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How do Man City compare to Guardiola’s best Barca team?

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With Manchester City on the cusp of winning the Premier League title in the fastest-ever time in English top-flight history (a win against Manchester United on Saturday seals the deal) it’s worth contemplating just how good this masterpiece built by Pep Guardiola is.

Is this current City better than his best team at Barcelona?

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First up, let’s define his best team at Barca. We have plenty of epic teams to choose from but the double winning team of 2010/11 is widely regarded as the best team he coached, and perhaps the greatest team in soccer history, as they were only denied the treble by an extra time goal in the Spanish cup final by Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid.

Barca lost five of their 60 games in all competitions that season. Scored 147 goals and conceded just 36. This season City are on track to break Premier League records for goals, points and wins.

We’re talking a young Lionel Messi up top with David Villa. Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Xavi in their prime in midfield. Dani Alves, Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique as solid as a rock in defense.

This was a Barca team at the height of Tiki-Taka as their players not only dominated the club scene but also the international stage with three-straight major titles in the 2008 and 2012 European championships and then the 2010 World Cup for good measure. Therefore, it is tough to compare any team of any generation to the greatness of the team Guardiola was able to create in his third season at Barca.

That 2010/11 season Pep’s boys lost just one of their 13 games in the Champions League en route to absolutely smashing Manchester United 3-1 in the final at Wembley Stadium as Sir Alex Ferguson looked on in wonderment.

“They do mesmerize you with the way they pass it,” Ferguson said . “I expected us to do better, particularly after half-time, but it wasn’t to be. Great teams do go in cycles and they’re at the peak of the cycle they’re in at the moment. They’re the best in Europe, no question about that. In my time as a manager, I would say they’re the best team we’ve faced. Everyone acknowledges that and I accept that. It’s not easy when you’ve been well beaten like that to think another way.

“No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and enjoy their football. But how long it lasts … whether they can replace that team at some point … they certainly have the right philosophy, but it’s always difficult to find players like Xavi [Hernandez], [Andres] Iniesta and [Lionel] Messi all the time. But they’re enjoying the moment that they have just now. We never controlled Lionel Messi, but many people have had to say that over the years.”

Now, Man City do not have Lionel Messi.

In Guardiola’s own words Messi is a “one-off” and the best player he will ever see. Messi scored 53 goals in all competitions that season, with Pedro scoring 22 and Villa scoring 23. It was both an attacking powerhouse and a steady defensive unit. The balance was near perfect and orchestrated by Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta in midfield.

Yet the Messi factor aside, there was also a similarity to this City side as Guardiola ousted plenty of big names who were getting on. Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez, Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were all at least 27 years old and many had questioned Guardiola for getting rid of them. The same can be said for the way he has handled Toure, Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta and Kolarov since he arrived at City but there’s a clear plan and ideology that he prefers younger players who are quicker and more flexible in terms of formations.

Last season it looked like his methods may not have been possible in England but after just over 18 months in charge he is proving he can emulate what he created at Barcelona, and to a lesser extent at Bayern.

This City side may not emulate Pep’s Barca teams in terms of their league and European Cup double due to their 3-0 deficit from the first leg of their UCL quarterfinal at Liverpool, but there are a lot of similarities.

David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and Fernandinho are in the exact same mold as Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets. The former two are perhaps having the greatest seasons of their careers, reinvented as a deeper central midfield duo who have the freedom to attack the space which opens up between center backs and full backs when Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling drag defenders out wide.

Up top, Sergio Aguero isn’t scoring at the same rate his close friend Messi did in 2010/11 but he is still a monster, when fit, and has adapted to Pep’s methods. The entire back line has too and you could argue that Ederson is an upgrade in goal over Victor Valdes while Vincent Kompany would have surely got into that epic Barca side at his peak.

At full back is where both of these teams stand out. Dani Alves and Kyle Walker. Eric Abidal and Benjamin Mendy. The latter has been out for most of this season with a serious knee injury but if he had been fit, he would’ve added even greater balance to this City side. The ability of Walker, and back then Alves, to slot inside and almost act as an inside center back or holding midfielder who could spring attacks and create overloads is eerily similar.

It’s harsh to say this City side is a cheap imitation of his team at Barcelona. It’s accurate to say they are from the same blueprint as the greatest team the world has ever seen. When you have spent over $400 million, it’s easy to understand why Pep has built a machine at Man City but as we saw last season, he needed to clear out veterans who didn’t fit into his plans and invest in young, quick, flexible players who did.

City could perhaps emulate Barcelona in years to come, or even this season if they turn their UCL second leg against Liverpool around, but there’s no doubt that this team is up there with his greatest Barca side.

That Barca team was better and their greatness has so far stood the test of time. This City side may only be truly appreciated in years to come too but right now it feels like they’re at the levels of the 2008/09 Barca side (Pep’s first, which won the treble) but not far off the 2010/11 side who will always be the benchmark.

Toronto FC suspends all supporter groups after Ottawa stadium fire

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The Ottawa police were called and the match halted after flares thrown from the Toronto FC supporter section set fire to the stadium and pitch during a Canadian Cup match between Toronto FC and Ottawa Fury on Wednesday night.

Videos caught the Toronto FC supporters holding and throwing flares around the 72nd minute of the match, but things backfired when their flags accidentally caught fire, followed by parts of the bleachers next to them. One video posted to Twitter (shown below) shows the fans scrambling to put out the blazing flags and the fires in the stands where they are sitting.

Toronto FC announced Thursday afternoon that the club was temporarily suspending all supporter group privileges while they conduct an investigation to root out who is responsible.

“The safety of our fans, employees, and supporters is the highest priority for TFC,” said Toronto FC club president Bill Manning in a statement. “The events which took place in Ottawa last night involving TFC supporters were unacceptable and needlessly put the safety of others at risk.”

Due to the seriousness of this incident, we are left with no choice but to suspend all recognized supporter group privileges indefinitely as we conduct a thorough review TFC’s recognized supporter program. We are cooperating fully with the Ottawa Police Department as they investigate this incident and work to identify those responsible.”

Another video posted from a lower angle shows a player attempting to stamp out a small fire on the field of play when a loud bang comes from the Toronto FC supporter section behind him.

Ottawa Fury released a statement of their own after the match, seemingly downplaying the incident after the flares were smuggled in past security checkpoints.

“Upon seeing smoke and fire, which appeared to be more serious than they were, fans in other parts of the stadium notified Ottawa Police and Ottawa Fire that an incident had occurred and emergency services quickly responded,” the Ottawa Fury statement said. “Upon arrival they confirmed the incident had been resolved and returned to their respective stations.”

“All members of the visiting supporters group had been subjected to bag checks and security scans prior to entering the stadium and no fireworks or other devices were detected. TFC has apologized for the behavior of the members of the supporters group responsible for igniting the fireworks. Ottawa Police have launched an investigation into the incident.”

Canadian media is reporting that the ownership group of the stadium will be fined for allowing the flares to enter the stadium undetected. The match was temporarily halted while the incident was sorted, and the fans were reportedly ejected from the match. The game ended in a 1-0 road victory for Toronto, with the second leg of the semifinal to come.

Scottish club Hearts fields ineligible player in Cup match

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Scottish club Hearts of Midlothian has issued a statement saying they are “embarrassed” after fielding an ineligible player in a League Cup match against 5th-tier semi-pro team Cove Rangers on Wednesday.

18-year-old Hearts youth product Andrew Irving entered in the 65th minute as a substitute for Olly Lee, but was ineligible due to what the club is calling an “administrative error.” Irving, according to the Hearts statement, signed a contract extension back in January but the paperwork was never correctly submitted to the league, hence leaving Irving as unregistered.

“It is with much embarrassment that we have to advise that during last night’s Betfred Cup group stage match away to Cove Rangers, Hearts inadvertently fielded an ineligible player,” Hearts Chief Executive Ann Budge said in a statement on Thursday morning.

“While stringent processes are already in place to try to prevent something of this nature occurring, clearly mistakes can happen.  An additional step in our internal procedures will be implemented immediately to try to ensure this cannot happen again. The club would like to apologize to its supporters, to Cove Rangers Football Club and to the footballing authorities for this inadvertent breach of the rules.”

Since the Scottish League Cup – currently known as the Betfred Cup – has utilized a group stage format the last few years, it is possible that the club will be docked points instead of ejected from the tournament. Previously, clubs such as Brechin, Dunfermline, and East Stirling were all disqualified in the past for similar offenses, according to Mark Donaldson of ESPN. The league will hold a hearing on Monday to determine the appropriate sanctions.

Hearts won the match 2-1 on a 57th minute goal by former Cardiff City, Plymouth, and Rangers striker Steve MacLean.

This is the second incident of this nature of late, as Major League Soccer club LAFC is under investigation for potentially fielding an illegal seven international players in a US Open Cup match against Portland Timbers on Wednesday. As a result, US Soccer postponed the draw for the semifinals until the investigation is complete.

6 clubs fined, risk FIFA transfer bans for debts to players

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ZURICH (AP) Clubs from Russia and Qatar are among six fined by FIFA and warned they risk one-year transfer bans for failing to settle debts to players.

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FIFA says the clubs also face deductions of six league points if they fail to pay the debts in 30 to 90 days.

The clubs are: Kuban of Russia; Al Arabi and Al Kharaitiyat of Qatar; Zamalek of Egypt; Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates; and Mersin Idman Yurdu of Turkey.

FIFA says all failed to comply with rulings by FIFA or the Court of Arbitration for Sport “to pay significant overdue amounts of money to players.”

They were fined between 15,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs ($15,000 and $30,000).

FIFA says national soccer federations face disciplinary cases if they fail to enforce the verdicts.

Premier League friendlies: Liverpool meets BVB; Everton in Portugal

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The Premier League is three weeks and one day from opening its 2018-19 slate, when Leicester City will visit Old Trafford for a Friday afternoon match with Manchester United.

The end of the World Cup has eyeballs trained on friendlies, with 19 Premier League teams doing work over the weekend.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

The International Champions Cup has a pair of matches on the docket.

Friday sees Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, sans many of their World Cup stars, mixing it up with Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund in Chicago.

Then Sunday will see Borussia Dortmund switching gears and time zones, tangling with Liverpool in North Carolina as Pulisic renews acquaintances with old pal Jurgen Klopp.

Manchester United takes on San Jose on Sunday, two days after facing Club America.

Other marquee friendlies of the weekend include Bournemouth facing American back Shaq Moore and Levante on Friday, with Fulham hosting Lyon on Saturday, and Everton meeting Lille and Porto on consecutive Portuguese days Saturday and Sunday.


Bournemouth vs. Levante
Burnley vs. Macclesfield Town
Burnley vs. Curzon Ashton
Cardiff City vs Torquay
Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund (in Chicago)


Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AFC Wimbledon
Crystal Palace vs. Oxford United
Everton vs. Lille
Fulham vs. Lyon
Huddersfield Town vs. Real Betis
Huddersfield Town vs. Roy-Weiss Essen or Werder Bremen
Leicester City vs. Notts County
Southampton vs. Derby County
Watford vs. Fortuna Dusseldorf
West Ham United vs. Preston North End


Everton vs. Porto
Huddersfield Town vs. Darmstadt
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund (in North Carolina)
Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes (in Santa Clara)
Wolverhampton vs. TBD