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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.

Southampton 1-1 Sunderland: Defoe, Rodriguez score late in draw

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Jay Rodriguez of Southampton shoots during the Premier League match between Southampton and Sunderland at St Mary's Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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  • Rodriguez nets late equalizer
  • Defoe opened scoring from PK spot
  • Sunderland picks up first point of 2016

Jermain Defoe looked to give Sunderland three points on Saturday, but it was Jay Rodriguez who provided Southampton with a late equalizer at St. Mary’s in their 1-1 draw.

Defoe converted from the penalty spot with 10 minutes to play in regulation after Jose Fonte took down the Englishman inside the area a minute before.

The home side didn’t quit though with five minutes remaining, when Rodriguez smashed home the equalizer following a pass from James Ward-Prowse.

With the result, Sunderland picks up its first point of the new season, while Southampton sits directly above the Black Cats on the table with two points of their own.

Everton 1-0 Stoke: Toffees remain unbeaten

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Shay Given of Stoke City reacts after failing to save a penalty during the Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on August 27, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
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  • Given own goal the difference
  • Williams, Mirallas, Bolasie go close
  • Just one goal this season for Stoke
  • Everton unbeaten, 7 points from possible 9

Everton continued their solid start to the new Premier League season as Ronald Koeman‘s side edged out Stoke City in stormy conditions at Goodison Park.

The Toffees won the game thanks to Leighton Baines‘ second half penalty kick which rebounded off Shay Given, onto the post and then back off his head and in. Despite the comedic nature of the game-winner, Everton were the more dangerous side throughout and deserved to win by more.

With the win Koeman’s side now have seven points from their opening three games, while Stoke has just one point on the board.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It was all Everton in the first half as Kevin Mirallas forced Given into a smart stop down low and Ashley Williams almost grabbed his first goal for the club as he headed Mirallas’ cross towards the far corner of the net but Peter Crouch brilliantly hooked it off the line.

Everton then had a great chance as Ross Barkley drove towards the box and set up Mirallas. His powerful shot forced Given into a fine stop as the veteran goalkeeper tipped the ball over the bar.

[ MORE: Premier League standings

Barkley then went close as Mason Holgate whipped in a great cross from the right which Barkley slid in for but just missed.

Everton eventually went 1-0 up in the second half as Phil Bardsley was adjudged to have pushed Williams in the box and Baines’ spot kick was not well struck and was saved by Given in the wet conditions. However the ball then struck the post and hit Given on the head before going in. 1-0 to the Toffees in comedic fashion.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Soon after they went behind a rare chance arrived for Stoke as Marko Arnautovic had a shot pushed onto the bar by Maarten Stekelenburg but Everton kept pushing hard for a second with Yannick Bolasie forcing Given into a save and the Stoke goalkeeper also denied Barkley.

Stoke went close as Arnautovic’s cutback couldn’t find Jonathan Walters and then Bolasie curled another effort just wide.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Everton comfortably held on for the win as Koeman has two wins and is unbeaten in his first three games in charge.

Leicester 2-1 Swansea: Foxes back in business

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at The King Power Stadium on August 27, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Vardy nets first of the season
  • Leicester secure first win
  • 2 defeats in 3 for Swansea 
  • Mahrez misses PK

Reigning champs Leicester City beat Swansea City in torrential rain at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as Claudio Ranieri‘s side survived a late scare.

Jamie Vardy put Leicester ahead in trademark fashion and Wes Morgan made it 2-0. Leroy Fer‘s header made things interesting but Swansea couldn’t find an equalizer late on.

With the win Leicester has four points on the season, will Swansea has three points after two-straight defeats.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Riyad Mahrez whipped a free kick just over from a promising position and it was then down to Leicester’s other star to put them ahead.

Leicester took the lead through a classic counter attack as Danny Drinkwater‘s perfect long ball found Vardy who finished emphatically to grab his first goal of the season, and his 50th in the league for Leicester, to put the Foxes 1-0 up.

[ MORE: Premier League standings ]

With thunder and lightning in the skies over the King Power Stadium, Swansea responded well to falling behind as Gylfi Sigurdsson curled an effort just over from 25-yards out.

The game was effectively early in the second as Morgan knocked him after a corner fell to the Leicester captain inside the box and he hooked home. 2-0.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Leicester then had a great chance to go 3-0 up after Shinji Okazaki was fouled in the box but Mahrez’s penalty kick was saved by Lukasz Fabianski as he tipped it onto the post and then saved Okazaki’s shot with the rebound.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A worrying moment then arrived for the Foxes as goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was forced off after making a brave save. That meant a debut for Ron-Robert Zieler.

One of his first acts was to pick the ball out of the net as Fer headed home to make it 2-1. Game on.

Despite being ahead Leicester continue to pour forward and search for a third goal but left gaps at the back which Swansea couldn’t exploit. The Foxes were relieved to bag their first win of the new season.

Crystal Palace 1-1 Bournemouth: Dann rescues late point for Palace

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27:  Lewis Grabban of AFC Bournemouth takes the ball away from Christian Benteke of Crystal Palace during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and AFC Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on August 27, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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  • Dann pulls out result for Palace
  • King gives Cherries early advantage
  • Boruc makes fantastic PK stop

They had more of the chances on the afternoon, but it took over 90 minutes for Crystal Palace to rescue a point at home against Bournemouth. Scott Dann‘s 93rd minute equalizer gave the home side a 1-1 draw after limiting their opponent to just three shots on target.

Bournemouth struck in the 11th minute when Josh King smashed his close-range effort inside the far post.

Just five minutes later, Palace had a perfect chance to equalize from the penalty spot but Yohan Cabaye‘s effort was saved in spectacular fashion by goalkeeper Artur Boruc.

With neither side taking control of the match in the second half, Palace battled its way back into the game to find their opening goal on the day in stoppage time.