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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.

Firm issues plan urging companies to let employees watch EURO 2016

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  Wayne Rooney of England celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's second goal of the game during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Worried about trying to balance work with EURO 2016 this summer? Acas is here to help.

Acas, a British conciliation firm that helps companies maintain good working relationships with their employees, has called for bosses to allow their staff to watch EURO matches.

[ MORE: Bellerin to make Spain squad ]

Some matches, including England’s Group B showdown with Wales, kick off during the workday at 3 p.m. London time.

Sir Brendan Barber, who is the chairman of Acas, believes workers should be given some time off during games, or work later hours on other days to allow time to watch the EURO.

The EURO 2016 tournament is an exciting event for football fans but staff should avoid getting a red card for unreasonable demands or behaviour in the workplace during this period.

Employers should have a set of agreements before kick-off to help ensure their businesses remain productive while keeping staff happy too.

Our guidance can help managers get the best from their teams, arrange substitutions if necessary and avoid unnecessary penalties or unplanned sendings off.

With the tournament getting underway on June 10, I suggest printing out Acas’ statement and seeing if your boss will follow the sage advice of Sir Brendan Barber.

VIDEO: Payet scores sensational free kick winner for France

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MARCH 25:  Dimitri Payet of France in action during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and France at Amsterdam Arena on March 25, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Don’t let Dimitri Payet get a free kick, because he’s probably going to score.

After scoring four of his 12 goals for West Ham from dead-ball situations this season, his touch has carried over to the French national team.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

With France playing Cameroon and the match tied 2-2 in the 90th minute, Payet stepped up from about 30 yards out and did this:

While there may be some suspect goalkeeping on this one, it’s a stellar strike that found the top corner perfectly from a tough angle for a right-footed shot.

[ MORE: Saints set to give Shane Long new contract as Liverpool, Spurs show interest ]

Payet has three goals for the French national team, with two of them coming from free kicks. After being named to the PFA Team of the Year this season, Payet will be a key member of the France squad that has high hopes as the host nation for the upcoming EURO.

El Tri striker Pulido fought kidnappers, used cell phone to call police

HYERES, FRANCE - JUNE 01:  Alan Pulido (no.19) of Mexico celebrates his goal during the Toulon Tournament Final between  Mexico and Turkey at Stade Perruc on June 1, 2012 in Hyeres, France.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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More details have been released regarding Alan Pulido’s kidnapping in Mexico.

The Mexican international and Olympiakos striker was taken at gunpoint early Sunday morning in Tamaulipas. He was then freed on Monday after a police “rescue operation.”

Seen leaving the police station with a bandaged hand, officials have now given information on how Pulido was injured.

[ MORE: PSG defender Aurier arrested ]

The 25-year-old striker cut his hand while punching through a glass pane in an attempt to escape. Officials also said Pulido fought his kidnapper, doing enough to grab a cell phone and notify police of his whereabouts.

From BBC News:

State prosecutor Ismael Quintanilla said the masked gang had taken Pulido to a house in Ciudad Victoria where he eventually found himself alone with one of his abductors.

“They traded blows. He takes it [the phone] and calls [emergency number] 066. It all happened very quickly,” Mr Quintanilla told Imagen radio.

An official report of the calls Pulido made to the emergency operator, obtained by the Associated Press, revealed that he threatened and beat the kidnapper while on the phone, demanding to be told where they were.

In one of the calls, Pulido said police were outside and starting to shoot so he described what he was wearing to avoid being mistaken for a kidnapper.

A wild situation, but the most important thing is that Pulido is safe while one arrest has been made.

Juanfran pens letter to Atleti fans after missing penalty in UCL final

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Juanfran of Atletico Madrid shows his dejection during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid lost to Real Madrid in the Champions League final for the second time in three years this Sunday, falling 5-3 on penalty kicks.

After losing the 2014 final in extra-time, Atleti forced a shootout this time around, although Juanfran‘s miss allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to score the game-winning penalty for Real.

[ MORE: Simeone considering Atletico future ]

Juanfran, whose shot beat Keylor Navas but hit the post, had scored the game-winning penalty against PSV Eindhoven to advance to the quarterfinal.

The only player to miss his penalty in the final, the veteran right-back penned an emotional letter thanking Atleti fans for their support, which was posted to the club’s website.

Hello Atléticos,

I have asked the club to address all of you with this letter to tell you everything I feel.

I will never forget your displays of affection when I came to ask for your forgiveness. Seeing my tears reflected in the faces of the thousands of Atléticos that packed that end of the stadium helped me cope with the tremendous sadness I felt in those hard times. As well as the support of my teammates, coaches, and all the people that makes this big family.

I also want to thank you for always believing in us and, above all, for proving that being an Atlético is something very special, different, and that our heart beats stronger than any other.

Two years ago, I told you that we would return to a final, now, I tell you that Gabi, our captain, will lift the Champions League sooner or later, and we will celebrate it all together in Neptuno.

Despite starting his career with Real Madrid, Juanfran is adored by Atleti supporters, having made more than 250 appearances for the club since joining in 2010. Having played the full 120 minutes in the 2014 final loss as well, this result was crushing for the defender.

[ VIDEO: Akinfenwa leaves Wimbledon with epic interview after winning promotion ]

Juanfran still believes Atleti will be back, and they’ve proven over the past few seasons that they are one of the elite clubs in Europe. If the club can hold on to the likes of Juanfran and their world-class backline, he may have a third shot to win the Champions League.