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.

LIVE: Seven Premier League clubs in League Cup action

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Six Premier League teams enter the League Cup (officially known as the Carabao Cup in 2017-18) on Wednesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up for the second round.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

Out of the seven PL clubs who began their League Cup quest on Tuesday, six remain with Watford the only casualties to lower-league opposition.

Newcastle, Southampton, West Ham and Stoke City are all in action on Wednesday as all six PL clubs face lower-league opponents for a spot in the third round, which is when the seven PL teams in European action enter the competition.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Huddersfield Town’s Danny Williams who starts against Rotherham, while Eric Lichaj starts for Nottingham Forest at Newcastle United.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Wednesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Wednesday’s League Cup second round games

Newcastle United vs. Nottingham Forest
Southampton vs. Wolves
Huddersfield Town vs. Rotherham United
Cheltenham vs. West Ham United
Stoke City vs. Rochdale – 3 p.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Burnley

LIVE: Liverpool-Hoffenheim headlines UCL playoffs

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Expect another big UEFA Champions League night at Anfield on Wednesday as Liverpool look to get by Bundesliga side Hoffenheim and reaching the UCL group stage.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Jurgen Klopp’s side lead 2-1 after the first leg in Germany last week, meaning Hoffenheim will have to score twice at Anfield to have any chance of advancing. Given the fact that Hoffenheim had a penalty kick saved and spurned several glorious chance at home in the first leg, Liverpool’s shaky defense could provide another nervous evening for the home fans.

Klopp will be hoping his jet-propelled attack of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino will have enough to put Liverpool in the UCL group stage for the first time since 2014.

Liverpool and CSKA Moscow are the only home teams to return with a first leg lead, while Sporting Lisbon head to Steaua Bucharest after a 0-0 draw in Portugal for the first leg.

APOEL Nicosia travel to Prague to take on Slavia with a tidy 2-0 lead on aggregate but an early goal for the hosts could change the entire complexion of that tie. Azerbaijan outfit Qarabag head to the Danish capital with a 1-0 lead over FC Copenhagen but, again, an early goal for the hosts will make all the difference.

The five winners of these ties will join Celtic, Sevilla, Maribor, Napoli and Olympiacos in the group stage draw on Thursday as those five teams qualified via the playoffs on Tuesday.

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all five matches.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool lead 2-1 on aggregate)
FC Copenhagen vs. FK Qarabag (FK Qarabag lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Slavia Prague vs. APOEL (APOEL lead 2-0 on aggregate)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA Moscow lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting Lisbon (0-0 after first leg)

Premier League player Power Rankings – Week 2

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For the second time in the 2017-18 Premier League season we rank the form players and, somewhat predictably, there are plenty of new entries and lots of chopping and changing in our rankings.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  2. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 1
  3. David Luiz (Chelsea) – New entry
  4. Javier Hernandez (West Ham) – New entry
  5. Wayne Rooney (Everton) – New entry
  6. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 2
  7. David Silva (Man City) – Down 3
  8. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – New entry
  9. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield) – Up 7
  10. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) – New entry
  11. Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) – New entry
  12. Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) – Down 7
  13. Willian (Chelsea) – New entry
  14. Steve Mounie (Huddersfield) – Down 12
  15. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – New entry
  16. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Down 9
  17. Jordan Pickford (Everton) – New entry
  18. Harry Maguire (Leicester City) – New entry
  19. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Down 9
  20. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry

Men In Blazers pod: Chelsea, Man United, Rooney all feature

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Rog and Davo break down Chelsea’s win at Tottenham’s footballing Airbnb, Wembley. Plus, another 4-0 win for Manchester United. And Wayne Rooney scores in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City.

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