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)

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.