Lionel Messi returns to Barcelona, available to play against Elche

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Following the final phase of his rehabilitation from thigh injury, Lionel Messi has flown back to Barcelona from his native Argentina.

With his return to the Catalan capital on Wednesday, Messi is set to return to the Blaugrana for Sunday’s home match against Elche.

Messi suffered a tear in his left hamstring during Barcelona’s La Liga match against Real Betis on November 10th.

The injury was expected to keep the four-time world player of the year out for six to eight weeks and with that time now expired, most expect Barca manager Gerardo Martino to hand his compatriot at least some playing time in this weekend’s La Liga match.

Barca also have a Copa del Rey match next Wednesday against Getafe where Messi is expected to play a part before the title tilt against La Liga rivals Atletico Madrid on January 11th.

“He definitely needed to rest physically because he had already suffered this [injury] and there was no other option than to stop playing,” said Cesc Fabregas.

“He had four or five injuries in a row in a muscle that he uses a lot in accelerating from a standstill, which is what sets him apart. He had to stop no matter what and he’ll be like a bull when he is back.”

Barcelona are currently level on points (46) with Atletico but lead the league on goal difference. Real Madrid sit third in the table, five points adrift.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”


Southgate: Racism isn’t just a Russian problem

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Credit England boss Gareth Southgate for honesty.

The national team manager was asked about the plethora of stories regarding racism in Russian football ahead of this summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: PSG punished for incidents vs. Real ]

Given the climate between Russia and England, there are any number of roads he could’ve taken in reply. Suffice it to say, he chose the high one.

Pointing out that racism is everywhere, Southgate used the example of Kick It Out manager Troy Townsend showing the coach some racist comments posted on a photo of English youth national team.

“Our teams mix and the youngsters look up to the senior team,” said Southgate. “I know most of those young players really closely and I’ve seen them come through. To see them abused in that way is absolutely disgusting. When we speak about other countries, I find it difficult to deflect what we’ve seen there.”

“I don’t think we should just talk about racism in Russia. We have got to get our own house in order. There are still things going on in our own country around racism that aren’t correct. We keep pointing the finger at Russia, where we are going to be guests in the next couple of months, but we haven’t resolved the issue in our own country and until we do I think we should stop firing those things off elsewhere.”

Full marks to Southgate for that, now more folks need to turn words into action and cut the vile comments off at the knees.

PSG fined, will have to close part of stadium at next UCL match

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Paris Saint-Germain’s fans had a bit too much fun in their UEFA Champions League loss against Real Madrid, but apparently just a bit.

[ MORE: Zlatan leaves Man Utd ]

Les Parisiens  are facing a partial stadium ban for next season’s first UCL contest after their fans were charged with blocking a stairway, setting off fireworks, and using a laser pointer.

The punishment includes closing the North Stand at the Parc Des Princes and a fine of a little over $52,000.

The stadium ban is one thing, but $52,000, UEFA? How will PSG ever afford it? Neymar will certainly have to take a pay cut.

(If you’re curious, Neymar makes approximately $1 million per week).