Posts tagged Lionel Messi
The Counter Press EP 33

Josh and Vijay chat about all the Champions League matchups, PSG giving up 5 goals to Lille, and the Premier League.

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The Counter Press - You Hate to See It

The Counter Press Boys are joined by Spurs fan @ryne_jones to talk about all things Premier League including Tottenham's list of transfers. We also dive into Champions League matchups along with some Serie A talk.

Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu
Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits

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The Counter Press EP 24
FIFA World Cup Round of 16 preview: Argentina-France and Uruguay-Portugal
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The Round of 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup begins today and we have some top-tier matches to kick off the knockout stages. Four powerhouses take center stage Saturday and there will be stars all over the pitch. We have a good ol’ slug out between Uruguay and Portugal on the tail end of the doubleheader, but before that Messi and Argentina meet one of the more complete teams in the tournament in France. It’s arguably the best day in the Round of 16. Get ready.

France vs. Argentina

On paper, this might seem like a close match-up but we might get a completely different result on the pitch. Neither squad has been overly convincing; one of the teams is in shambles right now while the other is still trying to find their identity. It’s one of the best players in the world versus one of the more talented teams in the world.

France qualified at the top of Group C and it was relatively easy 7 points, winning their first two games against Australia and Peru before a scoreless draw against Denmark, arguably the most boring match of the tournament. But wasn’t a dominant French performance overall. They struggled to find goals on Austrailia and it took two wonderful moments from Paul Pogba to generate goals. In the Peru match, they got a deflection which got behind the Peruvian goalkeeper and right to the feet of Kylian Mbappe. France was the stronger side in each game, but you didn’t walk away from those matches thinking they put on a grand show.

Like Brazil, France are not expected to just win. It’s especially evident with all of the young talent they boast at every position. It’s also troubling to see the French attack only score three goals in the group stage. With the likes of Mbappe, Griezmann, and Dembele up top, France has looked mediocre and have failed to score more than one goal in open play so far.

Argentina had a much more difficult time making the knockout rounds. In the group of death, Argentina was put through the ringer but somehow escaped. After a disappointing draw against Iceland, Leo Messi and company were thrashed by Croatia 3-0, a result both sides deserved. Argentina was outclassed and Messi was nowhere to be seen in the second half. Behind Luka Modric, Croatia bossed the game and won deservedly. Needing a win against Nigeria, an early Messi goal gave them the spark they needed, but it was canceled out by a dumb penalty by Javier Mascherano, which allowed Nigeria to equalize.

When all hope seems lost, Marcos Rojo volleyed home a shot in the box to give them the lead and send Argentina to the round of 16. They finished second in Group D, which was a result few saw coming. They weren’t one of the best teams to make it to the Round of 16 and the group stage was just pure chaos. Argentina got lucky in order to advance and they will need more of it against France.

France’s offense has been lackluster so far but Argentina’s defense is very shaky. Mascherano has looked his age and the centerbacks are thrown into the fire every time an opposing team gets the ball. If there was a game where France will want to see their attack get revved up, it’s this one. The formula is simple for the underdogs, everything will have to funnel through Messi and Ever Banega. Those two are the players for Argentina that are going to create things for others. It was the duo who combined for their first goal against Nigeria with Banega sending a beautiful ball over the top. With France’s defense centered on stopping Messi, it will likely take a world-class performance from Banega to unlock them.

N’Golo Kante and company are going to make life tough for one of the best players in the world and these are one of those cases where team trumps talent. Messi can’t do it all for Argentina and despite the talent he has around him attacking-wise, it won’t make up for the rest of the field and how good France are. Kante is a one-man destroyer in the midfield and if Messi is kept in check, it will likely be because of him. With Pogba and Blaise Matuidi bossing the midfield, France will control the game and force Argentina to hunker down and play on the break. Argentina can counter attack, but the question is how long can they keep France from smashing the ball into the back of the net? My guess is not long.

Prediction: France are the better side and although Messi will likely produce a wonder goal against them, they will be too much for the Argentine defense to handle.

France wins 2-1.

Portugal vs. Uruguay

If the first game will be attack-minded, this one will be the exact opposite. This game will be an absolute war between two sides who aren’t afraid of making a game mucky and terrible to watch. Both Portugal and Uruguay are content to sit back, defend, and let the talisman up top do their work. There will be a lot of hard tackles and we might even get some tension in this game. This will be good.

Uruguay, as everyone expected, finished first in Group A with nine points. But like France, they weren't as dominating as they could have been, with the exception of the second half against Russia. It took a Gimenez header in the 90th minute to beat Egypt and a Luis Suarez goal off a corner to beat Saudi Arabia. The floodgates opened up in the final game against Russia, but it was thanks to the host nation’s own doing. An own goal and a red card practically sealed Russia’s fate, but it did give Uruguay a boost heading into the knockouts.

It also gave Edison Cavani a goal which might help his confidence in this game against Portugal. They have looked sturdy in defense but the midfield still needs to answer some questions. Youngster Lucas Torreira has looked like a solid player in the midfield and is the only one who can play as the link between the back line and the duo of Suarez/Cavani. What Uruguay has missed for so long is a player who can do it all in the midfield and Torreira has shown some potential to do that. But it seems unlikely he will start for them in this game.

Portugal had an up and down experience during the group stage. They first played a thrilling 3-3 draw against Spain in matchday 1. It was one of the best games of the tournament thus far and include everything from a Nacho volley off the post and in, to a Ronaldo free kick capping off his hat trick. They got past Morocco with an early goal but faced trouble in the final game against Iran. After Ricardo Quaresma scored a wonder goal which only he attempts, a shaky penalty call led to Iran getting a penalty kick, which they converted. It was nervy times for Portugal as another Iran goal would see them crashing out of the group stage. Hearts were in the throats of all those in the stadium when Iran had a one on one chance with Rui Patricio closing down. The shot flew past Patricio but it went on the wrong side of the post and Portugal survived.

But if there was a saying that fits this team's will, it’s “survive and advance”. We saw how Portugal plays during the knockout rounds of Euro 2016. They are willing to make the game ugly and rely on random contributions from the “other guys” if Ronaldo doesn’t show up. Against a strong Uruguay backline, Ronaldo will be the center of attention and guys like Gonçalo Guedes will have to make smart runs into the open spaces vacated by Uruguay defenders. Portugal has shown at times that they can step up when Ronaldo can’t.

This will come down to whose talisman are more lethal and can finish more chances. Uruguay has two world-class strikers in Cavani and Suarez but Portugal has a Ronaldo. It will be an all out war and it won’t be pretty, but aesthetic is what neither team is good at nor are they trying to achieve an eye appealing playing style, especially Uruguay. They play very similar to Atletico Madrid on a club level and have become a mainstay in world football by doing so.

Prediction: What Uruguay is better than Portugal at is making this game murky and hard to watch. Uruguay wins in an absolute slugfest of a game. Suarez likely bags the winner.

1-0 Uruguay

The Counter Press World Cup preview
2018 FIFA World Cup preview: Group D
Source: AFP

Source: AFP

Group D features either the best or second best player in the game, with Lionel Messi looking to capture glory with Argentina. Messi and his teammates should be favored to finish atop of the group, but they will face a challenge from Croatia, who boast a strong midfield, headlined by Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. Let’s take a look at what each team will have to do move forward in the tournament.

Group A preview
Group B preview

Group C preview
Group E preview
Group F preview
Group G preview
Group H preview

Argentina

The Albiceleste will not be playing again until their first game of the tournament against Iceland, as there friendly against Israel was canceled. All eyes will be on Messi, as they should be. We have had the privilege to watch Messi for over a decade now, and success with Argentina has been met with losses in multiple championship matches, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The group will have similar aspirations to 2014, which was to be champions. Argentina has great talent in attack, but struggled to score in its qualifiers and also was on the verge of not qualifying.

This will likely be the last tournament we see Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Gonzalo Higuain at the peak of their powers in the attack of Argentina. Javier Mascherano will also likely be playing in his final tournament. For Argentina to win, Manager Sampaoli will have to maintain a disciplined squad in defense, where Argentina has not produced the same level of talent as its attacking players, and Aguero and Di Maria will need to take of advantage of the attention Messi is able to draw. Aguero suffered an injury that kept him out of much of the late season of Manchester City. Luckily for him, their first game should be a good chance to bring him to speed.

Croatia

Source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

After failing to advance from the group stage in 2014, Croatia will seek to take advantage of its golden generation of midfielders and look to challenge a team in the knockout stage. The team is led by Luka Modric, who commands the midfield for Real Madrid and has been a crucial component of their three previous Champions League campaigns. Another Real Madrid player for the team, Mateo Kovacic, and Ivan Rakitic, playing for rival FC Barcelona, will be great to partner alongside Modric to maintain tempo and control of the game. The other key players to look at will be Mario Mandzukic, the former Bayern Munich forward and now Juventus player, will have to be a threat in the aerial game and Andrej Kramaric has had recent success scoring for the national team.

Croatia did not have its greatest performance in its recent match against Brazil, as Neymar scored in his comeback to the national team. However, they should be favored to finish second in the group, and could be a threat to Argentina with its ability to pressure a defense and Argentina’s inconsistent play.

Iceland

Iceland is making its first ever appearance in the FIFA World Cup. After having made the quarterfinals in the Euro 2016, the team has lost its previous three matches to Mexico and two other teams who have not made an appearance in the World Cup in at least 20 years. The loss to Norway was a game that demonstrated a lack of composure of a squad with veterans playing with their respective clubs but not much international experience.

While Iceland is ranked only three spots lower than Croatia in the FIFA rankings, this is just another example of the flaws in the rankings and the squad will be relying on counterattacks for most of its matches in the tournament. Iceland will face-off against Ghana in its last match before playing Argentina in its opener of the tournament. Not the opponent they were looking to start off their first ever World Cup campaign against, but welcome to the tournament Iceland.

Nigeria

Source: Nike

Source: Nike

Nigeria will play in its first match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup against Croatia, which will be an important determinant if it can finish as a runner-up in Group D. The squad is captained by John Obi Mikel, who was a long-time Chelsea midfielder and a decorated African player who played in of the top teams in the world. Victor Moses, who has been on loan for several teams in the Premier League, will have to excel along the wings to take pressure off the Nigeria defense. Alex Iwobi, recently turned 22, will have a hard task at hand but his experience at Arsenal over the past three seasons will serve him well against the defense of Argentina and Croatia.

The Nigeria team has not had much success when confronted with tougher competition than it faces in the CAF. However, the team does have experience on its side and has proven before that it is capable of reaching the knockout stage.

(Also, the jersey sales for the Nigeria have soared as it has been dubbed the jersey of the tournament)

Predictions

Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland

The Counter Press ep. 11

Josh Springs (@HighBiscuits) and Vijay Vemu (@VJVemu)brings their soccer podcast to the Barber's Chair Network: the Counter Press! This episode they are joined by special guest Avi Saini (@AvikarSaini) to talk about Inter Milan barely making the Champions League, Managerial changes around Europe, what we think about Zidane as a manager, and much more.

Champions League QF second leg preview

After a world wind of first legs in the Champions League quarter finals, all eight teams must quickly get back into the swing of things. Unlike previous rounds, the ties are beginning to be played back to back as the Champions League revs up towards the final in Kiev. Despite some lopsided score lines (3 teams are up 3 goals on aggregate), there are still storylines and themes to discuss. Let’s get started

FC Barcelona vs. Roma (First leg: 4-1 Barcelona)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Although they didn’t look like they were playing their A game, Barcelona still cruised to a 4-1 win over Roma in the first leg at the Nou Camp. It was an interesting strategy from the Italian club in the first leg to go out and press Barcelona, unlike most teams. But the Catalans had two slices of luck fall their way as the two opening goals in the tie were Roma own goals. They were bitter pills to swallow for the away side and things got even worse when Gerard Pique made it 3-0. The scoreline didn’t reflect how the game was being played on the field. Roma were able to generate somes chances throughout the game but only were able to capitalize on one of them, scoring a crucial away goal thanks to Edin Dzeko. Despite being the only player who was consistently in Barcelona’s half, the striker found a chance to pounce and did just that. Even with Barcelona up 3-1, an away from Roma at least made things a little interesting heading to the second leg in Rome. But Luis Suarez put all hope away as he knocked in a 4th for the Catalans before the referee blew the final whistle.

Heading back home for the return leg, Roma will surely have to go out in attacking mode. But they have to be wary of a Barcelona counter attack, especially if Ernesto Valverde plays the likes of Ousmane Dembele on the wing with the usual pairing of Messi and Suarez. Having Sergio Busquets back in the midfield should help normalize the Catalans, who often looking shaky in the midfield without the 29 year old. Valverde made some interesting choices in his starting XI in the first leg so who honestly knows who he is going to put in the midfield or up top on the wing.

Roma will obviously come out and attack to make Barcelona sweat. Also given how Valverde’s tactics ensure Barcelona don’t get exposed, they may be more willing to let the Romans have possession. Valverde’s Barcelona preaches defensive structure than anything else and it likely be on display in the second leg. But that doesn't mean they still can’t get up in attack. Given the form Leo Messi is in, all Barcelona need are a couple of chances on the counter and that’s it.

Prediction: 2 - 1 Barcelona

Liverpool vs. Manchester City (First leg: 3-0 Liverpool)

IMG_8588.JPG

This was one of the bigger shockers in the first legs. Liverpool thrashing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, scoring 3 goals in the first half and never looking back. It was clear Guardiola’s side did not look ready for this game at all. This was also another example of Guardiola’s downfall as he went away from the successful gameplan which has his side basically led his side to run the English Premier League. Putting a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the wing didn’t help Manchester City either as it opened up their midfield to be exposed. However, credit should be given to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, who took advantage of the opportunities given to them. The likes of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino had a field day with acres of space to work with. Manchester City opened themselves vulnerable to speedy wingers which is Liverpool’s strength.

We have seen mistakes like this from Guardiola before as he played 3 at the back against Luis Enrique’s Barcelona side a couple of years ago in the first leg and it costed him dear. Like in Merseyside, Guardiola’s tactics backfired and it led to the same result he suffered at the hands of his former club, 3-0.

Now returning back to the Etihad for the second leg, Manchester City have a mountain to climb. But as long as Guardiola realizes his mistakes and runs with City’s normal lineup. Expect the Citizens to control a lot of the possession and generate a ton of chances. Get a goal early and it’s game on. It’s no secret that Liverpool’s defense has been suspect this whole season and don’t expect things to change over night.

But with all the controlling Manchester City will do in this game, they do play into Liverpool’s game plan of counter attacking and pressing. Klopp’s side is fine without the ball and if Manchester City slip up one moment, they could be picking the ball out of their own net in the next.

This second leg will be so hard to predict given how powerful City have shown to be but also at the fact of Liverpool being up 3-0. I say Manchester City will make this an interesting tie but Liverpool strike back with an away goal and it proves to be vital for them.

Prediction: 2-1 Manchester City

Real Madrid vs. Juventus (First leg: 3-0 Real Madrid)

AP

AP

Usually you hate to say ties are finished after the first leg but this one might as well be all but over.

It was a horror show for Juventus during the first leg in Turin. Despite controlling a lot of the action, the reigning Italian champions were bamboozled by Real Madrid and were witnesses to the one man wrecking crew of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo had his way with Juventus the whole night and took advantage of two horrible defending mistakes by Juve centre backs for both of his goals. First, Barzagli failed to mark him in the box and Ronaldo pounced to poke home a cross for Real’s first away goal. Then a mistake by Chiellini spraked a crazy sequence with forced Gigi Buffon to make a sprawling save on Lucas Vazquez. Then the ball came to Dani Carvajal who crossed it into the middle of the penalty area. Ronaldo then went up and performed a bicycle kick to a tee. The ball landed in the corner of the Juventus net and it was the one which buried the spirits of the Old Lady. Marcelo added a third to add salt to the wound and then a red card by Paulo Dybala all be sealed Juventus’s fate.

Unless Juventus can go out and attack without fear, they won’t have a chance in this second leg. Problem is that it’s against their DNA to senselessly attack. But their backs are against the wall and they need 4 goals to advance. Time for Allegri to put Juve’s tactics on all out attack. But it will leave them more vulnerable at the back and with a hungry Ronaldo ready to pounce.

Prediction: 1-1

Bayern Munich vs. Sevilla (First leg: 2-1 Bayern Munich)

This was closest first leg out of all the ties and it was also the wackiest. Like Barcelona, Bayern Munich came out of the gate looking out of sorts and it costed them. Sevilla pounced on Bayern’s weariness with a goal and sprung the tie into life. But Bayern quickly responded as an own goal from Jesus Navas came about as a result of great build up play by the Bavarians. They then picked up a second goal in the second half thanks to Thiago. It left Bayern with two away goals but the early goal does Sevilla some hope.

As bad as Bayern have been away from home, they have been dominant in the Allianz Arena. That place is a fortress and very few teams come away from there the victors in a two way tie. The good news for Sevilla is the past three teams which have been successful at Allianz Arena have been Spanish teams. Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid all had good performances to defeat Bayern in their own labyrinth and advance. Problem is that Sevilla isn’t like those other teams.

They also won’t have the luxury of walking into a two legged tie with the scoreline 0-0 like they had against Manchester United. But Sevilla have shown some resilience and won’t quit, it just likely won’t be enough. Bayern aren’t about to sit back and let Sevilla back into this tie, they will go for the jugular immediately and then open the flood gates. Or we could be in store for another La Liga team knocking out Bayern.

Prediction: 3-0 Bayern Munich

Takeaways from the first leg of Champions League quarterfinals

After a couple of weeks hiatus, the first leg of the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League finally got underway. We had four grand matchups on the cards. Two which featured two Spanish teams taking on Italian sides along with a matchup of two English squads while Bayern faced off against underdogs Sevilla. All four first legs provided us with some top entertainment while also leaving some questions to be answered for the second leg next week. Here are some takeaways from the first leg.

Real keep rolling

AFP Photo

AFP Photo

Like I’ve continued to say after each Real Madrid victory in the Champions League so far, they continue to play in Super Saiyan form in the Champions League. Forget what they are doing in La Liga but Real Madrid are flying in Europe. It was a dominant performance by Los Blancos as they thrashed Juventus and gave Gigi Buffon even more nightmares. Although Juventus controlled much of the possession and at most times much of the game, it was Real Madrid who generated the most chances and struck. They got off to a quick start as Juventus failed to mark Ronaldo in the box and we all know what happens if he gets a free chance. Just like that Juventus conceded an away goal. Things only got worse for Juventus as the game went on. Despite seeming to control the tempo of the game, they failed to generate more than one A+ chance. It was off a free kick and it was brilliantly saved by Keylor Navas.

Then the game stopped still as Ronaldo scored arguably one of his most brilliant goals of his career. It was a beautiful bicycle kick and it came off one of the wackiest sequences. A mistake between Giorgio Chiellini and Buffon led to Ronaldo almost scored on an open net but had his angle cut off by Buffon. Then Lucas Vazquez had his shot saved by Buffon before it fell to Dani Carvajal, who then lobbed up a cross to Ronaldo and the rest was history. Marcelo then added a third and added to the misery for Juventus.

Despite it being only the first leg, you have the feeling that this tie is already over. With 3 away goals and already in superstar form, Real Madrid are running away with this tie.

Barcelona and Bayern endure shaky starts to get results

While Real Madrid ran away, Barcelona and Bayern stumbled out of the gate at the beginning of their first legs. Both Bayern and Barcelona had slow starts to begin and looked off from the get go. Things got worse for the Bavarians as Sevilla scored a goal to get things going. At least for the Catalans, they got an own goal to start things off. Despite both of them winning in the first leg, it wasn’t the most convincing performances. Both teams relied on own goals and mistakes from the defenses. They were really shaky performances.

These first legs are tough pills to swallow for both Roma and Sevilla. Both teams played hard, especially the Italians who had two valid penalty shouts not called. The two losing sides had a combined 3 own goals and against the giants like Bayern and Barca, you can’t afford mistakes like that.

Man City’s meltdown

AP

AP

The biggest shock of the first leg results was at Anfield where Liverpool ran riot on Manchester City. At the end of the day, it was a 3-0 destruction of Pep Guardiola’s team and made Man City look average. Goals from Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mane in the first 30 minutes bamboozled the Citizens and had Anfield rocking.

Guardiola made some questionable decisions with this lineup, playing a midfielder like Kevin De Bruyne on the right wing. It left City’s midfield open and add that to the centre back pairing of Kompany and LaPorte, Liverpool attackers had a field day. They looked out of sorts and this rock solid team was smashed to pieces. Guardiola ended up switching KDB back into the midfield but it was too little too late. It also hurts Manchester City that they failed to score an away goal. Now they have to score 4 goals in the Etihad, which sets up for a crazy attacking second leg. There will be plenty of action next week.

This seemed like a perfect pairing for Liverpool. They love to counterattack and against a team which controls possession, this seemed like a matchup where Liverpool could expose City. But nobody expected them to do something like this.

Champions League Round of 16 takeaways

After a month in between legs, the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League is over. 8 teams (Manchester City, Roma, FC Barcelona, Juventus, Sevilla, Real Madrid, Liverpool) all advanced to the quarterfinals. The quarter final draw will be announced soon but let’s take some time to reflect on some of the more interesting ties which took place in the Round of 16.

Allegri gets it right in the second leg

IMG_8116.JPG

After mismanaging the first leg in Turin which saw his team give up a 2-0 goal lead, Max Allegri made the right moves in the second leg in what was a impressive victory for the away side. In the first leg, Allegri was too conservative and didn’t make the right moves or tactics necessary in order to let Juve see out a two goal advantage. The 2-2 draw gave Spurs a whole new lifeline in the tie and had them the favorites to advance. Allegri did start off the second leg on shaky terms by going with three centre backs at the back and a formation which isolated Barzagli against Heung Min Son on the right hand side. The move clearly backfired as the winger ran circles around the 36 year old Barzagli, giving Juve trouble anytime he touched the ball. It reached a massive problem when Son scored the opening goal in the second leg and it looked Juve where headed for an exit.

Then with around 30 minutes left in the tie, Allegri made two key subs. He took off Mehdi Benatia and Blaise Matuidi in exchange for two wing backs in Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah. Bringing on a defensive right and left back switched Juve from a back three to a back four, with Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini in the middle. This change worked well for Juve as the two fullbacks not only brought defensive stability and allowed the Italian duo in the centre to do what they do best in the middle but they also pressured Spurs on the wings. It was the first time all game Spurs full backs had to deal with opposing pressure and they crumbled. Especially Ben Davies. Lichtsteiner was easily able to get past him and deliver a cross which would eventually end up in the back of the Spurs net thanks to Gonzalo Higuain. The changing of formation plus pressure from Lichtsteiner seemed to rattle Davies and it showed in the second goal. It was Davies who played Paulo Dybala onside as the Juve attack beat Hugo Lloris for an all important goal from the Juve side.

There was more to this than just the brilliant play of Juventus in the 10 minute stretch which sealed off the game but part of the credit should go to Allegri. He saw the mistakes he made in defense in the first half and wasn’t afraid to switch things up. The change of tactics confused Spurs, opening up a chance for Juventus to take advantage and the Italian side pounced. European football is cruel sometimes.

Mourinho mismanages Manchester United

Michael Regan

Michael Regan

While Allegri got his tactics right for Juventus, Jose Mourinho botched it again for Manchester United. At home against Sevilla with the scoreline being 0-0 after the first leg, many still felt like Manchester United would still pull out a win. But it turned out to be the complete opposite as two goals in quick succession from the Spanish side saw the Red Devils crash out of Europe in a rare defeat at home. Defeat at home in the Champions League isn’t something Manchester United fans are used to and it was a punch in the mouth when Wassim Ben Yedder curled a shot in the far right corner to give Sevilla 1-0 lead. Matters got even worse when Ben Yedder’s header off a corner bounced over the line and suddenly it was two away goals for Sevilla. Not even Romelu Lukaku’s late goal could spark Man U back to life and that was all she wrote.

It was a very defensive formation which Mourinho brought out, playing both Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini in the midfield. Two players who won’t give much to Manchester United moving forward. He also played Marcus Rashford out of position and also played Alexis Sanchez, an attacker who is massively out of form at the moment. The game plan should have been for Manchester United to go out and attack Sevilla. Get an early goal, take the life out of the opponent and then sit back to absorb pressure Mourinho style. Instead they let Sevilla’s two holding midfielders in Steven N’Zonzi and Ever Banega boss the midfield. Banega, who led the UCL in passes completed before the game, had a master class of a match alongside his French counterpart. They dictated play in the midfield and made life difficult for Manchester United’s backline from the start. The resistance was broken when Ben Yedder came on. Manchester United gave Sevilla one really good chance and the Spanish side took it graciously. But it shouldn’t have been like that to begin with. Given they were the home and better side, Manchester United should have been the ones attacking Sevilla but instead found themselves shelled in defensively. So when Sevilla struck twice, Manchester United had to quickly bring on two attacking subs but the damage had already been done.

Like with their English counterparts, Tottenham Hotspur, part of the blame goes to the Manchester United players but honestly they were put in a position to fail. Some of the guys were playing out of position and guys with similar playing styles were slotted right next to each other. There was no balance in the Manchester United team. They were way too conservative for it and paid the price for it.

Messi carries FC Barcelona

Twitter

Twitter

What will FC Barcelona do without Leo Messi? It’s a question worth asking in the future but for now, we should keep enjoying the greatness of one of the best ever. Messi was in a mood to get this tie with Chelsea over with from the get go. He scored 3 minutes into the match, following up some nice one-two play with his teammates before a deflection saw the ball go to Luis Suarez. The striker played it to Messi, who drilled it through the legs of Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois and instantly you could feel the tie fully shifted to Barcelona. Especially in a place like the Camp Nou, where only a few teams have came and won.

He also set up Ousmane Dembele for his first goal in a Barcelona shirt and it was the goal which ultimately sealed Chelsea’s fate. Once again, Messi evaded a defender and blazed past him. Getting inside the Blues penalty area with ease, he crossed the ball over to the French winger who then splendidly smashed the ball into the top left corner. It was a world class goal and one which Dembele needed. You could see it on his face and through Messi’s reaction just how much it meant to the team.

Then in the second leg with the game out of reach, Messi put salt on the wounds of Chelsea with another goal, again beating Courtois through his legs. It was his 100th goal in Champions League and was a performance which showed just how dominant he can be. Messi showed this side earlier in the Champions League against Juventus in the group stage in what was a 3-0 win for Barcelona at home.

Coming into this match, there was a little worry that Chelsea could get a result at the Camp Nou. With the way Barcelona played in the first leg, it was certainly possible. But Leo Messi had other ideas and made sure Barca would go through. Even if they weren’t at their best as a team through both legs.

Real Madrid are still a force to be reckoned with

Real Madrid

Real Madrid

Despite their struggles in La Liga, Real Madrid are still on another level when it comes to the Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo and company got through their big tie with Paris Saint-Germain and did so with relative ease. Knowing Paris were going to attack them, Real Madrid had to make sure the wings were secure and no chances were created from there. Both Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio made sure the likes of Angel Di Maria were limited offensively. They were tracking back and sat back when needed to provide support to Madrid’s fullbacks. Asensio and Vazquez were active all over the pitch especially the former who ignited the opening goal by Ronaldo which put the tie to bed. He stole the ball in the Paris half then drove into the penalty box. Seconds later Ronaldo climbed up near the back post and headed the away Madrid desperately needed. From there it was nothing Paris could do but wonder how this project went all wrong once again.

By putting away PSG with ease, Real Madrid once again continue to stake their claim as one of the most dangerous teams in this competition. The holders are still in it and seem to hit another gear when the Champions League team comes on. With a La Liga title completely out of the picture, Zidane and his squad can fully focus on the Champions League. A completely refreshed Madrid squad will be expected on most midweek games now. Who knows who they will draw in the Champions League quarter finals but they still will be favorites.

Early contenders to win the World Cup

100 Days. The wait for the next FIFA World Cup is ending. While the United States failed to make the tournament for the first time since the Reagan administration, the sports’ popularity in the country continues to grow. Although the tournament offers one game elimination matches in the knockout phase, we know which teams are considered the favorites for the tournament. Let’s take a look at how each contender fares. (Alphabetical Order)

  Fernando Vergara/AP

 Fernando Vergara/AP

Argentina

They were viewed as one of the two favorites heading into the tournament in 2014, according to Skybet, and are listed at fifth by the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook for the 2018 tournament at 8-1 odds. Headed by Lionel Messi, still at the peak of his powers, and surrounded by Sergio Aguero, who is rejuvenated under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the rising Mauro Icardi, veterans Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano, the country should have belief in their squad. However, they have only won two games in their qualifying matches since 2017, and recently suffered a loss to Nigeria. Coach Jorge Sampaoli will be on the hot seat, and Messi’s National Team legacy will also be on the line as he looks to capture his first major trophy with Argentina.

  Pedro Vilela/Getty

 Pedro Vilela/Getty

Brazil

The Selecao are listed at second in the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook to win it all and deservedly so. They are looking to add to their already record-leading 5 World Cup titles. Led by Neymar, the team looks to rebound from a disastrous exit from the 2014 tournament as they were trashed 7-1 by the eventual champions, Germany. The midfield of Brazil has changed dramatically since the last tournament with the addition of La Liga stars Casemiro and Coutinho to the starting line-up and the maturation of players like Paulinho and Willian. Having easily qualified to the tournament, Brazil will wish for the health of their star players as the club seasons begin their last months of action.

France

Manager Didier Deschamps seeks to bring the World Cup trophy to France for the first time since 1998 when he captained the French National Team to victory. Les Bleus will boast one of the youngest rosters coming into the tournament as they are led by a combination of stars including Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Corentin Tolisso, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, and Raphael Varane. Griezmann, the oldest of that group, is one of the best players in all of Europe, and if the team seeks to go far in the tournament, they will have to rely on his production heading the attack, along with Pogba leading the midfield, and Varane commanding the defense. This roster will be competitive in this 2018’s tournament and the 2022 tournament led by this young core.

AFP

AFP

Germany

Still the favorites and looking to become the first country to repeat since the 1930’s Italy teams. Germany is arguably the most successful country in World Cup history with eight finals reached, and they appear to be the team to beat in 2018 as well. The 2014 World Cup Champions are the deepest team in the tournament, and have not suffered a defeat since the 2016 Euro semi-final to France. The won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup with a roster largely consisting of youth players. The 2018 Germany team will maintain many of its players from its previous World Cup campaign with Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, and Mat Hummels likely maintaining prominent positions in this year’s team. Muller will seek to continue his way up the ladder to becoming the tournament’s all-time top goal scorer, as he has scored 10 goals in only 13 appearances. The German squad  will likely include several young stand-out players such as, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner. The previous World Cup roster had to casualties due to injury in Ilkay Gundogan, who is beginning to play some of his best football since the nagging injuries he suffered over the previous years, and Marco Reus, who is a dangerous player on the wing. Germany will face several challenges in the tournament, but this team is best equipped to handle the rigors of the tournament as the deepest team of 2018.

Spain

Following the retirement of Vicente Del Bosque, the tiki-taka style Spain played the past 10 years has officially ended. The team still maintains several players from that era including Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in the midfield. Spain’s starting XI and the majority of the roster who will travel to Russia will be of Barcelona and Real Madrid. The 2010 Champions failed to qualify to the knockout phase of the 2014 tournament in disappointing fashion. They will seek to bounce back relying on the creativity of Isco and the veteran leadership of Sergio Ramos and David Silva. The tournament will be interesting for Spain as the country’s politics has divided several players on the roster who seek independence for Catalonia. Regardless, this is a roster consisting of players who are tremendous with the ball, and will likely be the farewell tournament for the remaining players from the 2010 Championship roster.

Champions League round of 16 preview

Last week’s Champions League fixtures proved to be what was expected. The big matchups lived up to their billing and the two English squads who were expected to smash their opposition on the road dominated. Now we move on to the next set of 8 teams who are set to do battle in the Champions League. Again we have two English squads in this week but this time they play two La Liga teams who have had great success in Europe in recent seasons. We also see Bayern Munich welcome the winners of Group G, and a very underrated tie taking place in Ukraine. Let’s dive into the matchups.

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FC Barcelona vs. Chelsea

This will be the most star powered matchup of the week and it will be between two clubs who have a rich recent history in European competitions. It’s Chelsea vs. FC Barcelona. The last two times these two met in the knockout rounds, the winner has gone on to win the Champions League. We have seen moments like Andres Iniesta’s last second goal at the Bridge in 2009 and Fernando Torres circling around Victor Valdes to give Chelsea a shock win at the Nou Camp in 2012. Anytime these two teams meet, there is drama involved.

However, unlike most times, both teams are walking in on two different planets in terms of form. Chelsea are trying to find their form as Antonio Conte searches for answers and Barcelona are rolling. One problem for Valverde’s men is he played his main squad in a 2-0 victory over Eibar. Although he did sub off Iniesta, there are still questions about resting certain players before a big match away from the Nou Camp.

In terms of offense for both teams, the spotlight will be on Chelsea’s offense, which has struggled to produce goals against quality competition. Other than Eden Hazard and maybe Marcos Alonso, the Chelsea attack has really struggled. Alvaro Morata has been off form and with Michy Batshuayi off to Borussia Dortmund, there aren’t a lot of options coming off the bench. We already know Barcelona’s offense is going to create chances and control possession so these attacks from Chelsea will have to come from the counterattack. They will certainly need more than just Hazard to break a Barcelona defense which has been great and a goalie in Marc Andre Ter Stegen who is having a career season so far.

Prediction: This is a tough game for Chelsea and given the problems they have had with Conte on the offense, there could not be a worse game to walk into. Also, will this be the first time Messi scores against Chelsea? So many questions to be answered. In all honesty, Chelsea will likely bunker down and give Barcelona majority of the chances. It will be a standstill until Barcelona break through and then a second late goal seals off the tie. 2-0 Barcelona

FC Bayern vs. Besiktas

It’s been another typical year for Bayern Munich. First in the Bundesliga and in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Again they have another favorable draw on paper as they welcome Turkish club Besiktas to the Allianz Arena.

However they have to be wary of Besiktas, who are coming in on a seven game unbeaten streak. They last played on Friday and drew Konyaspor 1-1 in Super Lig play, where they are 4th. Besiktas still have a lot of tournaments to play for as they are only 5 points off the top spot in their domestic tournament and are in the semi-final of the Turkish Cup. That’s three tournaments they have to take account for. There is a chance they can steal an away goal in Bayern but like Chelsea, they will be playing a lot of defense and have to take advantage of counters/set pieces. Besiktas attack took a hit after selling Cenk Tosun to Everton but they can still catch Bayern off guard.

As for the Bavarian giants, they are still rolling. They haven’t lost in the Bundesliga this calendar year and are nearly 20 points ahead of second place Borussia Dortmund. Behind the likes of James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski, Bayern’s attack is thriving and will give the Besiktas defense a lot to handle. You get the feeling the more and more Bayern put pressure, eventually a goal will leak in and the dam will break.

Prediction: Besiktas have a chance to pull off a major upset and are riding in on a hot streak. But they are running into a machine in Bayern Munich. But to the Turkish club’s credit, they might manage a decent result for themselves. 3-1 Bayern Munich

Manchester United vs. Sevilla

It’s another English vs. Spanish matchup as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United face off against Sevilla. Ironically it’s a matchup in the Champions League between two clubs who have won the last four Europa League titles.

For the Spanish side, this will be their second year in a row playing an English side. It didn’t go well the last time as they were knocked out by Leicester City as the Foxes got a goal in the return leg to seal the victory. This time, they are facing a much tougher opponent in Manchester United. Sevilla have shown resilience in the Champions League this year. They came back from a 3-0 deficit against Liverpool in the group stage and it was a big boost for them, especially against a formidable side. Sevilla has experienced success in Europe before. It wasn’t long ago where they won the Europa League three times in a row.

Man U is coming off a victory in the FA Cup over Huddersfield thanks to a Romelu Lukaku brace. It sort of took away the stinger they took from Newcastle United in league play when they lost 1-0 in St. James Park. The big question will be if Paul Pogba will play. If he can’t go against Sevilla, it would leave a huge hole in midfield for Man U. Pogba does so much for them as a box to box midfielder and his absence will show for the Red Devils.

Prediction: This is a tough game to predict but Manchester United are the better squad so you have to give them the edge. 2-1 Manchester United

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

This is the one matchup I’m looking forward to other than Barcelona-Chelsea. Yes, I’m talking about Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk. It’s a matchup of two teams who both could easily advance. It’s one of the most fair draws in the tournament.

Roma are coming into this matchup on a three-game winning streak with a 2-0 win over Udinese in their latest matchup. Thanks to goals from Under and Perroti, they were able to gain a valuable three points as they chase a top four finish in Italy. With Edin Dzeko up top, he is Roma’s target man and their main source of scoring. There’s always a chance Radja Nainggolan blasts a rocket from way outside the box too. His right foot is dynamite.

Like their counterparts, Shakhtar are coming in on a victory again. It was a 5-0 victory for the leaders in the Ukrainian league. However, they are facing some pressure in league play with Dynamo Kyiv only 3 points behind them in second place. One big thing to look for will be the attack of Shakhtar. They boast the likes of Marlos, Bernard, Taison, and Ferreyra who are all dangerous in attack. All four play up top and will give Roma’s defense problems. Especially Bernard, whose small stature might may lead some to think he isn’t a tough player but he is. With the likes of Marlos on the other wing and Ferreyra up top, Bernard could have the chance to dice up the Roma defense.

Prediction: Both teams are hard to figure out as they both rely on skill players to initiate attack. This will be a tie where the pace will be back and forth and both defenses will be tested. I’m honestly so excited for this tie. I’m leaning Shakhtar but Roma has a chance to make this interesting. This is going to be fun. 2-2 draw