Three things we learned from Barcelona’s huge win vs. Bayern Munich

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Barcelona has one foot in the UEFA Champions League final after they dispatched Bayern Munich 3-0 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.

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Lionel Messi grabbed two of Barca’s goals, plus Neymar added another in the final 13 minutes, as the Catalan giants won the first leg of the UCL semifinal and take a three-goal advantage with them to Bavaria next Tuesday.

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Bayern tried to withstand heavy pressure from the hosts but were hit with two moments of magic from Messi in three minutes as it was an unhappy return to Barcelona for Pep Guaridola.

[ VIDEO: Messi’s sublime second goal vs. Bayern ]

Here’s three things we learned from a scintillating Champions League clash.

MESSI’S MAGIC IS MESMERIZING

Bayern’s defender Jerome Boateng knew what was going to happen as Lionel Messi surged into the box in the 80th minute. And even though the Bayern Munich defender knew Messi was about to jinx past him, there was nothing he could do to stop the Argentine delivering a devastating body swerve before flicking the ball past Boateng with his left and then dinking it over Manuel Neuer with his right to make it 2-0. Three minutes earlier Messi had beaten Neuer at his near post from the edge of the box, after a mistake from Bernat handed Dani Alves the ball, to open the scoring. The Argentine ace is now the highest scoring player in UCL history with 77 goals, as his personal duel with Cristiano Ronaldo continues. We are running out of superlatives for Messi’s greatness. Before the game Bayern’s boss Pep Guardiola summed up Messi’s genius perfectly, and was then watched on as his side was battered by his brilliance.

“There is not a system or coach to stop talent of Messi’s magnitude,” Guardiola said. “The way he has been playing over the past four or five months, you cannot stop him. He is too good.”

He had six attempts on Wednesday, four were on goal and two went in. When his team needs him most, Messi always delivers. Messi set up Neymar in stoppage time for the final nail in Bayern’s coffin and along with his two partners in crime, Messi, Suarez and Neymar now have 111 goals between them this season. Sensational and as Bayern found out, simply unstoppable.

WITHOUT NEUER, IT WOULD’VE BEEN WORSE…

Messi’s greatness aside, if it wasn’t for Manuel Neuer on Wednesday then Bayern Munich’s defeat could have been a lot heavier. The German international goalkeeper saved two one-on-one’s in the first half as he saved with his foot from Luis Suarez in the 12th minute and then denied Alves just before the break as he surged off his line. In the 60th minute Neuer lived up to his “sweeper keeper” label to deny Neymar and at times it was like shooting practice for Barca but they couldn’t find a way past Neuer, until Messi struck late on. The only blot on his copybook was being beaten at his near post on the opening goal. Also, was there any need to play a quick goal kick in the build up to that opener? Neuer rushed out of his area to shout and scream at Bayern’s left back Bernat in the aftermath but he had put Bernat under pressure with a needless pass. That mistake aside, Neuer once again proved he is the best goalkeeper on the planet and after his nomination for Ballon D’Or in 2014 alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, could he kick on and win the crown in 2015 and beyond?

PEP SURPRISES ON RETURN; BARCA’S REVENGE

When Bayern lined up with a three-man central defense in the opening stages, nobody could believe it. Former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola was fighting fire with fire on his first trip back to the club he coached to every major title on the planet from 2008-12, plus he won the UCL as a player and was a midfield general for the Catalan club. Few know Barca’s current crop of players better than Guardiola and his decision to match three defenders man for man vs. Neymar, Messi and Suarez backfired massively early on as Barcelona poured forward time and time again. Guardiola saw the error of his ways and switched to a flat back four after an early onslaught but why did he put Bayern on the backfoot from the offset? He tried to go for it from the start with high pressure all over the pitch to catch Barcelona out, but he had star attackers such as Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller and many others at his disposal to play their natural game. It was a mistake to switch things up.

The stat above suggests that Guardiola has struggled to curb his teams attacking instincts, both with Barca and Bayern, away from home in Europe. His tactical acumen should not be questioned given all he has achieved in the game but there will be plenty of scrutiny aimed at him from the German media as his growing pains continue in Europe with the Bavarian giants. Yes, Bayern were missing Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and David Alaba plus others through injury but Guardiola’s initial tactics will come in to question during the postmortem of this match. On the other side of the coin, Barcelona’s players would not have forgotten about the 7-0 humbling they suffered over two legs to Bayern back in 2013 in the UCL semifinal. This time, it could well be Barca beating Bayern by the same aggregate scoreline after a stunning finish to the first leg in Spain. Surely Bayern is dead and buried due to a combination of Messi’s magic and Guardiola’s timid tactics.

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…