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Messi back with Argentina after three-month ban; Aguero also returns

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Lionel Messi is back in the Argentina team for friendlies against Brazil and Uruguay in November, after serving a three-month ban.

[ MORE: Liverpool fixture congestion presents serious conundrum ]

Messi and Sergio Aguero were both included in the squad announced by Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni on Thursday for matches against Brazil on Nov. 15 in Saudi Arabia and three days later against Uruguay in Israel.

Messi is available after a three-month ban imposed by South American soccer body CONMEBOL after he made accusations of corruption following the Copa America tournament in Brazil in July.

Aguero had not been called up by Scaloni since the continental tournament.

Full Argentina squad

Goalkeepers: Agustin Marchesin (Porto), Juan Mussi (Udinese), Emiliano Martinez (Arsenal), Esteban Andrada (Boca Juniors)

Defenders: Juan Foyth (Tottenham), Renzo Saravia (Porto), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), German Pezzella (Fiorentina), Marcos Rojo (Manchester United), Walter Kannemann (Gremio), Nicolas Tagliafico (Ajax), Nehuen Perez (Famalicao)

Midfielders: Guido Rodriguez (America de Mexico), Giovani Lo Celso (Tottenham), Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Nicolas Dominguez (Velez Sarsfield), Rodrigo de Paul (Udinese), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon), Roberto Pereyra (Watford), Lucas Ocampos (Sevilla)

Strikers: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Nicolas Gonzalez (Stuttgart), Lucas Alario (Bayer Leverkusen), Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan) and Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Barcelona must rebuild, but where (and when) do they begin?

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich fallout: The world at large is clamoring downright demanding a full-on blowup and rebuild of the Barcelona squad following Friday’s 8-2 embarrassment at the hands of Bayern.

[ PART 1: Should Lionel Messi leave Barcelona? Will he? ]

It’s a fair request, not only for the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal defeat, but also for the last handful of years in which Barca became a shell of its former self and relinquished its claim to the title of best club in the world.

The Barcelona rubble is strewn everywhere, from the Estadio de Luz in Lisbon, the site of Friday’s demolition job, to the shores of Catalonia. The process of picking it all up and piecing it back together — or, perhaps, clearing out and building anew — will be a long and arduous one, but one that must be undertaken.

[ MORE: Three things learned as Bayern Munich hammer Barcelona 8-2 ]

In part 1 of our in-depth look at Barcelona’s path forward, we tackled the tricky question of whether or not Lionel Messi should — and will — leave the club for the betterment of his final few years in the game. Read part 1 first, because the entire discussion begins — and maybe even ends — with Messi.

Which players do they keep?

We’ll start with “who to keep” because the list will be much shorter than what comes next.

In no particular order: Lionel Messi (if he wants to stay), Ansu Fati, Frenkie de Jong, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Clement Lenglet, Sergi Roberto, Miralem Pjanic (because he’s not even arrived at the club yet)

Everyone else currently at the club — whether due to their age, subpar performances or cumbersome contracts — is potentially on the chopping block.

De Jong has been something of a disappointment in his first season at the club, but there is more than enough reasonable doubt to believe the rest of the squad’s failures have given him no platform upon which to build his own Barca career. It stands to reason that, should they put a functional team around him, De Jong could still live up to the expectations with which he arrived from Ajax.

Fati has the look of a future best-player-in-the-world, though he’s only 17 so there’s still a long way to go before realizing that destiny. It would be a terrible crime against football for Barca to waste his talent and potential by failing to put a proper team around him.

Ter Stegen (28), Lenglet (25) and Roberto (28) are all young enough to bridge the gap between the current team and whatever the Blaugrana look like 24 or 36 months down the road. You can’t just get rid of everyone, after all. Even that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of those players, is it?

Difficult decisions need to be made

For age concerns: Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets

For financial reasons: Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele

The question Barca must answer with regard to the likes of Griezmann and Dembele is this: how much of a loss are they willing to take? That means not only on the exorbitant transfer fees they paid to sign them, but also the money still left on their contracts that they’re willing to eat just to get rid of them and move on. Between the two of them, Barca owe $1.3 million per week for the next two years, at which point Dembele’s deal expires and they will only be on the hook for Griezmann’s $1.05 million-per-week wages for another two years. Are you beginning to understand why this rebuild will be anything but easy or fast?

As for the aging veterans of the squad, they’ve all been fantastic and productive servants for varying periods of time, but they are 33, 33, 31 and 32, respectively, but their collective wages add up to more than $1 million per week. That’s a massive burden for a club that was already facing financial troubles prior to the effects of COVID-19. By the time Barcelona can reasonably be expected to compete for Champions League trophies again, none of these players will be under the age of 35.

Of the six individuals listed above, at least three — if not four — of them need to leave as soon as possible. Take your pick of which four it is.

Who needs to go?

Everyone else. Otherwise, a Barcelona – Bayern Munich repeat is inevitable.

That includes Arthur, who’s already leaving for Juventus this summer but they should get rid of him again just for good measure. Nelson Semedo can also go, if for no other reason than he will never be the same after Alphonso Davies danced around him on Friday.

Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic are 33 and 32 years old, respectively, and have no business being part of the next team Barca trot out in September. Samuel Umtiti could probably stay for another year or two and hold down a starting center back spot at a La Liga-average level, but what’s the point of simply delaying the inevitable?

There’s no two ways about it: Barcelona’s recruitment over the last five or six years has been criminally bad.

Given the club’s global popularity and the allure they still have to many players around the world — rightly or wrongly at this point — a Barcelona rebuild certainly sounds like a fun video-game challenge, but rest assured it will be anything but fun for those tasked with the challenge in real life.

Key battles for UEFA Champions League quarterfinals

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The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus an intriguing tie between RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.

[ MORE: Man City beat Real Madrid ]

In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.

Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League quarterfinals

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Guardiola has gone quite conservative and safe — at least for his typically attacking nature — in the center of midfield; one could also describe the trio of Fernandinho, Rodrigo and Ilkay Gundogan as industrious. Kevin De Bruyne has been pushed out to the wing, opposite Raheem Sterling, with Gabriel Jesus up top. Sergio Aguero (knee) remains out of the team altogether.


Key battles

Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay

Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.

Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera

Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.

RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa

This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.

Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba

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Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.

Should Lionel Messi leave Barcelona? Will he?

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Lionel Messi: Barcelona rebuild begins with his decision to stay or leave. Barcelona were beaten, humbled and humiliated by Bayern Munich on Friday, on the wrong side of an 8-2 demolition job in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

[ PART 2: Barcelona must rebuild, but where (and when) do they begin? ]

As expected, the Spanish press — and pundits all across the world, for that matter — have torn into Barca for every imaginable reason, from the board’s disturbing negligence to the players’ lack of desire and effort.

So, what’s a realistic plan to “fix” Barcelona and restoring one of the world’s iconic clubs to its former greatness? Everyone wants to say “blow it all up, fire everyone and start over,” but the real world doesn’t work like that. What can be done, and on what timeline can Barca reasonably expect to be formidable competition for the likes of Bayern once again?

[ MORE: Three things learned as Bayern Munich hammer Barcelona 8-2 ]

This is part 1, focusing solely on Lionel Messi, because the greatest player of all time is worthy of his own discussion, and also because it’s such a complex decision with layer upon layer of logic pulling him in every direction. Part 2, focusing on the rest of Barca’s issues — not the least of which are an aging squad and an incompetent board making all of the decisions — will be posted later on Saturday.

[ LIONEL MESSI: Barcelona a ‘disaster’; Bayern react after 10-goal stunner ]

What should Messi do?

This question comes first beacuse 1) it’s the most interesting and polarizing, but also 2) it’s the only one that’s not actually for the Barca board to decide. Sure, they could flat out refuse to sell Messi no matter the money offered, enrage the greatest player of all time, ruin the fairytale story of their time together and turn every last one of their fans against them, but they’re not going to do that, right? Right? On second thought, they might just do that, but more on the board in part 2.

Messi will have options — in truth, Messi has always had options, but his first, second and third priorities always seemed to be furthering his legacy at Barca — should he decide it’s an untenable situation and he would be better suited seeing out the final few years of his historic career somewhere that presents him an opportunity to win. It’s simply down to whether or not he’s had enough of the chaos at Barcelona and he wants to exercise those options.

The two questions Messi must ask himself and the Barca board are 1) is Barca worth it, assuming things can be fixed rather quickly? The obvious answer for Messi: yes; 2) what’s the timeline for such a thing? (Spoiler alert: it’s not going to be a quick fix) Messi is no spring chicken — he turned 33 back in June, and while he has remained highly productive through his early 30s and now to the brink of his mid-30s, his day of reckoning with Father Time will undeniably come.

[ TRANSFER NEWS: Sancho staying at Dortmund; Chilwell to Man Utd, Chelsea ]

Aside from “stay at Barcelona and hope things get better,” which he’s been doing for a few years now, what are Messi’s options?

Manchester City is an obvious potential landing spot, given they have the money to move mountains and Messi is more than a little familiar with Pep Guardiola. Money wouldn’t be an issue at PSG either, and Messi’s arrival would do more to legitimize their project than anywhere else he could go, but that’s all to PSG’s benefit — what does Messi stand to gain, aside from more money, from a move to Ligue 1? Very little, if anything at all. Beyond those two, there’s not another club in Europe that meets both those financial and Champions League-contending criteria. Both sides can — and perhaps will — put together an enticing offer, but do their pros outweigh the cons of staying at Barca? At this point, even Messi himself probably doesn’t know the answer to that question.

Major League Soccer would probably offer Messi his franchise and name it after him to get him there, but if Messi is willing to see out his final days in MLS — at least at this point — he’s probably not as concerned about his individual legacy as previously believed, so he would more than likely stick it out at Barca instead. The same would, likely, go for China and the Middle East.

One final point on Messi potentially leaving Barca: he has been ever-present in our live, wearing a blue and red shirt, for the last 15 years-plus — he is the only player who could even be considered as bigger than Barcelona — so it seems inconceivable and borderline blasphemy that he could ever leave, right up until the moment he does. It will happen quickly and seemingly out of nowhere, whether it’s this summer or five years from now. And it will be a tragically sad day in Catalonia.

What do you think Messi will do? What do you think he should do?

3 things learned as Bayern Munich hammer Barcelona 8-2

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Barcelona – Bayern Munich was a UEFA Champions League classic as Bayern ran riot in Lisbon to book their spot in the semifinals as they won 8-2. That’s right. 8-2.

[ MORE: Should Messi leave Barcelona? Will he? | How does Barca rebuild? ]

Bayern scored early and often as both teams had chances galore but the German giants took theirs with Thomas Muller scoring twice, plus Ivan Perisic and Serge Gnabry scoring one each. Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski and Philippe Coutinho (twice) all scored in the second half after Luis Suarez pulled one back to make it 4-2.

Early on Barcelona briefly made it 1-1 through David Alaba’s own goal but Lionel Messi and Co. were dominated and made so many defensive errors. Hansi Flick’s Bayern will now face the winner of Manchester City v. Lyon in the semifinal, while Quique Setien’s brief spell in charge of Barcelona is surely over.

[ MORE: Barca, Bayern players reaction ]

The game started at an incredible pace as Jerome Boateng defended superbly with Suarez lurking, then Bayern took the lead. Lewandowski and Muller combined and the latter finished to make it 1-0, but soon it was 1-1. Jordi Alba’s cross was shanked into his own net by Alaba to level things up.

Barca then went close as Suarez was denied by Manuel Neuer, then Messi hit the post as his cross missed everyone and struck the woodwork as four Barcelona players were left clutching their heads in disbelief.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Chances kept on coming for both teams in an entertaining, end-to-end clash with Messi forcing Neuer into a save. Perisic then drilled home a low shot to make it 2-1 and Bayern almost scored a third but Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved well. They did make it 3-1 soon after as Gnabry drilled home a low shot after fine passes from Thiago and then Leon Goretzka.

Muller made it 4-1 before the break as Joshua Kimmich’s cross found the veteran German at the near post as Barcelona kept conceding chances, and goals. In the second half Suarez made it 4-2 early on to give Barca a chance of an unlikely comeback but that’s all it was. Alphonso Davies’ amazing assist set up Joshua Kimmich to make it 5-2 and Lewandowski got his goal to make it 6-2 as Barca were humiliated further when their player, Coutinho, on loan at Bayern rolled two home late on to rub further salt into their wounds.

[ VIDEO: Alphonso Davies magical assist ]

Here’s a look at what we learned from Barcelona – Bayern Munich, a truly memorable Champions League quarterfinal.


BARCELONA THEIR OWN WORST ENEMIES

No team had conceded four goals sooner in a Champions League knockout match and this was the first time Barcelona conceded five or more goals in a Champions League match in their history. It was also the first time since 1949 that Barcelona had conceded seven goals in a single game. It was also the first time since 1951 they lost a game by six goals and the first time since 1946 that they conceded eight goals in a game. It was also the first time a team had scored eight in a Champions League knockout game. Yes, Bayern were clinical but Barcelona caused their own problems time and time again and it was all too easy for the Germans. Ter Stegen was hellbent on playing the ball short inside his own penalty box which put Barca under pressure, while Sergi Roberto and Frenkie de Jong were totally overpowered in midfield and Nelson Semedo was bullied at right back. Barcelona kept making poor defensive mistakes and anybody who has watched them since the restart in La Liga will understand why. This is not a new thing. Bayern could have scored more and Barcelona were just woeful and looked totally devoid of confidence late on. Messi and Co. looked stunned in the final stages of the game, and for most of the 90 minutes. Bayern were good but the story here was about Barcelona being woefully bad.

END OF AN ERA AT BARCELONA?

Messi, Suarez, Busquets, Vidal, Pique. What do they all have in common? Four of them are 33 years old and Busquets is 32. This feels like the end of an era at Barcelona. Of course, Messi is Messi and he can play until he wants as he whipped in delicious deliveries in the first half but didn’t have enough help around him. Even he gave up in the second half. This Barcelona team couldn’t cope with the pace and power of Bayern and they just gave up and Messi was one of the worst culprits. Earlier this season the Argentine legend was outspoken when it came to asking questions of the powers that be and his own teammates and he knew. He knew that big problems were coming and Barca were in big trouble. This has been coming. The shock Champions League defeat in the second leg at Liverpool last season. The collapse at Roma before that. Barcelona have been papering over the cracks for a long time now and relying on Messi and Suarez to bail them out.

They still finished second in La Liga and reached the last eight of the Champions League this season but that’s not good enough for Barcelona and this was one of the most humiliating nights in their history. Quique Setien doesn’t seem to have the belief of his squad but this Barcelona team is running on empty. It has been for a long time. Is it the managers fault, or the fault of their ageing squad which has been so good for so long but not rebuilt out of faith to their superstars and down to haphazard recruitment process? The answer is a little bit of everything and this defeat will now be the reference point for a dramatic Barcelona rebuild.

BAYERN’S HIGH-LINE A PROBLEM

The one negative for Bayern was how many chances they gave to Barcelona, especially in the first half. Their high-line was problematic but perhaps they pinched so high up so they could give Barcelona’s shaky defensive problems? Either way, they can’t play that high of a line against Manchester City or Lyon in the semifinal. Alhonso Davies and Joshua Kimmick were left exposed at full back and that is something they should address because this game, and result, is likely be a freak one. Aside from that defensive line, they were dominant, powerful, hungry and classy throughout. The German champions are full of confidence and are the red-hot favorites to win the Champions League. Barcelona – Bayern Munich will go down in history and Bayern will be feared by everyone if they weren’t already.