Barcelona team doctors have cleared Lionel Messi to return from injury for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey match against Getafe.
Messi has spent the last two months sidelined with a hamstring tear suffered on November 10th in the 4-1 win over Real Betis.
Last year’s Balon d’Or winner has endured an injury-plagued season but returned to training at Barcelona last week after an extended rehabilitation stint in his native Argentina.
While he remains available to feature, Messi’s status as a starter or substitute has yet to be determined as manager Gerardo Martino noted Tuesday the playmaker ‘”feels fine” but failed to discuss his plan.
“Messi rehabbed well and has trained like the rest of the team,” Martino said. “Maybe he lacks some playing time, but with Leo I don’t think that will be a problem. Messi gives us all a boost of confidence. With him at our side, we all feel more secure.”
Following Messi’s injury last November, Barcelona defeated Granada before losing 1-2 to Ajax in the Champions League and 0-1 to Athletic Bilbao in La Liga. Since then, the Blaugrana have ripped off six straight victories in all competitions.
That form has ensured Barcelona top spot in La Liga (tied on points with Atletico Madrid but with a five goal advantage) and a Round of 16 place in both the Champions League and Copa del Rey.
Wednesday’s home match against Getafe is the first of the two-legged affair, with the return leg set for the Coliseum Alfonso Perez on January 16th.
The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.
[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]
Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.
[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]
In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).
Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule
D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET
Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.
He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.
According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.
[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]
“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”
During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.
It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.
Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.
Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.
Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”
Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”
Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.
[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]
Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?
The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.
Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.
However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.
David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.
If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.
It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.
Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.
It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.