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.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

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Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

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Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.