Manchester City, Barcelona meet again and Citizens should fancy their chances

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For the second-straight season Manchester City and Barcelona have been paired together in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

For the second-straight season both teams will be far from happy with drawing one another. Last year Barcelona prevailed 4-1 on aggregate as Martin Demichelis’ red card in the first leg swung the tie in Barca’s favor and a late Dani Alves goal as 10-man City pushed for an equalizer was the killer. However 12 months on, there is room for optimism if you are a City supporter.

[ RELATED: UCL last 16 draw in full ]

Yes, Barcelona possess incredible attacking talents in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez (bare with me here…) but they are still working out their new philosophy after Luis Enrique took over from Gerardo Martino in the summer. Barca, despite having a vast array of world class attacker, have scored 19 fewer goals than Real Madrid so far in La Liga and have lost two and drawn two of their 15 games so far to sit in second spot four points behind Real.

Enrique’s men have the best defense in the Spanish top-flight as they have conceded just seven goals so far but City will fancy their chances to breach that backline as they hope to have Sergio Aguero back fit for the first leg in Manchester on February 24. City’s boss Manuel Pellegrini has lost 12 and drawn two of his last 14 games against Barcelona but the Chilean will be looking to bag his first win since 2008 against the Catalan club when they come to Etihad Stadium to help set his side up for the second leg at the Nou Camp on March 18.

[ RELATED: Serene City ooze maturity ]

A man who knows both clubs extremely well is Man City’s director of football and former Barcelona player Txiki Begiristain. He is confident City can overcome the Barca this season.

source: AP“Every tie in that draw is the same, it’s fantastic, so we’re looking forward to it,” Begiristain said. “We have plenty of confidence with the way we qualified beating Bayern Munich at home and Roma away, so the players will be working hard to get fit and arrive in confidence for those games. We have improved our squad from last season and we have some real quality up front.”

With Aguero spearheading City’s charge after 19 goals in 21 games so far this season, Barcelona are only too aware that facing the Citizens will be even more difficult 12 months on. If Aguero returns and Vincent Kompany is healthy the Citizens will have every chance of beating Barca. The maturity they showed to win away at Rome to seal qualification was immense, they also beat Bayern Munich home in the group stage and with several years of struggles in the Champions League behind them, you get the sense that the penny may have finally dropped for City’s players as to how they can succeed against teams in Europe.

Former Barca goalkeeper and club representative  Andoni Zubizarreta respects the English champions but believes his side can all the way in the competition.

“It is the same draw we had a year ago, it was a very difficult game and we are going to look forward to it,” Zubizarreta  said. “Manchester City have an outstanding squad with a very good coach, a very good team and are very competitive. We know all about them. They have been playing at a very high level and it is going to be difficult. Two great teams with incredible players and anything can happen. Luis Suarez has been performing excellently. Can we go further than last year? Hopefully we can go all the way.”

In a game which will be billed as a head-to-head battle between two diminutive Argentine forwards, Messi took to Facebook and had the following to say about facing City and his good pal Aguero.

“I’m looking forward to playing in the next round of the UEFA Champions League. It’ll be really nice to face my friend Sergio Aguero as I always beat him at FIFA, but let’s see what happens on the pitch.”

Barcelona ends contract with company accused of fake posts

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona has ended its contract with a company that made negative comments on social media about people within the club.

Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said Tuesday the decision was made after the club found out that one of its service providers used an account to make “inadequate” comments about people in the club. He did not name the company nor give any detail about the comments.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Bartomeu reiterated the club’s denial of accusations it hired a company to make negative comments about its own players and opponents on social media in order to boost the image of senior club officials.

The Cadena Ser radio network said Monday a company used fake social media accounts to discredit opposition figures and some of Barcelona’s players when they expressed views that went against the club. Cadena Ser said some of the figures included star players Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.

Bartomeu said other companies will continue to monitor social media on behalf of the club.

“It’s the responsibility of the club to know what is said on social media around the world,” he said. “But the club has never contracted services to discredit anyone, and we will do whatever is needed to defend ourselves from such accusations.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Premier League Preview: Man City v. West Ham

Premier League Preview: Man City v. West Ham
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Manchester City takes the pitch at the Etihad Stadium for the first time since UEFA hammered it with a two-year Champions League ban when it hosts West Ham United on Wednesday (Watch Live at 3 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Manager Pep Guardiola has reportedly stated his commitment to the club ahead of the match, which was rescheduled from last weekend after Storm Ciara hit England.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Second-place City opens the day 25 points back of leaders Liverpool, while West Ham is one point behind 17th place.

The Irons have not won a Premier League match since New Year’s Day, David Moyes‘ first match in charge.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 


Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT —  Oleksandr Zinchenko, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy

West Ham: OUT — Jack Wilshere, Andriy Yarmolenko. QUESTIONABLE — Felipe Anderson


Probable lineups

Man City: Ederson; Cancelo, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Walker, Rodri, Gundogan, De Bruyne, D. Silva, Aguero, Mahrez.

West Ham: Fabianski; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Diop, Zabaleta, Rice, Soucek, Noble, Snodgrass, Haller, Antonio.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s David Moyes on the relegation fight: “I’m more than confident we will climb the table. I think the players here are more than capable. I think we have got a good group. I think they are all fully aware of the situation we’re in and the improvement we need to make to make sure we’re not in the bottom three, and I’m sure come the end we will do.”


Prediction

A blowout. While West Ham has the urgency to get out of the drop zone, City will be pouring its full focus into finding form for next week’s Champions League tie with Real Madrid. City, 4-1.

Champions League preview: Spurs host Leipzig, Valencia visits Atalanta

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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties kickoff Wednesday, including one being labeled as the biggest in a club’s existence.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

That would be Serie A side Atalanta, which hosts Valencia at 3 p.m. at Gewiss Stadium.

Atalanta had played in two consecutive Europa Leagues, but this is their first move into the Champions League. To make the knockout rounds is exceptional, and club president Antonio Percassi is fired up.

“We must be honest, this is the most important game in the history of this club,” Percassi told Sky Sport Italia. “It doesn’t seem real. It’s exciting just thinking that tomorrow we’ll be in a Champions League Round of 16. It’s wonderful for our fans too. … This is going to be a unique experience that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”

Atalanta finished second in its group to Manchester City, and is fourth in Serie A. Valencia won its group.

There’s a Premier League side in action on Wednesday, too, as Spurs begin life without Heung-Min Son.

Jose Mourinho spun a tale about how badly Tottenham will need its fans against RB Leipzig, comparing the home-field advantage to an emergency rescue crew of sorts.

Leipzig is led by Julian Nagelsmann, who was once referred to as “Baby Mourinho” by his players.

The 32-year-old was quick to distance himself from the story.

“Tomorrow it is Leipzig against Tottenham, not Mourinho v. Baby Mourinho,” he said. “I have great respect for Mourinho. He has won lots of titles with big clubs, the Champions League twice. He has made his mark on European football at some big European clubs. I think it his 59th knockout game in the CL and it is my first so there is obviously respect there.”

Liverpool’s Robertson not a fan of Atletico Madrid theatrics

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Liverpool fullback Andy Robertson was not impressed with Atletico Madrid’s display as his side fell 1-0 in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 tie on Tuesday.

The Reds fell behind on a fourth-minute Saul Niguez goal and couldn’t get a shot on target despite 73 percent possession in Spain.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Atleti executed its plan to near-perfection, slowing restarts and taking advantage of counterattacking opportunities to assuage the constant pressure of Liverpool.

At times it was reminiscent of early-century Italian national team play, and both neutrals and Liverpool knew what they were in for once Atleti took the lead.

“We gave them the best possible start to get the fans behind them and then they can start falling over and things like that, trying to get under our skin a bit which I think we handled quite well to be honest,” Robertson told BT Sport. “We know we are better than (how they played). We put in a decent performance and we can be better than that. Luckily we have got a second leg to put it right.”

Given the performance and the reputation, you’d still fancy the Reds to “put it right” at Anfield. Jurgen Klopp thinks Atleti will feel plenty of pressure at Anfield, and he will certainly feel the officiating will be more to his liking.