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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.

VIDEO: Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores beauty for Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United controls the ball under pressure from Aaron Cresswell of West Ham United during the EFL Cup quarter final match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on November 30, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Here he comes.

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed for Manchester United in the summer big things were expected.

It’s taken him a while to settle but now the Armenian playmaker has scored his first goal for United with a stunning superb solo effort against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League.

Watch the video below to see Mkhitaryan put United 1-0 up.

What a goal.

VIDEO: Is this the worst open goal miss in history?

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My goodness.

You truly have to see this a few times to believe it is possible.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars

Stunning footage from a game between National Vatera and Makedonikos Kozanis in Greece’s four-tier last weekend has emerged as Kozanis striker Thanasis Takidis goes clean through on goal, gets one yard out but then somehow delays his shot and is blocked on the line by a defender, then the ball gets away from him.

Watch the clip above to see probably the worst miss you will ever see.

I mean, come on man…

Kashima beats Auckland City 2-1 in opener of Club World Cup

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 08:  Daigo Nishi of Kashima Antlers heads the ball over Angel Berlanga of Auckland City during the FIFA Club World Cup Play-off for Quarter Final match between Kashima Antlers and Auckland City at International Stadium Yokohama on December 8, 2016 in Yokohama, Japan.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)
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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) Japanese champion Kashima Antlers beat Auckland City of New Zealand 2-1 in the opening game of the Club World Cup on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Kim Dae-wook headed Auckland ahead five minutes after half time, but substitute Shuhei Akasaki equalized for the J-League champions in the 67th minute.

Fellow sub Mu Kanazaki then completed the comeback in the 88th, heading home from close range after Shoma Doi nodded a deep Shuto Yamamoto cross from the left back.

Kashima advanced to a quarterfinal against African champion Mamelodi Sundowns in Osaka on Sunday.

The winner of that game will face Copa Libertadores winner Atletico Nacional in the semifinal Wednesday. European powerhouse Real Madrid also enters the tournament from the semifinal stage.

The use of video replays was available during the match but there were no official reviews. The technology is there to be used only for correcting clear errors in game-changing decisions.

Previews of all 10 Premier League games – Week 15

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 10:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (10) reacts after a challenge during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on April 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Week 15 of the Premier League season has arrived with Manchester United hosting Tottenham, Liverpool welcoming West Ham and Leicester City and Manchester City clashing at the King Power Stadium.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live, here ] 

With some intense relegation battles between Swansea City and Sunderland and Hull City and Crystal Palace, there is plenty on the line as the festive season really starts to heat up.

Below are previews, score predictions and everything else you need to know about all 10 games this weekend.


Chelsea vs. West Brom

Leicester City vs. Manchester City

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool vs. West Ham

Arsenal vs. Stoke City

Southampton vs. Middlesbrough

Swansea City vs. Sunderland

Watford vs. Everton

Hull vs. Crystal Palace

Burnley vs. Bournemouth