With Lionel Messi out injured, Cesc Fabregas must step up against Celtic

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One the most incredible things about Lionel Messi – and yes, the list is quite long – is how healthy he has kept himself throughout his career.

Never a major injury, only little knocks and annoyances that have kept him sidelined for no longer than a few weeks.

Which is the unique position he finds himself in right now, sidelined for two to three weeks with a thigh muscle issue suffered in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Almeria.

So with Barcelona in Glasgow today for their Champions League match at Celtic – who will step up for the Blaugrana in Messi’s absence?

According to Cesc Fabregas, it is a shared burden.

“Messi is the best player in the world, he makes the difference in games, but he is not here and we cannot do anything about that,” Fabregas said. “Without Messi we must take responsibility as he is the player who scores more goals, makes more assists. When he is not there, everyone else must take a step forward, above all in attack.”

source: Reuters
With Lionel Messi out with a thigh injury, Cesc Fabregas will be expected to produce in the false nine role.

In reality, it’s Fabregas who bears the biggest responsibility as he’s most likely to step into the false-nine role typically occupied by Messi.

Fabregas has enjoyed a solid opening to the season, starting all but one of Barcelona’s six league games as well as their 4-0 Champions League victory over Ajax.

From his role in the midfield three, Fabregas has scored only once in La Liga but has managed an impressive six assists. Typically deployed behind a front three of Messi, Neymar and Pedro, Fabregas has shined in the deep playmaker role.

But today Fabregas must play higher up the pitch, in a role that requires him to act as a more goal-oriented player. It’s a position he’s not unaccustomed to playing, having featured there in the past for both Spain and Barcelona.

The difference this time around is that Fabregas has the support of one of a goalscoring new-boy to the UEFA Champions League scene, Neymar.

“Ney is a very talented player, very quick in small spaces, who can easily get away from defenders,” Fabregas said. “He is a star in the making, he already is a star, but he will have a big say in the future of football.

“In the future we will speak of him as one of the greats. I do not see him worried by the pressure, which is very important for a young player. [Celtic] will sit back, with lots of players behind the ball, so he will be an important player for us.”

Fabregas is well aware of Celtic’s staunch defensive and counter-attacking approach as the Scottish champions defeated Barcelona 2-1 in the same fixture last season. Goals by Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt set Celtic Park rocking and the improbable victory carried Neil Lennon’s side through to the Round of 16.

It was a night that Fabregas & Co. haven’t forgotten. “We know that playing at Celtic Park is always a difficult game, it does matter who is playing, they always make it very tough for us,” he said.

Celtic and Barcelona kick-off today at 2:45pm ET on Fox Sports 1.

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?