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Barkley struggling under weight of expectation at Everton

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) It was natural to put Ross Barkley‘s nasty challenge on Jordan Henderson down to emotions running high in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.

Look deeper, though, and it might just have been the moment when months of pent-up frustration inside the Everton midfielder came to a head.

Compared by many to England great Paul Gascoigne because of his technique, build and playing style, Barkley has long been viewed as one of English soccer’s most talented players. Much is expected of him by Everton fans desperate for Barkley – a local lad attached to the club since the age of 11 – to help the northwest club revive its glory years of the 1980s, when the Merseyside rivals were the country’s dominant forces.

[ MORE: Bobby Wood scores again for Hamburg ]

Barkley is 23 now and should no longer just be regarded as one for the future. It is all about the here and now for Everton manager Ronald Koeman and the team’s supporters, and Barkley hasn’t developed as many would have hoped.

Go to a game at Goodison Park and what quickly becomes apparent is the heightened sense of expectation when Barkley gets the ball – and the loud groans of disappointment when something he tries doesn’t work. Everton supporters can be among the most passionate in England but they can also be among the most demanding, and Barkley appears to be lacking confidence and struggling under the weight of pressure.

Hence the ugly lunge on Henderson’s right ankle in the second half of Everton’s 1-0 loss against Liverpool on Monday that earned him a yellow card – a red probably would have been merited – and sparked a melee on the field.

Maybe over-praised by Roberto Martinez in his time as Everton manager from 2013-16, Barkley has found Koeman to be a harsher judge.

“Sometimes I expect more from Ross Barkley,” Koeman said this month after dropping the playmaker from the team for a match against Manchester United. “He needs to accept it. He needs to show it on the training pitch.”

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After also criticizing Barkley this season for his tactical indiscipline, Koeman has dropped the player for games against Manchester City and Watford, too. In the final months of last year, Barkley was in the form of his career but now he is in and out of the Everton team at a time when his future is up for debate, with 18 months left on his contract.

Barkley is also being overlooked by England’s national team, with Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Wayne Rooney preferred as options in the No. 10 position behind the striker. Barkley played at the 2014 World Cup, went to this year’s European Championship – albeit, without playing a single minute – and now is out of the squad completely.

At a time when Barkley should be growing in stature, he’s in decline as far as appearances for club and country is concerned.

“He is young, but he is not because he has been playing four years in the first team,” Koeman said. “It means you are not a talent anymore, and need to show what you can do.”

Barkley is well-built, impressively two-footed and can worry opposition defenses with his powerful, driving runs. Much of his time off the field is spent watching footage on YouTube of Zinedine Zidane and Gascoigne, his favorite players growing up, as well as contemporary stars in his position such as Mesut Ozil.

To be at the level of those kinds of players, Barkley needs to start being more consistent, more prolific – he has two Premier League goals this season – and less error-prone.

That might even require a move away from Everton to kick-start his career.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”

Griezmann gives Barcelona first leg draw with Napoli (video)

Napoli v. Barcelona recap and video highlights
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Antoine Griezmann scored in the second half to earn Barcelona a 1-1 draw with Napoli in a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at the San Paulo Stadium on Tuesday.

Dries Mertens scored a beautiful opener for Napoli, who heads to the Camp Nou for a March 18 second leg.

Arturo Vidal was sent off in the 89th minute for a second yellow card, and Sergio Busquets picked up a yellow which will cost him the second leg.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Gennaro Gattuso’s plan was to limit Barcelona’s shots, and it worked well in the first half.

Mertens got his goal on one of only five shots in the half, the only two on target coming via Napoli.

How a tale can turn on a moment, though, as Nelson Semedo set up Griezmann’s second-half marker to give Barca a useful away goal.

Barca was much better in the second half but could not find a second away goal.

Here’s the goal of the day, and it belongs to Mertens.