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Preview: Much at stake for Barca, Xavi in Napoli trip

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MADRID, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) — FC Barcelona travel for one of the most important games of their season when they face Napoli in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 on Wednesday night.

The game is vital for the club’s economy, as well as for the credibility of coach Xavi Hernandez, who has already said he will be stepping down at the end of the season, but who could find himself leaving earlier (despite assurances to the contrary) in the case of a defeat.

Barcelona’s budget for the 2023-2024 was partly based on their reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League, with the extra 10 million the club would receive from UEFA for reaching the last eight, making a difference to an institution with debts of over 1,000 million euros.

With so much at stake, if Barca lose the first leg in Naples, it would be no big shock to see Barca president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco decide to pull the trigger prematurely on a coach, who at times seems to be watching a different game to the rest of the world.

Xavi’s comments after Barca needed a twice-taken 97th minute penalty to beat fourth from bottom Celta Vigo, that according to Big Date his side should be top of La Liga, caused a few raised eyebrows – especially among people who have watched their games this season.

The fact is Barca are third in the table, eight points behind Real Madrid and still have several difficult games to play, including a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, and most of their football has not been that of a team that should be topping the table.

The good news for Barca and Xavi is that Napoli are in an even worse state, with the team currently sitting ninth in Serie A taking drastic action on Monday to sack Walter Mazzarri as coach and replace him with Francesco Calzona, who has just 48 hours to prepare for the tie.

Barca had some positive injury news on Monday with Joao Felix and Sergi Roberto passed fit, and both will be on the subs’ bench on Wednesday.

Xavi is expected to bring Inigo Martinez into central defense alongside Ronald Araujo, with Andreas Christensen moving into central midfield, alongside Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gundogan, with Robert Lewandowski and 16-year-old Yamine Lamal leading the attack and Raphinha dropping to the subs’ bench.

The extra man in midfield implies caution from Xavi, who knows how important it is to avoid a first leg defeat – both for the club’s future and his own.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Xavi’s magic substitutions lead Barcelona to victory in thrilling encounter with PSG

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PARIS, April 10 (Xinhua) — Barcelona’s manager, Xavi Hernandez, showcased his tactical genius by making two substitutions that led directly to goals, propelling his team to a thrilling 3-2 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday.

The game was an emotional rollercoaster, with Barcelona initially taking the lead, only to fall behind, and then executing a stunning comeback.

Brazilian forward Raphinha scored twice, including the opener in the first half, taking advantage of a mistake by PSG’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to net his first Champions League goal at the 37-minute mark.

PSG quickly turned the tables after halftime, with Ousmane Dembele and Vitinha scoring to give the Parisians a 2-1 advantage.

It was at this juncture that Xavi made a tactical masterstroke. In the 61st minute, he brought on Rodri and Joao Felix for Lamine Yamal and Sergi Roberto, a change that quickly paid off.

Pedri, just two minutes after coming on, lofted a perfect pass to Raphinha, who calmly finished past Donnarumma, drawing the teams level.

In the 76th minute, Xavi’s strategic acumen was on display again when he substituted Andreas Christensen and Ferran Torres for Frenkie de Jong and the key player Raphinha. Christensen scored with a header from a corner just a minute later, sealing a dramatic comeback for Barcelona.

“Pedri came on and helped us a lot. I’m very proud of the team. Christensen also came on and helped,” Xavi said. “Tactically we did really well.”

Since Xavi announced his departure from the team at the end of the season following a January defeat to Villarreal, Barcelona has been unbeaten in 12 matches across all competitions, a stark contrast to PSG’s previous unbeaten streak of 27 matches, which ended with this loss.

“We made things a bit difficult for ourselves. We managed to turn things around in the second half and could have had a third (goal),” PSG coach Luis Enrique said. “Everything’s still open for us and we will go there with ambition.”

The return leg is set for April 16th at Barcelona’s home ground.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Liverpool miss chances to return to Premier League lead

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LONDON, April 7 (Xinhua) — Liverpool failed to return to the top of the Premier League on Sunday after they were held to a 2-2 draw after a thrilling game away to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

The result leaves Liverpool level on points with Arsenal at the top of the table, but Arsenal, who won 3-0 away to Brighton on Saturday, remain leaders on goal difference.

Liverpool took a 23rd minute lead when Darwin Nunez flicked on for Luis Diaz to fire home from a corner that was badly defended by Manchester United and Liverpool went on to create and miss enough chances to have the game sewn up by halftime.

They paid for their profligacy after 50 minutes, when Bruno Fernandes scored from inside of the center circle after a horrible pass from Jarell Quansah gave the ball away with Caoimhin Kelleher stranded outside his penalty area.

It was 2-1 to United in the 67th minute when Kobbie Mainoo turned in the corner of the Liverpool penalty area and curled a shot home at the far corner on the net.

Mohamed Salah saved a point for Liverpool after 63 minutes from the penalty spot and both sides had chances in the closing minutes.

Liverpool and Arsenal are a point ahead of Manchester City after Pep Guardiola’s side won 4-2 away to Crystal Palace on Saturday.

Tottenham move into fourth place after beating Nottingham Forest 3-1 at home on Sunday evening after second half goals from Mickey van de Ven and Pedro Porro assured them victory. The first half of the game saw Nottingham forward Chris Wood’s 27th minute header cancel out Murillo’s own goal.

Chelsea conceded a 93rd minute goal away to Sheffield United as Ollie McBurnie saved a point for the home side that won’t be enough to keep them in the top-flight, but which once again exposed Chelsea’s flaws.

Chelsea led twice through Thiago Silva and Noni Madueke, but were pinned back, first through Jaydon Bogle and McBurnie’s late finish from four yards after beating the Chelsea offside trap.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Development of four synthetic tracks underway

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Minister of Sports, Fitness and Recreation Abdulla Rafiu has revealed that development of four synthetic tracks in Maldives is underway. He made these remarks while officiating the ceremony to celebrate the victory of Marathon Runners Maldives athletes, following their participation in the Runtalya Marathon.

Marathon Runners Maldives athletes had reportedly secured second position in the contest. Additionally, Yusuf Ibrahim broke the national record for the full marathon with an outstanding long run performance.

Speaking at the ceremony, Minister reiterated the need to enhance the resources to compete globally. He further emphasised the ongoing efforts for track maintenance and the simultaneous development of four synthetic tracks as part of the India’s Line of Credit.

Athlete Nasrullah Ahmed had also participated in the Runtalya Marathon, marking his 95th race. Co-currently, he aims to achieve a milestone by completing his 100th marathon.

Source(s): PsmNews

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