PRO SOCCER TALKPST Select Team

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Without Messi, Barcelona loses to Levante in Copa del Rey

Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Barcelona could not overcome the absence of Lionel Messi and other regular starters on Thursday, losing 2-1 at Levante in the first leg of the Copa del Rey’s round of 16.

Barcelona’s second-stringers struggled from the start in Valencia, escaping an even greater defeat only because Levante’s forwards squandered some clear scoring chances.

[ MORE: Willian-Malcom swap? ]

The return game is next Thursday at Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, when the four-time defending champion is expected to have some of its starters back in action after they were rested this week.

Levante took the lead early with a close-range header by Uruguayan defender Erick Cabaco in the third minute, and striker Borja Mayoral scored the second goal with a low cross shot in the 18th.

The hosts kept threatening throughout the match, taking advantage of a Barcelona defense that was without Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba. Newly signed Colombian player Jeison Murillo was making his club debut in central defense.

“We got off to a great start,” Mayoral said. “We pressed early because we knew they were not used to playing together.”

Without Messi and Luis Suarez in attack, the Catalan club had difficulties creating scoring opportunities. The trio of Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Malcom was largely ineffective, and the team’s lone goal came late with a penalty kick converted by Coutinho in the 85th after substitute Denis Suarez got past a defender and was fouled inside the area.

“In the second leg hopefully we will take advantage of Coutinho’s goal,” Murillo said.

Barcelona routed Levante 5-0 in Valencia in a league match in December.

SEVILLA THRIVES

Sevilla, a Copa finalist in two of the last three seasons, cruised to a 3-1 away win over Athletic Bilbao with goals by Manuel “Nolito” Agudo, Andre Silva and Wissam Ben Yedder.

Mikel San Jose scored for Athletic, which is fighting against relegation in the Spanish league.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines ]

The teams face each other again in the league on Sunday. Their second-leg match in the Copa is next week in Seville.

Also Thursday, Real Betis was held by visiting Real Sociedad to a 0-0 draw.

On Wednesday, Real Madrid defeated Leganes 3-0 at home, while Atletico Madrid drew 1-1 at Girona.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

La Liga & Serie A: Griezmann hat-trick paces Atleti, Milan tops Roma

Twitter/@atletienglish
Leave a comment

A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Sevilla 2-5 Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann’s hat-trick helped pace Atletico on Sunday as Diego Simeone and Co. continue to apply pressure to Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Atleti remains seven points behind the Blaugrana in Spain’s top flight, after picking up its 17th victory of the season. The visitors scored twice in the first half with finishes from Diego Costa and Griezmann, before Koke and two more goals from the Frenchman extended the lead to 5-0.

Meanwhile, Sevilla did manage to pull back two late goals through Pablo Sarabia and Nolito, however, it was too late to complete a comeback.

Valencia 2-1 Real Sociedad

A brace from Santi Mina pulled Valencia to within two points of Real Madrid for third place in La Liga. The defeat for Sociedad keeps the bottom half side in 14th place, however, the side has a 10-point cushion above the relegation zone.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Malaga
Villareal 1-0 Getafe

 


Roma 0-2 AC Milan

A big victory for the Milan side has Gennaro Gatusso’s men back in contention for a top five place in Italy. Second-half strikes from Patrick Cutrone and Davide Calabria helped pace the visitors, as Roma suffered a big blow in the title race. Roma now sits 16 points behind league leaders Napoli, while already having lost earlier in the week to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League.

 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Crotone 2-3 SPAL
Fiorentina 1-0 Chievo
Hellas 2-1 Torino
Sampdoria 2-1 Udinese
Sassuolo 0-3 Lazio
Juventus vs. Atalanta (POSTPONED)

Man United, Chelsea prepare for La Liga tests

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The final two Premier League teams to get their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties off and running are Manchester United and Chelsea who both play this week.

Both PL giants face Spanish opposition but both are in very different situations heading into these games.

 [ MORE: Champions League schedule

United travel to Sevilla on Wednesday as the firm favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, while Chelsea host Barcelona on Tuesday hoping to still be in the tie after the first leg at Stamford Bridge against Lionel Messi and Co.

After Liverpool battered FC Porto, Manchester City demolished Basel and Tottenham went to Juventus and dominated in a draw last week, all of a sudden United and Chelsea are under a little bit of extra pressure to not let the PL sides down.

That pressure is ratcheted up given the fact that Spanish clubs have dominated the Champions League for much of the last decade, with six of the last 10 European champions hailing from La Liga.

Chelsea were the last PL club to reach the UCL final, when they beat Bayern Munich in 2012, while United reached the final in three of four seasons from 2008 to 2011 but only prevailed on one occasion… when they beat Chelsea in the final 2008. That rich run for English clubs in the Champions League saw seven of the eight finals from 2005-2012 have at least one English club in it, but none have made it that far since.

Six of the last eight teams to reach the UCL final have been from Spain, with Juventus reaching the final in two of the past three seasons but failing to the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Yet this season, with five teams from one league reaching the last 16 for the first time in the competition’s history, there’s a sense the English clubs are back to their best and are ready to put La Liga in their place. United and Chelsea will have the first crack at doing that in the knockout rounds with all eyes on what could be a seismic shift in power back to the PL.

Chelsea were the only one of five PL teams in the Champions League this season to not win their group and they paid the ultimate price for that as they were drawn against Barcelona, the current La Liga leaders and one of the red-hot favorites to win yet another European title.

Antonio Conte‘s men have recovered well in recent weeks after patchy form in the Premier League briefly dropped them out of the top four, but there’s no doubting that there are still issues behind-the-scenes with Chelsea’s Italian manager who many expect to walk away at the end of this season.

On the pitch, Chelsea continue to be Lionel Messi’s kryptonite as the Argentine star hasn’t scored in any of his eight previous outings against the Blues. Conte will hope that is once again the case and we may well see a more defensive Chelsea side than usual as they will keep it tight, then play it up to either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata to link up with Eden Hazard on the break.

Barca lead La Liga and if Messi once again fires a blank against Chelsea, at least this time they also have Luis Suarez in reserve, although Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied and can’t feature in the UCL after his January move from Liverpool.

As for United, the rigmarole around Paul Pogba continues as Jose Mourinho’s star midfielder missed their FA Cup fifth round win at Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness but is expected to be fit to play against Sevilla. Does Pogba have a future at Old Trafford?

That’s the key question right now but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez will be eager to lead United in the latter stages of the UCL for the first time since 2014 when they reached the quarterfinals, but Mourinho is dealing with an injury crisis as Marcus Rashford could join Ander HerreraAntonio Valencia, Zlatan IbrahimovicMarcos RojoPhil Jones and Marouane Fellaini on the sidelines.

Sevilla drew against Liverpool twice in the UCL group stage and even though their La Liga form has been up and down throughout this season (they currently sit in fifth place in the table) and since Vincenzo Montella was appointed as their new boss in December, they’ll be a threat.

Wissam Ben Yedder is Sevilla’s chief goal threat and has six goals in six UCL games so far this season, while ex Manchester City pair Nolito and Jesus Navas will cause problems and Steven Nzonzi continues to impress in central midfield.

Both United and Chelsea know they face tough tests against Spanish opposition this week, and it is perhaps made a little tougher with expectations growing for English clubs in the Champions League this season.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview

Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United and Chelsea had little trouble in their UEFA Champions League group stage bows, but the three Premier League clubs in action Wednesday face much stiffer competition.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

Two of the three begin their group stages at home, with a third traveling to Rotterdam for a De Kuip test at Feyenoord.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund

With apologies to Group C, Spurs drew the stiffest test in Europe with Group G’s tandem of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund (in addition to APOEL Nicosia). The group kicks off at Wembley Stadium with a visit from USMNT teen Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund, a side which has yet to concede a goal in Bundesliga play and sits atop the table.

Midfield general Nuri Sahin has been wonderful for BVB this early campaign, and ex-Barca back Marc Bartra joins Greece national team standout Sokratis Papastathopoulos in a stingy defense. Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli have their work cut out for them, and so does the back line. Here’s BVB boss Peter Bosz:

It could come down to which Christian is able to work more magic: Pulisic or Eriksen. Pulisic posted a goal and three assists in his first UCL go-round last season, while Eriksen managed just a single assist as Spurs bowed out of the UCL at the group stage. We’ll give Spurs an emotional edge on Wednesday, hopefully ending their Wembley “hoodoo” or at least managing a point. 2-2.

Liverpool vs. Sevilla

Knocked out of the UCL by Leicester City last season, Sevilla is best known for its quintet of Europa League crowns. The last of those came at the expense of the Reds, as Daniel Sturridge‘s 35th minute opener in Basel was canceled out by three second half goals. Coke scored two and Kevin Gameiro the other, but both of those players are gone.

Sevilla signed ex-Man City men Jesus Navas and Nolito this summer, and has a variety of weapons including Wissam Ben Yedder, Steven N’Zonzi, and Luis Muriel. Expect Liverpool to have a heck of a time defending, but also to find some success in the final third. Would Reds fans take 2-2 in what will be the second most difficult game in the group (aside from the return leg)?

Feyenoord vs. Manchester City

The Dutch champions entertain Man City while in the throes of a 4-0 start to the Eredivisie season. Feyenoord lost just four league matches last season and led the table wire-to-wire, the first managerial title for former Arsenal and Barcelona player Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

The club’s most familiar names are former Watford man Steven Berghuis, midfielder Tonny Vilhena, and Danish national team striker Nicolai Jorgensen. Ultimately, this could be a tight win for City. If Pep Guardiola‘s team really wants to make a statement, it’ll be a big win.

Elsewhere
Maribor vs. Spartak Moscow
RB Leipzig vs. Monaco
Porto vs. Besiktas
Real Madrid vs. APOEL Nicosia
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Napoli

Top Premier League storylines – Week 4

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s back, friends, and the Premier League’s fourth week again finds a battle of giants on the docket.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Liverpool visits Man City as the league’s five UEFA Champions League sides eyeball their table positioning as well as European group stage debuts next week.

Elsewhere, Europa League entrants Arsenal and Everton have home matches while Swansea City’s big name signings should debut versus Rafa Benitez‘s embattled Newcastle United.


Fireworks exploding in the distance
Manchester City – Liverpool (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

Temporary towers soar Saturday at the Etihad Stadium when Pep Guardiola‘s City and Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds bid for second place or better in the Premier League. Both attack-minded sides have seven points, and harbor dreams of a title.

Both sides were hopeful of landing Virgil Van Dijk or another center back stud before Deadline Day, and this match faces the prospect of goals upon goals. Philippe Coutinho is back training for the Reds, and Klopp will have to find the best fit for his attack once the Brazilian is ready to enter the fold.

City is off to Feyenoord to start its UEFA Champions League campaign on Wednesday, the same day Liverpool hosts ex-City men Nolito, Jesus Navas, and Sevilla.

The much anticipated Emirates Stadium reception for Arsene Wenger
Arsenal – Bournemouth (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

The Gunners have one win in three matches to start the season, could not land any late transfer targets, and sold neither Alexis Sanchez nor Mesut Ozil. The #WengerOut brigade is at full throat, and who knows what’s cooking from the North London faithful as oft-rumored Wenger replacement Eddie Howe and Bournemouth hit the scene in search of its first points of the season.

Bournemouth broke Arsenal’s four-match Hex in a 3-3 draw at the Vitality Stadium in January. Could this be the day it finds love at the Emirates?

Nathan Ake of AFC Bournemouth and Olivier Giroud of Arsenal (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Early separation day for Spurs, Toffees
Everton – Tottenham Hotspur (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) STREAM ] 

On form, Spurs arguably deserve to be 3-0 but have followed up their strong performance at Newcastle with poor finishing days against Chelsea and Burnley. They also can’t afford to look past the Toffees and to their Wednesday’s UCL visit from Borussia Dortmund.

The Toffees have an extra day to prepare for Europa League, where they’ll look to the road and a Thursday trip to Atalanta. Everton received very little love from the Premier League schedule makers, and now face Spurs after a draw versus Man City and a loss to Chelsea leave it level with the visitors on four points.

Chelsea’s ex-Foxes return to the King Power Stadium
Leicester City vs. Chelsea (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) STREAM ] 

Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante will get an interesting reception at the building where they completed one of the biggest surprises in football history, as the Blues’ engine room duo hits Leicester City. Chelsea has two wins from three matches, and would like to keep its title defense aspirations pointed in the right direction.

Breathing room, new additions welcome in Wales
Swansea City vs. Newcastle United (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) STREAM ] 

The similar vibes between these two clubs begins and ends with acquiring desperately needed wins before the international break. That’s because Swans had big success toward the end of the transfer window in landing a loan of Bayern Munich’s Renato Sanches in addition to buying Wilfried Bony and Sam Clucas. Newcastle’s big 3-0 home win versus West Ham was burnished with… zero additions on Deadline Day. Rafa Benitez has his work cut out for him.

Powered by WordPress.com VIP