Manchester City v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16

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?

Lampard urges Chelsea to sign Terry; If not, would buy his plane ticket to MLS

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on January 31, 2015 in London, England.
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John Terry is the last of the old guard at Chelsea, and club legend Frank Lampard thinks he deserves to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking with the web site ShortList.com, Lampard also said he’d welcome the defender to Major League Soccer with open arms, and checkbook.

[ MORE: Premier League’s Top Five story lines for Week 26 ]

Saying he’d “I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here,” the New York City FC midfielder called Terry “quite comfortably” the best defender he’d ever played with during his career.

From Shortlist.com:

“What John offers is a link with the fans and an appreciation of the young players who he would want to help come through. He’s Mr Chelsea. Those are the sorts of players you need at the club. Without telling the club what to do, I think Chelsea are looking to change the old nucleus we had, what with myself, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba] and Petr [Cech] gone, John’s almost the last one standing. But I don’t think he’s going to be an issue with that – he’ll even help the transition with helping the younger players.”

Even given Terry’s dicey at times off-field reputation, there’s merit to that story (After all, you can’t be okay with Ryan Giggs guiding the youth of Manchester and opposed to Terry leading at the Bridge).

As for MLS, plenty of England’s old guard is here already. From the 2010 World Cup roster alone, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard are in L.A., Lampard’s in New York City, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is with RBNY. That’s already half the number of U.S. players in MLS who played in the 2010 tournament.

Former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke hit with 12-year ban

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 24:  FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke listens to questions during the Post-meeting of Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup press conference ahead of the preliminary draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at Konstantin Palace on July 24, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Another member of FIFA’s embattled corps has learned his punishment for egregious ethics violations.

Jerome Valcke, the longtime secretary general of football’s governing body, is going to be away from the game for 12 years, banned from the sport by FIFA’s independent ethics committee.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

The 12 years are less than a lifetime but more than the recommended nine years. Valcke was dismissed from his post in January.

From the BBC:

The decision has been made by Fifa’s independent ethics committee following allegations of potential misconduct related to sales of World Cup tickets.

During the investigations, several other acts of potential misconduct arose, including travel expenses policies and regulations.

Valcke’s ban is four years longer than the ones issued to Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini.

Allardyce on using USMNT’s inexperienced Yedlin at RB: “It’s a massive ask”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield on February 6, 2016 in Liverpool, England.
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Sam Allardyce knows a relegation battle when he sees one, and even an injury crisis has him nervous about using inexperienced USMNT right back DeAndre Yedlin.

The speedy American wingback is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, and Sunderland’s table position has its manager wondering if he can afford to use the 22-year-old.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

Billy Jones is injured, and the Black Cats did not firm up their right back depth in the transfer window. Ex-Celtic back Adam Matthews is among the other options, and played 150 times for the Bhoys.

And Yedlin had just 56 professional appearances and was less than three years removed from two years at Akron when he moved to London.

From the Sunderland Echo:

“We’ve got Billy who has a lot of experience, and obviously we’ve got DeAndre, who has very little experience at this level.

“DeAndre has a lot of qualities, but without that experience, it’s a massive ask to perform at the consistent level that you need to at this stage of the season, particularly with the pressure we’re all under.”

You have to love that following his train of thought would continue with, “but we don’t have any better options, so let’s see what happens!” It’s not quite Guus Hiddink saying of Chelsea youth like Matt Miazga, “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in“, but Allardyce is right in saying the relegation plight is a different pressure than Chelsea’s much safer spot.

This is a big chance — and a big ask — for Yedlin, who replaced Jones in last week’s comeback draw with Liverpool and has only seen Spurs improve since he went on loan. How has Yedlin fared this season? In terms of overall stats, he hasn’t been very good at all, though advanced stats site Squawka says he is slightly better than Jones.

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But in terms of straight-up defending, the USMNT man has done the job a lot better.

Sunderland Yedlin

It would be classic Big Sam to improve his lot in the Premier League safety race because injury forced him to remove Jones.

Go get ’em, kid.

Hiddink on Zouma absence: “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in”

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Chelsea hosts Newcastle United this weekend, its first game since the season-ending injury to young defender Kurt Zouma.

The 21-year-old Frenchman has arguably been Chelsea’s best center back when it comes to marking and defending this season, and manager Guus Hiddink has to find an alternative for the big man.

[ MORE: Klopp updates Sturridge, Coutinho fitness; Backs owners ]

While Gary Cahill and John Terry have the familiar names of the bunch, Hiddink won’t limit himself to veteran replacements. Certainly he could slide Cesar Azpilicueta inside, though that would sacrifice about a half-foot, and Newcastle likes to use big striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

He also has 20-year-old USMNT back Matt Miazga — who’s been given squad No. 20 — and said the following in Friday’s pre-match press conference:

“We have no fear of bringing youngsters in.”

Could we see Miazga in the fold on Saturday? Hiddink’s comments sure sound like he’d rather not, but all it takes is an injury or an inkling.

Miazga gave an interview to Chelsea’s web site last weekend where he described his play.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“I really like it, it is a higher level, the ball moves much faster but yeah, it is good. All the guys are very welcoming and I am really enjoying it.

“My game is definitely built on winning aerial challenges and tackles. As a centre-back you have to have an aerial presence and win a lot of headers, and my job is to win duels and not let opponents score, so every time I try to get a good tackle in and make my opponent know that I am there and it is not going to be an easy time trying to go by me.”

The ball moves much faster, and we’re hoping to see Miazga move with it sooner rather than later. Will it be this weekend.