Barcelona

Three reasons why Barcelona need to win Copa del Rey final vs. Real Madrid

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Ahead of the Copa del Rey final in Valencia on Wednesday, reigning Spanish champions Barcelona are in a rut.

Not a small one, but a big old rut they have to climb out of, fast.

With the first Spanish title of the 2013-14 on the line, two of world soccer’s biggest rivals will square off for the silverware, with Barcelona in much more need of a win than Real Madrid.

(PREVIEW: Real Madrid vs. FC Barcelona, Copa del Rey final)

In the midst of two-straight defeats, which has seen their UEFA Champions League hopes ended by Atletico Madrid and their La Liga title ambitions dented after losing to midtable Granada, Barcelona is in free-fall before their cup final with Real.

Here’s three reasons why they have to win at the Mestalla.

To save Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s job

With many focusing on the difficult job David Moyes has had at succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United this season, at the Nou Camp Gerardo Martino has had an equally difficult task. The Argentine manager has tampered and altered the shape of the team, training methods and many of the other factors that have been common place at Barca for many years. It is not easy to replace Pep Guariola and his former assistant Tito Vilanova after their sensational record of success. Yet Martino’s side have looked disjointed and jaded in the last few months. If Tata doesn’t win any silverware this season, he will likely be on his way out. Some Barca fans may think getting rid of Martino is a good thing but we all know continuity often breads success. Chopping and changing rarely does.

Send the veterans off on the right note

Carlos Puyol is racing against injury to be fit for the final, yet even if he doesn’t take part, Barca’s players on the pitch must have Puyol and others on their mind. Puyol’s winning legacy at Barcelona will be remembered fondly for many years but finishing on a high note with a least one trophy to celebrate this season would be a good way to go. Along with Puyol, long -term ‘keeper Victor Valdes had his season ended through injury and he will likely never play for Barca again. The aging Xavi Hernandez may also see his time at Barcelona dwindling in the coming seasons, so this trophy isn’t just another game, it is a chance to grab a final piece of silverware for some of the clubs greatest every players.

Kick start their La Liga campaign

Confidence. It’s massive in soccer. Once you’re playing in a team that’s rolling, it’s difficult to explain that no matter who you’re up against, you know you will win. If Barcelona beat Real Madrid on Wednesday and lift a title in the process, they can be inspired by that with their last five La Liga games coming up. Right now they are four points off leaders Atletico Madrid, but Copa del Rey success could re-ignite the hunger in Barca’s players.

FA Cup draw: Chelsea to host Man Utd in QF; Arsenal vs. Lincoln?

FA Cup draw
Photo by Scott Heavey - The FA/The FA via Getty Images
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Chelsea and Manchester United were drawn together on Sunday in one of two potentially all-Premier League ties in the 2016-17 FA Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Middlesbrough will host Manchester City should the Citizens get past Championship side Huddersfield Town in the two sides’ fifth-round replay (0-0 draw on Saturday). Tottenham Hotspur will host Millwall in a volatile London derby, while fifth-division Lincoln City will visit either a fellow non-Football League side in Sutton United, or PL giants Arsenal.

Full FA Cup quarterfinals draw

Chelsea vs. Manchester United
Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City/Huddersfield Town
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Millwall
Sutton United/Arsenal vs. Lincoln City

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

The weekend’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea
Fulham 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Manchester United

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

FA Cup: Zlatan completes Man Utd’s comeback against Blackburn

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United (front) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on January 15, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Manchester United are through as the sixth of eight sides who will eventually make up the quarterfinal round of the FA Cup, thanks to a 2-1 come-from-behind victory away to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

The first half saw Blackburn race out to an early lead in the 17th minute, when Marvin Emnes set up Danny Graham with an inch-perfect through ball. Chris Smalling was out of line with the rest of Man United’s defenders, holding Graham onside, and the 31-year-old was pinpoint with his far-post strike.

United responded quickly, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s made Emnes’s earlier work look pedestrian. The Armenian’s pass sent Marcus Rashford in on goal, which made rounding Jason Steele quite easy, and the empty-net finish even easier (WATCH HERE).

Following the halftime break, United enjoyed mostly one-way traffic, without anything so much as resembling an end product. Until the hour mark, that is, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba came off the bench to replace Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial. 13 minutes after their joint-introduction, Pogba found Ibrahimovic with a long ball over the top, and the big Swede found the back of the net.

Blackburn thought they’d grab a late equalizer, in the 86th minute, but Sergio Romero made a pair of stunning saves in back-to-back fashion, before Anthony Stokes hit home the rebound. The assistant referee correctly ruled him to be offside, though, and United were through.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

Elsewhere in the FA Cup

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea
Fulham 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

AT THE HALF: Man Utd, Blackburn level at 1-1 in FA Cup

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Marcus Rashford of Manchester United beats goalkeeper Jason Steele of Blackburn Rovers to score their first and equalising goal during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United at Ewood Park on February 19, 2017 in Blackburn, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
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Of the seven FA Cup fifth-rounders played this weekend, Manchester United’s clash with Blackburn Rovers is only the second one to feature goals scored by both sides, and the only one of the bunch to see both sides score before halftime.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: The second half at Ewood Park ]

Man United went a goal behind after just 17 minutes, when Danny Graham lifted and inch-perfect strike over the outstretched arms of Sergio Romero. Chris Smalling was the United defender responsible for keeping Graham onside, and for allowing him the space to run onto Marvin Emnes‘s through ball.

The deficit was short-lived, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan provided a delightful through ball of his own to unlock the Rovers defense. Marcus Rashford latched onto it, rounded Jason Steele, and slotted the ball into the empty net.

Saturday’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield 0-0 Manchester City
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Middlesbrough 3-0 Oxford United
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Fulham vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 9 a.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET

FA Cup: Kane’s hat trick sees Spurs sail past Fulham, into QF

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (R) celebrates with team mate Dele Alli as he scores their third goal and completes his hat trick during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage on February 19, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Tottenham Hotspur have done plenty to frustrate and confound their supporters in recent weeks — their Premier League title race has all but officially gone, and they’ve got some work to do in their Europa League round-of-32 tie — but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is now just 270 minutes from lifting the club’s first major trophy since 2008.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

A 3-0 victory away to Championship side Fulham on Sunday sends Tottenham through to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, where they’ll join the likes of Lincoln City and Millwall — as well as PL leaders Chelsea, and possibly Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Harry Kane bagged all three of Spurs goals — the first two of which were created courtesy of delightful wide service from Christian Eriksen — the first a simple tap-in from six yards out in the 16th minute; the second a slightly more difficult, waist-high redirect from inside 10 yards not long after halftime. The hat trick was complete on 73 minutes, when Kane raced in behind the Fulham defense and fired past Marcus Bettinelli at the near post.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

Elsewhere in the FA Cup

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea

Sunday’s FA Cup schedule

Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester United — 11:15 a.m. ET

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET