Neymar’s first goal, Messi’s new injury highlight Spanish Super Cup draw

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Barcelona started the season with a six-goal first half at the Nou Camp, going on to beat Levante, 7-0. They’re 45 minutes that now stand in stark contrast to tonight’s first half at the Vicente Calderon – the start of Spanish Super Cup.

Through the first half of the two-leg match, Atlético Madrid (last year’s Copa deal Rey champions) hounded Barcelona to the edge of distinction. The defending Spanish champions failed to put a shot on goal as Atlético, thanks to a 12th minute goal from former Blaugrana David Villa, took a 1-0 lead into halftime.

But the deficit was the least of Barcelona’s halftime worries. Lionel Messi, who scored twice in his team’s opening weekend victory, was brought off for Cesc Fabregas at the beginning of the second, a thigh injury picked up in the first half preventing the four-time Balon d’Or-winner from continuing.

Half-way through the second period, Barcelona finally started stressing the Atlético defense, with Neymar (brought on at the hour mark) scoring his first goal for the club in the 66th minute. On a cross from Dani Alves, Neymar was left unmarked at the far post, heading down and past Thibaut Courtois for Barcelona’s only goal:

Barcelona take the 1-1 result back to the Nou Camp for next week’s second leg. In between, they travel to Andalusia to take on Málaga. In the mean time, Atlético will host fellow Madrid club Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

Despite the competitive match at the Vicente Calderon, with the result of the tie still very much in doubt, the talking points out of today’s game will center on Barcelona’s change of fortune, Messi’s injury, and …:

  • What happened between Sunday’s rout and Wednesday’s struggles? Likely, nothing. Levante are just bad. On the road against a much higher caliber opponent, Barcelona’s results were always going to regress, and while most may have them winning today’s game, there’s no shame in drawing against last year’s third place finisher. The bigger concern will be a first half in which Atlético appeared to be the much more inspired side.
  • Messi’s injury will spark memories of last year, when his spring was hindered by a hamstring problem. It’s not that today’s injury is related; rather, it will rekindle nightmares of how different Barcelona were without him. Their 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in UEFA Champions League’s semifinals spoke to the dependence Barcelona’s developed on their star. Perhaps Neymar can change that, but still unable to go 90 minutes, it’s too early to be relying on the Brazilian for anything . Today’s goal was a bonus.
  • Finally, those kits. Barcelona were with a yellow and red vertical stripes, a look I’d never seen before. Kit Nerds may have known this was coming; if so, I really wish they would have warned us. We don’t need to see this look again.

 

Timbers send Nagbe to Atlanta for allocation money

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have traded midfielder Darlington Nagbe to Atlanta United in exchange for $1.65 million in allocation money.

Portland is also sending defender Gbenga Arokoyo to Atlanta and receiving a 2018 international spot as part of the trade.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

Nagbe, who has become a regular on the U.S. national team, has been with the Timbers since the team joined MLS in 2011. He was selected with the second overall pick in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.

He has 27 goals and 30 assists in 214 matches with the Timbers. His goals are the second-most since the team joined MLS.

“Thank you, Portland, and everyone that supported my family and me the past seven years,” he said in a statement released by the Timbers.

Nagbe, 27, has 24 appearances with the national team and one goal.

Wenger says schedule congestion catching up to Arsenal

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Much like their 3-1 loss to Manchester United, Arsenal dominated the chances but couldn’t find the back of the net enough to get three points.

Unlike that Red Devils defeat, however, the Gunners were stout at the back against a lively West Ham United and picked up an away point from a nil-nil draw on Wednesday.

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-0 Arsenal ]

Wenger was content enough with the result, as he continued to be in the chorus of managers who lament the congested Premier League schedule around the holidays. From the BBC:

“We had so much of the ball, but it was very frustrating because we could even have lost it at the end. They’re happy to defend, they did that against Chelsea and Manchester City, so we couldn’t find the opening and the few chances we had we missed.

“When you play every three days, you lose your sharpness.”

That’s true, and to his credit Wenger didn’t try to say West Ham had one day’s more rest (which they did). As Man City runs away with the league and Manchester United doesn’t look fit to drop back to the back, the race for the final two Top Four spots is as congested as the schedule. Arsenal needs to turn some of its shot-heavy performances into goal-heavy cruises sometime soon.

Mourinho: Derby defeat didn’t help, but United overcame fatigue

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Jose Mourinho said the Manchester Derby nearly caught up to his men in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth at Old Trafford.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Bournemouth ]

The Manchester United manager says that’s not on account of emotions or let down, but simply the volume of matches his Red Devils have played and the extra rest afford the visitors.

Romelu Lukaku climbed Nathan Ake to find United its opener, and the hosts were defending plenty in the second half. But United was able to endure on a soggy night at home, and maintain its place second on the Premier League table.

From the BBC:

“Fatigue, yes, but hangover – no. The game was a big one, and a defeat does not help in your recovery – victories help, defeats don’t. They were difficult opponents and difficult conditions. If we had scored the second it would have been a calm night for us.”

That said, this felt like one of the matches United would’ve drawn last season, and Lukaku was a difference maker as were David De Gea and Phil Jones at the back.

And Mourinho would not mail in the title race despite Man City’s 11-point advantage and continued league dominance.

“It is only over in May, if it is over now I go on holiday to Brazil or Los Angeles.”

Guardiola lauds Man City after record 15th straight win

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Pep Guardiola is breaking records pretty much every time Manchester City step onto the pitch right now.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

On Wednesday they set a new Premier League and English top-flight record for the most consecutive wins in history, with City winning 4-0 away at Swansea to seal their 15th-straight win and stay 11 points clear of the table.

City beat Arsenal’s previous record of 14-straight wins in the Premier League from February to August 2002, and now they remain unbeaten with 17 games of the season gone.

Guardiola now holds the record for most consecutive wins in the top-flight of Spanish, German and English soccer with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City respectively. He’s a machine and he’s turned Man City into one.

Speaking to the BBC after beat Swansea, Guardiola was delighted with the win, especially coming so soon after the energy-sapping Manchester derby win at Manchester United on Sunday.

“Considering we have a lot of games in our legs, a demanding game at Old Trafford three days ago, we were solid, we were serious and we made a good performance,” Guardiola said. “You suffer and enjoy, like a manager you see many things. When the team play good we are happy. Our feeling – we understand what we want to do. We play good inside, outside. I’m so happy for David (Silva), we cannot disguise his quality but in the past he didn’t score too much goals. He’s sharp, he’s in an amazing condition.”

Man City’s manager rightly pointed towards David Silva‘s brilliance as the Spanish playmaker scored twice at Swansea and he’s now scored four times in his last three games, including a late winner against West Ham and setting City on their way to a win at United on Sunday.

With the record now in hand and Man City also stretching their club-record unbeaten run in the top-flight to 25 games, is there a risk his side will be complacent as the bookmakers have slashed their PL title odds to 1/25?

“That is not going to happen. We are so demanding for our players. We can lose, we can drop points but complacency, never happened in the past, the present or the future,” Guardiola said. “Winning 15 games in a row gives us a lot of confidence. If people are happy watching us that is the best gift.”

Ahead of the festive season, Man City are the gift which keep on giving and they have to be up their with the best teams English soccer has ever seen.

Less than halfway through the 2017-18 season they show no signs of slowing down and the Premier League title is simply theirs to lose.

More records will fall this season as an imperious, attacking unit has been fine-tuned by Guardiola. We are watching history being made in beautiful fashion.