Lionel Messi double leads Barcelona past Milan in UEFA Champions League

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Four games scoreless led to jokes that Lionel Messi had forgotten how to score, and while those observations were tongue-in-cheek, Messi still quieted on Wednesday. A first half score from the spot and an insurance tally late gave the Argentine star his first two goals of the competition, helping Barcelona to a 3-1 win over Milan at the Nou Camp.

Sergio Busquets doubled Barcelona’s lead in the 39th minute before a Gerard Piqué own goal pulled Milan within one at halftime. The home side’s stifling possession game, however, limited the Rossoneri to one shot on goal, with a 92 percent pass completion rate ensuring Milan would rarely see the ball.

The victory moves Barcelona to 10 points in Group H, five ahead of second place Milan. They can clinch first place with a win next match day at Ajax (Nov. 26). That result combined with a Milan win at Celtic would also put the Italians into the knockout round.

As characteristic of the teams’ three other meetings this year, Barcelona dictated the game, but whereas Milan often starts applying pressure at the edge of their defensive third, today they quickly regressed much deeper. With a defense setting up just inside the penalty box behind midfielders holding their ground at the arc, the visitors were providing little resistance for Barcelona’s midfield.

When they did create turnovers, Milan would quickly move down their left, through the place vacated by Dani Alves. The tactic would come good near halftime, but over the first 45 minutes, its main virtues were wasting time, giving their defense some rest, and allowing their lines to reset.

In the 30th minute, though, that deep block cost them, if controversially so. Barcelona’s midfield saw no pressure before lofting a ball behind the defense for Neymar. Cutting in from the left, the Brazilian attacker tried to get inside right back Ignazio Abate for his chance but was eventually ridden to ground. The 50-50 call went against Milan when referee Milorad Mazic pointed to the spot, setting up Messi to end his scoreless run.

Six minutes later, Barcelona fans were treated to a rare set piece goal, with a Xavi Hernandez inswinger from the right finding an unmarked Sergio Busquets eight yards out. The midfielder’s glancing header beat Christian Abbiati for what would become the game-winning goal.

Milan pulled one back before half time, again attacking down the left flank. Just before the byline, Kaká tried to send a ball into the six-yard box, but an attempted block from Gerard Piqué deflected the pass into his own net, Victór Valdés jumping away from goal trying to play the cross that never came. Milan went into halftime down one.

In an often dull second half, Barcelona chose patience over pursuit, keeping the ball high while daring Milan to chose their one-goal deficit.

Eventually, Milan’s defense broke down. In the 83rd minute, Messi was allowed to play a one-two with Cesc Fábregas at the edge of the Milan area. Chipping over Abbiati as the Milan keeper came to challenge, Messi converted for his day’s second goal, giving Barcelona a 3-1 win.

It was a typical Barcelona performance, one that ended in a predictable win, but the news was not all bad for Milan. Thanks to Ajax’s win in Amsterdam over Celtic, the Rossoneri maintained second place in Group H, staying one-point clear of the Dutch champions. Win their next two, and Milan’s still going into the knockout round.

Scoring

Barcelona: 30′ (p.k.), 83′, Lionel Messi, 36′ Sergio Busquets

Milan: 45′ Piqué (o.g.)

Lineups

Barcelona: Victor Valdes; Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Adriano; Sergio Buquest, Xavi Hernández (88′ Alex Song), Andrés Iniesta (78′ Cesc Fábregas); Alexei Sánchez, Lionel Messi, Neymar (85′ Pedro)

Unused subs: Marc Martra, Pinto, Cristian Tello, Martín Montoya

Milan: Christian Abbiati; Ignzaio Abte, Cristian Zapata, Philippe Mexes, Urby Emanuelson; Andrea Poli (74′ Valter Birsa), Nigel de Jong, Ricardo Montovilo, Sulley Muntari; Kaká (84′ Alessandro Matri); Robinho (45′ Mario Balotelli)

Unused subs: 

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Spurs clash in early London derby

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Manchester United continued its strong early-season impression on the Premier League on Saturday, but Sunday’s slate of matches features two of last year’s elite meeting at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man United runs rampant on Swansea in victory ]

Tottenham and Chelsea will clash in their first London derby of 2017/18 at the historic ground, while a meeting between two promotion sides precedes the encounter.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]


Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United — 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

In the first clash this season between newcomers, Huddersfield will go for its second consecutive win as David Wagner‘s side plays host to Newcastle.

The Terriers kicked off their ’17/’18 campaign in style last Saturday with a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, and the side looked quite dominant for most of the match.

Newcastle saw their fortunes change drastically against Tottenham after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off after halftime. The Magpies struggled to handle the talent of Spurs after the sending off, conceding twice after Shelvey’s dismissal.

Joselu could also make his debut for Newcastle on Sunday after joining the club from Stoke this summer.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea — 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Antonio Conte‘s second season in the Premier League began with an anything but ideal result last weekend as Chelsea fell to Burnley, 3-2, at Stamford Bridge.

To make matters worse, red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas rule the two players out for Sunday’s clash against Spurs. With Eden Hazard and Pedro still likely to miss the match due to injury, Chelsea does have some good news as Victor Moses returns from suspension and Tiemoue Bakayoko could make his PL debut — although it will likely come off the bench.

New striker Alvaro Morata looks to build off of his goal and an assist performance from last weekend up front, and the Spaniard could very well start for Chelsea after coming off the bench against Burnley.

Meanwhile, Spurs looks to build off of its victory against Newcastle last weekend, which featured goals from Dele Alli and Ben Davies.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s side went out and made their first major signing of the summer this week with the acquisition of Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez, and the Argentine manager says his club isn’t done adding players.

Bundesliga wrap: Pulisic shines (again); Schalke tops RB Leipzig

Peter Steffen/dpa via AP
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The Bundesliga dipped its toes into a new season on Friday with Bayern Munich’s win over Bayer Leverkusen, then dove right into the waters on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]


Hertha Berlin 2-0 Stuttgart

Australian attacker Mathew Leckie had a heck of a debut for Hertha, scoring in each half of a win over newly-promoted Stuttgart. Former USMNT player Julian Green was not in the 18 following reports that Stuttgart could sell the winger.

Schalke 2-0 RB Leipzig

Last season, Schalke finished a shocking season at mid-table while RB Leipzig went from newly-promoted to second in the league.

Order was restored for a weekend on Saturday, as ex-Spurs man Nabil Bentaleb converted a penalty kick before halftime to give Schalke a 1-0 lead. Yehven Konoplyanka added insurance in the second half as Schalke started the season right.

Wolfsburg 0-3 Borussia Dortmund

Christian Pulisic scored Borussia Dortmund’s first goal of the Bundesliga season, the cued up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with a inch-perfect pass through the six to make it 3-0 at Wolfsburg. Marc Bartra also scored for the visitors.

Elsewhere

Bayern Munich 3-1 Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Mainz 0-1 Hannover 96 — Martin Harnik scores
Hamburg 1-0 Augsburg — Bobby Wood plays 87 mins
Hoffenheim 1-0 Werder Bremen — Kramaric scores
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday

Wenger: Arsenal lost a game it should have won

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Saying, “You don’t want to lose games that you should win,” Arsene Wenger lamented everything that went against his men in Arsenal’s 1-0 loss at Stoke City on Saturday.

“It’s a difficult defeat to swallow,” Wenger said. “We had chances. We should have won the game comfortably.”

The Gunners had a pair of penalty shouts go unheard and saw an Alexandre Lacazette goal called back for offside.

[ RECAP: Stoke City 1-0 Arsenal ]

If it was offside, it was as thin as the garlic in Paulie Cicero’s “Goodfellas” sauce.

“We scored a goal that is not offside. It’s a very easy decision. When the ball is kicked he is not offside, Lacazette.”

And those thin margins are what cost title contenders their season-ending goals. Here’s Wenger (all quotes from the BBC):

“I believe some teams will get something here, that is why if you want to play at the top you have to consider it three points dropped.”

Arsenal had 77 percent possession, but allowed Jese Rodriguez to score on one of the few times the Potters had the ball. Of that, Wenger said “I was not convinced by our central defense today.”

Report: Atletico closing in on $52 million move for Diego Costa

Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images
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The Diego Costa-Chelsea saga has not only intrigued but confused many, however, the London side could be on the brink of finally selling off the Spanish international.

[ MORE: United cruises past Swansea, Arsenal falls at Stoke ]

Atletico Madrid has reportedly struck a $52 million deal with the Blues for the 28-year-old striker, according to Spanish radio station Radio Estadio.

The report also states that an additional $12 million could be tacked on to Costa’s price tag.

Costa has been an absentee for Chelsea since the end of last season’s Premier League title, and ever since that glorious moment for the club, the Brazilian-born forward has been disgruntled with the Blues and manager Antonio Conte.

Atleti, however, won’t go ahead with the deal until Costa returns from Brazil to resolve his issues with Chelsea.

The Spanish side is currently banned from completing transfers until January, meaning an agreement could take place with Chelsea, but Costa cannot suit up for the Rojiblancos until 2018.