Champions League: Diego, Neymar goals leave Atlético, Barcelona even after leg one


Four games, four draws leave Barcelona and Atlético Madrid even after leg one of the teams’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, with the latest in the clubs’ combative, season-long struggle ending as even as the previous three. After 0-0, 1-1, and 0-0 results defined the teams’ matchups in August and January, April’s installment also failed to distinguish the sides, with goals from Brazilians Diego and Neymar leaving the teams drawn 1-1 after 90 minutes in Catalonia.

But to imply Diego’s score is a mere goal understates its quality. In the 56th minute, with the ball on the right flank, the January signing made a quick move around Xavi Hernández before launching a speculative shot from eight-to-10 yards above the penalty area. Hit hard enough to take all the spin off the ball, the man who came on for an injured Diego Costa saw his shot buckle toward the upper-right hand corner, beating Pinto with a shot Víctor Valdés would have been stressed to stop. For the second time this season, Atlético had a lead on Barcelona.

(MORE: Barcelona loses Gerard Piqué early against Atlético)

And for the season time this season, Neymar pulled it back. A quick run behind right back Juanfran just outside the penalty area 15 minutes later met a brilliant through ball from Andrés Iniesta. Opening his hips up on a far post curler, the Brazilian superstar nestled his shot in the right side netting, scoring his second huge goal of the season against Atlético.

A final 20 minutes of Barcelona pressure couldn’t find a winner, with trademark frantic but organized defending at the edge of Atlético’s penalty area keeping the home side from another breech of Thibault Courtois. As Barcelona continued to increase the pressure — cognizant of the importance to taking a lead out of the first leg — counter opportunities began to appear for Atlético. Promise and danger became symbiotic as Barcelona tried to break through, with Lionel Messi’s 86th minute free kick nearly cashing in while sending Courtois diving toward his post.

At Felix Brych’s final whistle, the score became the latest example of what a perfect match these teams have become. Through 360 minutes, nothing but an away goal in Barcelona meaningfully separates these two sides, with the technique, execution, and intensity of Barcelona thwarted in the face of the organization, determination, and intensity of Atlético. For every advantage the Blaugrana usually carry into a matchup, Atlético has an antidote: Belief coupled with proof that they are every bit their more renown opponents’ equals.

(MORE: Diego Costa leaves after half an hour)

Gerard Piqué’s first half injury could have been decisive, but Barcelona’s possession game (71%) rendered it meaningless. Diego Costa leaving at the half hour mark should have been a devastating blow for Atlético; instead, Diego’s inclusion ended up producing an away goals edge. No matter how much fate, happenstance, misfortunate or luck try to separate these teams, Atlético and Barcelona seem destined to finish as equals.

Only now, the teams aren’t exactly equal. Just as Neymar’s away goal at the Vicente Calderón provided a superficial difference in August (one that won Barcelona the Spanish Supercopa), Diego’s blast at the Nou Camp has Atlético in front. Next week in Madrid, that seemingly innate organization and intensity that the Colchoneros have carried to the top of the Spanish league could also carry them into the Champions League semifinals. A third 0-0 between the teams will land Simeone’s side in the final four.

Alexis Sanchez discusses Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez appears to be struggling with his disappointing start to life at Manchester United.

The Chilean star, 29, became the highest-paid player in the Premier League when he arrived from Arsenal in January in a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Sanchez has scored just one PL goal.

Sanchez has failed to make his mark on a consistent basis as United have also crashed out of the UEFA Champions League.

What does Sanchez put his lack of form down to?

In an Instagram post he left a caption saying that he was mentally exhausted: “I know you are tired. I know you are psychologically and emotionally exhausted. But you have to smile and continue”.

Speaking to the Chilean media ahead of their friendly against Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday, Sanchez revealed he has been struggling with the lack of impact he has had at United.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult… As I am self-demanding, I expected something better. After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to Sweden].”

Sanchez has looked better in a central role behind Romelu Lukaku but he hasn’t been used there often enough by Jose Mourinho.

At Arsenal he had the license to roam free in the attacking third but in Mourinho’s more defensive, rigid system he appears to be struggling to get on the ball in the right areas in and around the box. Sanchez has cut a frustrated figure out on the left wing and has given the ball away on multiple occasions as he tries to make the difficult passes and open up opposition defenses.

It appears that Sanchez is perhaps trying to hard to impress United and given his all-action displays, that is not easy to do.

United need more of him in the final third than out wide or tracking back to help out his own defense if they’re going to seal their top four spot and win the FA Cup to see out the final months of the season.

There’s no doubting Sanchez’s quality as we all know just how good he can be from his four seasons at Arsenal.

Yet, as he acknowledged himself, something at United isn’t quite right.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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With the Premier League players on international duty this week before the league resumes on March 31, now seems like a good time to take stock of which stars are shinning brightest.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham were all in action over the past week, with four Premier League games and four FA Cup games taking center stage. The likes of Manchester City and Arsenal weren’t in action, so none of their players can be involved.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.

  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Up 8
  2. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  3. Willian (Chelsea) – Up 1
  4. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester) – Down 2
  5. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 2
  6. David De Gea (Man United) – Up 4
  7. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – Down 1
  8. Nemanja Matic (Man United) – New entry
  9. Davinson Sanchez (Tottenham) – New entry
  10. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 1
  11. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – New entry
  12. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Down 3
  13. Erik Lamela (Tottenham) – New entry
  14. Junior Stanislas (Bournemouth) – New entry
  15. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace) New entry
  16. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) – New entry
  17. Cenk Tosun (Everton) – New entry
  18. Theo Walcott (Everton) – Up 1
  19. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Southampton) – New entry
  20. Alvaro Morata (Chelsea) – New entry

Dutch police detain 25 England supporters for violence

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AMSTERDAM (AP) Dutch police say they detained 25 English soccer supporters overnight after drunken fans threw beer bottles at officers ahead of a friendly match between the Netherlands and England.

Police say riot police were deployed to downtown Amsterdam to deal with the rowdy supporters. Police detained the England fans for offenses including public disorder.

England will play the Netherlands at the Amsterdam Arena on the southern edge of the Dutch capital. Police say they plan to beef up security before and after Friday’s match.

About 1,500 England fans traveled to the Dutch capital for the match.

LA Galaxy announces Zlatan Ibrahimovic signing

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LA Galaxy have confirmed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has signed for them.

The Swedish veteran, 36, is the new No.9 for the Galaxy and in the video below he is shown alongside a lion and simply says: “Los Angeles, welcome to Zlatan!”

Classic Zlatan. The fact he announced his arrival in Los Angeles by taking out a full page ad in the LA Times on Friday also says it all.

[ MORE: Where will Zlatan rank in big-name players?

Major League Soccer now has a new icon as Ibrahimovic continues his glittering career in the USA after he terminated his contract with Manchester United earlier this week.

“I decided to sign with the Galaxy because I decided it was the best place for me. I have a lot to give. I can help them a lot. They are the best team in the U.S. There were no doubts,” Ibrahimovic said. “Hopefully it goes like I want and we can all share the happiness by winning. I feel good. I am training very hard. I need to play games to go in the rhythm. The more I play, the better I will be.”

With that positive update on his own fitness following some recent setbacks, Ibrahimovic was asked what he wants to achieve in MLS.

“I want to accomplish as much as possible,” Ibrahimovic said. “Wherever I went, I won. I played in the best clubs in the world, different countries, and I won. I am coming with this objective. I come to win. I want to win. I think it’s in my DNA that I am winning my trophies. It is no luck, no special moment. It is just me. Different place but same Zlatan.”

LA confirmed that Ibrahimovic has arrived via Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) as they currently have filled all three of their Designated Player spots.

It is believed Zlatan has joined on a two-year deal reportedly worth around $3 million per year. He could make his debut against new crosstown rivals LAFC on Mar. 31.

No doubt he will probably score the winner late on after jumping off the bench, then declare himself the Mayor of LA…