Can Manchester City oust struggling Barcelona in UEFA Champions League?

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First up, let’s just say it hasn’t been a great weekend for Manchester City or FC Barcelona.

Both teams lost to opponents they should’ve really wiped the floor with, as they head into a UEFA Champions League showdown at the Nou Camp on Wednesday low on confidence and struggling for form.

Although City lost shockingly at home to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup quarterfinal on Sunday, Barcelona’s defeat to La Liga basement boys Real Valladolid on Saturday was arguably more damaging.

Barca’s new coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months as the Blaugrana have stuttered their way through the domestic campaign. Like David Moyes has found at Manchester United, Martino has found it difficult to kick start and rebuild a global soccer dynasty. Under Pep Guardiola and then Tito Vilanova, that’s what Barca had become. After their defeat to Valladolid they are now four points behind leaders Real Madrid, while if City win their three games in hand over Chelsea they go joint-top of the PL.

(MORE: How things stand in Champions League after first legs of knockout games)

This season — especially lately in the league as they’ve lost two of their last three games — there seems to be a little something missing from Barca’s play. Sure they went to the Etihad and won 2-0, giving themselves an extremely healthy cushion ahead of Wednesday’s second leg. However it wasn’t as if Barca outclassed City, rather that City handed victory to the Catalan club on a plate after a second half implosion that saw the Spanish side gratefully accept a penalty kick opener and a red card to City’s Martin Demichelis.

source: AP
Demichelis’ tackles which earned him a red card and gave Barca a PK which Messi converted. But did City deserve a 2-0 defeat in the first leg?

The rhetoric emanating from Barcelona before this game has been all about how City will now be facing a fully-fit Lionel Messi, as the Argentine star was apparently nowhere near 100 percent when the sides squared off at the Etihad in February. Well, that’s just fine. But what about Barca’s somewhat shaky defense coming up against a fully-fit Sergio Aguero?

In the first leg Barcelona didn’t have to deal with Messi’s good friend and predatory striker partner for the Argentine national team, Aguero. With the 26-year-old forward raring to make up for last time after suffering an ill-timed hamstring injury, expect City to come flying out of the traps at the Nou Camp with their diminutive top scorer — who has 26 goals to his name in 27 games — leading the line.

All the pressure is on Barca to kill off any City comeback effortlessly and put on a show. But as we’ve seen in recent seasons at the Nou Camp, they’ve failed to break down the likes of Inter Milan and Chelsea who came to defend. But this time they will be facing a team hell bent on attacking and trying to make up for their two-goal deficit as quickly as possible. Will that play into Barca’s hands, who knows? With makeshift center back Javier Mascherano easily overpowered by Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo, plus Aguero likely to run a few rings around Baca’s other central defender Gerard Pique, I fancy City’s chances to go and score a few in Barcelona… but can they keep a clean sheet at the other end?

City do not deserve to be two goals down from the first leg, but will Barcelona make them pay for one mishap in the second half of the opening match that spun the tie on its head? Or does Barcelona’s poor form heading into the much-anticipated encounter really mean anything at all?

On Wednesday we will find out. But it’s sure to be an intriguing game between two teams searching for form, one with nothing to lose, the other with everything to lose.

I know which position I’d rather be in. He who dares, wins.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.

Klopp “angry, surprised” by Liverpool defeat to Swansea

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Liverpool fans might disagree — Jurgen Klopp certainly does, tonight, at least — but the beauty of the Premier League is that you can end the runaway leaders’ bid for an unbeaten season, then lose to the last-place team in the league, in back-to-back games.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

This, of course, leaves Klopp, Liverpool’s fiery, combustible manager, more than a little hot under the collar. Following Monday’s 1-0 loss away to bottom-of-the-league Swansea City, Klopp pulled no punches in describing the emotions he feels after such a result.

“Frustrated,” “angry” and “surprised” quickly came to mind after seeing his side’s 14-game PL unbeaten run come to an end. Despite creating 21 chances on the night, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain managed to put just four on target, which was undoubtedly the genesis of his frustration, anger and surprise — quotes from the BBC:

“I’m frustrated and I’m angry because it was not a good game. We lost the game in the first half. We didn’t do what we wanted to do. It hasn’t happened too often so I didn’t expect that, I was quite surprised. Because of the first half we weren’t flying and they were.

“We made pressure at the end but not enough to score. The last situation was unlucky but if we got a point it would still have been a bad game for us, and it was the opposite of what we wanted. That happens from time to time and it’s never the right moment and like it should be.

“It’s not that we threw it away. Swansea are fighting for their life and we’ve no problem with that, we had a problem with our offensive motions. It’s not what we came here for tonight. We have nothing, and that’s our fault.”

Swansea 1-0 Liverpool: Last-place Swans shock Reds

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  • Swansea shock Liverpool in game of few chances
  • Mawson sweeps home the winner — 40′
  • Reds’ 14-game PL unbeaten run ends
  • Swans now 2W-1D-1L under Carvalhal

From the high of snapping Manchester City’s unbeaten run (30 games dating back to last season) and bid for an unbeaten 2017-18 Premier League season, to being beaten by last-place Swansea City… in back-to-back games… all in the span of eight days.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

On Monday, Swansea topped Liverpool, 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium, to claim just their fifth PL victory all season; two of the five have come in the first three weeks of new manager Carlos Carvalhal’s tenure (four games).

Virgil Van Dijk cost Liverpool $100 million, but he’s yet to arrest the Reds’ woeful set-piece defending. It was the big Dutchman who failed to head the ball clear from the Swans’ 40th-minute corner kick. After an unfortunate bounce in the box, the ball fell to Mawson just 10 yards out. The young Welshman swept his right foot through the ball and Loris Karius could do nothing about it.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Liverpool’s first surefire chance of the second half came in the 60th minute, when Mohamed Salah delicately lifted just over the wall a free kick from 22 yards out. The ball quickly fell as it neared goal, but Lukasz Fabianski reacted quicker and pushed it over the crossbar at full-stretch to preserve the lead at 1-0.

Right on 94 minutes, with the referee staring at his watch, Roberto Firmino headed off Fabianski’s right-hand post and Adam Lallana missed an open-net follow-up, somehow booting the ball well over the bar from three yards out.

Despite holding over 70 percent of possession on the night, Liverpool put on target just four of their 21 total shots.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

With the defeat, Liverpool (47 points) fail to capitalize on Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw with Southampton on Sunday. Having ultimately gained a point in Round 24, Tottenham now trail Liverpool by just two points in the race for fourth. The two sides meet in two weeks’ time, on Sunday, Feb. 4, at Anfield.

Swansea (20 points), meanwhile, have done nearly enough to climb out of the PL cellar, but remain 20th out of 20 teams on goal differential. Three points stand between them and safety.