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ATLUTD, TFC each blow a lead, settle for testy 2-2 draw

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The game in 100 words (or less more): Atlanta United versus Toronto FC is a playoff matchup the world must witness in 2018. The former is (just about) inarguably the best team in MLS, and the latter is still the defending champions slowly (and finally) awakening from their slumber. Tata Martino’s side came into the weekend with a four-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield race (with barely double-digit games remaining), and nearly grew it to seven (before New York City FC face Vancouver Whitecaps later on Saturday), but ultimately settled for a draw after conceding a stoppage-time equalizer (Tosaint Ricketts) to drop a pair of points. Josef Martinez (26 goals) scored twice more — his sixth multi-goal game of 2018 — to move to within one of tying the single-season MLS record (Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chris Wondolowski and Roy Lassiter). Atlanta, who have lost just once since mid-May, held TFC to just five shots (two on target, both goals) over 90 minutes — to Atlanta’s 22 and seven. Up 1-0 at halftime (Sebastian Giovinco), TFC would have moved to within two points of the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with a win, but could now finish the weekend as many as seven points back, depending on what New England Revolution and Montreal Impact do. It is no longer “early.”

[ MORE: Beckham’s MLS team hires sporting director away from Atlanta ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

45+1′  — Giovinco coolly finishes past Guzan for 1-0 — Jozy Altidore‘s absence absolutely devastated TFC for much of this season, as his hold-up and playmaking abilities couldn’t be replaced. It looks like the easiest part of the below passage, but neither the cross from Auro nor the finish from Giovinco are possible without Altidore’s patience, vision and perfectly weight ball for the overlapping full back.

51′ — Martinez wins, converts a penalty to make it 1-1 — Every instance of contact is now a foul. There is no point to video review in MLS, because the league’s referees either 1) don’t know how to use it properly, or 2) refuse to use it.

67′ — Martinez heads home for 2-1 — His diving antics aside, Martinez is an absolute joy to watch. He’s relentless, he’s brilliant with his movement and timing of runs, he’s always in the exact spot defenders don’t want him to be. He’s also got an embarrassment of chance-creating talent around him. Hector Villalba, for instance would be the best attacker for a number of MLS teams. In Atlanta, it’s Oh yeah, they have Villalba, too. That seems unfair.

90+1′ — Ricketts bundles home a late equalizer — All-out attacking is the only way Atlanta know to play, and every now and then it costs them dearly. Like, for instance, when they get caught on the counter with a one-goal lead in second-half stoppage time. Self-inflicted wounds, to be sure.

90+5′ — Mavinga sees red, will miss a few games — Chris Mavinga, clearly frustrated (and perhaps provoked) lost his head just as the final whistle was blown. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez was the recipient of a forceful hand to the face — and fell to the ground like a 500-pound sack of potatoes, of course. Mavinga will get a two- or three-game suspension, and Jozy Altidore might have to answer a few questions about placing his hand around the neck/throat of Miguel Almiron, who was part of the events which set the above in motion, as the two walked off the field. Again, if we could get these two teams to face each other in November, that would be fantastic.

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Man of the match: Josef Martinez

Goalscorers: Giovinco (45+1′), Martinez (53′ – PK, 67′), Ricketts (90+1′)

Report: Joao Felix unavailable against Liverpool

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Atletico Madrid is facing a defining moment of its 2019/20 season as Liverpool visits the Wanda Metripolitano on Tuesday in Champions League Round of 16 action. In such an important match, the Spanish side may be without one of its most creative attacker.

According to a report by Goal.com, Joao Felix will not be available as he has been struck down by tonsillitis, missing training on Monday. Felix has not played since picking up a muscle problem on January 26, and while he has mostly recovered from that injury, his unavailability for training means he is not able to fully prove fit to play, so between that and the illness itself, he has been ruled out.

The 20-year-old moved to Atletico Madrid this summer for a whopping $147 million, and while fans have had high hopes for the Portuguese youngster, he has flopped in his first season in Spain. Still, despite his struggles to carry the entire Atleti attack on his shoulders, Felix remains one of the club’s best attackers playing alongside true striker Alvaro Morata, and his presence will be missed in what is already an anemic attack.

Atleti is 13 points back of leaders Barcelona, sitting fourth in the La Liga table. The side is also out of the Copa del Rey, shocked in late January by third-tier side Cultural Leonesa. The Champions League is Diego Simeone’s last chance to salvage something positive from an otherwise struggle-filled season.

Atleti is also without midfielder Hector Herrera who is also suffering from an illness, while Kieran Trippier continues to recover from a groin injury.

Lacazette thanks Arteta, Arsenal teammates for support

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Alexandre Lacazette‘s 95th minute goal to finish off a 4-0 victory over Newcastle may seem meaningless, but to him it meant the world.

The 28-year-old Frenchman snapped a 10-match goalless streak across all competitions when he found the back of the net for the first time since a Champions League match on December 12. In total, Lacazette had been on the field for nearly 470 minutes without scoring before his goal in the final seconds against Newcastle.

“It has been really hard and complicated,” Lacazette said of his goal drought. “Sometimes I had some games with no chances, sometimes I missed or the goalkeeper saved it. Of course for a striker it is always hard to not score, but it happens in football. Hopefully it is the last time for me.”

However, Lacazette says both new manager Mikel Arteta and his teammates were supportive during the time he struggled to find the back of the net.

“He [Arteta] talked with me to give me confidence. I am really, really happy because I waited for this moment for a long time.  I am touched as well because of the way all my team-mates reacted when I scored that goal.  It means a lot to me and a lot for the spirit we have in the team. This is good.”

Arteta kept faith in Lacazette for much of his goal drought, starting in seven straight Premier League matches between late December and early February, but he was dropped for the Newcastle game for Eddie Nketiah, only coming on for the final five minutes when he found his moment. Lacazette confirmed that Arteta spoke to him about the match decision, saying “he explained it well” before pausing to say he cannot go into more details about the conversation.

Arsenal is on a six-game unbeaten streak in league play and eight overall, without losing since a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates on December 29.

Timothy Weah re-injured on return to field

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An absolutely brutal turn of events has befallen American international Timothy Weah as the 19-year-old was re-injured just minutes after returning from a six-month layoff.

Weah, who will turn 20 this weekend, suffered a nasty hamstring tear just two matches into the season and has been missing since August. He finally returned to the field on Sunday, coming on for the final 10 minutes of a 2-1 loss to Marseille. However, Weah confirmed on his Instagram account that he was re-injured during his return. Reports in France say he was injured while making a run into the Marseille attacking third, grabbing at his thigh. He completed the match without being subbed off.

After thanking Lille fans for their support during his previous injury, Weah wrote, “Unfortunately for me things didn’t go as planned and I’ve injured myself again…. Better days will come and I know that God is watching over me 🙌🏾❤️Small setback for a major comeback 🙌🏾❤️”

It is unclear how severe the injury is, or if it is separate from the one he just worked so hard to come back from. His club Lille followed up with an official announcement to confirm the injury, saying it is his right hamstring that was most recently troubled, not the same one he had just finished rehabbing. No official timetable was given for his return, and no information on the severity of the injury was released.

Weah got support from some big names in the comment section of his Instagram post. Fellow American Tyler Adams posted “Onwards and upwards 🙌🏽❤️” while Bayern Munich full-back and Canadian international Alphonso Davies wrote “Yessir 💪🏾” and Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham gave him praise hands emojis.

The injury, if serious, is another big blow to the U.S. men’s national team, who has already seen Paul Arriola go down with a serious knee injury and is sweating another possible problem for the oft-injured Adams. Weah has not earned a senior international cap since November of 2018, while he last played internationally last summer during the 2019 U-20 World Cup.

Report: Barcelona given permission to sign emergency striker

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According to a report by Spanish tabloid Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona has been given permission by La Liga authorities to sign an emergency striker outside the January transfer window.

With Ousmane Dembele ruled out for the season after a serious hamstring tear, the Catalan club has just three healthy forwards in Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and teenage sensation Ansu Fati. Luis Suarez was ruled long-term after knee surgery in mid-January.

The situation is not all that uncommon as far as La Liga is concerned, as the league often authorizes clubs to sign emergency players given injuries of longer than five months and low roster availability. There are certain restrictions that come with any potential signing, such as the player must be a forward. Any potential signing will only be eligible for league competition, and the player can only come from another La Liga side or be a free agent. The club has 15 days to complete a potential signing, while any club it raids would theb be given a window to sign its own replacement.

Barcelona somewhat made its own bed here, having sold both Carles Perez and Abel Ruiz at the end of the January transfer window.

Getafe striker Angel Rodriguez, Alaves target man Lucas Perez, Levante striker Roger Marti, and Leganes frontman Martin Braithwaite have all been mentioned as possibilities. Despite having scored 10 goals this campaign, Rodriguez seems to have lost his place in the Getafe starting lineup, without a start since January 4 with Jamie Mata and Deyverson occupying the spots on the teamsheet. Perez has had an odd season, with eight of his nine league goals coming in a nine-game stretch from late September to late November. Marti has 10 goals this season, but six of those have come in multi-goal games.

Any new signing would not be eligible for Champions League competition, as Barcelona matches up with Napoli in the Champions League Round of 16 this week.