UCL Preview: Four reasons why fourth game could be different for Barcelona and Atlético

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After 270 minutes, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Unfortunately, we don’t have much that tells us which side is better, a mild inconvenience when you’re trying to figure out which club is most likely to advance from the teams’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal matchup. Each of their three meetings this season (two in Spain’s Supercopa; one in La Liga) has ended in a draw, with the sides combining for only two goals. Sure, one side could prove clearly better than the other, but there’s nothing in recent history that says that will happen.

Instead, we’re left wondering what, if anything, can keep away goals or penalty kicks from deciding which team advances to Europe’s final four. One day ahead of leg one’s kickoff in Barcelona, there are four possibilities:

1. Lionel Messi is as hot as ever – In the teams’ last meeting, Messi only played 45 minutes, his return in January at the Vicente Calderón marking his first appearance since a thigh injury prematurely ended his 2013. Now fully healthy, Messi has scored in 11 of his last 12 games, accumulating 17 goals along the way. As he showed with three goals in El Clasico, that form’s certainly capable of translating to big games.

(MORE, this weekend: Atlético, Barcelona snare road wins)

source:  2. Atlético has changed things up – In those first three games — 0-0, 1-1, and 0-0 affairs shared between August and January — Diego Simeone started David Villa up top with Diego Costa. In the two August games, Villa actually ended with a higher average position than Costa, who played wide right. In January, however, Villa was farther behind the Atlético number nine, playing alongside Atleti’s midfielders as Simeone crowded the middle of the park.

Now, after the team’s mid-winter slump, Atlético typically starts somebody more suited to that role. Natural midfielder Raúl García has been cast into the starting lineup at Villa’s expense, and while he has often been used as more of a supporting striker than a highly deployed midfielder, Garcíá still brings more of a center-of-the-park mentality to Simeone’s choice XI.

Unfortunately, García is suspended for leg one, a problem exacerbated by the potential absence of Costa. The Brazilian-cum-Spaniard left Monday’s training session with an apparent leg injury. Though Costa had yet to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff by the end of practice, Simeone said it was “unlikely” Costa would play on Tuesday.

Personnel-wise, that means a huge step down. Villa is likely to start up top, while Thiago could join Gabi and Mario Suárez to make a three-man midfield. Or perhaps Uruguayan Cristian Rodríguez will get the call.

Regardless, Atlético will be different. They won’t start two true strikers. But whereas over the last two months that’s been by choice, in Barcelona, it may be by necessity.

(MORE, Barcelona’s path: Win at City | Advance at home)

3. Champions League is different. Right? – I’m not sure how much I believe this will matter, but in the past, when we’ve seen teams face off over 180 minutes (as opposed to 90, as they do in league) the games sure seem to change. Long-term thinking leads to cagier affairs, ones often complicated by the away goals rule. Insert battle versus war analogy here.

There are a few other reasons to believe Champions League, in particular, is different. The stakes are certainly higher, and whereas in Spain Atlético and Barça will get an officiating crew very familiar with each side, Tuesday’s officials hail from Germany.

To whatever extent those things matter, Barcelona will be more familiar with how to deal with them, compounding any differentiating effects that might exist in Champions League.

(MORE, Atlético’s route: Late winner in Milan | Easy day at the Calderón)

source: AP4. Víctor Valdés is out – As Real Madrid’s handling of Iker Casillas has shown, sometimes the effect of a perceived great goalkeeper can be overstated. Very often, good teams have solid options waiting in reserve. It’s not always the end of the world when your number one goes down.

Barcelona’s position, however, may be different. After suffering a torn ACL this weekend, usual number one Víctor Valdés is gone. He’s done for the year, and having declared his intention to leave the club at the end of the season, he may have also played his last minute with Barcelona. This isn’t a case of Barça choosing to try somebody else.

On Tuesday, that somebody else will be 38-year-old José Manuel Pinto, a volatile Copa del Rey specialist who has played only 27 Liga games since joining Barcelona seven years ago. On Tuesday, he will make his seventh Champions League appearance for the Blaugrana, one that will undoubtedly become his most important contribution on the European stage. To date, the only lasting memory he’s crafted in Champions League was being red carded as a reserve against Real Madrid in 2011.

To be certain, he is not the Diego López to Valdés’s Casillas. This is a bigger step down, one which may become more apparent if Costa plays. Sure to seek contact (if not outright entice fouls), the Atlético sniper would tempt the more unpredictable side of the former Celta number one. On Tuesday, Pinto may be spared such temptations.

Beyond Costa’s antics, it will be up to Barça’s possession game to limit Pinto’s exposure. Against an opponent the three-time champions have failed to distinguish themselves from this season, the loss of Valdés could prove particularly important.

Arsenal pulls away from West Ham

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  • Monreal scores fifth of season
  • Arnautovic answers
  • Lacazette thunders home beauty

Aaron Ramsey‘s hopeful cross turned into a match-winning goal as Arsenal beat West Ham United 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Substitute striker Alexandre Lacazette scored a beautiful insurance goal en route to a brace for Arsenal, who moves four points clear of Burnley in the race for sixth. West Ham is six points clear of the drop zone with four matches to play.

Nacho Monreal gave Arsenal a lead and Marko Arnautovic equalized to set the stage for the winner, a ball unclaimed by neither Declan Rice nor Joe Hart.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had almost all of the ball, but a slip in defense forced Gunners goalkeeper David Ospina to make a nice parry on Marko Arnautovic’s shot from the right of the box.

Nacho Monreal caused a West Ham turnover deep in West Ham territory, and found Danny Welbeck for a hard shot that bounded wide of the far post.

Granit Xhaka was saved in his 35th minute free kick bid and Welbeck couldn’t get on top of a Hector Bellerin cross to head home less than a minute later.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Monreal put Arsenal ahead in the 51st minute with a low finish past Joe Hart off a corner kick, but the lead didn’t last much more than 10 minutes.

Cheikhou Kouyate‘s shot was blocked to Manuel Lanzini, who quickly fed Arnautovic for a finish.

Stoke City 1-1 Burnley: Dual disappointment

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  • Ndiaye opens scoring
  • Diouf assists, then misses big chance
  • Barnes levels for Burnley

Neither Burnley not Stoke City will be pleased with a 1-1 draw at the bet365 Stadium on Sunday.

Badou Ndiaye gave Stoke a first half lead en route to a hopeful three points which could help save the side’s Premier League status, but Ashley Barnes‘ fortunate equalizer gave the Clarets a point.

Stoke has 29 points, four behind 17th place Swansea. Burnley sits four points behind Arsenal with one more match played in the race for sixth.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Stoke led in the 11th minute through a very nice team goal, as Joe Allen found Ndiaye in the middle of the pitch. The midfielder worked a 1-2 with Mame Biram Diouf before sneaking a shot inside a tiny window.

Ashley Barnes bid to level the score when he collected a Kieran Westwood diagonal ball, but his curling effort from the left failed to find the goal.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson curled a free kick over the Stoke wall, and Jack Butland did well to save for a corner.

Diouf flubbed a chance to make it 2-0 when an Ndiaye cross found him alone near the back post.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Butland made an outstanding save to force a Burnley corner in the 55th minute.

Barnes continued his villainous streak all match, and saw Butland’s slap save bound off his thigh and across the line to level the score in the 62nd minute.

Gudmundsson dragged a stoppage time shot millimeters wide of the far post.

LIVE, FA Cup semifinal: Chelsea v. Southampton

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Chelsea and Southampton clash in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday (10 a.m. ET kick off) for the right to play Manchester United in the final on May 19.

[ LIVE: Updates from Wembley ]

Antonio Conte led Chelsea to the FA Cup final last season but they lost to Arsenal. Even though the Blues are up against it to finish in the top four in the league, winning the cup would be a big success for Conte.

Saints haven’t made a cup semifinal since 2003 when they lost to Arsenal in the final. Mark Hughes‘ side are entrenched in the relegation zone and have a bigger challenge than making the final.

[ MORE: Minute-by-minute on Chelsea v Saints

Click on the links above to follow the action live, while we will have reaction and analysis live from Wembley right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Arrests made after violent soccer riot in South Africa

AP Photo/Bongani Mbatha - African News Agency
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DURBAN, South Africa (AP) Police say two people have been arrested and more arrests are imminent after a violent riot at a South African soccer game on Saturday night, when hundreds of fans ripped up parts of the stadium, invaded the field, and seriously assaulted at least one security guard.

Players had to run for the safety of the dressing rooms as the fans swept onto the field soon after the final whistle.

[ MORE: The latest Arsene Wenger news ]

Police responded with stun grenades to disperse the rioters, and television pictures showed riot police storming the field and a white armored police vehicle racing across the edge of the pitch.

South African Police Services spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala on Sunday confirmed the arrests and said the two people were facing charges of public violence and malicious damage to property.

The violence mainly by Kaizer Chiefs fans followed their team’s 2-0 loss to Free State Stars in the semifinals of the Nedbank Cup competition at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the east coast city of Durban, one of the stadiums built for the 2010 World Cup.

In the most disturbing scenes, a female security guard was set upon by a group of supporters on the field. She lay on the ground as they hit her with plastic chairs. A man then kicked her twice in the head. After the second kick she lay motionless and face down on the grass.

Police spokeswoman Gwala did not say if anyone had died in the violence, saying police had no information yet from stadium or medical authorities on any deaths.

Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela resigned after the game.