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

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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.

From Madrid, to Paris, to Las Palmas, to Stoke: Jese loaned again

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Spanish forward Jese will attempt to relaunch his stuttering career in England after leaving Paris Saint-Germain to become the latest Champions League winner at Stoke.

The 24-year-old Jese joined Stoke on a season-long loan after failing to settle at PSG following his move from Real Madrid for a reported $29 million in August 2016. He spent the second half of last season on loan at Spanish team Las Palmas.

Stoke, a team from central England that is a perennial mid-table finisher in the Premier League, has become a haven for former high-profile players or one-time prodigies whose careers have stalled.

Since 2014, forwards Bojan Krkic and Ibrahim Afellay have joined from Barcelona while ex-Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri has arrived from Inter Milan. They all have Champions League winners’ medals, as does ex-Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher, who was an offseason signing from West Bromwich Albion.

Most were back-ups for their clubs in their Champions League-winning campaigns, with Jese an unused substitute for Real in its victory over Atletico Madrid in the 2016 final.

“Jese was a man in demand when PSG made it clear they would allow him to leave on loan and we’re delighted he has chosen to join us,” Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes said. “He hasn’t had the happiest of periods in his career in Paris, but he’s still only a young man and is hungry to make a big impression in the Premier League.”

Jese will play out wide and is viewed as a replacement for Marko Arnautovic, who left Stoke this offseason to join West Ham. Stoke also sold Spanish striker Joselu to Newcastle for an undisclosed fee on Wednesday.

Stoke announced the arrival of Jese in a tweet that included audio clips from pundits in the British media saying the club lacked ambition and would struggle in the Premier League this season.

The team managed by Mark Hughes lost 1-0 at Everton in its opening league game of the season on Saturday.

Jese was a highly rated youngster at Real Madrid and made his La Liga debut under coach Jose Mourinho in 2012. He mostly played for Real’s reserve team and sustained a serious knee injury in March 2014, ruling him out for nine months.

He signed a five-year deal with PSG last summer but started only one league game, with another eight appearances as substitute.

Although technically skilled, Jese has not played so far this season and does not figure in coach Unai Emery’s plans — although the deal with Stoke does not include an option to buy him. At Las Palmas, Jese scored three goals in 13 games.

Jese is Stoke’s sixth signing of the summer transfer window.

First female ref set to take charge in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) After a decade in Germany’s second division, Bibiana Steinhaus will make Bundesliga history this season by becoming the first woman to referee in the country’s top flight.

The 38-year-old police officer is among four referees to have been promoted by the German football federation (DFB) into the league’s elite group of 24.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

“For every referee, whether man or woman, the dream is to be able to referee in the Bundesliga. I worked very hard toward that goal and had some setbacks over the past few years, so I’m very happy about the referees’ commission’s confidence,” Steinhaus said when her promotion was announced in May. “It shows that the performance-principle also applies in the field of referees.”

The daughter of a referee, she began by officiating women’s games for the DFB in 1999. Steinhaus then became a FIFA referee in 2005 and earned her place in the second division in 2007, as the first female referee in German professional football, before securing her latest promotion.

During that time, Steinhaus has handled women’s World Cups and European Championships, along with the gold medal match between the United States and Japan at the 2012 Olympics in London. Last June, she took charge of the women’s Champions League final between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

Of her 80 matches in Germany’s second tier, all but one went off without a hitch for Steinhaus. After sending off Kerem Demirbay in 2015, the then-Fortuna Duesseldorf midfielder reportedly told her: “Women have no place in men’s football.”

Demirbay was roundly criticized for the remark and handed a three-game ban with two further games suspended. Duesseldorf also made Demirbay referee a girls’ game to ensure he understood the message.

Demirbay apologized both publicly and to Steinhaus directly for his comment, and said he was “very happy that she accepted my apology.” The 24-year-old player is likely to meet Steinhaus again this season if she takes charge of any games involving his current club, Hoffenheim.

However, Steinhaus is already aware that she may be treated differently to other referees. During Bayern Munich’s game against Chemnitzer FC in the German Cup last Saturday, she had one of her bootlaces untied by Bayern winger Franck Ribery as he pretended to put the ball in place for a free kick.

[ MORE: Luis Suarez out for a month with knee injury ]

She laughed it off by giving Ribery a couple of playful punches in response, but it is debatable whether the France winger would have untied the bootlace if he had been dealing with a male referee.

“She laughed, that’s positive,” Ribery told broadcaster ARD afterward. “It was a joke, but you always have to respect the other.”

It wasn’t Steinhaus’ first run-in with someone from Bayern. As the fourth official during a league game in 2014, she shrugged off Pep Guardiola‘s hand from her shoulder as the then-Bayern coach got animated over a decision.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 2

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The 2017-18 Premier League season is here and my goodness it is beautiful to have it back.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Stoke City 1-3 Arsenal – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Man City 2-0 Everton – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Swansea City 0-3 Man United – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Tottenham 2-1 Chelsea – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Southampton 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET) – [STREAM

Liverpool 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Leicester 2-2 Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-1 West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET) – [STREAM

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Huddersfield 2-0 Newcastle – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]  

Bournemouth 2-3 Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET) – [STREAM

3-time Champions League winner Valdes retires

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Victor Valdes was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, proven in part by his three UEFA Champions League winner’s medals, and has reportedly called full-time on his footballing career at the age of 35.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

Valdes, who joined Barcelona at the age of 10 and went on to win six La Liga titles and two Copas del Rey to go with the three Champions League triumphs during his time at the club, will launch his own television production company, as well as his own show. Valdes made more than 500 appearances for Barca, beginning his first-team career in 2002 before moving to Manchester United in 2014.

If not for his career running perfectly parallel to that of Iker Casillas, Valdes would have won far more than his 20 caps for Spain during any other era, though he does have 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winner’s medals. Valdes spent the 2016-17 Premier League season with Middlesbrough, starting 28 of 38 games during the club’s relegation season.