Preview: Barcelona, Manchester City stumble into Champions League second leg; PSG set to rest Ibrahimovic

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Manchester City’s draw against Barcelona in UEFA Champions League promised to give us a semifinal matchup in the tournament’s first knockout round, but after shock weekend losses, both titans find themselves limping into their tie’s second leg. Against a club battling to avoid relegation from La Liga (Real Valladolid), Barça lost 1-0 on Saturday, an indignity that pushed them into third in Spain. Manchester City somehow managed to do their Wednesday opponents one worse, losing 2-1 at home to second division Wigan Athletic in England’s FA Cup. Where at one time this meeting could have been the leaders of the world’s two best leagues, today’s second leg will feature Spain’s third-place team against a club that sits fourth in the Premier League.

That fourth place team, who’ll start Wednesday’s second leg with a two-goal deficit, will also be without their manager. Manuel Pellegrini begins a suspension incurred after criticizing officials in the wake of City’s 2-0 loss to Barça at the Emirates, one which puts leaves assistant coach Rubén Cousillas in charge. The 56-year-old Argentine, who has been with Pellegrini since the Chilean’s days coaching in South America, is tasked with not only making history in Catalonia but also moving the Citizens past an embarrassing Sunday result.

“We had a big sense of frustration because we wanted to be back at Wembley and win another cup,” Cousillas said, “but Wigan surprised us. We have turned the page and we have experienced and quality players, which means we are more united than ever and we have forgotten everything in preparation for tomorrow.”

Barcelona will need a similarly faulty memory to regain their confidence before kickoff on Wednesday. Whereas City can assuage themselves with having lost to the same team that beat them in last year’s FA Cup, Barça’s loss at Real Valladolid is less explicable. Shut out against a team that had not won in five games, Gerardo Martino suffered his second loss in three. While its +52 goal difference is still the top mark in the Primera Division, a third place standing is the lowest Barcelona has sat since the opening days of the Pep Guardiola era.

“After the match in Valladolid, I said we made mistakes but under different circumstances – because all our defeats this season have been different,” Martino explained. “There’s not a specific reason for us being inconsistent. We need to be more consistent at this stage of the season to maintain our chances of winning all three competitions.”

That need for improvement underscores a heightened urgency for Barcelona. Though they are unlikely to give up their two-goal leads to City, they are less than two weeks away from the season’s second Clasico – one they can’t afford to lose if they’re going to retain their La Liga title. Already four points behind first place Real Madrid, Barcelona have 180 minutes to raise their game before entering the Santiago Bernábeu.

Though they were missing midfield star Andrés Iniesta this weekend, against Manchester City, there’ll be no excuses. Both Lionel Messi and Neymar are fully fit. Xavi Hernández is ready to play in midfield. UEFA reports no injuries to Martino’s regulars along the back. Though Barcelona can claim Real Valladolid surprised them on Saturday, it won’t be able to use similar excuses on Wednesday.

“We have to think that 10 or 12 days ago,” Martino explained, “we played a very good match against Manchester City. I don’t see why we can’t do the same tomorrow and I’m sure we will play well.”

City is not as quite healthy as their hosts. In addition to Pellegrini’s loss, the Citizens will be without Martín Demechilis (suspended) and backup Matija Nastasic, leaving Joleon Lescott to start to the left of Vincent Kompany in City’s defense.

The rest of the team — from leading goal threat Sergio Aguero up top to former Barcelona defensive midfielder Yaya Touré in the middle — will be laid out according to Pellegrini’s plans, even if the Manchester City boss will be in the stands.

“The decisions are taken by Pellegrini,” Cousillas confirmed. “I have worked with him for 13 years and I know what he wants.”

What he truly wants may be out of Cousillas’s reach. Down two goals, Manchester City will be looking to make history in Spain, not only hoping to reach their first quarterfinal but also trying to become the first team to turn around a two-goal deficit incurred at home.

Barcelona’s recent results say City may be catching it at the right time, but the Citizens will have to shake off disappointment of their own if they’re to survive in Champions League.

source: APParis Saint-Germain try to kill off wounded Bayer Leverkusen

PSG’s matchup with Bayer Leverkusen joins Real Madrid’s pairing with Schalke as the most lopsided battles in the competition’s Round of 16. Whereas PSG put up a 4-0 win three weeks ago at the BayArena, all but eliminating Sami Hyypia’s team before they’d boarded their plane for Paris, Real Madrid posted a 6-1 victory in Gelsenkirchen. The German Bundesliga may be an up-and-coming league, but last year’s third and fourth place finishers are having trouble keeping pace with the league’s new reputation.

What that means for Champions League fans is a second, perfunctory 90 minutes in at the Parc de Princes, one that’s unlikely to feature PSG star Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The main reason for watching today’s return leg is set to be held out of the team, with head coach Laurent Blanc sounding a cautious note about his focal point’s back injury ahead of the match. Likewise, Blaise Matuidi — a midfielder who nearly rivaled Ibrahimovic’s influence in Germany — is also unlikely to be held out, with Marco Veratti, Gregory van der Wiel, and Jérémy Menez joining him as doubts.

All of which would spark worry from Bayer Leverkusen if the score was closer. Even then, Bayer would have to have shown something more than one point in six games leading into Wednesday’s match – form that’s seen them relinquish second place in the Bundesliga. Only five points ahead of fifth place Wolfsburg, Bayer now have concerns about whether they can maintain a Champions League spot, especially with their annual trip to Bayern looming on Saturday.

“The team needs to build confidence and self-belief, and one way to do so could be with a good performance here.,” Hyypia explained. “The most important thing is we need to find some stability defensively, especially now that we’re going through difficult times.”

With PSG set to take a cautious approach, Bayer may get their reprieve. That doesn’t necessarily mean their winless run will stop.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United host Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane on Sunrday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blades fans will enjoy their first home game back in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Chris Wilder, the lifelong United fan who is now their manager, will be emotional and fans of the Yorkshire club will create a heated atmosphere for opponents to visit this season.

In team news Sheffield United are unchanged from the team which drew at Bournemouth last week, with club captain Billy Sharp on the bench.

Crystal Palace bring in star man Wilfried Zaha who starts up top


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Zidane says Bale will stay at Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale is staying at Real Madrid.

The Welshman was not wanted by manager Zinedine Zidane, who stated that publicly on many occasions over the summer.

But Bale started and grabbed an assist as 10-man Real beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their La Liga opener on Saturday and it seems like Zidane is ready to brush all of this Bale talk under the carpet.

“He’s going to stay and we all have to think of that as a positive thing,” Zidane said. “The injury to Eden Hazard was bad luck for us but it didn’t change the plans we had for Bale in this game. Gareth and everyone else here is going to show this shirt the respect it deserves.”

After his move to China broke down at the last minute amid conflicting reports blaming Bale and the club for the collapse of the deal, his future at Real has seemed pretty much dead in the water.

Adding in a serious injury to Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard picking up a knock, and all of a sudden Bale is needed again. But for how long?

He was linked with a loan move to Bayern Munich but Philippe Coutinho moved to Bavaria instead, and Bale wasn’t chased by Premier League clubs during the summer due to his huge wage demands. With the transfer window across many European countries closing at the end of this month, he has run out of options to leave a club where the hierarchy and fans don’t want him.

Bale, 30, is now stuck at Real and he has another three years left on his contract. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the man who has won four Champions League trophies at Real, yet has become the main villain at the Santiago Bernabeu as fans lambast him for playing golf and not learning to speak Spanish fluently during his six years in Spain.

Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.