Three things we learned from Barcelona’s win at Manchester City

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MANCHESTER — On Tuesday at the Etihad Stadium an intriguing last 16 clash in the UEFA Champions League played out as Barcelona beat Manchester City 2-1 in the first leg.

[ RELATED: Timeline – Aguero v Messi ]

Luis Suarez struck twice early on to set Barca on their way but an improved second half display from City saw Sergio Aguero pull one back as they go to the Nou Camp in two weeks still in the tie, but knowing they need at least a 2-0 win to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time. A huge ask for Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

[ RELATED: Pellegrini’s gamble backfires ]

Here’s three things we learned from the Anglo-Spanish encounter in Manchester.

SUAREZ LOVES PLAYING IN, OR AGAINST, ENGLAND

You just knew he would take center stage on his first game back in England. You just knew it. Luis Suarez scored twice in the opening 31 minutes to put Barcelona 2-0 up and the Uruguayan ace frightened the life out of Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany for the entire match. Suarez got a little lucky on the first goal, as the ball rebounded off Kompany and straight back into his path, but there was nothing lucky about the instinctive hammer blow from his left foot. Then, he waited patiently on the penalty spot for his second goal as Jordi Alba pulled back a perfect ball for the onrushing Suarez to tap home in the six-yard box.

If fans in England had forgotten just how good Suarez was after his move to the Nou Camp from Liverpool in the summer, this was an incredible reminder of his predatory finishing. Joe Hart must be sick of the sight of Suarez. He scored twice vs. Hart (that was just the four times in his last 135 minutes vs. City’s goalkeeper) and England in the 2014 World Cup in Sao Paulo. Once again “El Pistolero” was the sharpest shooter in town at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

4-4-2 SYSTEM EXPOSES CITY

Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to go with the 4-4-2 system instead of the usual fluid 4-5-1/4-3-3 failed. Miserably. City’s two holding midfielder James Milner and in particular Fernando, were statues as Barcelona’s fluid attacks were allowed to build up around them. Eventually Pellegrini brought on Fernandinho and shifted out Milner to the wing, where he is much bigger threat, but it took too long. Having David Silva and Samir Nasri as traditional wingers was a flawed plan from the start, as the system almost became a 4-2-4 with neither Silva or Nasri listing “tracking back” as one of their strengths on their resume.

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Kompany and City’s defense struggled to contain Barca in the first half.

Dzeko wasted a glorious chance at the start of the second half as he headed straight at Marc-Andre ter Stegen from six-yards out with the entire goal at his mercy. City had chances in the second half to halve the deficit, but only because Barcelona were content to sit back and protect their 2-0 goal lead. In the first half City’s tactics were exposed horribly by Barca’s incredible front three of Neymar, Suarez and Messi. In the end City got their reward for a much improved second half display as Aguero scored to give them hope for the second leg but Pellegrini’s gamble to play two up top from the start has dug the Citizens into a hole they may not get out of.

KOMPANY’S RUSTINESS REMAINS

Kompany has struggled since returning from injury in January. There’s no two ways about it. City’s powerful central defender and captain looks to have lost his sharpness and you can no longer put it down to rustiness. For the first goal, yes he was a tad unlucky that the ball bounced off his back, but he had never truly sorted his feet out and was playing with one eye over his shoulder all game as Messi, Suarez and Neymar buzzed in-between Kompany and Demichelis. The Belgian skipper will regain his sharpness — City hope so, yet after seven games back since his Jan. 18 return it is still missing — but was his less than impressive display against Barca’s star attackers a sign of things to come? He is just 28, which means he has at least four years left at the elite level as a center back. But have various hamstring and thigh injuries taken their toll on City’s once seemingly indestructible skipper?

Lacazette gives Arsenal first leg in Greece

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Alexandre Lacazette scored the lone goal as Arsenal beat hosts Olympiacos 1-0 in the first leg of a Europa League Round of 32 tie on Thursday.

The second leg is Feb. 27 at the Emirates Stadium, four days after the Gunners host Carlo Ancelotti and Everton in Premier League play.

Lacazette now has eight goals in 24 appearances for Arsenal this season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Lacazette missed a big early chance from close range, Gabriel Martinelli deprived of a near-certain assist.

Fortunately for Lacazette, he got a second bite at the apple and smashed it home with a vengeance. Bukayo Saka continued his impressive debut season by assisting the goal.

It was an even match, as Olympiacos continued its habit of steady defense but was unable to produce any attack. The Greeks weren’t credited with the creation of any big chances.

Bernd Leno made three saves and was very good in distribution on the day, with Saka, David Luiz, Shkrodan Mustafi, and Sokratis Papastathopoulus continuing steady defense under Mikel Arteta.

Wolves clobber Espanyol, Neves scores another magnificent volley

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Diogo Jota had a hat trick and Ruben Neves scored a very Ruben Neves goal as Wolves took a 4-0 lead over Espanyol on Thursday after one leg of Europa League Round of 32 action.

Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho, and Matt Doherty recorded assists for Wolves, who will visit the Portuguese side on Feb. 27.

Espanyol had 57 percent of the ball and put four shots on target to Wolves’ five.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

Wolves came out of the gates with a show of strength, taking six shots to Espanyol’s zero over the first 25 minutes.

The goal came off an Adama Traore-won corner, Raul Jimenez flicking on to Jota.

Neves’ goal came straight from his area of expertise, a beautiful bit of control with his chest before smashing home from distance.

The 23-year-old Jota scored the first, third, and fourth goals of the contest to give him two Europa League hat tricks this season. He has 12 goals and five assists in 33 appearances across all competitions this season.

Solskjaer, Mata react to Man Utd draw: ‘We can play better’

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Manchester United got an away goal in a 1-1 first leg draw with Europa League foes Club Brugge in Belgium on Thursday.

The goals were pretty individual, a big chip of Sergio Romero followed by Anthony Martial’s powerful dribble to equalize for the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

United outshot the hosts 16-10, but fell short in big chances created by a 3-1 margin.

Here’s Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, via the BBC:

“It was a game with difficult conditions out there. It was almost like an astroturf. The ball was very quick and lively,” Solskjaer said. “We got the away goal. It was a very good individual goal, worked hard to win the ball and finish so we are happy with that but we know we can play better.”

The second leg is Feb. 27 at Old Trafford, four days after a Premier League encounter with Watford in the same building.

United midfielder Juan Mata had a busy day, winning the majority of his tackles and creating one key pass. He expected better from his team but sees the game for what it is.

Here is Mata, from The Manchester Evening News:

“They scored a goal we shouldn’t concede. We scored a goal from their mistake. we wanted to win, obviously, 1-1 is not a very bad result, but we always want to win,” Mata said. “We just couldn’t find spaces, they defended very well with five plus four. We tried to play a few times through the middle, which we didn’t succeed to do that. Then we scored that goal and from then we played a bit better.”

Solskjaer kept Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Daniel James, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the bench to start the match. Fernandes and Fred came on late.

FC Cincinnati adds Ajax midfielder Siem de Jong

Siem de Jong
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FC Cincinnati got a much-needed bit of good news toward the end of a rough week in Southern Ohio.

Longtime Ajax attacker Siem De Jong has joined a talented FCC attack ahead of the club’s second MLS season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

De Jong, 31, came up through Ajax’s vaunted academy before transferring to Newcastle United, where he suffered through a series of miserable injuries including two collapsed lungs in 18 months.

He’s been capped six times with two goals for the Netherlands in his career and will join a revitalized Cincinnati attack with Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo.

“The system they want to play is quite similar to the Dutch system, and yeah, Ajax is probably one of the team’s that perfected it,” de Jong said. “Over the years I played there, I’ve learned a lot about this similar philosophy and trying to build up from the back in the Dutch style of play. That was one of the reasons why FC Cincinnati was a good fit for me. Hopefully I can help with the experience I’ve had over the years playing this style of football.”

De Jong scored three times in nine matches this season for Ajax, all of the goals coming in a cup match against third-tier Spakenburg. His other eight matches combined for just 118 minutes.

He may not be with FCC when the season starts as he waits on visa approval.