Messi to Man City
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About those Lionel Messi to Manchester City rumors…

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Could Kevin De Bruyne and Lionel Messi be Pep Guardiola’s new Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi? Messi to Man City is not a new rumor, but it’s been refreshed for a new season.

Marca cites several English papers but you didn’t need a report to know these dots would be connected after both Barcelona and Man City were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League in different degrees of hair-pulling fashion this week.

You can also include as sources anyone who likes to debate the obvious given Josep Maria Bartomeu’s absolute mess at Barcelona and Guardiola’s connection with Messi.

[ MORE: Three things from Man City’s UCL exit ]

Barca’s 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich laid bare the club’s aging and under-performing unit (PST’s Andy Edwards pretty much nailed the post-mortem). And glaring misses from a number of City’s attackers versus Lyon on Saturday bordered on comedy. Okay, they didn’t border there. They built a house.

Speaking of houses, Messi decorated a dump this season and papered over myriad proverbial cracks. As Barca rebuilds and Man City looks to get “over the hump,” is this a perfect match? With Eric Garcia already eyeing Barca, could a wild package of swap options and money get it done?

Why does Man City go for Messi?

The “Should he?” leave is one question but there’s an intriguing argument to be made for the Argentine coming to City, KDB moving into a more central role to allow Messi to take the Belgian’s free-range privileges.

Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus led the Premier League in expected goals per 90 minutes, with Aguero edging his young Brazilian teammate to the tune of .96 to .94. Aguero scored 16 times to his 15.5 xG, while Jesus should’ve had an eye-popping 21 goals compared to his execution of 14.

Messi has a release clause of more than $700 million, enough to make any club sweat Financial Fair Play let alone bankruptcy. Players would have to go in the other direction and Jesus would probably headline the list.

Messi is the best player in the world and some would say the best to ever do it.

The 33-year-old is coming off a historic season that saw him break La Liga’s single-season assist record while scoring 31 times with 26 assists in 44 matches across all competitions despite missing the first month of the season with a foot injury. He is one of only nine players to collect double-digit goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

It also wouldn’t hurt to keep Guardiola happy, even if some City fans seem to think Max Allegri’s going to magically produce something better than the best offensive seasons in Premier League history.

Messi to Man City
(Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Why would Messi go to Man City?

First off, let’s address the obvious: It would be really hard for Messi to finally do it on a cold night at Stoke unless there’s a solid League Cup or FA Cup draw. Sad.

Frankly, Messi needs a club which nurtures the final years of his prime rather than bids to prematurely run it into the ground.

Barca’s terrible team construction meant Messi at 33 played 90 minutes in all 11 league matches after the club returned from the coronavirus pause. He did not sub out of a league match since the calendar hit October. Too many times, Messi was the lone bright light for Barca, like in the Spanish Super Cup versus Atletico Madrid.

There would not be that problem at Man City.

Messi’s recently been operating in a 4-3-3 and Guardiola used that formation a ton this year. Even going back to the historic 2017-18 season at the Etihad, Guardiola loved running his attack through Leroy Sane on the left wing.

Messi could do the same on the right side while occasionally slotting in for the equally-aging Aguero up top. Raheem Sterling stays on the left side (though he could be sold or swapped to fund the Messi move) while Riyad Mahrez gets a heftier dose of responsibilities after an incredible 2019-20. Honestly, maybe David Silva decides to stay.

And how about young Ferran Torres learning under Messi? Swoon.

Bernardo Silva and De Bruyne would run the midfield atop Rodri, who will enjoy life a lot more with Nathan Ake next to Aymeric Laporte and — theoretically — a functioning left back opposite Kyle Walker.

Messi would still thrive in Guardiola’s system even with his top-end speed on the decline. Imagine (assuming Jesus and either Sterling or Bernardo Silva sold):

Ederson

Walker — Laporte — Ake — (left back)

Rodri — Fernandinho

De Bruyne

Messi — Aguero — Sterling

Yeesh.

What other clubs could suit Messi and Barcelona?

The answer is less than a handful of clubs can afford Messi’s wages and Barca’s demands. Also, Messi’s willingness to go to a club and passion about leaving Barca is far and away the biggest variable.

A player concerned about his legacy, though Messi need not be, might not want to go to Paris Saint-Germain and the Parisian set may not have the outlay after they burdened themselves with the Neymar purchase. Messi likely wouldn’t want to go to a club without Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, one of whom would likely have to go, and the allure of PSG could be dead in 2 weeks if they win their long-sought Champions League.

Juventus won’t be buying him with Cristiano Ronaldo around and Bayern is well-stocked without the big money. The arguments against MLS, Qatar Stars League, and Chinese Super League Club goes back to the legacy point above.

Which brings us to the other Premier League giants. Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester United have the weaponry in terms of finances and swap assets. The Reds could make the best argument of the bunch, and if Bartomeu stays he’d totally make the wrong move by accepting Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mane at just a few years junior to Messi.

Then again, this same rationale could see Bartomeu’s Barca accept a package including John Stones and Eric Garcia, who already wants to go back to Spain.

Messi to Man City
Mane and Messi (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

How can Barcelona nip this in the bud?

Short of playing on Messi’s loyalty, Barcelona has to do so many things to keep its club attractive to the Argentine, who has eyes and will see a Real Madrid stocked with young talent and prepared to be a title favorite for years.

Messi probably isn’t terribly worried about how Barcelona hires to be his next manager, given that the failures of Quique Setien and Ernesto Valverde both hinge on the inferior talent around him. So it’s about finding some value for players like Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, and Samuel Umtiti while recruiting a top-end playmaking midfielder and steadier presences at the back.

Head over to WhoScored and check out Barca’s five-best performers this season (ages in parentheses): Messi (33), Suarez (33), Busquets (32), Pique (33), Greizmann (29). Barca has started to address this with the purchases of wingers Pedri and Trincao, but better recruitment would’ve had young Carles Alena, Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, and Oriol Busquets developing in better positions.

Zinedine Zidane was able to do this at Real with Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, and Fede Valverde amongst others and — thanks largely to Barca — Madrid has a league title during a year with major teething pains.

The idea of Messi being a one-club player is admirable but if Bartomeu stays without major changes to his philosophy, which has destroyed what was built over such a long time with La Masia academy, the club doesn’t deserve to keep hold of a jewel like Messi.

And frankly, a sale might be the fastest way for Barca to restock the cupboard (even if Miralem Pjanic was purchased almost exclusively to bridge young Frenkie de Jong to Messi).

So… more Pep-Messi hugs or nah?

USMNT to meet Canada, 2 others in 2021 Gold Cup group stage

2021 Gold Cup draw
Photo by Roy Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
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The United States men’s national team learned its path to reclaiming the Gold Cup on Monday.

Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks will meet Canada and Martinique in the group stage, as well as one of the Gold Cup prelim winner that will come from the group of Haiti, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Bermuda, or Barbados.

“It’s a good group,” Berhalter said. “Canada has a great generation coming through and the other opponents we’ll see who gets in the four spot but it’s definitely a good group.”

[ MORE: Latest USMNT and Americans abroad news ]

The 2021 Gold Cup will be held July 10 – Aug. 1 in the United States.

Mexico, who beat the U.S. 1-0 in the 2019 Gold Cup Final to take back the trophy from the U.S., will face El Salvador and Curacao plus the nation that survives the prelims between Cuba, French Guyana, Montserrat, and Trinidad and Tobago.

No team has repeated as Gold Cup champion since El Tri beat the United States in 2009 and 2011.

Mexico has won eight Gold Cups and the United States has claimed six. Canada is the only other nation to win the Gold Cup, doing so in 1999.

Tournament invitee Qatar will join Group D with Honduras, Panama, and Grenada.

Group A

Mexico
El Salvador
Curacao
Cuba, French Guyana, Montserrat, Trinidad and Tobago

Group B

United States
Canada
Martinique
Haiti, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Bermuda, or Barbados

Group C

Costa Rica
Jamaica
Suriname
Guadeloupe, Bahamas, Guatemala, or Guyana

Group D

Honduras
Panama
Grenada
Qatar

UEFA Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

Champions League qualifying
Photo by Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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American defender Henry Wingo and manager Jesse Marsch face big weeks as the second legs of the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoffs take center stage Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wingo’s Molde drew Ferencvaros 3-3 in the first leg but those three away goals loom large as the American and his Norwegian club head to Hungary.

[ MORE: Champions League qualifying scores ]

Meanwhile, Marsch saw his Red Bull Salzburg come back from an early deficit in Israel to take a 2-1 advantage over Maccabi Tel-Aviv back to Austria.

Salzburg are very heavy favorites to win and advance to the Champions League group stage for another year.

Marsch has also been linked with an impending transfer for USMNT teen Brenden Aaronson, one of at least eight Americans to watch as the European transfer window reaches its conclusion next month.


How to watch the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Tuesday and Wednesday
Stream: CBS All-Access (subscription required)


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

First legs (Roundup)

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague 0-0 Midtjylland
Krasnodar 2-1 PAOK
Gent 1-2 Dynamo Kiev
Molde 3-3 Ferencvaros
Olympiakos 2-0 Omonia

Tuesday

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Wednesday

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv


UCL second leg odds (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Ferencvaros (+108) v Molde (+215) | Draw (+230)
Dynamo Kiev (-118) v Gent (+280) | Draw (+235)
Omonia (+325) v Olympiakos (-130) | Draw (+235)
Midtjylland (+170) v Slavia Prague (+155) | Draw (+195)
PAOK (+105) v Krasnodar (+220) | Draw (+235)
Red Bull Salzburg (-834) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (+1300) | Draw (+600)

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links

League Cup: How to watch, start times, odds, predictions

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The League Cup’s fourth round features two interesting tactical duels in that the tournament gives us rematches of a pair of Premier League matches from the weekend, right down to the locations.

Brighton will hope Manchester United’s Wednesday trip to the Amex Stadium isn’t as lucky as the Red Devils’ 3-2 triumph over the Seagulls, while Arsenal heads back to Anfield on Thursday with designs on a measure of revenge for Monday’s 3-1 loss in league play.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

While Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United are built a bit deeper — easy, Red Devils fans — due to squad necessity for European competition, Graham Potter’s Seagulls don’t have it as simple as chopping and changing (though Brighton has looked plenty good with its depth so far in this tournament.

How will the tactician plot his overthrow of United? And will Mikel Arteta do anything different with Arsenal to help thwart the high line Liverpool used to limit Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Monday (if the Gabonese star even plays)?

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 things from Liverpool-Arsenal ]

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho thinks that schedule congestion is going to cost Spurs on Tuesday against Chelsea as well as in the treatment room.

The Portuguese boss says he will not be able to give the League Cup the respect he’d like because of Thursday’s Europa League visit from Maccabi Haifa is a match the club needs to make the UEL group stage.

Mourinho lost Heung-min Son to injury in Sunday’s controversial draw against Newcastle and he’s worried about what’s next.

“I think Sonny was just the first [injury],” Mourinho said, via Football.London. “More will come. So he was the first, but more will come.”

Edouard Mendy and Ben Chilwell could make their first Chelsea starts in the match, which comes too soon for Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech.

Three lower league remain and will be playing their fourth League Cup matches of the month compared to the PL’s three outings. Those who win this week will have a lot longer to wait for the quarterfinals, which won’t be held until December.


League Cup fourth round kickoff times and odds (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Tottenham (+420) v Chelsea (-180) | Draw (+360) — 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Newport County (+560) v Newcastle (-230)  | Draw (+340)— 12:30 pm ET Weds
Burnley (+625) v Manchester City (-275) | Draw (+375) — 2 pm ET Weds
Brighton (+300) v Manchester United (-120) | Draw (+250)— 2:45 pm ET Weds
Everton (-145) v West Ham (+350) | Draw (+280)— 2:45 pm ET Weds
Brentford (+135) v Fulham (+185) | Draw (+225)— 12:30 pm ET Thursday
Aston Villa (-150) v Stoke City (+360) | Draw (+275)— 2 pm ET Thursday
Liverpool (-105) v Arsenal (+230) | Draw (+270)— 2:45 pm ET Thursday

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


League Cup fourth round predictions

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Chelsea
Newport County 1-3 Newcastle United
Burnley 0-3 Manchester City
Brighton 2-1 Manchester United
Everton 2-2 (EFC wins in penalties) West Ham United
Brentford 1-1 (Brentford wins in penalties) Fulham
Aston Villa 2-0 Stoke City
Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal


How to watch League Cup fourth round streams and start time

Kickoff: Tuesday through Thursday
Online: Select games on ESPN+
Updates: Follow League Cup scores via NBCSports.com

Arteta rues missed chances in Arsenal loss to Liverpool

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Mikel Arteta knows his Arsenal team has a long way to go to be as fearsome as reigning Premier League champions Liverpool.

He also knows the Gunners could’ve easily taken a point off the Reds in place of the 3-1 loss on the scoreboard after Monday’s match at Anfield.

[ MORE: JPW’s 3 things | Player ratings ]

“Really tough place to come for anybody in the world,” Arteta said. “They set incredible standards. They dominate every aspect of the game. … They’ve been together five years. We are at a different moment of our journey.”

Alexandre Lacazette gave Arsenal an early lead in the game and was stymied by Alisson Becker in a second-half bid to make it 2-2.

But the Reds had so many chances before substitute Diogo Jota salted away the points, out-attempting Arsenal 21-4 and holding 66 percent possession.

[ MORE: Klopp’s animated post-match reaction ]

“Taking the lead put us in a really strong position to believe we could get something out of the game but we conceded too early,” Arteta said. “We had some problems with the ball and we had the best chances in the game and when it comes to Anfield you’re not going to get 10 chances. When you get through 1-against-1 against the keeper you have to score if you want to get something out of the game.”

Lacazette won’t love reading that, but Arteta is right. And Alisson also stopped a Lacazette chip on a breakaway goal bid that wouldn’t have counted because the Frenchman was offside.

Arsenal lost its first Premier League match of the season after winning its first two. The two sides meet again at the same venue in League Cup fourth round action on Thursday.

Arsenal’s next PL match is home to Sheffield United on Sunday.