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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.

WATCH: Julian Green bags first-half hat trick for Bayern Munich

Julian Green, Bayern Munich (Photo credit: Bayern Munich / Twitter: @FCBayernEN)
Photo credit: Bayern Munich / Twitter: @FCBayernEN
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Julian Green celebrated his 21st birthday six short weeks ago, which is context that’s easy to forget when a player goes to the World Cup and scores a goal at the age of 19.

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Putting another way, he’s still extremely young and far from a finished footballing product. On Saturday, in the penultimate friendly of Bayern Munich’s preseason, the Tampa Bay-born German-American attacker bagged a first-half hat trick against Inter Milan.

From the deftest of touches on the first goal, to the outside-of-the-box power and precision (with his left foot) on the second, to the authoritative slam home on the third, Green might just be working his way into a regular substitute’s role behind star striker Robert Lewandowski this season.

Saturday marked the second exhibition in which Green scored a goal this preseason, having netted in Ancelotti’s first game in charge, against German fifth-division side SV Lippstadt, two weeks ago.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 5-1 Colorado Rapids (video)

New York City FC's Frank Lampard reacts after scoring during the second half of an MLS soccer game against the Montreal Impact, in Montreal, Sunday, July 17, 2016. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): No David Villa? No problem, apparently. Playing without their star man — and 2016 Golden Boot leader (13 goals – yellow card accumulation) — New York City FC cruised to a 5-1 drubbing of the Colorado Rapids, who entered Saturday’s contest 15 games without a loss (last loss: April 9). Frank Lampard bagged the first hat trick in NYCFC history, giving the Chelsea legend 10 goals on the season (in just 11 games played). It’s just the fourth home win of the season for NYCFC, who have won more points (19) away from home than any other team in MLS this season. The victory increases NYCFC’s hold on the Eastern Conference’s top spot to five points above the New York Red Bulls. The Rapids, meanwhile, have left the door wide open for the LA Galaxy, winners of four straight, to go second in the Western Conference with a victory over the Seattle Sounders on Sunday.

[ MORE: Previewing the weekend in MLS ]

Three Four moments that mattered 

28′ — Lampard turns it home at the far post — Few, if any, of Lampard’s goals this season have been beauties, but he just keeps on scoring. Nothing else really matters, especially as NYCFC keep winning.

37′ — Azira sees a second yellow — There was little question about the card-worthiness of Michael Azira’s open-field take-down of Jack Harrison, and just like that, the Rapids found themselves a goal down, and a man down.

42′ — Taylor beats Howard for 2-0 — One chance, two chances, three chances. The Rapids seemed content on allowing the home side however many looks they needed to make it 2-0. Eventually, Tony Taylor finished the job.

81′ — Lampard finishes a counter, and the beat-down — So, that thing I said about the “quality” of Lampard’s goals this season. Scratch that thought.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Frank Lampard

Goalscorers: Lampard (28′, 81′, 84′ – PK), Taylor (42′), Mendoza (75′), Gashi (90+2′)

WATCH: Zlatan scores on Man Utd debut; Rooney gets two as Man United win big

Manchester United, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Photo credit: Manchester United / Twitter: @ManUtd)
Photo credit: Manchester United / Twitter: @ManUtd
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is off and running for Manchester United.

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The big Swede was fully expected to immediately provide a Zlatan-sized impact from the outset of his time in the Premier League, but four minutes into his Man United tenure? It was unthinkably quick, even by Zlatan’s otherworldly standards and expectations. Good to see the scissor-kick make an appearance so far in advance of the PL season, which kicks off two weeks from today.

As for the rest of Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils, seeing Wayne Rooney bag a second-half brace, just three minutes between goals, could well be the most welcome sign of all for the red half of Manchester. His positional deployment on this day? The no. 10 role, just behind Zlatan.

Man United went on to defeat Galatasaray by the final score of 5-2.

New video arrives showing Lloris injured before Eder’s EURO goal

PARIS, FRANCE - JULY 10: Hugo Lloris of France dives in vain as Eder of Portugal scores the opening goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 Final match between Portugal and France at Stade de France on July 10, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
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At the risk of tooting my own horn, count me among the few who thought Hugo Lloris might’ve done a bit better on Eder‘s EURO winning goal.

It wasn’t a howler. But the French goalkeeper, one of the best in the world, seemed a tad slow to explode toward the right post when Eder let rip with a new legendary Portuguese shot.

[ MORE: Gameiro joins new club ]

It seems there’s good reason for this, as Lloris was injured just before the goal. Raphael Guerriero bent a gorgeous free kick off the cross bar, as you might remember, one that sent the goalkeeper clattering into the goal post.

This new video shows the Spurs goalkeeper favoring his right side or leg for the next minute, and that’s the leg he uses to drive his body low toward Eder’s bounding shot.

What do you think? Did it make a difference? Or was Eder’s shot plenty good on merit?