Barcelona v Paris St Germain - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final

Where they stand: Barcelona and the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals

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With UEFA Champions League quarterfinals over, it’s time to take inventory of what we’ve learned about the teams that comprise one of the more competitive semifinal quartets in recent memory. We start with Barcelona … because of the alphabet.

Borussia Dortmund needed the heroics, but based on final scores, Barcelona was the semifinalist closest to leaving the competition in the quarterfinal round. Thanks to a late Wednesday goal from Pedro Rodríguez, Barça makes their sixth straight semifinal (a tournament record), even though for most of the match at the Nou Camp, the Blaugrana were on the wrong end of scoring chances.

But Paris Saint-Germain are gone. So are the matchup problems and the array of the injury concerns that dogged Jordi Roura’s squad during the second leg. Now they can move on to the semifinals.

Here’s what we know:

  • Attack: While it’s becoming easier for top teams to contain Barcelona’s attack, there are still two worrisome elements. First, Messi’s best can’t be stopped, putting you at his mercy. Second, unless you’re Real Madrid, you have to concede a lot of possession to implement the plan that’s most likely to succeed. That’s a problem for Bayern, though Dortmund can try the counterattack-heavy approach that was so successful last year against München (even if they’ll miss Shinji Kagawa while doing so).
  • Defense: If Carles Puyol’s back for the semifinal, it will difficult to make any judgments from the quarters into the next round. If he isn’t, Gerard Piqué becomes even more important. He was strong over two legs against PSG, but against talented attacks in the semifinals, Javier Mascherano’s absence could be felt.
  • And beyond: Barcelona’s difficult to analyze because we’re used to possession being a strong harbinger of goals. But against the better teams in Europe, Barcelona’s possession represents a compromise. Teams are willing to concede a little more of the ball in exchange for security at the back knowing their counter attack’s bound to be their most dangerous weapon. While their dominance of the possession gives the impression Barcelona can determine their own destiny, this year may be the first in five where “the field” may be a better bet than the Blaugrana.
  • Preferred matchups: The one team Barcelona will want to avoid is Real Madrid, a team that’s slowly developed a team to beat Barça. Bayern Munich being Europe’s best (at the moment), Barça should hope to take their chances in a one-off against München while drawing Dortmund over two legs.
Where they stand …
Barcelona Bayern Munich Borussia Dortmund Real Madrid

Important dates

Friday, April 12 – Semifinal matchups drawn
Tuesday, April 23 – Leg one, semifinal one
Wednesday, April 24 – Leg one, semifinal two
Tuesday, April 30 – Leg two, semifinal two
Wednesday, May 1 – Leg two, semifinal one
Saturday, May 25 – Final (London)

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET