Barcelona 3-0 Bayern Munich: Messi magic negates Neuer’s first-half heroics

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Lionel Messi, who will one day go down as the greatest player of all time, put in a stunning, dominant performance to remember on Wednesday, as the diminutive Argentine led Barcelona to a 3-0 victory over Bayern Munich and former-Barca manager Pep Guardiola in the first leg of the two sides’ UEFA Champions League semifinal tie.

[ RELATED: Champions League schedule ]

If not for a Herculean first-half performance by Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, the tie might have been well and truly over before the halftime of the first leg. The German international, widely regarded as the world’s best ‘keeper, made five saves in total, including the following three which looked to be sure goals if not for the 29-year-old’s interventions.

Luis Suarez had the game’s first golden chance after Messi’s through ball put the Uruguayan nearly 10 yards behind the Bayern defense and one on one with Neuer. Suarez raced into the 18-yard box and fired a right-footed shot toward the far post, but Neuer came up with the stunning kick save.

Neuer came up huge again in the 39th minute, this time saving a point-blank effort from Dani Alves after Andres Iniesta chipped a through ball over the top of the Bayern defense, onto the chest of Alves who quickly volleyed eight yards out.

[ WATCH IT AGAIN: Messi’s stunning second goal, embarrassment of Boateng ]

Messi’s first decent shooting opportunity didn’t arrive until the 57th minute, when Neymar put the Argentine superstar into a half-yard of space which was all Messi needed to fire a left-footed rocket straight into the chest of Neuer, who saved and held the shot after a short initial bobble.

Neuer’s one suspect moment provided Barcelona their first goal, as Messi’s left-footed strike from outside the penalty area beat Neuer inside his near post and found the back of the net in the 77th minute.

Messi doubled Barca’s lead three minutes later, but not before turning Jerome Boateng inside-out and sending the hulking German defender to the floor in a heaping pile of shame and defeat. From there, Messi raced in on Neuer, who went to ground quickly to cover both posts, forcing Messi into a delicate, right-footed chip over the outstretched arms of Neuer. The ball, as it often does off the foot of Messi, found the back of the net (WATCH HERE).

[ RELATED: Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid in Tuesday’s semifinal first leg ]

Neymar added a third for Barca three minutes into second-half stoppage time, perhaps putting the tie to bed. Messi’s through ball played the Brazilian wonder kid behind the Bayern defense, where he bore down on Neuer and slid the ball, easily, underneath the Bayern ‘keeper.

The second leg will be played next Tuesday at the Allianz Arena in Munich, with Guardiola’s side needing to erase a three-goal deficit in order to reach their second Champions League final in three seasons.

LINEUPS

Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Alves, Pique, Mascherano (Bartra 89′), Alba, Rakitic (Xavi 82′), Busquets, Iniesta (Rafinha 87′), Messi, Suarez, Neymar

Goals: Messi (77′, 80′), Neymar (90+3′)

Bayern Munich: Neuer, Rafinha, Benatia, Boateng, Lahm, Alonso, Thiago, Bernat, Schweinsteiger, Muller (Gotze 79′), Lewandowski

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…