AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy

Messi wins record 33rd title as Barcelona lift Super Cup

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TANGIER, Morocco (AP) — Lionel Messi won his 33rd title with Barcelona on Sunday to become the most successful player in the Catalan club’s history.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Tim Weah scores first Ligue 1 goal in goofy fashion ]

Barcelona beat Sevilla 2-1 in the Spanish Super Cup as Messi overtook Andres Iniesta, who had 32 titles when he left this summer for the Japanese league.

Ousmane Dembele scored a late winning goal with a blistering strike from outside the area. The 21-year-old France winger stunned Sevilla’s defense with a right-footed shot that hit the underside of the crossbar in the 78th minute.

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved a penalty kick from Sevilla substitute Wissam Ben Yedder in the 89th after Ter Stegen fouled former Barcelona forward Aleix Vidal.

[ MORE: Ronaldo made Juventus fans wait only eight minutes for first goal ]

Pablo Sarabia opened for Sevilla in the ninth, when the video assistant referee overruled an offside call in the first use of VAR in Spanish competition.

Gerard Pique equalized three minutes before halftime when he finished off a free kick by Messi that hit the post and ricocheted off the back of goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik — and again off the upright — before falling to the Barcelona defender.

Former Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal debuted for Barcelona as a late substitute.

[ MORE: Pogba makes eyebrow-raising comments about Man United ]

The Super Cup is played between the previous season’s league and Copa del Rey winners. Since Barcelona won both competitions, Sevilla played the match as the Copa runners-up after losing 5-0 in last season’s cup final to Barcelona.

Played in Tangier, Morocco, this was the first Spanish Super Cup held outside Spain and the first time it was played as a single match, instead of a two-leg series.

PL Sunday preview: Man City, Spurs visit relegation favorites

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Title/top-four contenders v. relegation favorites — that’s the name of the game on Sunday, when a pair of Premier League giants visit the bottom two teams in the league table…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huddersfield v. Man City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

The good news for 20th-place Huddersfield Town: the Terriers’ eight-game losing streak came to an end last weekend. The (still) bad news: a 0-0 draw against one of the other two teams currently occupying a relegation spot, Cardiff City, didn’t very little to chip away at what is now a 10-point gap between themselves and safety. Steady worse news, depending on how you look at it: manager David Wagner stepped down on Monday, leaving the club with interim boss Mark Hudson in charge. The (far) worse news: second-place, and resurgent, Manchester City are set to visit John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday.

Liverpool ground out a 4-3 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday to stretch the Reds’ lead back to seven points in the title race. Put simply, Sunday’s fixture is a must-win scenario for Pep Guardiola‘s side, no matter the opponent, but doubly — or, triply — so against a side like Huddersfield. After losing three out of four PL games in mid-December, the defending champions have regained a bit of form in their last three games, winning all three — including a season-saving victory over Liverpool — and conceding just two goals in the process. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are back amongst the goals, having between them scored five of the eight during the current run.

INJURIES: Huddersfield —  OUT: Aaron Mooy (knee), Danny Williams (knee) | Man City — OUT: Benjamin Mendy (knee), Claudio Bravo (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Vincent Kompany (undisclosed)


Fulham v. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Tottenham’s latest spell without star striker Harry Kane (ankle) begins on Sunday, with a trip to Craven Cottage to take on relegation-threatened Fulham. Mauricio Pochettino‘s side will also be without Kane’s most logical replacement, Son Heung-min, as he is with the South Korea squad at the Asian Cup. Kane was lost for up to two months in last weekend’s narrow defeat to Manchester United, a result which saw Spurs fall five points back of City and their respective leads on Chelsea (one point) and Arsenal and Man United (then seven, but since reduced to four) eroded as well. Either Fernando Llorente will start up top, or Pochettino will opt for a striker-less formation and rely upon the fluidity and attacking versatility of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela.

As for Fulham, the Cottagers wish their greatest concern was as simple as losing a forward or two. Instead, Claudio Ranieri‘s side sits 19th after 22 games, now seven points (and another 17 goals in the goal-differential column) adrift of safety following Newcastle United’s emphatic victory over fellow relegation battlers Cardiff on Saturday. With just one win in their last nine league games (two in their last 19; three all season), the west London club’s return to the PL appears to be a one-season wonder before an immediate drop back down to the Championship. Having conceded 49 goals in 22 games, Fulham are on pace to give up 87 goals. The last side to concede more 80 goals in a season was — you guessed it — Fulham (85), the last time they were relegated in 2013-14.

INJURIES: Fulham —  OUT: Alfie Mawson (knee), Aboubakar Kamara (disciplinary) | Tottenham — OUT: Harry Kane (ankle), Lucas Moura (knee), Moussa Sissoko (groin), Victor Wanyama (knee)

Sarri slams players for “unacceptable” effort in loss to Arsenal

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The honeymoon period is well and truly over for Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Following Saturday’s 2-0 defeat away to Arsenal — a game in which the Blues managed just a single shot on target, in the 82nd minute — Sarri went scorched earth on his players. So angry was Sarri that he insisted on speaking in Italian — through a translator — so as to clearly convey the full extent of his fury and “send a message to [his] players.”

He said that some of them are “extremely difficult to motivate”; that they “have an issue with determination and being mentally solid”; and that they “really struggle to get up for these (big) games” — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s an approach we can’t really accept. It was the same in our (League Cup semifinal) game against Tottenham.

We thought we’d overcome that problem, but it seems we really struggle to get ourselves up for these games at times. I don’t mind losing, but I don’t like losing in this manner.”

“I’m really angry about the approach that we adopted today. You can find yourself in difficulties from time to time, but we need to react to those difficulties a lot better than we did today.”

He wasn’t finished there, though, for there was far more blame to dole out.

“From a technical point of view both teams were on the same sort of level, but they had a higher level of determination in both penalty areas, so tactics don’t come into it. I can’t possibly say I am not partly responsible for the defeat. We have to share it.

“This is not a team that is going to be well known for its battling qualities, but we need to become a team that is capable of adapting, possibly suffering for 10 or 15 minutes, and then playing our own football. Today we didn’t play our own football.”

No word yet on whether or not Sarri, whose job is to prepare and motivate his players ahead of every game, shoulders any of the blame for the above criticisms.

Now with just a three-point lead on the Gunners and Manchester United in the race for fourth, Sarri is going to need his players to back him in a big way in the coming weeks. He didn’t exactly endear himself to anyone with today’s comments.

Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund, Gladbach scoop big away wins

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The Top Three all won their first matches after the Bundesliga’s Winterpause, as leaders Borussia Dortmund and third place side Borussia Monchengladbach joined Friday winners Bayern Munich in the win column.

[ MORE: Arsenal-Chelsea recap | JPW’s 3 things ]


Bayer Leverkusen 0-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

Alassane Plea’s 10th goal of the season kept ‘Gladbach three points back of Bayern and nine behind BVB. The visitors had almost a month to stew on a 2-1 loss to the leaders, but were fairly fortunate to get three points considering Bayer out-attempted the Foals by a 21-7 margin and put nine shots on Yann Sommer.

Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 Freiburg

Eintracht’s pair of Top Ten scorers struck again, with Luka Jovic adding his league-best 13th goal and Sebastien Haller notching hsi 10th goal of the season. Borussia Dortmund is the only other club with two double-digit league scorers (Paco Alcacer and Marco Reus). The other goal came from Ante Rebic, who has six in 874 minutes.

RB Leipzig 0-1 Borussia Dortmund

Axel Witsel’s well-hit 19th minute goal off a corner kick was all BVB needed to restore its six-point table advantage on Bayern Munich. Christian Pulisic played the final quarter-hour for BVB, while fellow American youngster Tyler Adams of RBL was an unused sub during his first Bundesliga matchday.

Elsewhere
Hoffenheim 1-3 Bayern Munich — Friday
Stuttgart 2-3 Mainz
Augsburg 1-2 Fortuna Dusseldorf
Hannover 0-1 Werder Bremen — USMNT’s Sargent plays 10 mins
Nurnberg v. Hertha Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke v. Wolfsburg — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Borussia Dortmund 18 14 3 1 45 18 27 8-1-0 6-2-1 45
 Bayern Munich 18 12 3 3 39 19 20 4-3-1 8-0-2 39
 Mönchengladbach 18 11 3 4 37 18 19 8-0-0 3-3-4 36
 RB Leipzig 18 9 4 5 31 18 13 7-2-1 2-2-4 31
 Eintracht Frankfurt 18 9 3 6 37 24 13 5-1-3 4-2-3 30
 VfL Wolfsburg 17 8 4 5 27 22 5 3-3-3 5-1-2 28
 1899 Hoffenheim 18 6 7 5 33 26 7 3-4-3 3-3-2 25
 Werder Bremen 18 7 4 7 29 29 0 3-3-3 4-1-4 25
 Hertha BSC Berlin 17 6 6 5 26 27 -1 4-3-1 2-3-4 24
 Bayer Leverkusen 18 7 3 8 26 30 -4 4-1-4 3-2-4 24
 FSV Mainz 05 18 6 6 6 20 24 -4 3-4-2 3-2-4 24
 SC Freiburg 18 5 6 7 22 28 -6 3-4-2 2-2-5 21
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 18 6 3 9 21 34 -13 4-0-5 2-3-4 21
 FC Schalke 04 17 5 3 9 20 24 -4 3-0-5 2-3-4 18
 FC Augsburg 18 3 6 9 26 31 -5 1-4-4 2-2-5 15
 VfB Stuttgart 18 4 2 12 14 38 -24 3-1-5 1-1-7 14
 Hannover 96 18 2 5 11 17 36 -19 2-1-6 0-4-5 11
 1. FC Nürnberg 17 2 5 10 14 38 -24 2-3-4 0-2-6 11

What did we learn from the Premier League? (video)

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What a day in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Saturday saw eight games take place with two seven-goal thrillers, narrow wins for Manchester United and Liverpool, plus 27 goals in what proved to be a seismic day in the relegation battle and top four race.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Below is a look at the key takeaways from an intense, enthralling day across the league.


Arsenal’s hunger breaths new life into their season
Unai Emery‘s Arsenal showed incredible desire from the first whistle to beat a lackluster Chelsea side and the way Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang set the tone in attack was superb. The duo hunted down Chelsea’s defense and stopped Jorginho getting on the ball to set up attacks. Even when Chelsea did penetrate the Arsenal midfield, their defense stood tall with Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis solid in the shutout victory. With Arsenal now just four points behind Chelsea, you have to say that Emery has shown more progression with his Arsenal side than Maurizio Sarri has with Chelsea over the past few months. It has been a big call from Emery to leave Mesut Ozil out, but the way his players have defended as a group suggest that he got it spot on and Arsenal’s philosophy as a team is now clear. Between now and the end of the season, if Arsenal’s defenders stay fit then you’d expect them to overtake Chelsea and be right in the top four race alongside Manchester United and Tottenham. Arsenal simply had to beat Chelsea, and after a few disappointing defeats they showed the hunger and desire required to win a massive London derby.


Sarri under pressure at Chelsea already as false nine falters again
“It would appear that this group of players is extremely difficult to motivate.” Those were the words of Maurizio Sarri after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Arsenal which left them in fourth place but just four points ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United. The Italian coach only arrived in the summer but he is already under pressure at Chelsea and stayed in the locker room for a long time talking to his players after the game, then used a translator (something he doesn’t always do) to answer questions from the media as he wanted to get his message across loud and clear. He certainly did that. Sarri’s persistence to play Eden Hazard as a false nine just isn’t working and Chelsea didn’t have a focal point in attack and were way too easy to defend against for Arsenal. That has become a running theme in recent weeks and with Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out and Gonzalo Higuain said to be arriving soon, Sarri is pinning all his hopes on Higuain and Hazard to rescue this season. Jorginho has ever ran out of steam or other teams have worked out how to get at the deep-lying playmaker (probably a combo of both) and right now there is no Plan B to Sarri-ball. Maybe Christian Pulisic will have a different manager by the time he arrives at Chelsea in the summer…


Cracks appearing in Liverpool’s makeshift defense
There is no two ways about it, Jurgen Klopp was a relieved man after Liverpool’s thrilling 4-3 victory against Crystal Palace at Anfield. In the end Liverpool came away with the victory to extend their lead atop the Premier League table to seven points, but they rode their luck and fell behind in the first half against Palace. Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend pulled their full backs all over the place and Liverpool’s makeshift defense were pushed to its limits. Before Saturday they had conceded just three PL goals at home all season long. Palace scored three and could have had more with James Milner — playing out of position at right back due to injuries — sent off after a difficult time trying to lock down Zaha in particular. Mohamed Salah dragged Liverpool over the line again, but there’s no doubt that with Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold out injured Klopp will have to get creative with his defensive lineups in the coming weeks. The saving grace for Liverpool is that they are out of both of the domestic cup competitions and that could be key in the title race with Man City.


Solskjaer can do no more as United edge towards top four
Seven wins from seven games in all competitions, what more can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer do as Manchester United’s caretaker boss? They’re back in the top four race and now face Burnley, Leicester and Fulham before a crunch clash with Liverpool next month. United sit just three points off the UEFA Champions League places and if Solskjaer can get them in the top four and go deep in the UCL and FA Cup this season, his chances of getting this job on a permanent basis will increase significantly. The two players who have shone brightest since he replaced Jose Mourinho are two who became the biggest enigmas under the Portuguese coach: Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. The former has scored five goals and has four assists in the PL since Solskjaer arrived, while Rashford has now scored in five of his six PL games in charge. The latter looks sharp, confident and Solskjaer revealed how he is helping him calm his finishing down in front of goal. At 21 years of age Rashford has the world at his feet and right now he, and Solskjaer, can do no wrong.


Southampton’s resurgence continues
Ralph Hasenhuttl has won more Premier League points than Pep Guardiola since he arrived at Southampton on Dec. 8. Think about that. He took over a team which had won just once in 15 games to start the season and they’ve now beaten Arsenal, Huddersfield, Leicester and Everton in his first eight outings in England. The Austrian coach is fired up on the touchlines and that passion has translated to his players in a very Jurgen Klopp-esque way. Saints beat Everton 2-1 on Saturday and they should have won by four or five goals after hitting the post twice and totally dominating the Toffees. In their next three games they have Crystal Palace, Burnley and Cardiff City and a chance to push themselves up into midtable and away from the relegation battle for the first time this season. It is hard not to believe Hasenhuttl when he says “we have built something up here and I hope we can carry on like this.” Right now, Saints have a clear plan on how they want to play, they’re fitter, hungrier and are full of talented youngsters who are being given the chance to shine. Hasenhuttl’s revolution is built on high-pressing and speed in attack. Defensively Saints are improving and right now they are finally, after two years of standing still, reaching their potential.


Classic PL encounter as Wolves, Leicester slug it out

Wolves and Leicester just went at it at Molineux and the 4-3 win for Wolves will go down as a classic Premier League game. Wolves raced into a 2-0 lead, Leicester fought back to 2-2, they traded another goal each and neither team had control throughout. Wolves’ stoppage time win, which saw Diogo Jota complete his hat trick, left Claude Puel clutching his face in despair and Nuno Espirito Santo running onto the pitch to celebrate with his players. The true end-to-end nature of the Premier League was on display in this Midlands derby which was aided by two teams chasing seventh place and with little to lose. The result was an absorbing clash which was summed up perfectly by Man of the Match Jota: “This is the Premier League.”