Is Leo Messi really set to leave Barcelona?

Preview: Barcelona, Manchester City stumble into Champions League second leg; PSG set to rest Ibrahimovic

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Manchester City’s draw against Barcelona in UEFA Champions League promised to give us a semifinal matchup in the tournament’s first knockout round, but after shock weekend losses, both titans find themselves limping into their tie’s second leg. Against a club battling to avoid relegation from La Liga (Real Valladolid), Barça lost 1-0 on Saturday, an indignity that pushed them into third in Spain. Manchester City somehow managed to do their Wednesday opponents one worse, losing 2-1 at home to second division Wigan Athletic in England’s FA Cup. Where at one time this meeting could have been the leaders of the world’s two best leagues, today’s second leg will feature Spain’s third-place team against a club that sits fourth in the Premier League.

That fourth place team, who’ll start Wednesday’s second leg with a two-goal deficit, will also be without their manager. Manuel Pellegrini begins a suspension incurred after criticizing officials in the wake of City’s 2-0 loss to Barça at the Emirates, one which puts leaves assistant coach Rubén Cousillas in charge. The 56-year-old Argentine, who has been with Pellegrini since the Chilean’s days coaching in South America, is tasked with not only making history in Catalonia but also moving the Citizens past an embarrassing Sunday result.

“We had a big sense of frustration because we wanted to be back at Wembley and win another cup,” Cousillas said, “but Wigan surprised us. We have turned the page and we have experienced and quality players, which means we are more united than ever and we have forgotten everything in preparation for tomorrow.”

Barcelona will need a similarly faulty memory to regain their confidence before kickoff on Wednesday. Whereas City can assuage themselves with having lost to the same team that beat them in last year’s FA Cup, Barça’s loss at Real Valladolid is less explicable. Shut out against a team that had not won in five games, Gerardo Martino suffered his second loss in three. While its +52 goal difference is still the top mark in the Primera Division, a third place standing is the lowest Barcelona has sat since the opening days of the Pep Guardiola era.

“After the match in Valladolid, I said we made mistakes but under different circumstances – because all our defeats this season have been different,” Martino explained. “There’s not a specific reason for us being inconsistent. We need to be more consistent at this stage of the season to maintain our chances of winning all three competitions.”

That need for improvement underscores a heightened urgency for Barcelona. Though they are unlikely to give up their two-goal leads to City, they are less than two weeks away from the season’s second Clasico – one they can’t afford to lose if they’re going to retain their La Liga title. Already four points behind first place Real Madrid, Barcelona have 180 minutes to raise their game before entering the Santiago Bernábeu.

Though they were missing midfield star Andrés Iniesta this weekend, against Manchester City, there’ll be no excuses. Both Lionel Messi and Neymar are fully fit. Xavi Hernández is ready to play in midfield. UEFA reports no injuries to Martino’s regulars along the back. Though Barcelona can claim Real Valladolid surprised them on Saturday, it won’t be able to use similar excuses on Wednesday.

“We have to think that 10 or 12 days ago,” Martino explained, “we played a very good match against Manchester City. I don’t see why we can’t do the same tomorrow and I’m sure we will play well.”

City is not as quite healthy as their hosts. In addition to Pellegrini’s loss, the Citizens will be without Martín Demechilis (suspended) and backup Matija Nastasic, leaving Joleon Lescott to start to the left of Vincent Kompany in City’s defense.

The rest of the team — from leading goal threat Sergio Aguero up top to former Barcelona defensive midfielder Yaya Touré in the middle — will be laid out according to Pellegrini’s plans, even if the Manchester City boss will be in the stands.

“The decisions are taken by Pellegrini,” Cousillas confirmed. “I have worked with him for 13 years and I know what he wants.”

What he truly wants may be out of Cousillas’s reach. Down two goals, Manchester City will be looking to make history in Spain, not only hoping to reach their first quarterfinal but also trying to become the first team to turn around a two-goal deficit incurred at home.

Barcelona’s recent results say City may be catching it at the right time, but the Citizens will have to shake off disappointment of their own if they’re to survive in Champions League.

source: APParis Saint-Germain try to kill off wounded Bayer Leverkusen

PSG’s matchup with Bayer Leverkusen joins Real Madrid’s pairing with Schalke as the most lopsided battles in the competition’s Round of 16. Whereas PSG put up a 4-0 win three weeks ago at the BayArena, all but eliminating Sami Hyypia’s team before they’d boarded their plane for Paris, Real Madrid posted a 6-1 victory in Gelsenkirchen. The German Bundesliga may be an up-and-coming league, but last year’s third and fourth place finishers are having trouble keeping pace with the league’s new reputation.

What that means for Champions League fans is a second, perfunctory 90 minutes in at the Parc de Princes, one that’s unlikely to feature PSG star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The main reason for watching today’s return leg is set to be held out of the team, with head coach Laurent Blanc sounding a cautious note about his focal point’s back injury ahead of the match. Likewise, Blaise Matuidi — a midfielder who nearly rivaled Ibrahimovic’s influence in Germany — is also unlikely to be held out, with Marco Veratti, Gregory van der Wiel, and Jérémy Menez joining him as doubts.

All of which would spark worry from Bayer Leverkusen if the score was closer. Even then, Bayer would have to have shown something more than one point in six games leading into Wednesday’s match – form that’s seen them relinquish second place in the Bundesliga. Only five points ahead of fifth place Wolfsburg, Bayer now have concerns about whether they can maintain a Champions League spot, especially with their annual trip to Bayern looming on Saturday.

“The team needs to build confidence and self-belief, and one way to do so could be with a good performance here.,” Hyypia explained. “The most important thing is we need to find some stability defensively, especially now that we’re going through difficult times.”

With PSG set to take a cautious approach, Bayer may get their reprieve. That doesn’t necessarily mean their winless run will stop.

Week 14: Top Premier League storylines – Leicester vs. Man United for the top spot

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 31:  Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City and Marcos Rojo of Manchester United compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on January 31, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Week 14 of the Premier League is upon us, as teams get ready to kick-off one of the busiest and most important stretches of the season.

[ WATCH: PL TV schedule — Week 14 ]

Below are five things to keep an eye out for as things get underway on Saturday morning.

Can Vardy keep Leicester top?

Just as we all expected, Leicester City is currently top of the table in the Premier League. This weekend, the Foxes have a massive match against Manchester United, who sit in second place just one point behind Claudio Ranieri‘s men. In last season’s fixture between these two sides at the King Power Stadium, Leicester stunned United in a wild 5-3 victory. While you should expect to see a bit of a different scoreline on Saturday, there’s a good chance Jamie Vardy could find the back of the net yet again. Vardy scored Leicester’s fifth and final goal in that match last season, and is currently on a record run with goals in ten straight Premier League games. One of the hottest strikers in Europe right now, Vardy will look to extend his streak to 11 straight in an effort to keep Leicester at the top of the table.

[ MORE: Ranieri still focused on reaching 40 points with Leicester ]

Not only does Saturday’s match pin the top two teams against each other, it also pins the most potent attack in Leicester against the stingiest defense in United. Leicester’s 28 goals lead the Premier League, while United has conceded just nine goals on the year. While the Foxes have shocked everyone, United and Louis Van Gaal have taken their fair share of criticism despite the fact that the Red Devils sit second on the table. A win on Saturday would move United into first place, as LVG is looking to prove that defense really does win championships.

Spurs look to stay hot vs. Chelsea

While Jamie Vardy is the hottest English striker right now, Harry Kane isn’t far behind. Kane has scored nine goals in his last six matches in all competitions for Tottenham, a major reason why Spurs are the most in-form team in the league. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have not lost since opening day, currently sitting just outside of the top four. On Sunday, Tottenham will keep their unbeaten streak intact as White Hart Lane hosts Chelsea in a London derby. Despite their poor start, the Blues come in on the heels of two straight wins and are playing some of their best football of the season. While Norwich City and Maccabi Tel-Aviv are far from the quality of Tottenham, there have been good signs as Eden Hazard is starting to find his game while Willian continues to produce. A win over Tottenham could be the spark Chelsea needs to go on a big run before Christmas.

[ RELATED: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks — Week 14 ]

Will City rebound after two straight losses?

Manchester City has dropped two straight matches, losing the top spot in both the Premier League and their Champions League group. City was thrashed at home to Liverpool before losing away to Juventus, as it’s no longer smooth sailing at the Etihad. Factor in a disappointing 0-0 draw against Aston Villa, and Saturday’s match against Southampton is City’s last chance to earn a league win in the month of November. Injuries have been a big reason for City’s drop in form, with captain Vincent Kompany missing out again this weekend, as will Joe Hart, who injured his hamstring against Juventus. Pellegrini’s men could receive a massive boost though, as David Silva is hoping to make his return against Saints after a seven-week absence. A result at home against Southampton is massive, as a loss could see City drop out of the top four for the first time this season.

Swansea in desperate need of a result at Liverpool

Swansea City’s last Premier League win came way back on October 24 against lowly Aston Villa, as Garry Monk‘s side has hit a bit of a rough patch. After being kept off the scoresheet in consecutive losses to Arsenal and Norwich City, the Swans found themselves two goals down at home against Bournemouth last week, needing to fight back to earn a draw. The side from Wales has dropped to 14th on the table, and must try to stop the slide in a tough trip to Anfield. Liverpool won both meetings between the two clubs last season, and are looking to build on a huge 4-1 win over Manchester City in Week 13. With this match being so important to Swansea City, Jurgen Klopp must make sure there is no letup from his men on Sunday.

[ MORE: Klopp gives injury updates on Sturridge, Henderson ]

Bottom feeders look to climb

With a vital stretch of games from Saturday to the New Year, teams towards the bottom of the table will look to start things off on the right foot. Sunderland returns home after a big win over Crystal Palace in a vintage Sam Allardyce performance, as the Mackems host a Stoke City side that has not conceded in three matches. Newcastle travels to Palace and will try to follow in the footsteps of their North East rivals and get a result at Selhurst Park. Bournemouth hasn’t won in the league since September, and with a tough match against Everton this weekend before matches against Chelsea and Manchester United, things could go from bad to worse for the Cherries.

Friday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Messi to Man City for $1.2 million per week

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (R) hugs his Head coach Josep Guardiola of FC Barcelona after scoring his team's third goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on May 5, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. This is the last match as head coach of FC Barcelona for Josep Guardiola at the Camp Nou Stadium.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The rumor mill is officially wide open.

After reports came out yesterday that Pep Guardiola could be on his way to manage Manchester City next season, today they are saying Guardiola could be in for a reunion at the Etihad with Lionel Messi.

[ WATCH: PL TV Schedule — Week 14 ]

The Sun is reporting that Messi’s camp has had discussions about a move to Manchester City that would see the superstar take in a ridiculous $1.2 million in weekly wages. With both Messi and Neymar in need of new contracts at Barcelona, it is believed that the club would not be able to afford both players, making a move for one of them a possibility.

If Guardiola was to move to Man City, he would have quite the pull in trying to lure Messi there as well, as the two achieved unparalleled success together at Barca. City’s massive finances and Messi’s ongoing tax issues in Spain make a move to Manchester a possibility.

Andre Ayew’s time at Swansea City could be shorter than expected, as Liverpool is reportedly interested in bringing the winger to Anfield. Ayew moved to Wales from French side Marseille this summer and has been brilliant for Garry Monk, scoring six goals through 13 matches. Speaking to French radio station RMC, Ayew admitted he had gotten offers from bigger clubs, and has put teams on high alert as he said that although he is happy at Swansea, “Now, I am ambitious and we will see what happens.”

[ RELATED: Manchester United send James Wilson on loan to Brighton ]

Tottenham are hopeful they can fend off the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, as the two are keen to move Harry Kane away from White Hart Lane. With Radamel Falcao‘s loan a flop and reported tension between Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho, Chelsea is believed to be preparing a bid for the Spurs striker, who has scored nine goals in his past six games for Tottenham.

In other news, often-troubled midfielder Ravel Morrison is on his way back to England after leaving Italian side Lazio for “personal reasons.” Morrison came up through the Manchester United academy before moving to West Ham and bouncing around on a few loan deals. Still 22-years-old, it is believed Morrison could look to rejoin the Hammers or Queens Park Rangers, who he played for in 2014.

Manchester United loan young striker James Wilson to Brighton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28:  James Wilson of Manchester United takes on George Friend (L) and Daniel Ayala of Middlesbrough during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on October 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United has sent 19-year-old James Wilson on a season-long loan to Championship side Bright and Hove Albion.

The striker signed a new contract with United earlier this year, but has seen limited playing time under Louis Van Gaal, making just one Premier League appearance this season.

[ MORE: Klopp on Sturridge setback ]

Many have called for Wilson to get more of a run with the first team, as United has had a bit of a struggle to score goals this season. With Wilson being one of the only true striker options for Van Gaal, this move may come as a bit of a surprise.

Van Gaal himself admitted that some may not be happy with the move, but said it would be better for the player’s development to get more minutes at Brighton.

Players of his age need to play and I can imagine that fans are saying that this is ridiculous, they have difficulties to score, but that is a short-term thought.

We have to think what is better for a player like Wilson and at the moment he does not have too many possibilities to play on a higher level. We believe in him so he has to develop himself elsewhere. If we need him, we can call him back.

Wilson burst onto the scene at United during Ryan Giggs‘ short stint as interim manager, scoring twice in his Premier League debut against Hull City. However, he has featured almost exclusively for the reserves under LVG and will now spend the rest of the season away from Old Trafford.

[ RELATED: Aston Villa’s Grealish sent down to U21’s after heavy partying ]

Brighton currently sits tied at the top of the Championship table, the only remaining team without a loss in league play. Despite the Seagulls’ hot start to the campaign, they haven’t been the most potent attacking side, as their leading scorer Tomer Hemed has just five goals and hasn’t tallied since September.

Klopp gives update on Sturridge injury; Henderson close to return

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LIVERPOOL — Jurgen Klopp has confirmed that Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has suffered a setback in his latest return from injury.

[ MORE: Costa out at Chelsea? ]

Klopp stated that Sturridge — who has yet to play for the German coach since he arrived at the club as manager in October — has been stepping up his recovery from a knee problem but it is now believed the England international, 26, has suffered a new foot injury which makes him a big doubt for their game against Swansea City at Anfield (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) on Sunday.

Speaking to the assembled media at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, Klopp said Sturridge’s latest setback isn’t serious but he’s isn’t sure if he will be available to return to action in the coming days as confusion remains.

“We have to accept the situation and that is Danny was very often injured in last few months and maybe years,” Klopp said. “Everybody wants him back on the pitch but we all have to learn the situation. It’s not that serious. It’s completely normal after a long injury. We have to stay patient. Usually, in a perfect world, you should train five weeks in a row when you have been out this long like in preseason. But we know the world is not perfect so we have to try the best and quickest way.”

“The training for him was intensive, how it should be and we had some new things to talk about. We had to make some assessment and that’s what we did so now we can say it is not that serious but it is not possible to go on as before. We have to react to a situation and that is completely normal after a long injury.”

Asked if Sturridge could return this weekend, Klopp simply said: “I don’t know,” but it will certainly be a big worry that Liverpool’s star striker has suffered yet another injury after spending most of the last 12 months on the sidelines with thigh, hip and knee issues. Sturridge scored twice against Aston Villa during a three-game comeback spell at the end of September and start of October in Brendan Rodgers‘ final games in charge but injured his knee in Klopp’s first week at the club. He was fit enough to make the bench during Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of Manchester City last week but has since been sent for scans on his foot injury.

[ MORE: Guardiola offered Man City job ]

Liverpool’s manager also confirmed that captain Jordan Henderson— who has been out since September with a broken foot suffered in training — has been knocking down his door to get back as soon as possible.

“Henderson wants (to come back), I can say that,” Klopp laughed. “But we have to wait to see how he adapts to training. If we see he is ready he will join in our game as he is an important player for us. I try to give myself the time to decide until tomorrow or Sunday when I have the latest information about how intensive the game yesterday was. All the players from yesterday were in good shape. ”

With Philippe Coutinho also struggling with a knock and Lucas missing this weekend through yellow card accumulation, Klopp was pleased that former Swansea City midfielder Joe Allen played 60 minutes against Bordeaux in the 2-1 Europa League win on Thursday night and praised the Welshman.

Klopp danced around questions about Liverpool challenging for the title after impressive away wins at Chelsea and Man City have got people talking, but if the Reds beat a Swansea side who have only won once in their last eight games, and other results go their way, they could be just five points off the top heading into December.