Brilliance of Barcelona, Atlético Madrid has begun to transcend results

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Three hundred sixty minutes that leave two teams at a stalemate would normally be considered useless. After all, isn’t the point of competition to compete, with side eventually deemed the winner? Over short periods of time, draws are practical, but over 360 minutes? What’s the use of a stalemate if crowning the winner is our goal?

Four games this season from Atlético Madrid and Barcelona have challenged that notion. Except for the most partisan of Blaugrana and Atleti supporters, few could have cared about which side won today. Such a result would have distracted from the purpose, if not undermined it entirely. Barcelona’s full technical precision was again on display, pressed to its limits by an Atlético side that’s taken a completely contrasting approach. Eschewing the game’s new dogma of possession and midfield dominance, Atleti reaffirmed their status as Barcelona’s equals, a status made all the more brilliant as they’ve  brought out their opponents’ best while doing so.

Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to say so, but it feel true right now: Today’s was one of the best-played games of the European season, something we’d be fawning over if we hadn’t seen it three times before. We saw it twice in August, when the teams played 0-0 and 1-1 matches in the Spanish Supercopa. We saw it again in January as the side waged 0-0 in La Liga. The same qualities that have vaulted Diego Simeone’s team to the top of the Spanish table force Barcelona to use every bit of their technical mastery just to keep up, just as the Blaugrana’s nearly unmatched, exacting control bleeds every drop of effort from the Colchoneros.

(MORE: Diego, Neymar goals leave Atlético, Barcelona even after leg one)

It’s the perfect match of opposing styles. It’s soccer’s yin against football’s yang. It’s modernism, possession, and technique matched against timeless emotion and organization. It’s a team that looks beyond the typical trappings of athleticism and brawn facing a side that leverages their power to complement their passion. From the same league, both sporting Argentine coaches, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid couldn’t be more different, yet, after each set of 90 minutes they play, the scoresheet’s left them beautifully identical.

It’s a contrast makes results like today’s 1-1 special – more valuable than a win could have been for either side. Because at this point, a victory would defeat the purchase. The battle’s balance of physique, application, and philosophy has produced some of the best soccer of our lifetimes: what’s become a 360-minute marathon, where each side has brought evermore perfect free soccer out of the other.

source: AP
Barcelona and Atlético Madrid (yellow) have met four times this season, drawing each time. After 360 minutes of play, the teams have a 2-2 aggregate scoreline. They’re scheduled to play two more times this season. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Would this same perfection be able to beat Bayern, Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan, or any of our time’s other great teams? In the wake of what we saw today at the Nou Camp, it’s a scornful view. It’s simple, greedy, short-sighted. It overlooks the obvious: This matchup, over the course of what will six games (by the time the teams meet on the last day of the Spanish season) has given us everything we could have reasonable asked for. To turn off today’s game and ask for something better is to take to watch another sport.

In a sphere were we obsess over results and define quality in terms of bottom lines, Atlético and Barça remind us of the bigger picture. Sport, ultimately, is meaningless, which means there’s nay so much significance you can put into a win or a loss. On a more basic level, the game is as much about the enjoyment is provides as the result. Talent, mastery, performance, and love all translate to victories, but no game can been seen in terms of its victor alone. The game only exists where two teams can meet, and in the space, through four matchups this season, Barcelona and Atlético have provided more enjoyment than was could have possibly expected.

It is, admittedly, a romantic notion, written while still reflecting on today’s game. There is, however, the unmistakable feeling that we’re seeing something special – a confluence that defies comparison in terms of its style, results, and, now meeting in Champions League, stakes.

And ironically, as those stakes escalate, determining a winner becomes even less important. In fact, it may ruin everything if, over the teams’ final two games for the season, anything but esoteric tiebreakers put distance between them. Let away goals decide who advances in Champions League, and let other results determine who claims La Liga.

But in the battle that really matters — the one we’ll get to see two more times this year — let nothing throw off this perfect, symbiotic balance. If anything, find a way to make these games last longer.

Could Iniesta succeed at Manchester City

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It appears more likely with each passing day that Andres Iniesta will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

The general feeling around Iniesta’s future is that he’ll either follow former teammate Xavi Hernandez to a club in Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, or follow Javier Mascherano to a club in China.

But according to reports in Spain, Iniesta has received a request from a manager who is inextricably linked with his career.

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Per Diario AS, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has reached out to Iniesta to try and gauge the 33-year old’s interest in coming to England. It’s a surprising move, considering Iniesta has appeared to have lost a step, and while his skill on the ball is still world class, he hasn’t played as big of a role for Barcelona this season as in years past.

But the big question for Iniesta – as hard as it is to believe we’re asking this – is where he’d fit into the side, and who he’d push out.

If Guardiola sees Iniesta as part of his best XI, and Iniesta played his usual position on the left side of a midfield trio or at left wing, that would see either David Silva or Leroy Sane losing their spot in the team. That’s hard to see, considering how big of an impact those players had.

Sane has scored nine goals and dished out 12 assists in the Premier League while Silva has a nearly-identical stat line, with nine goals and 11 assists in league play.

However, if Guardiola, who played a very small squad this season, wants to have a world-class player to bring off the bench some games or spot start in the UEFA Champions League, he couldn’t do much better than signing Iniesta.

After being given time to adjust to the physicality of the Premier League, there’s no reason why, even at his advanced age, Iniesta can’t make a big impact in 25-30 games for Man City in the future. You can imagine the Spanish maestro setting up 10 to 15 goals and scoring a few himself as he plays for another title-winning side.

Of course, Iniesta likely won’t earn as much money with Man City as he would in the Arab world or in China, so he has a big decision to make coming up.

Iniesta won three La Liga titles, two Copas Del Rey, two UEFA Champions League and two FIFA Club World Cup titles under Guardiola as Barcelona shined as the best club in the world during that era. Iniesta also made UEFA’s Team of the Year all four years.

Perhaps reuniting with Guardiola can bring the best out of Iniesta once again.

Report: Man United to target Rose, other full backs this summer

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Jose Mourinho has identified perhaps the most underrated position on the pitch as a place he needs to upgrade his squad this summer.

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According to a report from The Guardian, the Manchester United manager is looking to sign Tottenham wing back Danny Rose and potentially another full back in the summer transfer window. With Luke Shaw likely to leave the club, Mourinho is left with incumbents left back Ashley Young and right back Antonio Valencia, both on the wrong side of 30-years old and both converted wingers playing out-of-position.

Mourinho last December decried crosstown rivals Man City for spending more than $140 million to sign wing backs Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker last summer. Though Mendy missed most of the season with a torn ACL, Walker and fellow outside back Danilo helped give Man City’s attack another dimension out wide, as the wing backs in the 3-4-3 or Man City’s 4-1-4-1 with Fernandinho dropping back into the centerback pairing become ever more important.

Rose has had a contentious last 18-months or so at Tottenham and could be looking to leave this summer. But it will likely take a bid north of $75 million, around what it cost Man City to sign Walker last summer, to buy Rose out of his Tottenham contract.

Matteo Darmian meanwhile, another potential outside back for Man United, could also be departing the club this summer, as Man United looks to replenish its side.

Errors down, penalty kicks up after introduction of VAR in Italy

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The implementation of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in Italy has been controversial, but according to a look at the statistics, it has for the most part done its job to fix clear and obvious errors.

Italian sports paper Gazzetta Dello Sport compiled all the times VAR has been used through 346 matches, 330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia. There were 1,736 checks (916 goals, 464 penalties and 356 red cards) with 105 corrections and just 17 errors where the referee and assistant made the wrong decision. Eight of those errors did affect the result, which is an issue that will surely be addressed by the Italian officiating organization.

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But overall, Gazzetta found that in the VAR era, referee errors only amounted to 0.98 percent during a match, as opposed to 6.03 percent in the past. In addition, fouls are down 8.8 percent, red cards are down 6.4 percent, and yellow cards are down 14.7 percent. On the flip side, penalty kicks are called 4.3 more percent of the time.

The Premier League voted recently not to add VAR to its league matches next season, while top leagues in Germany, Italy and in Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League continue to use it.

Report: New Arsenal manager will have small budget to re-shape squad

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Whoever takes the helm as Arsenal’s next manager will have to do some math gymnastics this summer to stretch every penny available.

According to a report from The Telegraph, Arsenal is giving Arsene Wenger‘s successor a little less than $70 million to work with in this summer’s transfer market, citing back-to-back transfer windows with club-record signings (Alexandre Lacazette last summer and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January) and three raises given to players. Arsenal paid around $78 million alone to sign Aubameyang and around $65 million for Lacazette.

[READ: UCL Preview: Liverpool vs. Roma]

That means whoever comes in next to lead Arsenal will likely have to sell one or two players this summer to raise additional money for world-class signings.

For the last decade, Arsenal has been crying out for a new pair of centerbacks and a holding midfielder in the mould of Patrick Vieira. In addition, with Petr Cech getting older, the prospect of needing a new goalkeeper is also on the horizon.

Luckily for Arsenal, they seem to be just fine up front. From Aubameyang and Lacazette to Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, the club has the talent to challenge for a title next season in that department.

A dozen different names have been bandied about as to who will be Arsenal’s next manager, with out-of-contract and former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique reportedly on the shortlist. Vieira, former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, Germany National Team coach Joachim Low, Juventus boss Max Allegri and Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsman have all also been linked with the job.