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Barcelona’s Setien under pressure after three games in charge

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BARCELONA, Spain — Barcelona hired Quique Setien to improve a team that was already leading the Spanish league.

Two weeks later, the defending champions are trailing Real Madrid and clearly struggling to adapt to the on-the-fly coaching change.

The team has boosted its possession of the ball and its number of passes, tenants of the orthodox Barcelona style professed by Setien that had waned in recent seasons. But that has yet to make it firmer on defense or lead to more goals compared to its performances under predecessor Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona needed a goal by Lionel Messi to get past Granada 1-0 in Setien’s debut on Jan. 19. A double by Antoine Griezmann, including a second goal in stoppage time, saved them against third-tier side Ibiza in the Copa del Rey with a 2-1 win on Wednesday.

But on Saturday Barcelona was completely outplayed at Valencia, which was content to let Barcelona have the ball and then wait to pounce on the break. Valencia won 2-0 despite also missing a penalty and hitting the post. Madrid’s 1-0 win at Valladolid on Sunday let it move three points ahead and take charge of the title race.

Setien acknowledged that his team has yet to play like he wants.

“We are evaluating the position of our players and the understanding we need to have to do what we propose,” Setien said after Saturday’s loss. “One thing is that (the players) understand it on the chalkboard and quite another is how we put it into practice.”

Setien’s three-man backline, a change from Valverde’s four defenders, left the team’s flanks exposed against Valencia. Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba, playing as wing backs, were unable to effectively join the attack. And, most disconcertingly for Setien, the midfield of Sergio Buquests, Frenkie de Jong, and Arthur failed to set up Messi and Griezmann in scoring positions.

Barcelona only got going once it was trailing in the score and after Arturo Vidal had replaced Arthur. Vidal set up Messi’s goal against Granada and was his best partner in attack again at Valencia.

“There are things that (my players) didn’t interpret correctly,” Setien said. “That, or we didn’t explain them well. We made passes that didn’t help advance the team. There are things we need to work on to correct.”

Setien will need to work out the kinks in his team before Barcelona visits Napoli in the opening leg of their Champions League round-of-16 leg on Feb. 25.

Next up is Leganes in the Copa del Rey round-of-16 on Thursday.

SIMEONE’S SLUMP

Atletico Madrid is in a slump and its road forward is only going to get more difficult.

Diego Simeone’s side will take a four-game winless streak across all competitions to crosstown rival Real Madrid next weekend.

Madrid bettered Atletico on Jan. 12 in a penalty shootout to win the Spanish Super Cup. That loss started a wretched run for Atletico that has included a 2-0 loss at Eibar, a humiliating exit from the Copa del Rey to a third-tier team, and Sunday’s 0-0 draw at home with lowly Leganes.

“The results are not good, but we have never stopped trying nor fighting for the good times to return,” goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “We hope to build the run of wins that we all need.”

While Oblak is keeping the team in matches by anchoring a strong defense, the team’s attack is sputtering. With 22 goals in 21 league matches, only five teams in the 20-team division have scored fewer. Barcelona, the leading scorer, has 50 goals.

The pressure will be on former Madrid player Alvaro Morata to lead an attack with Angel Correa and youngster Joao Felix, who has yet to meet expectations following his 120 million euros ($133 million) transfer from Benifca.

A win at the Santiago Bernabeu would do wonders to silence Atletico’s critics. A loss would realistically leave the team with only the Champions League to play for. It faces defending champion Liverpool in the round-of-16 next month.

Man City skates past 10-man Fulham in FA Cup

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Just six minutes into Fulham’s trip to the Etihad, the game was essentially over. Tim Ream upper-body tackled Gabriel Jesus who was through on goal, the American international was sent off for denying a goalscoring opportunity, and Ilkay Gundogan bagged the penalty.

A goal down and a man down, that was all she wrote for the Whites. The rest was a formality.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All told, Manchester City held nearly 70% possession and completed a 4-0 victory to advance to the FA Cup fifth round.

Bernardo Silva scored the second before the 20-minute mark with a brilliant turn and shoot into the bottom-right corner, and while Man City slept through the next stage of the match, they awoke again on the hour mark as Raheem Sterling hit the post. The hosts poured men forward and Jesus nearly had City’s third as he was fed through on goal, but new Fulham signing Terence Knogolo made a last-gasp tackle that saved a goal.

Jesus would get his goal, a 72nd minute effort after David Silva forced a turnover deep in the Fulham defensive third. Raheem Sterling’s cross found the head of Jesus, and his effort survived a tight VAR check for offside. He got a second immediately after, following up a Marek Rodak save with another header to make it 4-0.

Man City advanced to the fifth round of the FA Cup with the win, becoming the fifth Premier League team confirmed to have reached the next stage, with another five possible to advance either later today, tomorrow, or on replays. The draw for the next round will be held on Monday.

FOLLOW LIVE: Man City, Man United, Liverpool in FA Cup

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It’s a big Sunday slate in the FA Cup fourth round as Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool all take the field, each with their own time slot. Click the link below to follow along with the action.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Fulham and Tranmere have already knocked off Premier League opponents. The Whites took down Aston Villa 2-1 in the third round on Harry Arter‘s absolutely stunning winner with 16 minutes to go, while Tranmere topped Watford just three days ago in extra time of their replay.

Manchester City has delivered a strong starting lineup at the Etihad to face Fulham, with David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, and Ilkay Gundogan all in the eleven, while 19-year-old Spanish defender Eric Garcia also appears alongside Nicolas Otamendi. Fulham, meanwhile, is struck by injuries at key places, with talismanic striker Aleksandr Mitrovic out as is the goalscorer Arter from last round.

Full Sunday FA Cup schedule

Manchester City v. Fulham – 8:00 a.m. ET
Tranmere Rovers v. Manchester United – 10:00 a.m. ET
Shrewsbury Town v. Liverpool – 12:00 p.m. ET

FA Cup fourth round preview, score picks

Manchester United advances in FA Cup
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The FA Cup fourth round is here as we are down to the final 32 teams in the oldest knockout competition in the world.

[ LIVE: All the FA Cup scores here

There are some intriguing storylines set up for the games across Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday as Liverpool and Man United face tricky trips to lower-league opponents, while Southampton host Tottenham, Norwich head to Burnley and Arsenal travel to Bournemouth in two all-PL ties.

Brentford hosting Leicester is one for the purists, while West Brom, Millwall, Hull City and Oxford will all fancy their chances of knocking out their Premier League opponents as plenty of teams will rotate their squads.

Below we reveal our score predictions for each game, while you can follow all of the action live by clicking on the link above.


FRIDAY

Northampton Town 0-3 Derby County – 3 p.m. ET
QPR 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday – 3 p.m. ET


SATURDAY (all 10 a.m. ET kick offs unless otherwise stated)

Brentford 1-2 Leicester – 7:30 a.m. ET
Burnley 3-1 Norwich City
Coventry City 1-3 Birmingham City
Millwall 1-1 Sheffield United
Newcastle United 2-0 Oxford United
Portsmouth 2-1 Barnsley
Reading 2-0 Cardiff City
Southampton 1-1 Tottenham
West Ham 1-2 West Brom
Hull City 1-3 Chelsea – 12:30 p.m. ET


SUNDAY

Man City 2-2 Fulham – 8 a.m. ET
Tranmere 1-3 Man United – 10 a.m. ET
Shrewsbury 1-4 Liverpool – 12 p.m. ET


MONDAY

Bournemouth 1-2 Arsenal  – 3 pm E.T.

Nantes pays tribute to the late Sala with special jersey

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NANTES, France — French club Nantes will pay tribute to late Argentine player Emiliano Sala by wearing a special blue and white shirt during Sunday’s league game gainst Bordeaux.

Nantes, which traditionally plays in yellow and green, said Tuesday that the commemorative outfit is available for sale. All profits from the sales will be allocated to Sala’s training clubs in Argentina.

“Because he dreamed of wearing Argentina’s shirt, Nantes players will leave their usual yellow and green jersey for a white and blue tunic,” Nantes said in a statement.

Sala was killed a year ago when the single-engine aircraft carrying him from Nantes to his new club in Cardiff crashed near the Channel Island of Guernsey on Jan. 21. Hours earlier, FIFA had received an online document from the Welsh soccer federation to complete transferring the player’s registration from France.

Sala’s body was recovered from the wreckage two weeks later.

Nantes said a picture of Sala will also be displayed in the center circle at Stade de La Beaujoire and a minute’s applause will be held in his memory.

Since Sala’s death, Nantes and Cardiff have been involved in a dispute over transfer fee payments. Last year, Cardiff filed a court appeal seeking to overturn a FIFA order it must pay Nantes a 6 million euro ($6.7 million) first payment for Sala. FIFA ruled in favor of Nantes and warned Cardiff it faces a transfer ban of three trading windows if it refuses to pay when the case is settled.