El Clasico Preview: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

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  • Real Madrid have beat Barcelona 92 times in official matches, while Barca has tallied 89 wins (49 draws)
  • Lionel Messi has scored 21 goals in 29 Clasicos and is the highest scorer of active members in both squads
  • Both sides have played 229 Clasicos since the two met in the Spanish Cup in 1902 (The Independent)

Undoubtedly, El Clasico features two teams among the world’s best, and when they face each other in front of millions of supporters and television viewers, a huge spectacle arises.

Earlier in the season at the Bernabeu, Neymar opened the scoring in the 4th minute and stunned the Real faithful, who were given comfort after Cristiano Ronaldo equalized on a penalty kick ten minutes before the half. And from that point on, two unanswered goals from Pepe and Karim Benzema had Los Blancos walking away with a 3-1 victory.

Luis Suarez made his starting debut then and provided the assist for his side’s only score. Benzema’s spectacular performance was the obvious takeaway in this one.

Real and Barca meet tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET, switching home turf over to Camp Nou, and many believe this contest will tell a different tale, as Real have staggered lately to win only two of their past five matches.

[RELATED: Pique on Real’s struggles

A frustrated Ronaldo has watched his Ballon d’Or showings fall to the wayside in 2015, netting only seven goals and three assists since the year’s beginning. Benzema and Gareth Bale, the other men in Real’s attacking trio, have also wrestled with unfavorable form.

Meanwhile, Barca have won 18 matches and drawn two, and Lionel Messi has out dueled his rival in Madrid by brandishing magnificent play, burying 18 goals and adding 11 assists from the start of 2015.

Sitting atop La Liga, Barcelona’s confidence is high, and Real—only one point behind the Catalans—will fight hard to remain within striking distance of the title.

Get ready for quite the contest in northeastern Spain.

What they’re saying

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique on approach to match (FC Barcelona official website): “We’ll try to carry on doing what we have done up to now, which is create more chances than the opposition, control the pace of the game, have players in the right place at the right time, control our emotions and push each other in the right direction…We like to control the ball and, as much as possible, do so in the opposition’s half.”

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema on dealing with nerves (Yahoo! Sport): “We know that there’s a lot of pressure, but that’s normal because it’s a huge match. Every player who loves football wants to play in it. We’re going to prepare well for the match, all together, to go to Barcelona and win…We’re Real Madrid. To score again like I did in our first meeting of the season, I need a bit of luck and nothing else.”

Match injuries/absences

Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are both back from short suspensions for Barcelona. Sergio Busquets may be back as well after sitting out for three games due to an ankle injury sustained in Barca’s Copa del Rey match vs. Villarreal. Defender Thomas Vermaelen is still eyeing his return in April.

Meanwhile, for Real, it’s James Rodriquez that will not perform because of his broken foot, while Luka Modric could get the start, with Isco and Toni Kroos also all-clear for the match.

Prediction

It’s seems that based on present form, Barcelona is the favorite to win, but Real players know the odds are against them. Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid.

Arsenal sign defender Mari on loan from Flamengo

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Amid an ongoing and injury crisis at center back, Arsenal have signed defender Pablo Mari on loan from Brazilian club Flamengo until the end of the season.

[ MORE: Spurs complete Bergwijn transfer from PSV ]

Th 26-year-old Spaniard spent three seasons on the books at Manchester City, where he never made a first-team appearance and instead was sent out on loan three times, before moving to Flamengo last summer. Flamengo won both the Brazilian league title and the Copa Libertadores during his six months at the club.

Mari’s loan agreement has an option to make the move permanent this summer.

[ MORE: Woodward’s house attacked by Man United fans with flares ]

Arsenal have been without defenders Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac and Kieran Tierney, for quite some time due to injuries. Shkodran Mustafi went down with an ankle injury during Monday’s FA Cup victory over Bournemouth and will miss some time as well.

Spurs complete Bergwijn transfer from PSV

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After 18 months without signing a single player, Tottenham Hotspur sure are making up for lost time.

[ MORE: Woodward’s house attacked by Man United fans with flares ]

The club announced on Wednesday that 22-year-old Dutch winger Steven Bergwijn has been signed from PSV Eindhoven, marking Tottenham’s second signing of the January transfer window. Midfielder Gedson Fernandes arrived from Benfica earlier this month.

Bergwijn is a dynamic wide attacking player who put together the best season of his younger career last term (14 goals in 33 league appearances) and followed it up with another solid six months at PSV (5 goals in 16) before Spurs came calling. He arrives a day after Christian Eriksen officially departed Spurs for Inter Milan, and Bergwijn will wear the no. 23 shirt, which stood vacant for less the 24 hours in Eriksen’s wake.

The fee for Bergwijn has been reported at $32 million, making him a relatively low-risk signing in the world of today’s transfers, though his mere presence signals a significant departure from the club’s standard operating practices of the past.

[ MORE: Report: Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through injury

Do Spurs fans have Jose Mourinho to thank for chairman Daniel Levy’s newfound free-spending ways? Not even Harry Redknapp could convince Spurs’ frugal owner to spend in this manner, let alone the likes of Mauricio Pochettino or an Andre Villas-Boas. While requesting and demanding — and getting — big-money signings has been a common theme of Mourinho’s management career, Spurs didn’t seem like a place he’d simply continue to operate in that way.

Rather than learn a new trick himself, it would appear Mourinho taught Levy one instead.

USWNT opens Olympic qualifying with win over Haiti

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The USWNT was rusty, that much was clear. Vlatko Andonovski still made sure they took care of business.

Four different goalscorers delivered a 4-0 victory over Haiti to begin CONCACAF Olympic qualification, putting the United States in front of Group A early. Lynn Williams picked up a goal and assist, proving useful on an otherwise sputtery evening for Vlatko Andonovski’s attack.

Just 78 seconds into the game, Williams charged down the right flank and crossed to Christen Press at the far post for the opening goal. Williams’ assist came without the use of her left shoe which she lost while holding off a defender for the bobbling ball.

Despite the early lead, the United States seemed somewhat sluggish as Haiti built themselves into the match. There were few chances on net after the opening goal through the half-hour mark.

Haiti nearly caught the U.S. napping on a corner as the ball found the back of the net on 20 minutes, but the goal was somehow ruled out. It appeared to be for offside, but since it’s impossible to be offside from a corner, there must have been another reason for the official ruling. Nonetheless, it was a clear sign for the USWNT that they needed to pick up the level of play.

The U.S. continued to struggle after halftime, creating very little in front of net. There was a half-chance for Lloyd near the penalty spot but a quality tackle by Kethna Louis put that to bed. Then finally they put the game to bed on a corner, not coincidentally coming just five minutes after Megan Rapinoe entered the fray. Rapinoe delivered a corner to the doorstep where Williams headed in well under pressure, moving her upper body away from goal against the motion of her lower body to reach the delivery.

Another Andonovski substitute paid dividends however as Lindsey Horan scored, again coming off a corner. They played it short and Horan headed from a significant distance out, the ball squirting past the goalkeeper Kerly Theus and Louis who tried to clear off the line. It was clear that Haiti had begun to tire and the USWNT was taking advantage. Up front, Carli Lloyd had a poor game, unable to get involved in attacking play, but she found the scoresheet in stoppage time, bagging a header off a Rapinoe cross in the 93rd minute to finish out the scoring.

Emily Sonnett replaced Kelley O’Hara with 10 minutes to go for Andonovski’s final change, and the USWNT saw the rest of the match out. They have two matches remaining before the knockout stage, set to take on Panama on Friday before the group stage finale against Costa Rica on February 3. The top two teams in the group reach the knockout phase with the semifinals to begin on February 7.

Report: Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through injury

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Chelsea has so far come up empty in its search for a striker, so desperate times may call for desperate measures.

Tammy Abraham, who has been a revelation this season with 13 Premier League goals, went down with an ankle injury late in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal last weekend. The club has tried desperately to find a striker before the Friday transfer window closes, and while the Blues have been linked with Edinson Cavani and Krzysztof Piatek they so far have not had any success in finding a replacement.

Therefore, according to Matt Law of The Telegraph, Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through his injury against Leicester City this weekend. The match is a vital one as Chelsea, sitting fourth in the Premier League table, looks to put separation between themselves and Manchester United while also chasing the third-placed Foxes who sit eight points clear.

The thinking appears to be that Chelsea has a 16-day break between the Leicester City match and their subsequent game against Manchester United in mid-February thanks to the Premier League’s two-week break at the start of the month.

Earlier this month, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted regret for not resting a banged up Marcus Rashford, choosing instead to bring him off the bench in an FA Cup match against Wolves. Reports after the match confirmed that Rashford was carrying a single stress fracture in his back at the time of the appearance, and he was hauled off 16 minutes later with scans after the match showing his appearance against Wolves worsened the injury. He now he faces two to three months on the sidelines.

Abraham has also slowed of late after being so heavily used this season. The 22-year-old has logged a massive 2,359 minutes across all competitions this season, including 1,843 out of a possible 2,160 in Premier League play. Abraham scored his first 11 Premier League goals in his first 14 matches of the season, but has just three goals in the last 10 games.

Chelsea has Michy Batshuayi as a natural replacement for Abraham up top, but Frank Lampard has used him as solely a bench option the entirety of this season. Batshuayi has made 14 Premier League appearances this season, but has logged just 138 minutes across those matches. When used as a starter in cup action, Batshuayi has four goals in four domestic cup starts. Olivier Giroud is also on the roster, having made just five Premier League appearances this season.