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Manuel Pellegrini: “I don’t have any fear about facing Barcelona”

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There are a lot of reasons to worry about an era of modern soccer where a handful of elite teams make title races as common as runaway champions. Within the context of Champions League, however, that means more contenders, the increased likelihood of strong groups (like the one the featured Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund, and Napoli this fall), and some semifinal-quality match ups in the Round of 16.

Last year, Real Madrid drew Manchester United, a tie that saw Nani’s controversial second leg red card sway the outcome. This year, the  Round of 16 draw has paired the two greatest threats to Bayern Munich’s crown, with Barcelona and Manchester City kicking off the knockout round on Tuesday at the Etihad.

It’s a testament to how far City’s come that each club can claim to be favorites, depending on to whom you listen. For Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini, however, any suggestion his club should feel remiss about drawing a team with the Blaugrana’s recent success misses the point. If City, a team that’s never made it to this round of the competition, wants to be considered amongst Europe’s best, they have to play the best.

From The Guardian:

“I don’t have any fear about playing Barcelona, because this team has got to continue to develop the mentality to play against important, important teams …

“It’s impossible to avoid Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich if you want to continue in the Champions League. So in one moment you must play against them. We play them in the last 16, so let’s see what we can do.”

What they’re capable will depend on health. Samir Nasri returned in the team’s 2-0 win over Chelsea, solving one of the squad’s injury concerns, but two other starters are doubts ahead of Tueday’s kickoff at the Etihad. Sergio Agüero, recovering from a hamstring problem, has an outside chance of playing on Tuesday, while Fernandinho, whose injury before the first Chelsea game precipitated City’s February struggles, may also feature, but only if he’s at full strength.

“If there is any risk, they will not play.” Pellegrini said. “They have to be 100% … It’s my opinion that [for] Agüero it is very difficult.”

Newcastle’s Krul on crutches after injury in Dutch win

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Tim Krul of Newcastle United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at Etihad Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Newcastle United’s horror start under Steve McClaren just got worse.

Magpies No. 1 goalkeeper Tim Krul is on duty with the Netherlands, and was forced from the Dutch’s 2-1 win at Kazakhstan in Euro qualifying action.

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Krul left the game after landing awkwardly on his knee, and left the stadium on crutches.

Newcastle’s back-up keepers are Karl Darlow, new from Nottingham Forest, and veteran Rob Elliot.

The Magpies are in 20th place, without a win through eight Premier League matches.

McClaren’s crew just finished a brutal run of matches that saw Newcastle face Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.

VIDEO: Marco Verratti plays a brilliant pass to Eder for Italy goal

PALERMO, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06:  Marco Verratti of Italy in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier match between Italy and Bulgaria on September 6, 2015 in Palermo, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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Italy took a 1-0 lead over Azerbaijan through the in-form Eder in the 11th minute, but the true leg-work (see what I did there) came from bite-sized midfielder Marco Verratti.

The PSG playmaker pinged a beautiful long ball over the top of the Azerbaijan defense that fell right at the feet of Eder, who let the ball settle itself and touched home confidently past Kamran Arhayev for a 1-0 lead.

The goal is the second of Eder’s national career in just five caps, having scored on debut against Bulgaria back in March. He has six goals in seven matches for Sampdoria so far this Serie A season.

Italy needs three points in this match to ensure qualification to Euro 2016. A win would guarantee them a place in the field, while anything less would mean there is work to do in the final match on Tuesday against Norway.


Later in the match, Stephan El Shaarawy gave Italy a 2-1 lead just before halftime, his second career international goal and his first since September of 2012 which came in his third career start.