States U-20 men are on the precipice of the U-20 World Cup after beating Mexico 1-0 on Monday, scooping their first win against El Tri in 31 years.

Brooks Lennon continues to look the part for the U.S. ahead of his loan season from Liverpool to Real Salt Lake.

[ MORE: Liverpool flops again ]

The youngster sent in this free kick that Erik Palmer-Brown, himself a loan man at Porto from Sporting KC this year, headed into the Mexico goal courtesy of a back post defender who opted for his right leg over a decent clearing attempt.

The U.S. took that lead into halftime.

Things got chippy as the second half unfolded, with referee Melvin Matamoros turning a blind eye to a few clattering tackles.

Tab Ramos subbed NYCFC prospect Jonathan Lewis into the match, and he sprung a counterattack that should have put the match to bed. But Lewis’ through ball missed FC Dallas’ Coy Craft and the latter took too much time, frittering away the chance.

Shakespeare loves “fire in the belly” in Leicester win

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Craig Shakespeare, Caretaker Manager of Leicester City watches his side warm up prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 27, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Craig Shakespeare had a pretty strong opening bow as interim Leicester City boss, with the Foxes climbing out of the drop zone after a 3-1 defeat of Liverpool on Monday.

Now Leicester has to figure out, at least in the short-term, if Shakespeare is capable of more.

[ RECAP: Leicester 3-1 Liverpool ]

It’s not unusual for a club to respond to a manager change. Hull City was buoyed by some early season results and stuck with Mike Phelan in a move that didn’t work out well. Garry Monk was given the reigns of Swans soon after winning the South Wales Derby, and enjoyed a good reign in Swansea.

Here’s what Shakespeare had to say after Monday’s win, from the BBC. He sounds more Nigel Pearson than Claudio Ranieri.

“You could tell from the word go there was intensity and passion.

“All credit to the fans tonight. I think there was a worry in some quarters about how they would react but they were outstanding.

“The professionalism of the players has never been questioned by me. Having taken training with them, I know the criticism has hurt and perhaps there was a little more fire in the belly because of that.

“They know they are guilty of under performing but this is only one result and we must build on that.”

Leicester hosts Hull City next weekend, and then has 10 days before its UEFA Champions League second leg against Sevilla. Should Shakespeare be given the chance to make history?

Exasperated Klopp: “We were not physical enough” vs Leicester

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Liverpool players make their way back to the half way line after they let in their first goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 27, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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A desperate Leicester City battered Liverpool at the King Power Stadium on Monday, leaving Reds boss Jurgen Klopp to question how his side lost to another relegation candidate.

That’s four teams in the Bottom Seven to beat the Reds this season, and the fifth is 11th place Burnley.

[ RECAP: Leicester 3-1 Liverpool ]

Klopp said he could explain the loss in German, but the challenge of doing it in English was proving difficult.

“The language issues always come a little bit more when you have to explain defeats and it’s really difficult to find the right words. It was not an over aggressive game from Leicester. Even for this level we were not physical enough today.”

Liverpool did look soft without midfielder Jordan Henderson, and did have multiple midfielders in the back line with Lucas Leiva at center back and James Milner on the right.

But moreover, the players failed to follow some of Klopp’s guidelines. For example, Christian Fuchs was able to launch several of his big throws into the 18. One helped Leicester to a goal.

“We gave throw-ins away like we never spoke about it. It does not make much sense to give away 20 throw-ins to Fuchs from that position.”

It wasn’t good enough, and it’s baffling to see Liverpool this season. A club that took four of six points from Chelsea has lost to a quartet of relegation battlers. This isn’t good.