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Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Barcelona

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LONDON — Barcelona beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 in their UEFA Champions League Group B clash at Wembley on Wednesday, with Lionel Messi putting on a show at the home of soccer.

[ MORE: Messi’s masterclass a joy ]

After going 2-0 up Barcelona threatened to run away with things but goals from Harry Kane and Erik Lamela pulled it back to 2-1 and 3-2 before Messi finished off Spurs late on.

From Ivan Rakitic’s mind-boggling goal to Messi’s brilliance and the grit of Kane, this game had it all.

Here’s what we learned from a thrilling encounter at Wembley which will go down as a classic.


MESSI, KANE PUT ON A SHOW

Ahead of the game Harry Kane was ridiculed for saying he’d like to score more goals than Lionel Messi. Yes, Kane is still only 25 years old and has time on his side, but he will have his work cut out to get on Messi’s level.

Everybody who will play the game in the future will also be struggling to match him.

Messi scored twice at Wembley to cap off a fine individual display as he petrified Tottenham’s defense every time he dropped deep to pick the ball up and set off on yet another mesmeric run. He hit the post twice with near identical efforts at the start of the second half and it was one of those nights where the 31-year-old proved, once again, why he’s the best player on the planet.

He also loves to play against Premier League teams, as he’s scored more goals and provided more assists versus English teams than against teams from any other nation in European competitions.

At the other end Kane tried his best without his usual support acts of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen (both injured) and he did an admirable job. He held the ball up, tracked back and ran around like a man possessed in the second half to try and get his team back in the game. What Messi had in skill, Kane matched in grit.

And, in case you are wondering, Messi has scored 562 goals in 647 games for Barcelona, with 105 in the Champions League. He has five goals in two UCL games this season, at a rate of one goal every 36 minutes. Kane has 146 for Spurs but has scored 10 goals in his 12 UCL appearances to date.

Still a long, long, long way to go for Kane, but Tottenham’s talisman stood tall on Wednesday. But unfortunately for him, so too did Barcelona’s.


RUTHLESS BARCELONA STILL HAVE ISSUES

In recent weeks there have been murmurs that Barcelona have been struggling after three games without a win in La Liga.

They were obviously saving themselves for this game. At least in terms of their attacking prowess.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho pressed Tottenham’s shaky back line early and they never stopped. The pressure was relentless and Barcelona’s finishing was ruthless. This looked like it would be a lesson in how you kill off a game as quickly as you can, then continue to force your opponent into awkward defensive situations.

Coutinho finished with poise after Hugo Lloris‘ rush of blood to the head early on to sprint out for a ball he was never going to get to. Then Davinson Sanchez’s cheap giveaway led to Coutinho keeping the ball in play as Rakitic hammered home a stupendous volley which will live long in the memory. Messi twice hit the post after mesmerizing runs, then finished calmly for Barca’s third as that looked to be it.

But question marks do remain about their ability to seriously challenge for the Champions League title this season, despite making it two wins from two to open up group play.

The main area Barcelona can improve is defensively. Sure, they missed the pace and dominant aerial ability of the suspended Samuel Umtiti as Harry Kane in particular bullied their back line in the second half. Marc-Andre ter Stegen came up with a big save in the first half and, generally speaking, you can assume they’d still win plenty of games even if they conceded an average of one per game due to the prowess of their attack.

Messi and Co. have been written off by many already, and after going three years without winning the Champions League, they will have to clean up their defensive deficiencies to have a real chance of winning it all in Madrid in May.


TOTTENHAM’S INJURIES ERODE FLUIDITY

It is easy to blame Spurs’ haphazard display on having key players out injured, but there’s no doubt that had a huge impact on their fluidity at both ends of the pitch as they’ve started up their UCL group stage with defeats to Inter Milan and Barcelona.

They have a tough job to get out of the group now with both Barca and Inter having six points on the board.

Kane did his job, as he usually does, in holding the ball up and trying to bring others into play, but when he dropped deeper to lay balls off, neither Eriksen or Alli were there to link up with him. Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela were all looking for the ball in-behind and nobody was there to slot them in, even though Harry Winks put in a fine display to try and shut Barcelona down.

Losing Eriksen, Alli, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen through injury ahead of such a big night was a cruel blow for Pochettino. Yet, Spurs had chances and took two of them, and they showed real desire to try and drag themselves back into the game.

But the damage was done due to defensive errors from Lloris and Sanchez as they badly missed Vertonghen’s calming influence and Dembele’s presence in front of the back four.

Had Spurs had a fully fit squad to choose from, they could have nicked a point against Barcelona, or maybe even more.

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now

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Christian Pulisic is the best American soccer player in the world.

Of this, there is little debate.

But there is a debate to who is second, third, and well down the line, and we’ve got our last chance to really assess the full crop with Major League Soccer now out of season for a few months.

[ USMNT: Most to gain/lose from November ]

Let’s set some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one which could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Chris Richards of Bayern Munich II is a better long-term prospect than 32-year-old Tim Ream, but most would rather have the Fulham man in a big spot right now.

Top 25 USMNT players – November 2019

*not currently a part of USMNT squad due to injury
**not currently a part of USMNT squad due to coach’s decision

  1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea*
  2. Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig*
  3. John Brooks, Wolfsburg
  4. Weston McKennie, Schalke
  5. Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf
  6. Sergino Dest, Ajax
  7. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
  8. Matt Miazga, Reading (on loan from Chelsea)**
  9. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen
  10. Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from Man City)*
  11. DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United
  12. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC*
  13. Tim Ream, Fulham
  14. Timothy Weah, Lille*
  15. Julian Green, Greuther Furth**
  16. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders
  17. Ike Opara, Minnesota United**
  18. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC*
  19. Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach**
  20. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (on loan from Spurs)**
  21. Tyler Boyd, Besiktas
  22. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy
  23. Miles Robinson, Atlanta United*
  24. Paul Arriola, DC United
  25. Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes

Next up, established: Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Eric Lichaj (Hull City), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Bill Hamid (DC United).

Next up, youth: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona U19), Alex Mendez (Ajax U19), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund U19), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg U19), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Donovan Pines (DC United), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)

Leaked image shows big fines that face Chelsea rule breakers

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Frank Lampard‘s ready to go into his players’ wallets if they disobey his laws.

A posted list of fines for Chelsea players, signed by the manager, has been confirmed and we would completely understand if the Blues were on time all the time.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

A player is fined about $640 per minute he’s late to a meeting, and if he misses a practice, well, wow: The fine is nearly $26,000.

If a phone rings during a meeting, that’s gonna be $1,300.

And if any fine isn’t paid within two weeks, it doubles! Seems like Christian Pulisic and his teammates will have a lot of alarms set on their phones.

From The Telegraph:

Lampard has also banned agents from the training ground, unless on official business, and players must inform the club if they intend to travel abroad, even on scheduled days off.

The average Chelsea salary last season was approximately $6.6 million, meaning players make on average $127,000 per week.

The full list of fines is below.

Kompany: Liverpool’s Premier League title ghosts should ‘be to City’s advantage’

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Vincent Kompany says history could help Manchester City climb back into the Premier League title race even after his former team dropped nine points back of first place Liverpool.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

Now at Anderlecht, the center back also said history might’ve played a role in City’s 3-1 setback at Anfield. In a rare bit of explicit honesty, the often interesting Kompany said that players do deal with demons of a club’s past.

“We always struggle at Anfield,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “I said that on Super Sunday, you’re fighting 25 years of not winning at Anfield and that’s difficult, it’s two games in one game: You’re playing a great team and you’re fighting history.”

“Flip it around and the same will happen for Liverpool. They will fight the history of not winning the league for 30 years. That should be to City’s advantage I still think.”

Do you buy that? Most of the buzz around the Premier League is that this Liverpool is a different team than even the dominant one of last season, and City has suffered big injury problems. The Reds players almost went out of their way last year to say they weren’t worried about blowing their table lead last season (which was bigger, later in the season).

Kompany also said that he believes City doesn’t need to add a center back in January, which is bonkers unless he’s coming back, but the Belgian has proven time and again that he’s one of the better minds in the game.

The guy did title  his MBA dissertation, “How professional football clubs in the Premier League can benefit from home game advantage and achieve game-changing levels of improvement” after all. Then again, I’m not sure any of our dissertations on the same topic would’ve been approved had we done that.

Liverpool’s Salah to miss Egypt’s first two AFCON qualifiers

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Good news for Liverpool, not so much for Egypt.

Mohamed Salah will not suit up for the Pharoahs this month as Egypt begins qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

[ MORE: Will Zlatan rejoin LA? ]

Salah has been dealing with ankle problems since a rough tackle from Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, and it’s acting up following a tackle from Fernandinho in the Reds’ 3-1 defeat of Man City on Sunday.

Egypt needs Salah, but it’s no surprise he’s erring on the side of caution given the tumultuous relationship between the superstar and his country (and Liverpool’s status as a contender in five (!!) tournaments).

Salah, 27, has 41 goals in 67 caps. The next five leading active Egyptian scorers have a combined 31 goals in their careers over 284 caps. The youngest of those is Aston Villa’s Trezeguet (25), followed by Besiktas’ Mohamed Elneny (27).

Egypt are heavy favorites to finish in one of the top two spots and qualify for AFCON 2020, even with the injury. The 49th ranked Pharoahs (FIFA ranking) are in a group with Kenya (108), Togo (124) and Comoros (142).

Egypt hosts Kenya on Thursday to kick off qualification, and visits Comoros on Monday.