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)

Dani Alves fires back at Diego Forlan

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After Neymar and Edinson Cavani’s penalty drama that has blown up over the last few days and potentially led to Neymar’s exclusion from the PSG squad this weekend, Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan went on sports radio in his home country to not just back his former international teammate Cavani, but also throw a pair of Brazilians under the bus.

Forlan obviously denounced Neymar’s role in the dispute, but he also picked out Neymar’s club and country teammate Dani Alves for favoring his countrymate.

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“What doesn’t make any sense is what Alves does, he doesn’t give the ball to Cavani and then gives it to Neymar as if he were his [explitive]. Cavani deserves respect. He has been scoring goals for years, taking penalties. There has to be respect. Neymar would not have done that with [Lionel] Messi. He didn’t want Cavani to take the penalty. He was like a little boy annoying him.”

Well, as you can imagine, Alves did not take kindly to being sucked into the fray, and fired back as a result. “I don’t know what match you were watching,” Alves wrote on Twitter, “but for your information, I didn’t take the ball away from any of my teammates. It was just the opposite, it was taken from me!

“And also for your information, the last penalty kick for PSG was mine. So shut your trap and stop making drama in my name.”

This whole situation has blown up more than most penalty disputes (which happen relatively often) likely due to the international affiliations. With the decades-old bad blood between Brazil and Uruguay, it’s no surprise that people are taking sides. Forlan swept up another Brazilian in the mix, and understandably he did not appreciate the cheap shot.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Leicester City has won 2 straight home PL games vs Liverpool
  • Jamie Vardy has 5 goals in 3 PL games vs Liverpool
  • Liverpool leads the PL with 40 shots on target this season

Jamie Vardy is good to go for the Foxes as they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC or live online via NBCSports.com).

These two teams matched up midweek in League Cup play, with Leicester City winning 2-0, and they did so without Vardy who missed out with a groin strain. He’s since recovered, and will likely play a part. Christian Fuchs and Leonardo Ulloa are also ready to go, with Fuchs back after an eye injury in training, while Ulloa took a knock to the head midweek but is ready to go.

The Foxes need a win in the worst way, as a loss would leave them with their joint-worst point total through the first six matches of a top flight season since 1994/95, the year they were relegated.

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Liverpool, meanwhile, has issues of its own to sort out. They are winless in all competitions since August 27th, and on a larger scale, Jurgen Klopp is taking heat for having less points than Brendan Rodgers did through his first 73 league games of his Liverpool tenure.

The Reds are also facing a bit of injury trouble, with Dejan Lovren still out with back problems, while Joel Matip and Emre Can both suffered slight injuries in the midweek loss and are questionable for Saturday. Should all those miss out, the already leaky defense would prove even more porous.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool chasing the ball: “We come too close together in the situation where the first ball is going after a throw-in and it means for the second ball we don’t have a good formation. We need to get more natural in these things because it’s not that difficult to be honest but it happens too often. Now we have to work and then it will be even more difficult to create something against us.”

Craig Shakespeare on Jamie Vardy vs. Liverpool: “Is he a bogeyman? I am hoping so. Sometimes strikers will have good memories of playing against certain teams. Centre forwards go through these purple patches and everybody would like one who can get you 20 goals a season.”

Prediction

If anything is certain in a Liverpool match, it’s that the first goal doesn’t matter. Since the start of last season, the Reds are tops in the league with 20 points from losing positions. However, they’re also fifth in the league in that same timeframe with 20 points lost from winning positions. With that in mind, a wild game is likely in store, but with the inconsistent form for either side of late, it’s tough to pick a winner. A 2-2 draw is a likely result.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

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This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

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“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.