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La Liga roundup: Messi scores, wins game in Setien’s Barcelona debut (video)

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Barcelona’s vintage playing style in their 1-0 win over Granada highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Barcelona 1-0 Granda

With a goal from Lionel Messi against an iron-willed Granada, Barcelona are back at the top of La Liga.

The win is the club’s first under Quique Setien, who debuted as the Catalans manager after replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona rolled back to the years of Pep Guardiola‘s tiki-taka, as they culminated the game with 83 percent possession and completed 1005 passes. That said, Granda – playing  with 10 men from the 69h minute on – were bulletproof until the 76th minute. Messi gently pushed the ball with his weak foot, finishing what had been a series of fluid, build-up passing.

Setien deployed a nuanced 3-4-3 variation – far from Valverde’s 4-3-3 formation that ended up costing him his job after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Super Copa semifinals.

Players like Sergio Busquets were asked about the distinct styles, but he was candidly opposed to comparing the managers and their philosophies.

“We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us,” he told Movistar. “It’s true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

“It’s not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You’ll see what Setien asks us to do. We’re not going to reveal it. We’re delighted with what Ernesto did and we’re delighted with Setien.”

With Real Madrid and Atletico right behind, the defending champions have a long way to go this season. They’ll have to build on the win and, more importantly, further deepen their chemistry under the ex-Real Betis boss. Integrating winter signings into the fold might present itself as a challenge, too.

But one thing is certain: Barcelona can still play like they did back in their glory days. If that sticks, a lot can happen.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Mallorca 4-1 Valencia

Real Betis 3-0 Real Sociedad

Villarreal 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Celta Vigo

Sarri: ‘Annoying’ that Ronaldo has less Ballons d’Or than Messi

Maurizio Sarri praises Ronaldo over Messi
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Maurizio Sarri has a lot of work to do as Juventus boss.

The former Chelsea manager needs to battle critics of his style and background, all while tending to the egos of one of the biggest teams in the world.

And one of those egos is possibly the largest on record.

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That’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who did not take part in Juve’s 4-0 cup win over Udinese on Wednesday but still got plenty of airtime in Sarri’s post-match presser.

Sarri went to great lengths to describe the details of Ronaldo’s sinus infection, which comes with Ronaldo in red-hot form. The Portuguese 34-year-old has nine goals in his last six games.

The manager went on to take a shot at Lionel Messi on his player’s behalf, seemingly at random. From Football-Italia:

“I would like to help Ronaldo win a sixth Ballon d’Or, as seeing someone out there with one more than him is a little annoying… In future, Dybala can challenge for the same objective, as he can make his mark on world football for years to come.”

Without even getting into the discussion of whether there’s a single season that Messi won the Ballon d’Or over Ronaldo and didn’t deserve it (and vice versa) well… what now?

What’s Sarri doing? Assuming no one planted this bug in his ear, it’s an odd one. Your team just waxed a Serie A opponent, and Paulo Dybala got to shine without sharing the spotlight with CR7 for once. Two goals and one assist and he gets to hear about how one day he might be on his sick teammate’s level? Nah.

Look, Ronaldo is a wonderful player, and generational talent and one of the best to ever put on boots. At some point, his insufferable ego cloys the dish. Yes, it’s on brand, but there are a lot better roads to trod.

Then again, it’s probably of extreme import for Sarri to stay on his man’s good side.

Juve leads Inter in the scudetto race by two points after 19 match days.

Valverde set to lead Barca training despite Xavi reports

Valverde in question as Barcelona speaks with Xavi
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It’s all a mess at Barcelona, as messy as it can be for a table-leading side.

Barca threw away a spot in the Spanish Super Cup Final with more miserable game management and defending versus Atletico Madrid at midweek, heaping pressure on Ernesto Valverde.

He may just pack up and leave given the weekend’s news that Barcelona director of football Eric Abidal flew to Qatar to meet with Xavi Hernandez about the manager’s position.

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Valverde, it’s worth noting, has won La Liga in both of his seasons in charge of the squad. Valverde’s Barca is level with Real Madrid on 40 points, five points ahead of Atleti and Sevilla.

Al Sadd executive director Turki Al-Ali issued a statement saying it is “normal and expected” that Xavi will one day leave for Barcelona, but that nothing is imminent. Reuters correspondent Richard Martin says Xavi has not decided his future, though an AS report claims he wants the job in the summer.

All this leaves the two-time reigning league winner in a rough spot, Valverde wondering what’s next. El Pais suspects Barca may need a bridge manager.

To be frank, Valverde’s roster aside from elite weapons Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Antoine Griezmann seems stuck between too old and too green. Messi is having perhaps the best season in the world, but Suarez undergoes surgery on Sunday and Griezmann still growing into his Blaugrana shoes.

But the massive chances coughed up to Atleti at midweek were too familiar, and Barca needs some fresh ideas to shore up their structure. Frenkie de Jong and Ansu Fati aren’t going to fix the back.

There’s time to get sorted for the stretch run, with a manageable run of fixtures. There’s Valencia away as the stiffest challenge of a half-dozen La Liga outings before Napoli arrives for the Champions League Round of 16, followed by the away El Clasico.

Will Valverde be the man overseeing any of it?

Atletico Madrid comes back to stun Barcelona, set up derby final

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We’ve got a Madrid Derby in Saudi Arabia.

Atletico Madrid outlasted Barcelona in a thrilling Spanish Super Cup semifinal on Thursday, the Blaugranas defense a second half shambles.

All five goals came in the second half of a 3-2 decision, Atleti earning a spot opposite Real Madrid in Sunday afternoon’s final.

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Real routed Valencia in the other semifinal.

Atleti is looking for its first Supercup since 2014, while Real won its 10th in 2017. Only Barcelona (13) has won more.

Koke had given Atleti the shot at a Madrid Derby final, but Barca answered well.

Former Atleti man Antoine Griezmann headed in a rebound after Lionel Messi supplied the equalizer with a quick-witted shot in traffic.

Gerard Pique tapped in a would-be third goal after Messi teamed up with Arturo Vidal for a clever free kick routine, but VAR overturned the call.

Atleti then won a penalty on a reckless challenge from Barca goalkeeper Neto, and Morata converted the chance. The Madrid side looked to have a second penalty in three minutes when Morata’s cross appeared to strike the hand of Pique, but VAR did not see a conclusive error.

Barca’s defense remained wide open, however, and Angel Correa raced past the back line and powered a shot through Neto’s hands to make it 3-2 in the 86th.

Messi now has 16 goals and nine assists in 20 matches this season. He has 13 goals and five assists in 18 Super Cup matches.

La Liga roundup: Last-place Espanyol equal Barcelona late in Catalan Derby

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Espanyol’s thrilling, late draw against cross-town rival Barcelona highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona

With a late goal from Wu Lei, Espanyol pulled off a stunning 2-2 derby draw against league leaders and rival Barcelona, who failed to regain their two-point lead at the top of La Liga on Saturday at RCDE Stadium.

Luis Suarez leveled the score with a right-footed, leaping volley in the 50th minute and assisted Arturo Vidal only nine minutes later with a superlative outside-of-the-boot cross well within the box. The Uruguayan ace has either scored or assisted in Barcelona’s last 10 league goals.

Espanyol, playing under newly-appointed manager Abelardo for the first time ever, made it difficult to believe that it was a derby between the best team in the Spanish league against the worst. Los Periquitos came out confident and poised, drawing first blood 23 minutes after David Lopez’s zoomed passed Neto.

The hosts went into halftime up a goal, and even though Barcelona benefited from Arturo Vidal’s inclusion, Espanyol fought back.

Chinese star Lei sent the home fans over the moon after striking the back of the net against a Frenkie de Jong-less, 10-man Barcelona with a minute to play in regular time.

With only a goal differential advantage on Real Madrid, Barcelona host Atletico Madrid on Thursday in the Supercopa semifinal. Espanyol, on the other hand, look to carry their positive momentum to their second round Copa del Rey bout in a weeks time.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 0-3 Real Madrid

Valencia 1-0 Eibar 

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Levante