Diego Costa, Lionel Messi

Leo Messi can’t quite find the magic; Barcelona and Atletico fight to scoreless draw

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Used to be when Barcelona traveled south to Madrid to face the La Liga title challengers, we were talking about a Clasico, another mammoth Barca-Real Madrid meeting. This time around it was Atletico Madrid doing the challenging, as the pair of La Liga co-leaders met in Spain.

Only, the ongoing La Liga chase was reduced somewhat to subplot as we all wondered what role Leo Messi, the brightest light among a bunch of them here, would play in this one.

Messi, only recently having rejoined the team from injury, did not start; there he was on the bench, all bundled up in a big overcoat alongside his talented Brazilian teammate Neymar. He was watching the beginning of an eventual 0-0 draw, although one that had style aplenty from two very good clubs.

Atletico attacker Diego Costa, a real La Liga powerhouse this year, had come closest for Diego Simone’s club before halftime in a match of tremendous ebb and flow. Messi did, indeed, enter at halftime, replacing Barca midfielder playmaker Andres Iniesta.

Neymar would later replace Alexis Sanchez, but still no breakthrough for the Blaugrana at the Vicente Calderón Stadium.

Messi, appearing to move with some caution, did wiggle free here and there. But his best chances were an off-balance effort didn’t give goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois any real trouble and a free kick that bounced harmlessly off a wall. It was not exactly the display he wanted just two days before FIFA’s Ballon d’Or is announced (which already appeared to be going elsewhere).

USMNT lineup vs Canada sees Jermaine Jones at CB, Morris and Altidore up front

at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.
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The United States takes on Canada for the second of two friendlies that test those involved in January camp. With Iceland already dispatched 3-2, Canada is next up, at 10:30 p.m. ET from the StubHub center in California.

Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen his lineup, and it’s not easily discernible.

The back line is the biggest head-scratcher, with three central defenders starting, and at least one of them out of position. Jermaine Jones, who performed well in a midfield distribution role against Iceland, has been moved back to the defensive line, partnering with Matt Besler. Steve Birnbaum, also a central defender who had ups and down against Iceland, is back in the lineup. There’s nowhere to fit a third central defender, so he will play out wide. Kellyn Acosta, a natural full-back, rounds out the back four.

In midfield, the personnel lends itself to a flat four, if only because there’s really no other way it can go. Again, a multitude of central defenders are deployed, with Michael Bradley, Lee Nguyen, and Mix Diskerud forming some kind of CM/CM/Winger combination (Nguyen is likely the odd man out wide), with Gyasi Zardes out wide on the other end.

Jozy Altidore returns up front, this time to partner with Jordan Morris, who makes his first USMNT appearance as a professional player.

Jurgen Klopp says Daniel Sturridge is focused on getting healthy, not leaving Liverpool

during the Capital One Cup quarter final match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on December 2, 2015 in Southampton, England.
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Jurgen Klopp has made his frustrations with Daniel Sturridge‘s injury history very clear, but he still knows the England international is a crucial part of his squad, and he will be patient, no matter how frustrating it is.

Sturridge has been out since early December, and has made just five appearances all season due to a number of recurring injuries that have sapped him of his consistency for the last two years.

But with the 26-year-old back in training the last two days, the English media has speculated that Sturridge is looking to leave Liverpool, and that the club is trying to rid themselves of him as well. Klopp does not see it that way.

[ RELATED: Daniel Sturridge says he’s “good to go” ]

“I have no feeling that Daniel is thinking like this so stop thinking about it,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference, speaking ahead of the match Saturday against Sunderland. “I spoke to him but not about this. I didn’t ask: ‘do you want to leave?’ “Why should I? He’s been back in training for two days. I don’t go over and say: ‘Daniel, I hear you want to leave? Is there truth in it?’ I don’t believe that it is like this.”

Klopp called the rumors a “non-story” and believes as soon as Sturridge is out on the field, the rumors will stop. He just has to get out on the field first.

“Since I was here I’ve had a normal relationship with Daniel Sturridge,” Klopp said. “The only problem is I have only had him 10 or 12 times on the training pitch – that is the truth. Now he is back we hope he can stay in team training and everything will be good. If everything is normal from now on then he is in the race.”

The German said that just having returned to training, Sturridge won’t be ready for Saturday’s game, but he could potentially be back to action for the FA Cup match against West Ham on Tuesday.

DFB takes legal action against Beckenbauer, FIFA, others

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - DECEMBER 16: Franz Beckenbauer attends the Energy For Life Christmas Ball For Children at Hofburg Vienna on December 16, 2014 in Vienna, Austria.  (Photo by Monika Fellner/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Franz Beckenbauer
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BERLIN (AP) — The German football federation has opened legal proceedings against Franz Beckenbauer, former members, and FIFA in a bid to limit potential damages arising from the 2006 World Cup corruption affair.

The DFB tells The Associated Press in a statement that it has “taken the necessary measures to prevent a possible limitation of claims” against former head of the German World Cup organizing committee Beckenbauer and his then vice-president Fedor Radmann, former DFB presidents Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach, former DFB general secretary Horst R. Schmidt, the executors of Robert Louis-Dreyfus’ estate, together with FIFA.

Central to the affair is a suspect 6.7 million euro payment made to FIFA by the DFB before the 2006 World Cup was awarded. The money was loaned to the German federation by Dreyfus.

Brazilian midfielder Fred has doping ban extended to club, out until June

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 19:  Fred of Donetsk goes for a header during the UEFA Champions League: Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between SK Rapid Vienna and FC Shakhtar Donetsk on August 19, 2015 in Vienna, Austria.  (Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images)
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Shakhtar Donetsk striker Fred, a regular for the Brazilian national team, has seen his CONMEBOL doping ban extended worldwide to all competitions.

A FIFA disciplinary committee announced that Fred’s suspension now covers “all types of matches, including domestic, international, friendly and official fixtures.”

The 22-year-old tested positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide during last summer’s Copa America, and has not played for the Brazilian national team since, having been banned for a year by CONMEBOL. He had been playing for his Ukranian club while FIFA was reviewing the case, making 12 appearances in league play and scoring two goals. He also played six times in the Champions League without scoring a goal.

The one-year ban is back-dated to Fred’s last international squad appearance, when he was on the bench for the Copa America quarterfinals on June 27 of last summer. That date will allow Fred to be eligible for the Rio Olympics, which start August 5.