Is Leo Messi really set to leave Barcelona?

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

Leave a comment

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.

PL Sunday preview: Spurs-Man City; Man United, Arsenal in action

Leave a comment

Four-game Sundays are something of a rare sight in the Premier League, thus we must cherish such an occurrence when the soccer gods are kind enough to bestow upon us a four-game slate of fixtures like the one which awaits us this Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United vs. Stoke City — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With Wayne Rooney dropped from the starting lineup last weekend, Man United looked the best Red Devils side since — dare we say it — Sir Alex Ferguson retired. That’s all well and good, until Jose Mourinho has to pick his next starting XI for a PL fixture, Sunday against bottom-of-the-league Stoke City. The United and England captain has played in over 500 games for the club (all competitions), and scored nearly 250 goals, yet he’s no longer an automatic starter for the club. Not by coincidence, Paul Pogba scored his first United goal playing in Rooney’s regular position, just behind the striker, which is something he’ll be expected to continue doing as the most expensive signing in the history of the world.

As for the Potters, it’s been a miserable start to the season — yet to win a game; just two points from six games — and Mark Hughes will undoubtedly be wondering, “Am I in danger of being fired?” The answer is simple, Mark: yes, if you’re still at or near the bottom of the league in a month’s time. The elusive first trio of points looked on the cards last weekend, but a 91st-minute equalizer scored by Salomon Rondon extended Stoke’s winless start to the campaign. The last time Stoke won at Old Trafford, in any competition, the date was April 21, 1976.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Key wins for Chelsea, Liverpool ]


Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Six weeks into the season, there are exactly two remaining unbeaten sides in the PL: Man City and Tottenham, who sit first and third in the league table, respectively, heading into Sunday’s showdown at White Hart Lane. For the second straight season, Mauricio Pochettino‘s Spurs possess the league’s best defensive record (three goals conceded), with Pep Guardiola‘s City a close second (five, level with Everton). The two managers know each other well, from their days as Catalonian rivals, at Espanyol and Barcelona, respectively. Pochettino has managed just one win in seven all-time meetings (to Guardiola’s four), though the Argentine has never taken a side as talented as this Spurs squad into a clash with his Spanish counterpart either.

Both sides will be without key figures, with Harry Kane (ankle ligament damage) and Kevin De Bruyne (hamstring) out weeks beyond Sunday’s duel at the Lane. Nolito (suspension) and Vincent Kompany (hamstring) will also be unavailable for City, while the quartet of Mousa Dembele (hamstring), Eric Dier (hamstring), Danny Rose (hamstring) and Moussa Sissoko (concussion) will all face late fitness tests to determine their status on the day. Heung-Min Son has shouldered the goal-scoring load in Kane’s absence, tallying five times in five games (all competitions). City’s 100-percent record is on the line, against a side that turned them over twice in 2015-16, by a combined score of 6-2.

[ MORE: WATCH — PL Download celebrates Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal ]


Leicester City vs. Southampton — 9:15 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

The defending champions, Leicester, are due a victory on Sunday, if their recent form is any indication. The Foxes have alternated wins and losses — both defeats coming via 4-1 scorelines — over their last four games, with the latest thrashing delivered by Man United last weekend. They’ve managed to hit the ground running in their maiden UEFA Champions League voyage (two wins in two), but the early-season league form has all but removed Claudio Ranieri‘s side from this season’s title race. Southampton, meanwhile, have found their footing under (another) new manager, Claude Puel, with back-to-back wins (and clean sheets) after a four-game winless skid to start the season.

[ MORE: Conte revels in Chelsea’s intensity in win at Hull ]


Burnley vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Name a time in the last decade in which Arsenal looked more fluid, more balanced, and more ruthless with every foray into the final third. You’d be hard-pressed to do so after recent performances — four straight PL wins, by a combined score of 12-3, including last weekend’s demolition of Chelsea. Throw in the fact Arsene Wenger is celebrating 20 years in charge of the Gunners this weekend, and all of that equals another dominant Arsenal victory, right? Of course, because Arsenal have never once fallen flat on their face when you least expected them to do so.

Burnley have already claimed a pair of impressive scalps — Liverpool and Watford — at Turf Moor this season, which is critical for the Clarets, because they’ve been woeful away from home (two losses in two, both by 3-0 scorelines). With the second-fewest goals scored (five) in the PL this season, Sean Dyche will pin his side’s hopes on a potential third clean sheet of the season.

Ilkay Gundogan returns to Germany squad for qualifiers

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: IIkay Gundogan of Manchester City in action during the UEFA Champions League match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Leave a comment

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Ilkay Gundogan will return for Germany after nearly a year out with various injuries for World Cup qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland.

The Manchester City midfielder last played for Germany in a friendly against France on Nov. 13, the night of multiple attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Gundogan missed the European Championship in France.

Striker Mario Gomez and defender Jerome Boateng are also back after injuries at the European Championship.

Germany began its defense of the World Cup title with a 3-0 win in Norway. The team plays the Czechs in Hamburg on Oct. 8 and Northern Ireland three days later in Hannover.

Germany is the favorite to win Group C and qualify directly for the 2018 tournament in Russia.

WATCH: New PL Download — Celebrating Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal

Leave a comment

In an era where managers are frequently hired and fired barely 12 months apart, Arsene Wenger has managed to stay afloat — and thrive like few others have done — for 20 years today, Saturday, October 1.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It’s an unbelievable milestone for the Frenchman, who will finish the 2016-17 season just shy of 1,200 games managed at the club. For the latest episode of Premier League Download, NBC Sports’ Roger Bennett sat down one-on-one with the Gunners’ legendary boss (above video).

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Key wins for Chelsea, Liverpool ]

Their conversation was wide-ranging, from Wenger’s early days at the club, to the world-class players he’s had the privilege of working with, to his personal philosophy about what it takes to be a successful manager.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern draws, Dortmund loses; Chicharito on fire (video)

Dortmund's Christian Pulisic and Leverkusen's Charles Aranguiz, from left, challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund in Leverkusen, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich dropped rare points but increased its lead on the field, as Borussia Dortmund fell at Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Javier Hernandez made sure he out-CONCACAFed Christian Pulisic, scoring for Bayer in the win. USMNT back Timmy Chandler also went 90 minutes in a loss, as did Mexico’s Marco Fabian.

Bayern Munich 1-1 FC Koln

Joshua Kimmich’s 40th minute goal looked to have lifted Bayern out of its doldrums after the Bavarians fell to Atletico Madrid at midweek, but Anthony Modeste scored his fifth goal in six matches to give Koln a point at the Allianz Arena.

Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Borussia Dortmund

Someone tapped Bayer out of its long early season nap, as Admir Mehmedi’s 10th minute goal combined with a disciplined, physical performance for the hosts to scoop up three points. Mexico’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez enters the international break in fine form after adding his seventh goal in all competitions this season.

USMNT teen Christian Pulisic got another start for BVB, and was waylaid with a knee to the back. The 18-year-old American came through the scare fine, but had a mostly anonymous match as his team struggled against a game home side.

Hertha Berlin 2-0 Hamburger SV

Vedad Ibisevic made it four goals in his last two outings as Hertha scored in both halves of a home win.

Darmstadt 2-2 Werder Bremen

Serge Gnabry had a great Olympics, and many were surprised when Arsenal allowed him to go back home to Germany. He’s picked up where he’s left off, joining Lamine Sane on the scoresheet in a 2-2 road draw.

Ingolstadt 1-2 Hoffenheim

Sandro Wagner and Kerem Demirbay scored for the visitors, whose clean sheet was spoiled in injury time by a Lukas Hinterseer penalty kick. USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales did not make the 18 for Ingolstadt.

Freiburg 1-0 Eintracht Frankfurt

Vincenzo Grifo scored in the fourth minute, and it was all the hosts needed to pick up three points. USMNT back Timmy Chandler went 90 minutes in the loss.

Sunday’s matches
Wolfsburg vs. Mainz — 9:30 a.m. ET
Schalke vs. Monchengladbach — 11:30 a.m. ET

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 6 5 1 0 16 2 14 3-1-0 2-0-0 16
 Hertha BSC Berlin 6 4 1 1 11 7 4 3-0-0 1-1-1 13
 Borussia Dortmund 6 4 0 2 16 6 10 3-0-0 1-0-2 12
 1. FC Köln 6 3 3 0 10 3 7 2-1-0 1-2-0 12
 RB Leipzig 6 3 3 0 11 5 6 2-1-0 1-2-0 12
 Mönchengladbach 5 3 1 1 10 6 4 3-0-0 0-1-1 10
 Bayer Leverkusen 6 3 1 2 10 7 3 2-1-0 1-0-2 10
 1899 Hoffenheim 6 2 4 0 11 9 2 1-2-0 1-2-0 10
 Eintracht Frankfurt 6 3 1 2 8 6 2 2-1-0 1-0-2 10
 SC Freiburg 6 3 0 3 7 9 -2 3-0-0 0-0-3 9
 FSV Mainz 05 5 2 1 2 12 11 1 0-1-1 2-0-1 7
 FC Augsburg 6 2 1 3 5 8 -3 1-0-2 1-1-1 7
 VfL Wolfsburg 5 1 2 2 4 7 -3 0-1-1 1-1-1 5
 Darmstadt 6 1 2 3 4 12 -8 1-2-0 0-0-3 5
 Werder Bremen 6 1 1 4 7 17 -10 1-0-2 0-1-2 4
 FC Ingolstadt 04 6 0 1 5 3 12 -9 0-0-3 0-1-2 1
 Hamburger SV 6 0 1 5 2 12 -10 0-1-2 0-0-3 1
 FC Schalke 04 5 0 0 5 2 10 -8 0-0-2 0-0-3 0