What we learned in Barcelona’s Champions League win over Manchester City

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  • Barca on the skids? Are you sure?

The prevailing narrative coming into this one, helped along by the one and only Jose Mourinho, as only he can, was of a Barcelona club on the skids. The Nou Camp bunch was vulnerable, not as evocative as Barca giants of the past and surely humbled in UEFA knockout pursuits by that harrowing train wreck last year against Bayern Munich.

Anyone buying that now?

It wasn’t dominant for Barca on Tuesday at the Etihad, not by any stretch. (We’ll get to that in a moment.) But is a 2-0 win for Barca on the road all that shocking?

Did everyone forget that this is a team still blessed with one of the game’s all-time greatest talents in Leo Messi? And Xavi isn’t getting any younger, but his ability to control possession (and therefore help control a match) remains unflinching.

Yaya Toure won his share of midfield battles, but, like his teammates, couldn’t get close to the ball over big stretches. And that’s Toure! Also known as: one of the best in the Premier League midfield game.

All that, by the way, from a team that chose to keep Brazilian star Neymar on the bench to start.

(MORE: Barca seizes control with 2-0 win at the Etihad)

Plus, this: Barca is a team that knows how to manage Champions League knockout competition. (By contrast, City has only now learned how to navigate the group stage.)

That doesn’t mean they can stand toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich, and maybe a couple of others. Especially not until Messi finds his highest gear and has a few more “Messi” moments like the series-turner Tuesday.

But … it does mean this notion of a Barca as a fading star seems like poppycock now, doesn’t it?

  • Series of perilously slim margins

It may sound odd to hear – a bit silly, even – but this one was decided on the most razor thin of margins. Yes, a 2-0 loss at home might smell like a bit of a thumping, but it was anything but.

City center back Martin Demichelis had held his own for 50-plus minutes next to Vincent Kompany – but he’s no Vincent Kompany. A moment of inattention that the good-not-great sometimes have, a desperate lunge, a red card … and that was it. That may have been the series.

Playing with 11 against Barca is hard enough; trying to arrest the taka-taka with just 10 is nearly impossible.

Later, David Silva very nearly hammered one past Victor Valdes, who had to do something he’s sometimes faulted for not doing, making the big save. That would have probably meant a 1-1 final, a result that would have felt sumptuous at that point for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.

A ball played into Barca’s goal box in the first half, the very kind that City had hoped to use its size advantage to exploit, nearly found its way into goal. That surely would have set off some nerves in the visitors.

Overall, City did quite well. Pablo Zabaleta, Kompany, Fernandinho, Silva and Toure all had games to be proud of. Kompany was particularly excellent. All of that is why City isn’t quite out of this one just yet. Odds are stacked – but this is not impossible.

Speaking of slim margins: Sergio Aguero wasn’t in Pellegrini’s lineup. City’s sharpest of sharpshooters wasn’t fit enough to play. Messi was. In the end, will that tell the tale?

Neymar makes history in PSG’s 8-0 thrashing of Dijon

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A pair of statements which are both true, and not at all mutually exclusive, if you allow logic and balance to prevail: 1) Neymar and his friends at Paris Saint-Germain are quite good at the soccer; 2) they aren’t challenged enough in Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Of course, they’ll be challenged plenty during the latter stages of the Champions League (they drew Real Madrid in the round of 16), but on a weekly basis, the level of competition in their domestic league isn’t of a high standard to indicate just how good they are. That’s the new debate with regard to PSG — it’s no longer, “Are they good? Maybe they’re just a big fish in a small pond.”

On Wednesday, led by Neymar, the most expensive transfer signing of all-time, Unai Emery’s side thrashed 10th-place Dijon to the tune of 8-0. As mentioned, Neymar did slightly more than just pull his own weight — four goals to go with a pair of assists; he lent a direct hand in six of the eight goals.

[ MORE: Chelsea survive Norwich in PKs, reach FA Cup 4th round ]

Even the statistical whizzes at Opta appear somewhat stumped by such an abundance of goals.

Anytime the keepers of stats toss out a “since we started collecting data,” be proud of your achievement. Be very, very proud.

FA Cup: Chelsea, Swansea into 4th rd; B’mouth ousted by Wigan

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Two more Premier League sides booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup, courtesy of third-round replays, on Wednesday, bringing the PL’s total representation to 14 clubs…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea 1-1 (5-3 PKs) Norwich City

Chelsea’s scoreless streak — for both themselves and opponents (three straight 0-0 draws across all competitions) — came to a merciful end on Wednesday, but not before surpassing the 300-minute mark. Michy Batshuayi — who, it must be said, struggled mightily in making just his third start (all in cup competitions) since mid-October — broke yet another scoreless deadlock in the 55th minute, ending the Blues’ scoreless run at 331 minutes.

With barely 30 seconds remaining in second-half stoppage time, 19-year-old left back Jamal Lewis brought the Canaries level with a thunderous header off the post.

Extra-time saw Chelsea reduced to 10, and then nine, men. Pedro was booked for diving just after the hour mark, and the Spaniard earned a second yellow card for a wild challenge in the 117th minute. Four minutes later, in second-half extra-time stoppage time, Alvaro Morata was booked for diving and proceeded to shout and gesticulate in the referee’s face. A second yellow was shown immediately.

Willy Caballero denied Nelson Oliveira on Norwich’s first attempt of the ensuing penalty shootout, giving the Blues the only cushion they’d need as Willian, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard all converted.

Chelsea will host Newcastle United in the fourth round on Sunday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Swansea City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Swansea faced the greatest threat of a Cupset on Wednesday but managed to come out on top, knocking off runaway Championship leaders and champions-elect Wolves. The Swans went ahead through Jordan Ayew in the 11th minute before the prolific Diogo Jota, who’ll be in the PL one way or another next season, brought Wolves back to 1-1 in the 66th. Three minutes later, Wilfried Bony bagged the winner to see Carlos Carvalhal’s side through to the next round.

Swansea will visit League Two side Notts County, who knocked off Championship playoff hopefuls Brentford in the third round, on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Wigan Athletic 3-0 Bournemouth

Bournemouth sat 32 places above Wigan in the English football pyramid when Wednesday’s replay kicked off, and it matter not a single iota, as Paul Cook’s side hammered the Cherries at the DW Stadium. Sam Morsy, Dan Burn and Callum Elder bagged the goals for the League One leaders (three points clear after 26 of 46 rounds played). Wigan have alternated each of the last four seasons, finishing 23rd in the Championship and leading/winning League One. It’s been five years since the Latics were relegated from the PL, in the 2012-13 season.

Wigan will host West Ham United in the fourth round on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.