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.

Unhappy reunion for Klinsmann as Bayern beats Hertha 4-0

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BERLIN (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann endured an unhappy reunion with Bayern Munich as his former protege Thomas Muller started a 4-0 Bundesliga rout of his Hertha Berlin team.

“It was nice to see him again but of course even nicer to win,” Muller said after Sunday’s victory lifted Bayern to second place, four points behind Leipzig.

Klinsmann gave Muller the first of his so far 336 Bundesliga appearances when he brought on the then 18-year-old for the last 10 minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hamburger SV on the opening day of the 2008-09 season. Klinsmann was fired as Bayern coach in April 2009 as its title hopes faded.

But Muller has only fond memories of his mentor, who later went on to be United States coach.

“I have a special relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann. He made me a professional. I still have the mailbox message from when he called me up for the start of training with the professionals,” Muller said. “He gave me my chance to earn my spurs. He put me straight in. He was my first coach.”

Klinsmann was only cleared to face his former club on Saturday after the German soccer federation and league confirmed they received missing documents for his coaching license.

But Klinsmann, who also played for Bayern between 1995-97 and coached Germany at the 2006 World Cup, could only watch as his team was completely outplayed in the second half.

Hertha showed little initiative going forward and finally paid the price for sitting back when Muller rifled in from close range.

“The first goal opened the game,” said Klinsmann, who had been hoping to extend Hertha’s unbeaten run to five games.

The visitors thought they had another goal minutes later, but Robert Lewandowski’s goal was ruled out through VAR for heading the ball out of Rune Jarstein’s hands.

Lewandowski finally got his goal from the penalty spot in the 72nd after Lukas Klunter tugged Leon Goretzka’s arm.

“The turning point was the penalty,” said Klinsmann, who felt it was a harsh decision.

Thiago Alcantara sealed the result three minutes later with a brilliant strike in off the underside of the bar after Goretzka sent him through, and Ivan Perisic headed in Muller’s cross in the 84th.

Bayern had been missing defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez through injury, with forward Kingsley Coman also out and midfielder Joshua Kimmich suspended. Canadian teen Alphonso Davies made his 10th consecutive league start.

Santiago Ascacibar started for his Hertha debut after his winter transfer from second-division Stuttgart. The combative Argentine is Hertha’s first signing following financier Lars Windhorst’s investment of $250 million in the club.

Also Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen won 4-1 at bottom side Paderborn to move sixth.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

La Liga roundup: Messi scores, wins game in Setien’s Barcelona debut (video)

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Barcelona’s vintage playing style in their 1-0 win over Granada highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 1-0 Granda

With a goal from Lionel Messi against an iron-willed Granada, Barcelona are back at the top of La Liga.

The win is the club’s first under Quique Setien, who debuted as the Catalans manager after replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona rolled back to the years of Pep Guardiola‘s tiki-taka, as they culminated the game with 83 percent possession and completed 1005 passes. That said, Granda – playing  with 10 men from the 69h minute on – were bulletproof until the 76th minute. Messi gently pushed the ball with his weak foot, finishing what had been a series of fluid, build-up passing.

Setien deployed a nuanced 3-4-3 variation – far from Valverde’s 4-3-3 formation that ended up costing him his job after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Super Copa semifinals.

Players like Sergio Busquets were asked about the distinct styles, but he was candidly opposed to comparing the managers and their philosophies.

“We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us,” he told Movistar. “It’s true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

“It’s not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You’ll see what Setien asks us to do. We’re not going to reveal it. We’re delighted with what Ernesto did and we’re delighted with Setien.”

With Real Madrid and Atletico right behind, the defending champions have a long way to go this season. They’ll have to build on the win and, more importantly, further deepen their chemistry under the ex-Real Betis boss. Integrating winter signings into the fold might present itself as a challenge, too.

But one thing is certain: Barcelona can still play like they did back in their glory days. If that sticks, a lot can happen.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Mallorca 4-1 Valencia

Real Betis 3-0 Real Sociedad

Villarreal 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Celta Vigo

Serie A roundup: Ronaldo sets record with brace in Juventus win over Parma (video)

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Cristiano Ronaldo’s two-goal performance against Parma highlights Sunday’s Serie A action.

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Juventus 2-1 Parma

Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals as Juventus edged visiting Parma 2-1, going four points clear of Inter Milan, who drew with Lecce on Sunday.

Ronaldo opened the scoring at Allianz Stadium in the 43rd minute and added his second in the 58th minute, extending his scoring mark to seven straight games – the first Juventus player to reach that mark since Frenchman David Trezeguet in late 2005.

With the double to count for, the Portuguese sees his overall count move up to 16 goals this season, seven behind Serie A’s leading scorer Ciro Immobile, who has put together an extraordinary season.

Surpassing the 15-goal mark, Ronaldo becomes the only player within top five European leagues to at least score 15 goals in each of the last 14 campaigns. A big boost for the 34-year-old recent form has been Paulo Dybala, who provided the assist for the match-winning goal.

After a slow start this season, questions were asked about the chemistry between Ronaldo and the Argentine. But as Juventus coach Maurizio Sarri noted after Sunday’s game, Ronaldo is unlike others: he can create a world of trouble, but manage to resolve it all on his own.

“You have a world class player who might cause you a few problems every now and then, but can also resolve 100 of them,” Sarri said about Ronaldo after Juventus’ victory. “So you have to take him into account and work around his characteristics.”

Juventus will hope Ronaldo remains on what has been his best form this season as they host AS Roma in the Coppa Italia quarterfinal on Wednesday. For Parma, the campaign that is to crack the top six resumes on Sunday against Udinese.

Elsewhere

Milan 3-2 Udinese

Lecce 1-1 Inter Milan

Brescia 2-2 Cagliari 

Bologna 1-1 Verona

Genoa 1-3 AS Roma

Salah: ‘We don’t have to think that now we’ve won the Premier League’

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“We’re gonna to win the league, we’re gonna win the league!” rang throughout Anfield on Sunday night, and justifiably so.

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The 2-0 victory over Manchester United now means Liverpool have defeated every top-flight side this season. There is no team in the Premier League (anywhere else in the world, really) that exhibit the level of consistency that Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool exhibit. None.

It’s a historical season, a memorable one for all Liverpool supporters – even on the back of a Champions League winning season.

16 points clear of Manchester City, and unbeaten after 21 bouts, it’s now a near-impossible mission for the Reds to disintegrate the empire they’ve built. But along the lines of Klopp, who is implores the title-winning feeling is still missing, Mohamed Salah is weary of admitting that the league is a wrap.

“I think we just need to keep [our] focus on each game,” he told Sky Sports after the match. “We don’t have to think that now we’ve won the Premier League or whatever, no.

“We just need to take it game by game. I think that’s the only way we can win the Premier League. We struggled last season at the same time so we have to keep calm and just focus on each game.”

Perhaps Salah’s strike deep into injury-time is the quintessential embodiment of the fighting spirit and unapologetic hunger that is very much alive within Liverpool’s dressing room.

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“There are a lot of games left,” captain Jordan Henderson concurred on not falling for complacency-oriented mindset. “We’ve taken it game by game for a long time now and it’s put us in good stead so there’s no need to change.

“It is special and we’re enjoying our football but you’ve got to stay hungry, keep learning, keep wanting more and this group of players wants to do that.

“The manager’s on us all the time to improve and we know that we can. It’s about every single day, keep going until the end of the season.”