AC Milan, FC Barcelona play to 1-1 Champions League draw at the San Siro

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When Champions League group stage is said and done in December, both Barcelona and AC Milan seem likely to find their way into the tournament’s elimination rounds.

But that doesn’t make the latest meeting of these European giants any less interesting. (And these sides do seem to be in UEFA opposition quite often, don’t they? This was their seventh meeting in recent seasons.)

Both teams remain unbeaten in Group H after their 1-1 draw Tuesday at the San Siro.

Leo Messi was back on the field after his recent injury struggles, but talented Milan troublemaker Mario Balotelli was on the bench to start this at the fabled San Siro. Never mind that for the Italians, who spent the early minutes Tuesday looking like a better version of the club that has struggled to impress this year in Serie A.

They looked dangerous early, and what a big mess Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano made in dealing with one rather benign, bouncing ball into their half, both players failing to communicate or take charge. (Carles Puyol, just cleared to play, can’t get back quickly enough for the Blaugrana.)

From there, Barcelona’s scrambling center backs were in big trouble as Kaka and Robinho went quickly to work, keeping ahead of the desperately pursuing pair of Barca defenders and tucking away a deserved 1-0 lead after just seven minutes. Robinho had the goal.

Milan blew it similarly in the 24th minute as Cristian Zapata fumbled away possession in midfield. Andres Iniesta pounced as ferociously and effectively as we should expect from the exceptional Spanish world champion, quickly finding the peerless Messi along the right. Once Milan’s Zapata had lost the ball, so quick was Barca’s movement forward and the telling pass into Messi, the world’s best player was left unmarked, utterly alone to sweep in on goal.

Messi seemed almost to lose the opportunity as he moved quickly in on goal, but then gained his balance just enough to record his personal Champions League goal No. 63, one closer in his pursuit of Raul’s all-time tournament record.

Still, Messi was far from his best; the Argentinian striker is had played just 20 minutes (just last weekend) since sustaining a September thigh injury sustained against Almeria. So those signature Messi bursts arrived only on occasion, unfortunate for the visitors, who would surely have liked to have tested young Milan backup goalkeeper Marco Amelia.

The second half was lots of Barca possession with just a scattering of chances on either side. Messi’s pass into the galloping Adriano gave Barca the best of three good chances after the break.

Milan’s best chance after the break: Robinho’s curious decision to let a ball roll through the penalty area (Or did he badly misplay a centering pass?) robbed the home side of a potential go-ahead goal in the 51st minute.

(At least we noticed Robinho. The other famous Brazilian in this one, Barca’s recently arrived Neymar, still hunting his debut Champions League goal, was seldom heard from Tuesday at the San Siro.)

Otherwise, Milan’s attack went meek. Mario Balotelli’s 65th minute introduction did add just a smidge of punch, but only briefly. In fact, all of Barca’s possession quieted the crowd and left the San Siro in an odd hush for most of the second half.

Tuesday’s lineups:

AC MILAN: Marco Amelia; Ignazio Abate, Cristián Zapata, Philippe Mexès, Kévin Constant; Nigel de Jong, Sulley Muntari, Riccardo Montolivo; Valter Birsa, Robinho, Kaká

Substitutes: Ferdinando Coppola, Matías Silvestre, Andrea Poli, Antonio Nocerino, Urby Emanuelson, Alessandro Matri, Mario Balotelli

FC BARCELONA: Victor Valdés; Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta; Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi, Neymar.

Substitutes: Jose Manuel Pinto, Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro, Cristian Tello

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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