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La Liga: VAR saves Barcelona, Atletico defense breached again

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Lionel Messi has saved Barcelona’s bacon on plenty of occasions throughout his illustrious career, and while officially today he’s once again led the club to three points with his 81st minute penalty to earn a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad, VAR was the true hidden hero.

Replay caught Robin Le Normand miss with a headed clearance in the box, instead the ball just catching him in the shoulder, and the referee in the booth called for a penalty. Messi dispatched the spot-kick to earn the win and doom La Real to a harsh result. Still, Barcelona completely dominated the match ripping of 13 shots with six on target to Real Sociedad’s just one shot on frame.

Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard was kept relatively in check by Barcelona’s midfield while Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong were calming forces throughout for the home side. The three points sends Barcelona top of the La Liga table, with Real Madrid a chance to reclaim the lead tomorrow at Real Betis.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid was held to a third draw in its last four league games with a 2-2 home result against Sevilla, with the defense breached for the fourth straight match. Luuk De Jong put Sevilla up at the Wanda Metripolitano 19 minutes in after a miserable challenge from Stefan Savic saw the Dutchman’s first touch put him through. A penalty from Alvaro Morata brought Atletico back level past the half-hour mark, and they went in front just four minutes later through Joao Felix after Koke stole the ball in midfield and did all the hard work on the break.

Still, it wasn’t enough as Lucas Ocampos struck from the penalty spot just before halftime and the second half was goalless to see Atletico fall a full 13 points back of the La Liga leaders, potentially 14 back if Real Madrid wins tomorrow. Currently, that’s just good enough for fifth as Atletico Madrid sits outside the Champions League places. Sevilla, meanwhile, sits in third on 47 points, 11 back of the leader.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid youngster Takefusa Kubo gave Mallorca a 2-1 win over Eibar. The 18-year-old’s 78th minute goal proved the winner as he beat two defenders at the top of the box and delivered a low effort off the inside of the left post. The win was enormous for Mallorca who rose to 18th, still in a relegation position but only based on goal differential. Eibar sits in 16th just two points ahead of the drop.

Getafe and Celta Vigo played to a scoreless draw at Coliseum Alfonso Perez as the hosts ripped off 16 shots to Celta Vigo’s three but could not find the back of the net. Jamie Mata missed the biggest chance for Getafe just past the half-hour mark as he fired over from a central spot just outside the six-yard box. Getafe midfielder Mauro Arambarri was sent off for a second yellow card with eight minutes to go as the hosts looked for a winner, making the late push even more difficult. The draw is a disappointing result for fourth-placed Getafe who could have used the opportunity to pull away from Atletico Madrid after their draw against Sevilla. For Celta Vigo, the point is enormous amidst a relegation battle, sitting in 17th now two points above the drop.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.

La Liga roundup: Messi puts four goals past Eibar in one-sided Barcelona victory

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Lionel Messi’s masterclass against Eibar highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Eibar 0-5 Barcelona 

It seemed as if nothing was going to wake up Barcelona from their nightmare, but then Lionel Messi went on to put on one if his traditional magic shows.

The Argentine pelted four goals on Eibar on Saturday, sending the Blaugrana to the top of La Liga following Real Madrid’s loss to Levante.

 

 

 

Just how bad was Barcelona’s nightmare, one may ask? So bad that Barcelona supporters waving white handkerchiefs during a part of the game, expressing their frustration towards club’s board and chanting for president Josep Maria Bartomeu to resign.

As it’s been for the past decade or so, Messi was at the right place and at the right time to put the fires away.

Barca’s No. 10 broke the deadlock in the 14th minute, before completing his first-half hat-trick. He added a fourth in stoppage time, stretching his season goal count to 18 – the best in the league.

The goal-heavy performance ended Messi’s four-match goal drought – the longest for the Argentine since the 2013-14 season.

Messi’s masterclass proved to be quintessential potion to Barcelona’s illness. They needed it, especially with Napoli up next in the Champions League, which leaves the Catalans with no options then to win.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-0 Leganes

Real Sociedad 3-0 Valencia 

Levante 1-0 Real Madrid

VIDEO: Messi scores first half hat trick for Barcelona

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Lionel Messi scored a first half hat trick for Barcelona against Eibar on Saturday.

Messi, 32, is warming up quite well for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg as he tore Eibar’s defense to shreds to put them 3-0 up at the break.

In a week where Messi and Barcelona have been in the news amid an emergency signing of Martin Braithwaite, a social media spying scandal and plenty of criticism of sporting director Eric Abidal, the Argentine ace got back to doing what he does best.

Barcelona sat in second place in the La Liga table heading into this weekend, one point behind Real Madrid.

Messi says Barcelona is ‘home,’ but he ‘sees weird things happening’

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Lionel Messi is not sure what to make of recent allegations that Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is responsible a social media campaign which set out to criticize the club’s top players while also aiming to rebuild his own reputation.

[ MORE: Pep’s not-so-subtle warning to Barcelona: “Don’t talk too loudly” ]

Messi once again called Barcelona his “home,” though he also admitted that he “sees weird things happening,” presumably referring to statements made in recent months and weeks by members of the Barca hierarchy, including Bartomeu and sporting director Eric Abidal.

For a club of Barcelona’s size and stature to be airing this much dirty laundry for the world to see is certainly weird, to say the least. Messi sounds like he’s desperate to remain at the club and finish his career there, though it’s beginning to sound as if certain individuals have other ideas — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was a little surprised because I was not present, I was traveling. When I arrived, I discovered it all bit by bit. The president told us the same things he said in public, the same things he said at a press conference — what was the situation, what had happened. And I cannot say more.

“The truth is that I see weird things happening. But, it was also said that there would be evidence. We will have to wait to see if it is true or not. We can’t say much and we have to wait and see what happens. Frankly, the subject seems strange to me.”

“I love Barcelona, although I miss Rosario very much.

“This is my home, I was here longer than in Argentina. I love Barcelona, the place where I live, Castelldefels, and I live a life that I like very much.”