UEFA Champions League Preview: Barcelona, Manchester City meet in round’s marquee matchup

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Barcelona’s recent Champions League success casts it as favorites in many’s eyes, but that should give the team little solace come Tuesday night at the Etihad. Slotted with Manchester City in UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, the four-time champions drew the toughest opponent from those that finished second in their groups. While City boss Manuel Pellegrini placates himself knowing his Citizens would have to beat a Barça-caliber opponent at some point, an semifinal-quality matchup guarantees one of the tournament’s best teams will be eliminated over the course of the next two weeks.

With four players in the FIFpro World XI, Barcelona is likely the more talented side, making this one of the few times this season City can claimed to be outgunned. But to the extent that Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and the rest of the Catalan side have that edge, City still have the firepower to compete. With the likes of Vincent Kompany, Yaya Touré, and David Silva, the Citizens have players that will ensure planning, execution, and health — not talent, alone — will settle this tie.

Yet while their guests will come into the first game of the teams’ two-legged tie at full strength, City will still be without their most dangerous player. Attacker Sergio Agüero will miss his chance to take on close friend Messi, with hamstring injury continuing to sideline the Argentine international. While midfielder Fernandinho, having yet to appear in February, has been deemed fit for the match, Edin Dzeko or Silva will likely claim Agüero’s spot along side forward Álvaro Negredo.

Barcelona, in contrast, have all their key players available. Neymar, out for a month with an ankle injury, returned this weekend. Xavi has been battling a calf problem but will play on Tuesday. Andrés Iniesta is approaching 100 percent, while the health of Carles Puyol means Gerado Martino the Barcelona head coach will be able to start his first choice back four. Coming off a 6-0 win this weekend in La Liga, Barcelona appear to have hit their stride as Champions League resumes.

That stride, and the health that goes along with it, will demand a few key choices from Martino. With Xavi, Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets all available, Cesc Fábregas will be pushed to the bench despite enjoying his best season since his time at Arsenal. Likewise, the health of Neymar means one of Alexis Sanchez or Pedro Rodríguez could sit, despite the duo having accounted for 28 league goals. On the road to start the tie, though, Martino may elect to keep the young Brazilian in reserve.

[MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Paris Saint-Germain opens knockout round at Bayer Leverkusen]

With Martino having already said possession will play a key part on Tuesday, the pressure will be on Touré and Fernandinho to withstand the numeric disadvantage the Citizens will have in the middle. Between Xavi and Iniesta, Messi dropping back and Busquets serving as the anchor, Barcelona has the potential to overwhelm City in the middle, even if the home team plays more of a 4-2-3-1 formation without Agüero (as opposed to their normal 4-4-2). While it’s not uncommon for City’s duo to have to play 2-on-3 in the middle, they never have to do so against Barça’s three.

Perhaps as important as the match ups, mentality could have a decisive impact on how the first leg unfolds. Unfortunately for  spectators, each team has an incentive to play conservatively in game one. For Barcelona, a draw on the road will be seen as a success, leaving them within a home win of the quarterfinals. Manchester City might look at the same situation as a chance to go to Spain, try to strike first, and use that lead and their road goal to see out the upset. Rather than try to play their normal style — one that would leave their defense exposed to Barcelona — Pellegrini may evoke some of his previous Champions League squads and try a more opportunistic approach.

Regardless, Barcelona’s experience against Paris Saint-Germain in last year’s tournament could prove informative, particularly against a City team that’s never been this far in Champions League. In last year’s quarterfinals, the Parisians arguably outplayed the Catalans but went out on away goals, Barcelona’s experience able to guide them past one of UEFA’s emerging threats. If City can learn PSG’s lessons and not merely content themselves with outplaying their opponents, the Citizens capable of springing the upset Pellegrini’s Málaga nearly pulled on Borussia Dortmund last year. Otherwise, Barcelona’s ability to navigate Champions League may see them past another European upstart.

More on Barcelona’s visit to Manchester City:

FA Cup: Man Utd drawn vs. Brighton in QF; Chelsea to face Leicester

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Three more Premier League sides joined Chelsea and Leicester City in the quarterfinals of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Saturday, followed by the draw for the final eight…

[ WATCH: Lionel Messi finds Luis Suarez with a brilliant through ball ]

Huddersfield Town 0-2 Manchester United

Romelu Lukaku‘s first season at Man United has been, on the whole, quietly fruitful (12 PL goals, plus another 8 in other competitions), though his $96-million price tag continues to loom large. On Saturday, the big Belgian fired the Red Devils into the final eight with a brace against fellow Premier Leaguers Huddersfield.

It was 1-0 after just three minutes, when Lukaku slotted home to finish a quick counter attack set forth by a brilliant through ball from Juan Mata.

Mata made it 2-0 just before halftime, but the goal was wiped away after utilizing the video-assistant refereeing system. They don’t get much closer than this one.

United’s second came 10 minutes into the second half, when Alexis Sanchez took his turn playing Lukaku into acres of wide open space.

When the draw was made following the conclusion of Saturday’s game, we learned that United will host another PL side, Brighton & Hove Albion, in the next round.

Brighton & Hove Albion 3-1 Coventry City

That’s because Brighton brushed aside League 2 side Coventry City to reach their first quarterfinal since 1986.

Jurgen Locadia, Connor Goldson and Leonardo Ulloa bagged the goals for the ‘Gulls.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Southampton

Southampton are also through to the quarterfinals, thanks to their 2-1 victory away to West Brom. Salomon Rondon’s stunning volley undoubtedly stole the headlines (WATCH HERE), but Saints are the ones to advance, thanks to goals scored by Wesley Hoedt (11th minute) and Dusan Tadic (56th).

In the next round, Southampton will be away to the winner of Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City (Monday, 2:55 p.m. ET).

Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Swansea City

The last thing relegation battlers Swansea City would have wanted is for a replay to be shoehorned into their remaining schedule, but Carlos Carvalhal’s side was unable to best Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, thus a replay at the Liberty Stadium on a yet-to-be-determined date over the next month.

Full quarterfinal draw

Sheffield Wednesday/Swansea City vs. Rochdale/Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United vs. Brighton & Hove Albion
Leicester City vs. Chelsea
Wigan Athletic/Manchester City vs. Southampton

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Rochdale vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City — 2:55 p.m. ET

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern wins it late, Leverkusen goes second

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It looked like Bayern Munich was on pace to drop points for just the fifth time this season, but then the club’s star striker stepped up in the biggest of moments.

[ MORE: TFC on the brink of adding Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ager Aketxe ]

The German leaders came back to pick up a 2-1 victory on the road at Wolfsburg after Robert Lewandowski converted a penalty kick in stoppage time.

Sandro Wagner’s second-half header had pulled the match level off of an Arjen Robben cross in the 64th minute. Robben atoned for an earlier penalty-kick miss, which would have tied the match ten minutes prior.

Meanwhile, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke were each big winners on the day, with the two clubs moving into the top four.

Leverkusen’s 2-1 win on the road against Hertha Berlin saw Heiko Herrlich and his side move up to second place in the Bundesliga, albeit a lengthy distance behind leaders Bayern.

Schalke took care of business at home against Hoffenheim, bringing the Miners one step closer to the top four. The side is now level on 37 points with Borussia Dortmund for fourth, but the Christian Pulisic and Co. currently boast a superior goal differential.

Below are all of Saturday’s scores from around Germany’s top flight.

Cologne 1-1 Hannover 96
Hertha Berlin 1-2 Bayer Leverkusen
Freiburg 1-0 Werder Bremen
Wolfsburg 1-1 Bayern Munich
Schalke 2-1 Hoffenheim

Rodchenkov to AP: Russian footballers immune from drug bans

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Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov claims he helped soccer players in the country to avoid being caught doping after he followed government orders to ensure cheating was covered up.

[ MORE: Mourinho denies Pogba exit rumors ]

The former Russian anti-doping laboratory director told The Associated Press in response to questions through his lawyer that an instruction to avoid scandal came from Vitaly Mutko. Mutko is the former Russian sports minister who serves as deputy prime minster despite being at the center of the doping deception controversy exposed by Rodchenkov.

The focus is sharpening on doping practices in Russian soccer with the World Cup kicking off in Moscow in four months.

Rodchenkov says “Russian footballers were immune from doping-control actions or sanctions.”

Rodchenkov claimed Mutko said “avoid any scandal by hiding positive results” and that “doping would be handled internally”.

Video: Rondon’s exquisite volley not enough to save West Brom

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Salomon Rondon’s second-half volley was not only a beauty, but one of tremendous difficulty.

Unfortunately for he and his West Bromwich Albion side, though, it wasn’t enough for the Baggies to survive in this season’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Southampton.

[ MORE: Brilliant Messi through ball sends Suarez in for Barcelona opener ]

The Saints progressed to the quarterfinals on Saturday behind goals from Wesley Hoedt and Dusan Tadic, and join fellow Premier League sides Chelsea, Brighton & Hove and Leicester City in the final eight.

Tadic’s goal came in the 56th minute, doubling the Southampton lead, but Rondon’s quality volley two minutes later provided West Brom with a temporary moment of relief (below).