Martino satisfied after Barcelona bounce back sees Manchester City out of Champions League

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If Saturday’s loss at Real Valladolid instilled new doubts in Barcelona, Wednesday provided the antidote. Thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Daniel Alves, the Spanish champions saw Manchester City out of UEFA Champions League, prevailing 4-1 (aggregate) in the Round of 16’s toughest matchup.

That accomplishment wasn’t lost on Gerardo Martino. Noting the difficult time Barcelona had leading up to today’s second leg, the Barcelona boss highlighted his team’s perseverance after their 2-1 win over visiting City.

“This clearly hasn’t been an easy week,” Martino said. “Tonight we faced the best rivals we could have been drawn against and a team who could have gone further in the tournament. The game was one that needed to be overcome.”

Perhaps, but Barcelona would have also gone through with a one-goal loss or a draw. They could have stumbled their way into the quarterfinals, had they carried over their weekend form.

Instead, the Blaugrana achieved an outright victory on Wednesday, albeit on that saw City end the match with 10 men.

“City played more of the game 11 against 11 and they were more dangerous then (the first leg),” Martino said. “[In the first leg] we played for what seemed like an age with a man advantage. This was a game in which both sides had chances.”

Barcelona’s chances forced City goalkeeper Joe Hart into seven saves, but with the Citizens electing to start with five midfielders, the home team didn’t maintain their usual monopoly of the ball. Come full-time, Barça has managed “only” 55 percent possession.

“We usually play with two forwards but against Barcelona, with such good midfield players, we thought we needed to reinforce the midfield” City assistant Rubén Cousillas said after the match. “I don’t think it would have changed the result.”

The tweak forced Martino to change his own approach, acknowledging more had to be sacrificed for Barcelona to maintain possession.

“Manchester City are not a team you want to be sharing possession with,” Martino explained, “and that’s why we played the way we did tonight. It’s probable that we will [continue] to play that way when we come up against sides who can work the ball around well.”

Perhaps the need to change reflects Barcelona’s new vulnerabilities. Or maybe it’s a function of Martino’s continued maturation into the job.

Regardless, Barcelona just finished 180 minutes against once of the world’s most talented teams with a 4-1 edge. We can nit-pick about how they went about their business, but where some were picking the Catalans to fall, they prevailed by three goals.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

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Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.