Injuries, absences leave Barcelona no room for comeback against 10-man Ajax

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By now, everybody knows Barcelona are without Lionel Messi, the world’s best player out until 2014 with a hamstring injury. But Spanish champions had five other regulars missing from today’s starting XI in Amsterdam, a group that fell victim to Dutch champions Ajax, 2-1.

First half goals from Thulani Sereno and Danny Hoesen sent the home team into intermission up two, though things swung back the Blaugrana’s way early in the second half when Joël Veltman gave up a penalty that also saw the Ajax defender red carded. Up a man for the match’s final 42 minutes, Barcelona were unable to build on Xavi Hernández’s conversion, left to suffer their first loss in all competitions this season.

While the defeat will have little effect on Barcelona, who have already sewn up a place in the round of 16 (and will win the group with a home draw with Celtic on Dec. 11), it keeps Ajax within reach of the knockout rounds. Scheduled to play their final group stage match in Italy, the Dutch champions are within one point of second place Milan. An upset on Dec. 11 at the San Siro will see Frank de Boer’s side into the round of 16.

After a high-intensity start that eventually saw Barcelona wrestle some control of the game, defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets (dress, but on the bench) proved just as missed as Messi, with Ajax able to compete with Barcelona’s normally dominant midfield. In the 14th minute, Ajax launched their first major move toward goal, with the home team’s first goal coming from Thulani Serero five minutes later. Putting home a cross from Ajax’s right, the 23-year-old South African gave his team a 1-0 lead.

source: Reuters
Viktor Fischer and Jasper Cillessen embrace to celebrate Ajax’s 2-1 victory over Barcelona. (Photo: Reuters.)

The goal, along with Danny Hoesen’s 41st minute winner, came against a Barcelona defense unsettled by its absences. With Carles Puyol forced to play right back, the absent Dani Alves as noticeably missed, as was left back Jordi Alba, a longer-term absence. With starting goalkeeper Victor Valdes also out, Barcelona had only one of their first choice back five in their proper place. As with the two-on-one Puyol was left to handle on the cross for the first goal, the defense’s giveaway (from Mascherano) and inability to clear out a bouncing rebound allowed Hoesen to double Ajax’s lead.

As they tried to find back in the second half, the Blaugrana also missed Alexi Sanchez, with Martino left bringing Adama Traoré, Sergi Roberto, and Patric off the bench. Though they controlled the match’s final 40 minutes, Barcelona only managed two shots on goal, Ajax able to hold out with 10-men against a half-strength squad.

Unlike the case of Chelsea, who also suffered a road upset on Tuesday, there are easy answers to why Barcelona were knocked off. While there may not be a huge difference in quality between Ajax and Basel (both underdogs played extremely well), Chelsea were using players that usually feature among their first choice XIs. Whereas José Mourinho’s substitutes were Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard, and Kevin De Druyne, Barcelona was left relying on little used prospects.

When Martino’s bringing the likes of Traoré, Roberto, and Patric on to chase an equalizing goal, it’s no wonder Barcelona were unable to prevent their first loss of the year. But having clinched a spot in the next round, there’s no reason to dwell on what was ultimately a meaningless result.

Goals

Ajax: 19′ Thulani Serero, 41′ Danny Hoesen

Barcelona: 49′ Xavi Hernández

Lineups

Ajax: Jasper Cillessen; Ricardo van Rhijn, Joël Veltman, Niklas Moisander, Nicolai Boilesen (35′ Christian Poulsen); Davy Klaassen, Davey Blin, Tulani Serero; Lasse Schöne (51′ Stefano Denswil), Danny Hoesen (84′ Lerin Duarte), Viktor Fischer

Unused subs: Lesley dde Sa, Mike van der Hoorn, Kenneth Vermeer, Lucas Anderson

Barcelona: Pinto; Carles Puyol (68′ Patric), Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Martín Montoya; Alex Song, Xavi Hernández (74′ Sergi Roberto), Andrés Iniesta; Pedro, Neymar, Cesc Fábregas (82′ Adama Traoré)

Unused subs: Oier, Marc Bartra, Jean Marie Dongou, Sergio Busquets

Swansea 1-0 Liverpool: Last-place Swans shock Reds

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  • Swansea shock Liverpool in game of few chances
  • Mawson sweeps home the winner — 40′
  • Reds’ 14-game PL unbeaten run ends
  • Swans now 2W-1D-1L under Carvalhal

From the high of snapping Manchester City’s unbeaten run (30 games dating back to last season) and bid for an unbeaten 2017-18 Premier League season, to being beaten by last-place Swansea City… in back-to-back games… all in the span of eight days.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

On Monday, Swansea topped Liverpool, 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium, to claim just their fifth PL victory all season; two of the five have come in the first three weeks of new manager Carlos Carvalhal’s tenure (four games).

Virgil Van Dijk cost Liverpool $100 million, but he’s yet to arrest the Reds’ woeful set-piece defending. It was the big Dutchman who failed to head the ball clear from the Swans’ 40th-minute corner kick. After an unfortunate bounce in the box, the ball fell to Mawson just 10 yards out. The young Welshman swept his right foot through the ball and Loris Karius could do nothing about it.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Liverpool’s first surefire chance of the second half came in the 60th minute, when Mohamed Salah delicately lifted just over the wall a free kick from 22 yards out. The ball quickly fell as it neared goal, but Lukasz Fabianski reacted quicker and pushed it over the crossbar at full-stretch to preserve the lead at 1-0.

Right on 94 minutes, with the referee staring at his watch, Roberto Firmino headed off Fabianski’s right-hand post and Adam Lallana missed an open-net follow-up, somehow booting the ball well over the bar from three yards out.

Despite holding over 70 percent of possession on the night, Liverpool put on target just four of their 21 total shots.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With the defeat, Liverpool (47 points) fail to capitalize on Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw with Southampton on Sunday. Having ultimately gained a point in Round 24, Tottenham now trail Liverpool by just two points in the race for fourth. The two sides meet in two weeks’ time, on Sunday, Feb. 4, at Anfield.

Swansea (20 points), meanwhile, have done nearly enough to climb out of the PL cellar, but remain 20th out of 20 teams on goal differential. Three points stand between them and safety.

FIFA seeking sponsors for video replays at World Cup

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LONDON (AP) Video replays will be used at the World Cup for the first time and talks are underway with potential sponsor branding to appear when the technology is used, a FIFA executive said on Monday.

Soccer’s rule-making panel met Monday to assess recent trials ahead of video assistant referees (VAR) being officially approved by FIFA later this season for use in Russia in June and July.

“Definitely VAR will happen,” FIFA chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc’h told The Associated Press. “It’s great to have technology in football because this is also a fair(ness) thing.”

Referees were assisted for the first time by high-tech aids at a World Cup in 2014 when goal-line technology was used. That system sees a message instantly flash on referees’ watches saying only whether the ball crossed the line.

Video review is used when there is a “clear and obvious error” involving goals, penalty awards, red cards, and mistaken identity.

Replays could lead to delays in games in Russia as different angles are reviewed, presenting an opportunity for FIFA to brand up the segment on the global broadcast feed.

“We are talking to various technological companies who are very interested with what we are doing on the technology side of things,” Floc’h said on board the World Cup trophy tour plane during a stop at London Stansted Airport.

The final decision on allowing replays to become part of the rules of the game falls to the International Football Association Board on March 3 when its annual meeting is held at FIFA.

Video review has been expected at the World Cup because FIFA controls half the votes in IFAB’s decision. The other voters are the four British soccer federations.

Monday’s meeting brought together IFAB technical experts, FIFA refereeing officials, and researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, who have studied use of video review in 804 games across more than 20 competitions.

“The discussions we had today do not indicate that further experiments need to be conducted,” said Johannes Holzmueller, FIFA’s lead official for technological innovation.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).