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Lionel Messi could return for Barcelona by Jan. 5, one week ahead of showdown at Atlético Madrid

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With a showdown match against Atlético Madrid looming on Jan. 11, Barcelona need to get Lionel Messi back as soon as possible. Luckily for the defending La Liga champions, the Argentine’s hamstring appears to be cooperating, with the team considering moving up his expected return date in response to the injury’s improvements.

According to reports out of Spain, Barça was originally targeting their trip to second place Atlético for Messi’s return. Now, given the progress the 26-year-old has shown, the Spanish leaders are considering moving Messi’s return from Argentina up to Jan. 5, theoretically giving Messi games against Elche (in league) and Granada (in Copa del Rey) to prepare for Jan. 11’s big match.

The news comes after Barcelona physical trainer Elvio Paolorosso visited Messi in Rosario, Argentina last week. A final determination on Messi’s return won’t be made until the star arrives in Catalonia on Jan. 2, but Paolorosso’s visit gave the club’s staff reason to think the reigning Ballon d’ Or honoree will be able to log some time ahead of the team’s visit to the Vicente Calderón.

Messi had scored eight times in 11 league appearances before being sidelined after Nov. 10th’s match at Real Betis, a 4-1 victory for Barcelona. The team ruled their then-leading scorer out until the new year, allowing Messi to return to Argentina earlier this month to continue his recovery.

Without him, Barcelona has gone 6-2-0 in all competitions, though the team has also been troubled by longterm absences to goalkeeper Víctor Valdés, right back Dani Alves, and left back Jordi Alba, who has since returned. Central defender Carles Puyol has had trouble staying healthy, while midfielder Xavi Hernández has also been slowed by fitness issues.

All the while, Atlético Madrid won’t go away. Dating back to their 1-0 loss at Espanyol on Oct. 19, Diego Simeone’s team has gone 12-0-2, their 46 points matching Barcelona’s total through 17 rounds. In Messi’s absence, Atleti striker Diego Costa is leading the league’s scoring race, having scored 19 times. With Atlético playing Barcelona to two draws in the preseason Supercopa, Gerardo Martino’s squad will be under no false assumptions about the strength of Madrid’s ‘other’ club.

Getting Messi back for their visit to the Calderón was always going to be crucial for Barcelona, but thanks to a quicker-than-expected recovery, Messi may get a chance to find his legs beforethe biggest game in La Liga’s  title race.

PST’s writers predict the USA vs. Mexico score

United States v Mexico - International Friendly
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This is it. Don’t get scared now.

On Saturday the U.S. national team take on Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, as the bitter rivals square off to decide who will be going to the 2017 Confederations Cup.

[ FULL PREVIEW: USA vs. Mexico ]

The time for talking is over. Whoever wins the one-off game in California will be heading to Russia a year before the 2018 World Cup to represent the CONCACAF region.

Click on the link above for a comprehensive preview of everything you need to know heading into Saturday’s massive game, while below all five of our writers predict the score and how the game will pan out.

[ MORE: Bedoya out for USA ]

Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below.

Joe Prince-Wright

USA 2-2 Mexico (USA win on penalty kicks)

For some reason, I think this is going to PKs. Expect a fast, frenetic opening and if the U.S. can keep things level at the break then I think they have a great chance. I see a dramatic evening playing out in this dramatic rivalry. U.S. win. just.

Nicholas Mendola

USA 3-2 Mexico

After the game, one in which Fabian Johnson serves the game winner to Clint Dempsey, Klinsmann runs shirtless across the field with “Benny who?” painted on his chest. On the back, he’s painted, “I’m kidding, America. Benny is a wonderful midfielder and a blessing to our shores.”

Kyle Bonn

USA 0-2 Mexico

The U.S. limped its way through the Gold Cup and still doesn’t have any idea what its best 11 is. Mexico takes this one despite turmoil at the top. (Also the team I pick usually doesn’t win, so I’m all in with the reverse jinx)

Andy Edwards

USA 1-2 Mexico

Too much possession conceded to Mexico, too much pressure on the USMNT defense… just like the Gold Cup, except against even better opposition.

Kyle Lynch

USA 1-2 Mexico

The United States takes an early lead, but Mexico fights back and wins it all in Jurgen Klinsmann’s final game as USMNT manager.

Blatter, Platini both officially appeal FIFA suspension

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini look on during the Team Seminar ahead of the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the Corinthia Hotel on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Suspended FIFA executives Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini have both officially appealed their 90-day bans through various means in attempts to clear their names.

The pair have been forced to temporarily vacate their office due to an investigation by Swiss authorities into corruption charges based on a “disloyal payment” of around $2 million from Blatter to Platini in 2011.

Blatter’s appeal was lodged within FIFA on Friday, with the president’s lawyer confirming he has “requested additional proceedings before the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee and filed an appeal with the Appeal Committee.”

Blatter’s American lawyer Richard Cullen said he is “very hopeful” the suspension will be lifted on appeal, while his lawyer team back on Thursday argued in a statement that the FIFA Ethics Committee “based its decision [to suspend Blatter] on a misunderstanding of the actions of the attorney general in Switzerland, which has opened an investigation but brought no charge against the president.”

The New York Times obtained a copy of the appeal, in which Blatter’s lawyers demand to see the case file which the Ethics Committee reviewed upon its decision to suspend the 79-year-old. It also asks that he receive a full opportunity to argue his innocence in front of the committee; previously, he was only afforded a short interview with Swiss investigators.

Meanwhile, Platini’s appeal came through Saturday morning and is filed with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. His case has received official, legal backing from the French FA as his home nominating association for the upcoming presidential election. Using the French FA’s support, Platini can bypass the FIFA appeals system which he individually must exhaust before moving to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

CONMEBOL has also publicly supported Platini, issuing a statement that says it “does not agree” with the decision to suspend him, calling it “untimely and disproportionate” while stating, “The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right that has to be considered. Mr. Platini has not been found guilty of any charge, therefore the provisional ban jeopardizes the integrity of the electoral process to the FIFA presidency, of which Mr. Platini is a candidate.”

Platini has not been replaced at his UEFA presidential post, with no interim leader named. “This is because the UEFA executive committee is aware that the UEFA president will immediately take all necessary steps to appeal the decision of the FIFA ethics committee to clear his name,” UEFA said in a statement. They confirmed he will not continue his duties while under punishment.

The FIFA Executive Committee has announced it will hold an emergency meeting on October 20 to discuss the situation. Among the topics that will be considered will be a decision on whether to postpone the February 26 presidential election.