Messi double edges six-goal thriller Barca’s way

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, center, scores under pressure of Valencia's Aymen Abdennour, center back, during the Spanish La Liga soccer match at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 20 March 2017
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Messi double edges six-goal thriller Barca’s way

MADRID: Barcelona closed to within two points of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga as Lionel Messi scored twice in a thrilling 4-2 win over 10-man Valencia at Camp Nou on Sunday.
Earlier, Antoine Griezmann scored a stunning free-kick as Atletico Madrid compounded a week to forget for Sevilla with a 3-1 at the Vicente Calderon.
Barca needed to come from behind to keep the pressure on Madrid as Eliaquim Mangala headed Valencia in front.
But the on-loan Manchester City defender was sent-off for pulling down Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan had levelled and Messi smashed home the resulting penalty.
Munir El Haddadi briefly levelled for the 10 men before half time, but Messi and finally Andre Gomes with his first Barca goal sealed the three points.
Madrid still also have a game in hand over their title rivals.
Outgoing Barca coach Luis Enrique named the same side that beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 10 days ago to progress to the Champions League quarterfinals in stunning fashion.
And whilst not matching that drama, there was no shortage of action as Valencia showed up the defensive flaws in Enrique’s new 3-4-3 system.
Messi had already had an effort cleared off the line, whilst Mats-Andre ter Stegen made a stunning save from Carlos Soler at the other end before an action packed final 15 minutes of the first-half saw four goals and a red card.
Barca’s weakness from set-pieces was exposed again a week on from conceding twice from corners in a 2-1 defeat at Deportivo la Coruna when Mangala powered home Dani Parejo’s corner to open the scoring.
The lead lasted just six minutes as Suarez raced onto Neymar’s throw-in to slot into the far corner.
Mangala went from hero to villain as he then pulled down Suarez inside the area to concede a penalty and be sent-off.
Messi beat penalty specialist Diego Alves from the spot.
However, straight from kick-off Barca were caught cold as Jose Gaya teed up Munir El Haddadi to score against his parent club for the second time this season.
The champions still had 45 minutes to make their man advantage count, though, and they did so despite missing a host of chances after the break.
Messi drilled home at Alves’s near post seven minutes into the second period for his 41st goal of the season.
Suarez somehow slotted wide with the goal gaping after Alves had denied Messi his hat-trick, whilst Neymar hit the bar.
But Barca finally put the game to bed a minute from time when Neymar crossed for Gomes to tap home against his old side.
At the Calderon, Griezmann shone for Atletico once more as he teed up Diego Godin’s opener and then struck a stunning free-kick for his 22nd goal of the season.
Koke added Atletico’s third before Joaquin Correa registered a consolation for Sevilla.
Sevilla were dumped out of the Champions League by Atletico’s quarterfinal opponents Leicester City on Wednesday and have seen their lead over Atletico in third place in La Liga now whittled down to two points.
A third straight league win moves Diego Simeone’s men seven points clear of Real Sociedad and Villarreal in the battle for fourth.
“Sevilla have had a magnificent season and have been lauded by the press. That highlights even more how well Atletico played,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.
And the Atletico fans also celebrated the return of Fernando Torres for the first time since he was knocked unconscious in a sickening head clash at Deportivo la Coruna on March 2.
Defeat realistically ends Sevilla’s already fading shot at the title as they fall eight points behind Real Madrid.
And coach Jorge Sampaoli claimed he has to rediscover the “real Sevilla” during the international break after four games without a win.
“Logically the league is now a long way off. Now we have to look at the possibility of automatically qualifying for the Champions League,” said the Argentine.
“It is normal when you don’t achieve what you want, which is to win, there is frustration and bitterness.
“We have come from a very hard blow to take and now we have to find solutions and the real Sevilla.”


Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

Updated 22 May 2018
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Sun could set on Hyderabad while Knight Riders are the ones to watch as the IPL enters the final sprint for glory

  • IPL down to four teams as cash-rich circus nears its climax.
  • Knight Riders coming into form at just the right time.

In our preview, we had tipped Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings for the playoffs, while mentioning that Rajasthan Royals would be the dark horses. But after a topsy-turvy season that saw Mumbai Indians, the holders knocked out, and the seventh-placed side finish within a win of the playoffs, it is time to run the rule again over the four teams that have made it to the final week.



SUNRISERS HYDERABAD

Recent form: WWLLL

Given a choice, you would not go into the business end of a tournament on the back of three straight defeats. Hyderabad lost some intensity after sealing their playoff spot, even as Kane Williamson, captain extraordinaire, continued to bat like a dream. Their bowlers, so miserly earlier in the tournament, have taken some punishment in the past fortnight, and their hopes of repeating the triumph of 2016 will depend largely on some key players finding form. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has had a disappointing season, and there has been scant batting support for Williamson and Shikhar Dhawan. Rashid Khan and Siddharth Kaul, whose performances have earned an India call-up, have led the bowling, and while Shakib Al-Hasan has been disciplined, he needs to do far more with bat in hand.


CHENNAI SUPER KINGS

Recent form: WLWLW

They could play only one game at their Chepauk fortress before opportunistic Cauvery-water-related protests forced them to shift their home base to Pune. Only one of their bowlers, Shardul Thakur, features in the top 20 wicket-takers list, and he has conceded nearly nine an over. But despite the hardships, Chennai have again made the playoffs, for the ninth time in nine seasons (they were banned for the 2016 and 2017 editions). MS Dhoni’s renaissance with the bat has garnered the headlines, but around him, Ambati Rayudu has made 586 runs and Shane Watson 438. Even a largely out-of-sorts Suresh Raina has managed 391. Dwayne Bravo’s death-overs bowling has gone from strength to concern, but the raw pace of Lungi Ngidi — nine wickets at an outstanding economy rate of 6.11 — has given Chennai a thrilling option that Dhoni will doubtless use wisely. It’s hard to see past them in a high-pressure game.



KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS

Recent form: LLWWW

The city that was ruled by the Left Front for nearly four decades has got through because of the strength of the collective. That is not to say individual brilliance has been absent. Sunil Narine, despite the murmurs over his action, leads the Most Valuable Player race with 327 runs (strike-rate of 189) and 16 wickets. Andre Russell has shown his prowess with both bat and ball, while Dinesh Karthik, who took over as captain this season, has shown Zen-master calm to guide the team home in chases. Six of the batsmen have scored more than 250 runs, and young Prasidh Krishna — discovered through the Karnataka Premier League — has given them a potent pace option. If they can coax a couple of big performances from Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla, the wrist spinners who have had underwhelming seasons, they are a good long shot to land a third title.



RAJASTHAN ROYALS

Recent form: WWWLW

The power-packed batting of Jos Buttler helped transform their season, but it also led to an unexpected Test call-up that has deprived the Royals of one of their trump cards. Ben Stokes, who had a poor season with the bat and an average one with the ball, has also gone, leaving the onus very much on the Indian contingent. Ajinkya Rahane’s batting has been mediocre, but he has led brilliantly, coaxing some terrific displays from fringe spinners like Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham. Jofra Archer’s pace and white-ball nous has allowed them to overcome the poor bowling form of Jaidev Unadkat and Dhawal Kulkarni. But Sanju Samson, who has gone off the boil after a great start, and Rahul Tripathi will need to bat out of their skins to replicate the Buttler heroics that turned around a miserable 3-6 start. Despite being the form side, the suspicion persists that they’re a marquee player or two short.