UCL Preview: Barcelona hope to tip the scales against Atlético Madrid

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Before the first leg of its UEFA Champions League quarterfinal against Atlético Madrid, there was a sense Barcelona’s recent draws against last year’s Copa del Rey winners provided a partial picture of the teams’ matchup. After 90 minutes in Catalonia and the teams’ fourth draw of the season, a more dire picture’s presented itself. If Barcelona doesn’t break through Wednesday at the Vicente Calderón — if it does not become the first team to claim victory in the clubs’ season series — the Blaugrana could meet their earliest Champions League exit in seven years.

The 1-1 result at the Nou Camp leaves the teams even at halftime, but the away goals edge sits with Atleti. And in two of the teams’ four meetings this season, the game has ended 0-0. While a score draw will mean at least penalty kicks for Gerardo Martino’s men, a third scoreless game will put Atlético into an unlikely semifinal. The Colchoneros need to neither win nor score to move past the three-time champions.

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

“The result [of the first leg] doesn’t mean anything,” Atlético head coach Diego Simeone cautioned on Tuesday. “Barcelona always play offensively and this is a perfect match for them with [potentially] 120 minutes to play …We are going to come up against the best Barcelona players of recent times. These games are special for them and they are used to playing them.”

Given the injuries Barcelona carries into this match, the reigning Spanish champions may need multiple goals to know off Atlético. Víctor Valdés, the Spanish international who has kept goal for three of the teams’ meetings, is out with a knee injury. He’s joined on the sidelines by the squad’s best defender, Gerard Piqué, who suffered a hip injury in leg one. Club icon Carles Puyol has travelled with the team, but having been out for the last 37 days, his return may prove a desperate one. Though Diego Costa and Arda Turan both carry injuries into Wednesday’s match, a central defense of Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano looks like a weakness.

(MORE: Brilliance of Barcelona, Atlético Madrid has begun to transcend results)

The extent to which those two exposed will depend on the Barcelona midfield – a trio that’s been the foundation of the club’s recent success. As Andrés Iniesta reminded us in leg one, big games often bring out the Spanish international’s best performances – form that makes him one of the top midfielders in the world. Veteran Xavi Hernández comes into the game fully healthy, while defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets is capable of masking a number of blemishes in defense. Bartra and Mascherano may be a worry, but if the midfield performs as expected, Atlético’s chances to exploit them will be limited.

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Barcelona has two goals against Atlético Madrid this season, both scored by Neymar. (Photo credit: Getty Images.)

This will be a passionate game,” Simeone predicts, “one of the biggest in the UEFA Champions League – between two teams with different styles.”

Atlético’s style — one that’s comfortable player without the ball — means Barcelona will have time to find its biggest weapon, though if recent results are any indication, Lionel Messi may prove less dangerous against Simeone’s team than he would another opponent. In his past five games against Atleti, Messi’s failed to score, and while the Argentine star hasn’t been fully healthy for each contest, Atlético deserves a bulk of the credit. Against an Atleti side whose organization is often its greatest virtue, Messi hasn’t found the same types of chances he’d normally get.

(MORE: Manchester United, Bayern Munich both look to improve on leg one)

“Lionel Messi is used to competing at the maximum level in every game, so when people believe he doesn’t, it attracts a lot of attention,” Martino said, explaining Messi’s production against Atlético. “When there are several games against the same opponent in which he doesn’t score, that can surprise people.”

Be it from Messi, Neymar (the only Barça player to score against Atlético this year), Iniesta or somebody like Alexis Sanchez, Barcelona will need at least one goal on Wedesday. If Costa and Turan are close to 100 percent, it may need more. It may also need Thibault Courtois, Diego Godin, and Miranda to have off days, because after last week’s draw in Catalonia, Barça can’t afford to be kept off the scoresheet.

They don’t necessarily need a win, but Martino’s men do need to score. If Simeone can engineer a third 0-0, the Blaugrana go home.

Everton 3-1 Swansea: Dominant second half has Toffees up to ninth

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Don’t look now, but Sam Allardyce‘s side are up to ninth place in the Premier League.

Everton managed a 3-1 comeback victory on Monday night against Swansea City, behind finishes by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Since taking over managerial duties at Goodison Park at the end of November, Allardyce and his side are unbeaten in five matches (4W, 1D).

Rooney continued his long-time status as one of the PL’s top goalscorers when he notched his 10th finish of the year in all competitions. The ex-Manchester United forward scored from the penalty spot with over 15 minutes remaining in the second stanza, after previously having a spot-kick attempt saved.

The former Swansea midfielder, Sigurdsson, gave the hosts the lead in the 63rd minute, after brilliantly cutting in on his preferred right foot and curling a shot into the far corner.

The Toffees had pulled level just moments before halftime, when Calvert-Lewin scored on a rebound from Wayne Rooney’s penalty kick.

Despite getting a hand to the initial save, and pushing it off the post, Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski couldn’t keep the follow up out by the young Englishman.

Leroy Fer tapped home for Swansea nine minutes before halftime after the Everton backline left the attacker wide open at the far post for his first goal of the season.

The Swans were forced to make a substitution after just four minutes when striker Wilfried Bony pulled up lame on the touchline. Leading goalscorer Tammy Abraham — currently on loan from Chelsea — came on to replace the veteran Ivorian.

The two sides will be back in action on Saturday when the Toffees host Chelsea, while Swansea takes on fellow bottom-half side Crystal Palace.

LA Galaxy has acquired rights to Quakes goalkeeper Bingham

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David Bingham is officially on the move from one Western Conference side to another, but his new club still has to sign the coveted MLS goalkeeper.

[ MORE: PSV likely to acquire Man City, USMNT’s Palmer-Brown on loan ]

On Monday, the LA Galaxy announced that the team has acquired the rights to the former San Jose Earthquakes shot-stopper in exchange for $200,000 in allocation money ($100,000 in TAM and $100,000 in GAM).

Despite now holding Bingham’s rights ahead of the 2018 MLS season, the Galaxy must still come to terms with the player in order for him to suit in the spring.

Last season, Bingham had a $190,000 base salary, per the MLS Players’ Union.

In the event Bingham doesn’t agree to terms with the Galaxy, another MLS club could potentially sign the experienced starter or he could move outside of MLS via transfer.

Bingham is entering his eighth season in MLS, after previously spending seven years with the Quakes.

The veteran keeper also has three caps with the USMNT, after earning his first start with the Yanks in 2016 against Canada.

At the half: Calvert-Lewin brings Toffees level with Swans

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Shaky early moments had the Swans on the back foot, but the relegation side has settled in nicely since.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s late finish in first-half stoppage time has Everton level against Swansea City, 1-1, at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

The Toffees looked to go into the break down a goal, but a penalty kick chance to Wayne Rooney sparked the home side’s equalizer.

Despite having his spot-kick attempt saved by Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski, Calvert-Lewin was in the right place to smash home the rebound.

Meanwhile, the Swans opened the scoring on 36 minutes when Leroy Fer tapped home.

The opportunity came off of a corner kick beyond the hour mark, to which Fer snuck in at the back post, and simply guided the ball past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Everton struggled to muster up chances of its own during the opening 45 minutes, despite the team’s extensive possession.

It was bad news early for the Swans, when Wilfried Bony suffered a leg injury inside the opening five minutes. That sparked the visitors to bring on loanee Tammy Abraham.

Juventus president Agnelli’s 1-year ban lifted on appeal

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ROME (AP) Juventus president Andrea Agnelli had his one-year ban for selling tickets to ultras lifted on Monday, but the Serie A club’s fine was doubled and it will have to play a match with one of its main sections closed.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation in September for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping. He was also fined 20,000 euros ($24,000).

The FIGC’s appeals court said it has changed Agnelli’s sanction “into a fine of 100,000 euros ($118,000) and a ban until today’s date.”

Juventus, however, was fined 600,000 euros ($708,000) and will have its Curva Sud closed for the home match against Genoa on Jan. 22.

The federation’s prosecutor, Giuseppe Pecoraro, had requested a 2 1/2-year suspension for Agnelli and also appealed the original decision.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an ultra fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions, and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

The 42-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus denied any wrongdoing.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo and ticketing director Stefano Merulla have had their suspensions and fines canceled. D’Angelo was originally banned for 15 months, while Merulla had been handed a one-year suspension.

However, former marketing director Francesco Calvo had his appeal rejected and will be banned for one year and will have to pay a 20,000 euro ($24,000) fine.