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

  • 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?

Ronaldo: “I always believe I am the best”

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You’ve got to appreciate the over-sized ego of Cristiano Ronaldo, even if it is deserved.

The 33-year-old Real Madrid striker was bestowed the 2017 Player of the Year award from the Portugal FA, earning 65 percent of the vote. But more than winning yet another trophy to add to his burgeoning case was what he told the media after accepting the award.

“We have to defend what is ours because there is always a Portuguese in the fight (for the top awards),” Ronaldo said, via AS. “I always believe and say that I am the best, whatever they say, and then I show it in the field. We are in the fight year after year.”

Ronaldo did score 42 goals last year for Real Madrid and has scored 18 goals in 2018 alone already for Los Blancos as the club look to go back-to-back-to-back in the UEFA Champions League.

Miazga: “We’re all ready to make an impression” with USMNT

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Last October, for reasons unknown, Matt Miazga didn’t make the U.S. Men’s National Team squad for its final two World Cup qualifiers.

Five months later, he’s risen to the top of the centerback depth chart.

[MORE: Digging into the USMNT roster]

The hulking centerback spoke on Tuesday as the USMNT started off its training camp in Cary, N.C., noting that the youth-laden squad wanted to make an impression to stay in the picture moving forward. With four years until the next World Cup and still more than a year until competitive matches, there is still plenty of shuffling and expanding of the player pool to do before then.

Have a listen to Miazga and enjoy the sights and sounds of the USMNT training camp ahead of its friendly match against Paraguay.


Banker Gaetano Micciche elected Serie A president

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MILAN (AP) Bank boss Gaetano Micciche has been elected president of Serie A.

Micciche, the president of Banca IMI, was chosen unanimously on Monday by the Italian league’s 20 clubs.

He succeeds Maurizio Beretta, who left the position nearly a year ago.

[ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

The league has been under emergency leadership, first by former Italian football federation president Carlo Tavecchio then by Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago.

Malago recommended Micciche for the position.

The federation remains under emergency leadership following Tavecchio’s resignation in the wake of Italy’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.

Report: Liverpool to resist all offers for Salah

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Liverpool has a message for any club looking to sign Mohamed Salah this summer: Not gonna happen.

The Merseyside club has reportedly said it will “not sell Salah under any circumstances this summer” as the Reds look to hold off the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, according to The Telegraph. Salah’s four-goal tally against Watford on Saturday took his goal total to an incredible 28 in 32 Premier League games, with another seven goals in cup competitions.

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Liverpool famously kept Barcelona – and Arsenal – off Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan striker wanted to leave in 2013, but Liverpool was only able to stop Barcelona from signing Philippe Coutinho for six months.

As things stand, Liverpool are qualified for the 2018-2019 UEFA Champions League with the club sitting in a top four Premier League place, and keeping Salah is absolutely vital if the Reds want to make a deep run in the competition and compete for a Premier League title. It remains to be seen though if Salah is happy to stay at Liverpool or if a big-money offer from Spain or France can tempt him otherwise to set himself and his family financially for life.