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How today’s Barcelona fares vs. Guardiola’s best — not too well

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Pep Guardiola, the managerial mastermind who led Barcelona to 14 of 19 possible titles in four seasons, is returning to Camp Nou.

This time he will be at the helm of Manchester City as he faces his boyhood club in the Champions League on Wednesday.

But how does the best of the teams Guardiola coached from 2008-2012 stack up against the current Barcelona side?

Here is a comparison of Barcelona’s current players with those led by Guardiola in 2008-09, the team that started the club’s winning era by becoming the first Spanish club to win the Champions League, Spanish league and Copa del Rey in the same season.

Barcelona repeated that rare feat of winning the treble of titles two seasons ago under present coach Luis Enrique.

Messi/Eto’o/Henry (2008-09) vs. Messi/Suarez/Neymar (now)

A budding star at 21 years old, Lionel Messi fully blossomed under Guardiola.

The Argentina star won his first of a record five Ballon d’Or awards in 2009, after having scored important goals such as his double in a historic 6-2 win at Real Madrid and the second goal in a 2-0 win to beat Manchester United in the Champions League final.

Guardiola got one more superb season from striker Samuel Eto'o, and squeezed out some of the last vintage goals that Thierry Henry had to offer.

Hard to top that, right?

Just look at Messi’s present partners in attack.

With Messi moving away from a pure scorer to becoming both scorer and playmaker, Luis Suarez and Neymar have proven to be perfect fits up front. Suarez is the voracious goal-taker that Messi needed to focus on orchestrating, while Neymar’s dribbling skills and speed are almost unstoppable. The trio broke scoring records in each of the last two seasons.

ADVANTAGE: Luis Enrique’s current attack.

Xavi/Toure/Iniesta (2008-09) vs. Rakitic/Busquets/Iniesta (now)

Both teams enjoy the devilry of Andres Iniesta, but the 2008-09 side had both Yaya Toure and an upstart Sergio Busquets sharing time in front of the defense, as opposed to the current team’s reliance on Busquets as a holding midfielder.

The major difference, however, is the downgrade from Xavi Hernandez to Ivan Rakitic.

Rakitic is more athletic and a better tackler than Xavi, but that cannot trump Xavi’s vision, poise and control of the match. The World Cup winner was Guardiola’s on-pitch general of a possession-based passing attack that bewildered opponents.

In other words, it’s a no-brainer.

ADVANTAGE: Guardiola’s 2008-09 midfield.

Dani Alves/Puyol/Pique/Abidal (2008-09) vs. Roberto/Pique/Mascherano/Alba (now)

Always at the service of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, Barcelona’s defense under Guardiola was easy to overlook.

But that 2008-09 team enjoyed Dani Alves and Eric Adibal in their prime, a fully fit Carles Puyol before he was diminished by injuries, and a Gerard Pique hungry to come into his own.

Pique now anchors a back line that is under transition.

Jordi Alba offers blistering pace on the left flank, but its other two positions are in flux.

Sergi Roberto, a converted midfielder, has impressed as Dani Alves’ replacement so far, while the other central defender position is in dispute between an aging Javier Mascherano and newcomer Samuel Umtiti.

ADVANTAGE: Guardiola’s 2008-09 defense.

Valdes (2008-09) vs. Ter Stegen (now)

Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has just inherited the full-time goalkeeping responsibilities from Claudio Bravo. Despite his passing skills and ability to make spectacular saves, the German needs to improve his decision making to reach the level of Victor Valdes from 2008-09.

ADVANTAGE: Guardiola’s 2008-09 goalkeeper.

Even though this Barcelona side should be favored over City, it has a way to go to equal the overall excellence of Guardiola’s first Barcelona squad.

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City

American coach Marsch speaks after landmark Champions League day

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Jesse Marsch made his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday, a historic first for not just the Wisconsin native but also his country.

Marsch, 45, oversaw Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 demolition of Genk, becoming the first American to win a UCL match as manager.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

“We knew we were going into the match full of confidence,” he said, via the Salzburg site. “We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn’t pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.”

The ex-New York Red Bulls manager and RB Leipzig assistant manager got another three goals from incredible 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who nows has 17 goals in nine matches this season.

“It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.”

There will be tougher nights ahead for Marsch, who is in a group with Liverpool and Napoli, but Tuesday was a fine start for the tactician. And it was a banner moment for American coaches abroad, who’ve been led by past and present USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter.

Maybe one day that’ll be Marsch’s title… but it seems like he may have some loftier ground to cover on his path through world soccer.

Klopp: Liverpool made wrong decisions; Penalty also incorrect

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is going to bat for his left back after Andrew Robertson gave away what became the decisive penalty in a 2-0 loss to Napoli in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a penalty,” Klopp said. “What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty. He jumps before any contact, we can’t change that.”

[ RECAP: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool ]

For what it’s worth: It sure seemed like both a foul on Robertson and a comical embellishment from Callejon, but we digress.

Liverpool just didn’t have it on the day, like when Sadio Mane played a terrible pass to Mohamed Salah on what could’ve been an easy 1-0 lead.

In the moments they did have it, there was Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret making a splendid save.

“We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off. We controlled moments but had not enough chances in the end. We made decisions that were not right and have to accept the result. It was very often the final ball that was not right.”

Also, forgive Klopp if he has stopped enjoying the beautiful country of Italy.