FC Barcelona edge out Manchester City 2-1, as Spaniards reach UEFA Champions League quarterfinal (4-1, agg.)

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FC Barcelona beat Manchester City 2-1 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday, as the Spanish giants won 4-1 on aggregate after a spirited effort from the Citizens.

A brave display from City, especially at the start of the second half, saw Edin Dzeko stopped superbly by Victor Valdes and Pablo Zabaleta spurn another great chance as the Citizens had the home side rocking for a while.

However just when City looked to be on top and were causing the hosts problem, Messi popped up to capitalize on a small mistake from Joleon Lescott and dink the ball past a helpless Joe Hart for his 67th Champions League goal in his 84th appearance, and put Barca 1-0 to the good.

City pushed bravely to get back into the game, but a clear penalty kick was waved away late on after Gerard Pique’s foul on Edin Dzeko and City’s remonstrations saw Pablo Zabaleta sent off for dissent. In the 88th minute City’s superb captain Vincent Kompany poked in an equalizer to make it 1-1, but Barcelona sealed their passage to to the last eight as Dani Alves finished in the 90th minute to make it 2-1.

Barcelona march on to the Champions League quarterfinals, as in the space of a few days City’s hopes of winning an unprecedented quadruple has now diminished into concentrating on the Premier League title to go along with their League Cup success.

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A bright start from City saw the Premier League side pile forward and force the issue against Barcelona, with marauding runs from David Silva and Fernandinho causing plenty of problems. However City’s energetic start was countered by Messi’s clever running, as first Lescott looked to have tripped up the Argentine in the box, but no penalty was given. Then in the 11th minute Messi skipped past two challenges before Joe Hart smothered the ball at his feet and the rebound was scrambled away to safety.

City composed themselves and continued to press high up the pitch to try and stop Barca from dictating the tempo of the game. In the 15th minute the away side got their first look on goal as Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a delightful ball from the left that James Milner tried to direct goalwards but the ball flew wide with Sergio Aguero lurking. Barcelona then had the ball in the net moments later, but Jordi Alba was adjudged to have strayed offside as his cross was finished off by Neymar but the goal was chalked off for offside. Alba looked to be onside, as City got away with one.

Barcelona were trying to break down City’s stubborn defense who continued to play a dangerously high line on the edge of their own box, but to their credit the Citizens were digging in and trying to create and build attacks of their own as the first half wore on.

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City’s players were demoralized, as their first appearance in the UCL knockout round ended in defeat.

In the 38th minute Kolarov let Neymar get past him but Barca’s Brazilian attacker saw his shot deflected wide as City battened down the hatches before half time. Yet in the 41st minute City  broke and had a great chance to go ahead, as a sumptuous back heel from Silva found Nasri 12-yards out but the Frenchman smashed his volley straight at Valdes as Barcelona’s fans and players breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Just before the interval Neymar took the ball around Hart but City’s ‘keeper followed him to the edge of the box and as the Brazilian winger dinked the ball over his head, Fernandinho headed the ball off the line to keep the score 0-0 at half time. During the interval

After the break City once again took the game to Barca as Silva hit a snapshot straight at Valdes less then a minute into the second half. But then Messi danced past Lescott and slotted his shot past Hart but the ball bounced off the post and City managed to clear as Barcelona came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock. In the 51st minute Dzeko rose highest to head a clipped ball from Kolarov towards the top corner, but Valdes pulled off a terrific save to tip the ball over the bar. The game continued to ebb and flow, as City searched for a way back into the tie as Barca tried to kill them off. In the 54th minute another great pull back from Kolarov found Zabaleta on the edge of the box but the Argentine player shanked his effort horribly wide as another glorious chance went begging. City continued to make all the pressing in the second half as Barca limped towards the UCL quarterfinals in a less than impressive display. In the 60th minute a great run from Fernandinho saw Yaya Toure find him with a delicate pass and only a last-ditch tackle from Pique thwarted the City man as he broke free in the box.

Despite all that pressing from City, in the 67th minute Messi put the tie beyond doubt. The Argentine superstar scored his eighth goal in five UCL games this season after Cesc Fabregas played a ball through that Lescott somehow failed to clear, then Messi latched onto the loose ball and dinked the ball home calmly to put Barca 1-0 up.

City kept battling away but Barcelona kicked into full possession mode as the Citizens struggled for the remainder of the game. In the 77th minute a pivotal moment arrived as Dzeko dribbled past Pique and was taken down by the Spanish defender in the box for what seemed to be a clear penalty, but referee Stephane Lannoy waved away the appeals of City’s players. Zabaleta took things too far and was shown a second yellow card and given his marching orders.

Barcelona failed to see the game out with a clean sheet as Kompany popped up to equalize in the dying stages to make it 1-1. But, as they so often do, the Catalan club had the last say as Alves smashed home from close range after Andres Iniesta had rounded Hart to compound City’s misery.

LINEUPS

FC Barcelona: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Alba, Fabregas (Sergi, 85), Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Neymar (Sanchez, 80)

Goals: Messi (67′), Alves (90′)

Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Toure, Milner, Silva (Negredo, 72), Nasri (Jesus Navas, 74), Aguero (Dzeko, 45)

Goal: Kompany (88)

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

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“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

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Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.