Migrants:Women and child found drowned along with survivor clinging to shattered migrant ship in the Mediterranean

Bodies of a drowned woman and a toddler have been found, along with a sole survivor; still clinging to a shattered migrant ship on Tuesday.

This happened after Libyan coastguards ‘left them to die’ in the Mediterranean on Monday.

Distressing photos of the two corpses, slumped on the remains of a table from the boat, have been published on social media by Proactiva Open Arms- a non-governmental organisation based in Barcelona.

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Libyan coastguards had sent out a message to the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination saying they had ‘rescued’ 158 Europe-bound migrants on Monday.

However, two women and a child having been left behind on board, was not said.

Former Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams checks into a mental health facility for depression

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Proactiva Open Arms claim the migrant ship was deliberately sunk after the three refused to board the patrol boats.

Rather,to be returned to the North African nation.

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According to Daily Mail, the founder of Proactiva,Oscar Camps, said:

‘When we arrived, we found one of the women still alive.’

Then continued:

‘We could not do anything to [save] the other woman and the child, who apparently died a few hours before we found them.’

Proactiva Open Arms, posted images and videos of the wreckage and the dead bodies on social media.

Accusing both; A merchant ship sailing in international waters and, Libya’s coast guard of failing to help the three migrants.

Daily Mail

New Signings Grujic, Mane On Target As Liverpool Thrash Barcelona 4-0

New signing, Sadio Mane scored his first goal for Liverpool as they beat Barcelona 4-0 in the International Champions Cup at Wembley. Star forwards Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi also played in the match.

Mane opened the scoring sheet at 15 minutes before Javier Mascherano’s own goal doubled their lead.

Divock Origi and Marko Grujic were also on target in the second half to all but wrap up a convincing win for the reds.

England striker Daniel Sturridge missed the game due to a hip injury, while James Milner who recently retired from international duty, limped off before half time.

Real Madrid, Atletico banned from transfer market

FIFA on Thursday banned Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid from buying players for one year over their dealing in under-age players.

The ban will start from the July transfer window this year and finish with the January transfer market in 2017.

Atletico were also fined 900,000 Swiss francs (820,000 euros) and Real 360,000 francs.

“The two clubs were found to have violated several provisions concerning the international transfer and first registration of minor players as well as other relevant provisions with regard to the registration and participation of certain players in competitions,” said a FIFA statement.

Barcelona have just ended a one-year ban for similar reasons.

Photo Credits : AFP

Atletico up to second with Betis win

Atletico Madrid moved up to second in La Liga as Koke’s early strike was enough to earn all three points in a 1-0 win away to Real Betis on Sunday.

Diego Simeone’s men close to within four points of leaders Barcelona, but now lead city rivals Real Madrid by two points after Barca thrashed Real 4-0 on Saturday.

The visitors were rewarded for a fast start as Antonio Adan could only parry Fernando Torres’s shot on seven minutes and Koke was on hand to sweep home the rebound.

Atletico should have gone on to win by a much greater margin as they controlled the game throughout.

Antoine Griezmann volleyed Torres’s lovely chipped past over midway through the first half.

Betis only threatened to strike back once when Jan Oblak produced a stunning save from Alvaro Cejudo’s long-range effort.

Griezmann missed an even better opening to kill the game when he blazed over with Koke begging for a cut-back to slot into an open goal after the break.

However, the Frenchman was very unfortunate moments later when he was clearly brought down inside the area by Heiko Westermann, but the referee waved play on.

And Griezmann’s night in front of goal was summed up when he struck the inside of the post three minutes from time.

Elsewhere, Villarreal edged into the top four on goal difference thanks to a Jaume Costa late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at home to 10-man Eibar.

Granada moved out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao, and Levante also edged closer to safety with just their second win of the season, 3-0 away at Sporting Gijon.

Photo Credits : AFP

Barca begin six-trophy chase without Neymar

Barcelona open their campaign with the chance to build on an impressive trophy haul from last season when they face Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup in Tbilisi on Tuesday.

However, they will have to do without one of their star triumvirate up front as Brazilian forward Neymar has been ruled out for two weeks after contracting the mumps.

The 23-year-old had only just returned to action after a disappointing Copa America, but he and Lionel Messi’s presence sparked Barca into life after a bad run of pre-season results as both scored in a 3-0 win over Roma in their final friendly outing last week.

Messi will be fit to start alongside Luis Suarez in attack having returned a week early from his summer break after guiding Argentina to the Copa America final.

Manchester United target Pedro Rodriguez is expected to take Neymar’s place.

Having equalled the club’s most successful ever campaign with the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League last season, the Catalans can now repeat the feat of Pep Guardiola’s side six years ago that won six trophies in a calendar year by adding both the European and Spanish Super Cups to the Club World Cup.

And former Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic insists Barca’s hunger for more trophies has not been eased by their success last season.

“There is nothing better than starting the season with a title,” said the Croatian.

“No one has more desire to win than us. We want to continue making history and win all six trophies, but we will go step-by-step.”

A ban on registering new players means that there will be no new faces in the Barca team despite the signings of Arda Turan from Atletico Madrid and another buy from Sevilla in the form of Aleix Vidal.

The latter wasn’t the only key player to depart the Sanchez Pizjuan over the close season with top scorer for the past two years Carlos Bacca moving to AC Milan.

Their absence has been compensated by the arrival of nine new players including Ukranian star Yevhen Konoplyanka, but Unai Emery’s men have also endured a torrid pre-season and are plagued with injuries.

“The truth is that having a final in the midst of pre-season is very nice,” said Emery after his side were held 1-1 by AEK Athens in their final warm-up game.

“It excites us and motivates us, but it is also true that we are confronted with adverse circumstances.

“We know the opponent we are facing will demand a lot of us. We will prepare the team for that and, despite the adverse circumstances that we have, we cannot give up.”

Emery has particular problems at centre-back with Nico Pareja definitely ruled out, whilst new recruit Adil Rami, Timothee Kolodziejczak and Daniel Carrico are all doubts.

“I think you can make a case we can play a good game, but if we can recover some of those for that position then I think we will have a better chance,” added Emery.

Photo Credits : AFP

Suarez, Roberto lift Barcelona to 2-1 win over Galaxy

Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto scored as European Champions Barcelona launched their pre-season North American tour with a convincing 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Uruguay international Suarez came out on top in a clash with former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard — the Galaxy’s latest acquisition from Europe.

His 45th-minute strike and Roberto’s 56th-minute goal ensured that even without such stars as Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazilian Neymar — let off the pre-season tour after Copa America duty — Barcelona got the win their dominant performance deserved in front of 93,226 fans at Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

In their first pre-season friendly in prepration for their defence of their La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League treble, Barcelona pressed relentlessly from the start and were finally rewarded in the 45th minute when Suarez fired a left-footed shot past Galaxy keeper Brian Rowe after Rafinha’s deflected cross was moved on by Bartra and Galaxy defender Leonardo was unable to clear the danger.

Suarez had been off-target from the center of the area in the 11th and from long range in the 23rd, while Rowe made a diving save of Roberto’s attempt from outside the box in the 35th.

Both teams made wholesale changes at the break, with Suarez among the seven Barcelona players to depart and Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique entering the game.

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena made five halftime substitutions, with Gerrard and Keane among those departing.

The changes didn’t slow Barca, with Douglas going close in the 47th minute and Pique testing substitute Galaxy keeper Andrew Wolverton in the 53rd after a pass from Munir.

Munir also helped set up Roberto’s 56th-minute strike from the edge of the box — which brought joyous cheers of “Barca! Barca!” from the crowd.

The minority of Galaxy fans in the stands, on a balmy night in the foothills northeast of Los Angeles, had little to cheer for much of the match, although Tommy Meyer grabbed a consolation goal in the first minute of injury time, heading in from close range.

The Galaxy now head back into MLS action, visiting the Dynamo in Houston on Sunday as they continue their bid to defend their title.

Barcelona next travel up the coast to take on Manchester United on Saturday at Levi’s Stadium, home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.

They complete their US swing against English champions Chelsea on July 28 in suburban Washington DC before playing Fiorentina in Florence on August 2.

Photo Credits : AFP

Messi needs to rest, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique says

The logistics of Barcelona’s North American tour are tough enough, with coach Luis Enrique making no apologies for letting stars including Lionel Messi skip the pre-season excursion.

The Spanish giants landed in Los Angeles on Sunday to begin preparations for a three-match tour that opens with a game against Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday.

Enrique and captain Andres Iniesta were fresh off the bus from the airport when they met with the media, the team having been cheered upon arrival at their hotel by a gaggle of Barcelona fans.

Asked if he owed those fans a chance to see players like Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi and Brazilian Neymar, Enrique said his first duty was to get those players some much-needed time off.

“That’s simple to answer,” he said. “We have to give a certain minimum number of days of vacation for players to recover from a season that is seemingly eternal,” said Enrique, who has excused Messi, Neymar, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, midfielder Javier Mascherano and fullback Dani Alvez from the tour after they competed in the Copa America.

“The bottom line is, these players need to rest.”

After taking on the Galaxy, the Champions League winners will travel north to take on Manchester United at the home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.

They complete their US swing against English champions Chelsea on July 28 in suburban Washington DC.

They will play Fiorentina in Florence on August 2 as part of the same International Champions Cup exhibition tournament.

“As a trainer, the truth is I would rather not do tours,” Enrique admitted.

Like many other managers, he finds the travel demands and other details take time away from training.

“Even though the countries can be great and it can be great to travel, things like the change of time zones can have repercussions and you can have fewer trainings and that can affect the team negatively.”

Although the tour includes such potentially distracting sidelines as meetings with NBA superstar Kobe Bryant as well as with members of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Enrique and Iniesta are both keen to get the focus on the field.

“As far as training goes, the beginning is very important,” Iniesta said. “That is what counts because you have not trained for a long time.”

The team travelled shortly after the re-election of Josep Maria Bartomeu as president of the club by their members.

Incumbent Bartomeu saw off rival Joan Laporta in an election that Bartomeu called early, when tensions within the club were running high because of poor relations between Enrique and Messi.

Enrique declined to address the election on Sunday, while Iniesta said he hoped the resolution would allow the club to focus on trying to repeat the stellar feats of last season, when they won the treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa Del Rey.

Photo Credits : AFP

Barcelona beat Juventus 3-1 in Champions League final

Goals from Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez and Neymar gave Barcelona a 3-1 victory over Juventus and secured the Spanish side’s fifth Champions League title on Saturday.

Rakitic opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Although the Italians fought back with an Alvaro Morata equaliser after the break, Suarez got the second and Neymar made sure of victory in stoppage time.

Victory gave Barcelona a momentous treble of the Champions League, Spanish title and Spanish Cup.

Photo Credits : AFP

Barca with La Liga title in sight after strike lifted

Barcelona can round off a fine week by clinching their 23rd La Liga title and exacting revenge on Atletico Madrid for losing out in last season’s title decider at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday.

A proposed players’ strike had threatened the La Liga calendar this weekend, but that threat was lifted on Thursday when Spain’s National Court concluded a strike would “cause a serious organisational disorder” to the end of the league season.

Atletico won the league with a 1-1 draw the Camp Nou on May 17 last year and Barca can return the favour exactly a year later as long as they match Real Madrid’s result at Espanyol.

Luis Enrique’s men remained on course for a treble by sealing their place in the Champions League final against Juventus early next month on Tuesday despite a first defeat in 19 games 3-2 away at Bayern Munich as the Catalans progressed 5-3 on aggregate.

“We are just one victory away in every competition from being champions,” said Enrique.

“The feelings are very positive. It is a great moment, but now we need to finish it off.

“The evaluation of the season will come at the end.”

– Atletico eye third place –

However, Atletico also have plenty to play for as they are one win away from sealing third place and therefore avoiding a tricky Champions League qualifier in August.

Fernando Torres came off the bench to score the equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Levante last weekend that guaranteed a top four finish for Diego Simeone’s men, but insisted he doesn’t want to see Barcelona celebrating at the Calderon on Sunday.

“I hope that they don’t win it here. We hope to win the game and assure third place,” he told the club’s website.

“Atletico were champions last year in the Camp Nou, and it is not that strange in football that destiny decides Barcelona have the chance to be champions in our stadium.

“That doesn’t mean anything to us though because it is not our fight. We want to be third and achieve the objective we have.”

Atletico’s chances could be boosted by the absence of Barca striker Luis Suarez.

The Uruguayan set up both Barca’s goals, scored by Neymar, at the Allianz Arena in midweek but had to be replaced at half-time with a hamstring problem and it unlikely to be risked with the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals less than a month away.

Real Madrid have to pick themselves up from the bitter disappointment of losing their Champions League semi-final to Juventus in midweek if they are to have any chance of winning a major trophy this season.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti may have taken charge of his last game from the Madrid bench as he will serve a two-game touchline ban for their remaining Liga fixtures for sarcastically applauding the officials in last week’s 2-2 draw at Valencia.

Defender Sergio Ramos is also expected to miss the rest of the season with a calf injury picked up against Juventus.

The battle for European places and to avoid relegation means that only four teams have nothing to play for with two games remaining.

Valencia can secure their return to Champions League football with victory at home to Celta Vigo.

Meanwhile, Malaga, Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao, Celta and Rayo Vallecano are separated by four points in the fight for seventh place, which would yield Europa League qualification if Barca beat Athletic in the Copa del Rey final.

At the bottom, Eibar, Deportivo la Coruna and Granada are all locked on 31 points with Almeria just one point ahead.

Almeria could also still be docked three points should their appeal against that sanction from FIFA for unpaid transfer fees to foreign clubs be upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport later this week.

Fixtures

Sunday (all 1700 GMT)

Villarreal v Malaga, Elche v Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo la Coruna v Levante, Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, Real Sociedad v Granada, Cordoba v Rayo Vallecano, Getafe v Eibar, Espanyol v Real Madrid, Valencia v Celta Vigo, Sevilla v Almeria

Photo Credits : AFP

Guardiola backing Barca to win Berlin final

Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola is now backing his ex-club Barcelona to win the Champions League after his Bavarian giants bowed out 5-3 on aggregate in the semi-finals.

Guardiola’s Bayern exited at the last-four stage for the second year running, despite ending Barcelona’s 18-game unbeaten run with a 3-2 semi-final, second-leg win in Munich.

Bayern were given an early glimmer of hope in their bid to overturn a three-goal deficit in Munich when the unmarked Medhi Benatia headed home on seven minutes at the Allianz Arena.

But Barca effectively booked their place in the Berlin final on June 6 when Luis Suarez twice set up Neymar to score for the visitors before half an hour had been played.

Bayern produced a rousing second-half performance with goals by Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Mueller, but Barcelona advance to face either bitter rivals Real Madrid or Juventus in the final.

Having won 16 titles as a player, then a further 14 in four years as head coach at the Camp Nou, Guardiola is backing Barcelona to claim their first European crown since 2011 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium on June 6.

“I want to congratulate my players, I am really happy to be their manager on a day like today,” said Guardiola, as Bayern denied Barcelona a first win in Munich at the fifth attempt.

“But I hope Barcelona can now win their fifth Champions League title in Berlin.

“You can only beat Barcelona when you take the ball away from them, with it they are so strong.

“We didn’t make the most of our chances in the first leg, but here we did.

“It wasn’t enough at the end of the day, but there you go.

“I hope the Spanish league has the rights to be screened in Germany soon, so that fans here can appreciate what a good player Lionel Messi is on a regular basis.

“He was a pleasure to coach when I was at Barcelona and he has demonstrated yet again what he can do.”

The win over Barcelona ended Bayern’s four-match losing streak since winning the German league title for the 25th time a fortnight ago.

“We won four titles last season, this year we have just one, but it has been a tough season with lots of injuries and despite that, my players still attacked at every opportunity,” enthused Guardiola.

Bayern’s come-back win demonstrated how much they wanted to reach an 11th European Cup final, but it was too little, too late, after their emphatic first-leg defeat.

“We believed in the miracle, but we couldn’t make it happen,” said Bayern captain Philipp Lahm.

“It’s impossible to stop those Barcelona players for the whole 90 minutes.

“We didn’t lose it today, but in the first leg.”

Goal-scorer Mueller was a constant threat to the Barcelona defence and made good on his pre-match promise that Bayern would fight until the final whistle.

“We played a really great game in the first half but we’ve made two mistakes in defence and have been too wasteful with our chances,” said Mueller.

“That’s very annoying.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Third goal takes Barcelona tie beyond Bayern: Guardiola

Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola lamented his side’s capitulation to a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona as the Catalans scored three times in the final 13 minutes to win the first-leg of their Champions League semi-final 3-0.

Messi turned the tie in Barca’s favour with two superb finishes in three minutes as he fired home from the edge of the area before dinking the ball over the impressive Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal.

And he then turned provider in stoppage time by playing in Neymar to all but book Barca’s place in the final in Berlin early next month.

“After 1-0 it sapped our confidence a bit, the last goal is a shame because with 2-0 we had a chance, but 3-0 it is difficult,” said Guardiola, who was returning to the Camp Nou as the opposition coach for the first time after winning 14 trophies in four years as Barca boss between 2008 and 2012.

The result could have been even more one-sided but for an inspired performance from Neuer, but Messi was delighted to finally find a way past the German international and gain some measure of revenge for losing last year’s World Cup final against the Bayern number one.

“They have a great goalkeeper, he stopped Luis (Suarez) in a one-on-one, but it was important to score,” said Messi.

“We know how good Bayern are, they like to have the ball, they will be strong at home, but thankfully we managed to get the goals.”

Bayern have been rocked by a series of key injuries in recent months, but still sealed a 25th German title last weekend and Guardiola insisted his players couldn’t be faulted.

“I am very proud of the team, of these players. We have had problems in these two or three months and we have got to here. I cannot reproach them for anything.

“The result hurts us, Barca are in great form. I understood that the way to stop them was to have the ball, I don’t know how to do it any other way.

“We wanted to control the game, but against players of this level you can be exposed. We lacked presence up front.”

Guardiola’s former teammate and friend, Barca coach Luis Enrique, admitted his job is made a lot easier by having Messi in his side.

However, Enrique was quick to laud the Catalans’ overall display as Bayern were prevented from getting a single shot on target.

“More than what we have seen from Leo in attack, was his defensive work when we didn’t have the ball.

“Today we have played against a very good team. We were very balanced as a team and very effective.

“We created a lot more chances than the opponent and that speaks to how well the players are playing.”

Guardiola had described Messi as “unstoppable” in his pre-match press conference and Barca defender Gerard Pique agreed that his former boss knows as well as anyone the havoc that the four-time World Player of the Year can reek on this sort of form.

“Guardiola knows Messi well and knows that if he is inspired no one can stop him. He scored two fantastic goals,” said Pique.

“We played a sensational match. Defensively we were very good because that a team like Bayern doesn’t have a shot on target is sensational. Then we took our chances up front and did a lot of damage on the counter-attack.”

Bayern came from 3-1 down in the quarter-finals against Porto with a stunning 6-1 second-leg victory at home, but forward Thomas Mueller admitted doing so against Barca is a different story.

“It’s not easy to play here, but it didn’t feel like the game was heading that way (3-0) on the pitch.

“We’re FC Bayern, we’ll keep our heads up, you can’t expect another Porto result, but we’ll give our all until the final whistle in Munich.

“We’re far from happy with the result, but what we need to do now as a team is stand united and not play the blame game.

Photo Credits : AFP

PSG beat Nice to forget Barca defeat

Paris Saint-Germain bounced back from their Champions League humbling against Barcelona by beating Nice 3-1 on Saturday to boost their bid for a hat-trick of Ligue 1 titles.

A clinical first half finish from Javier Pastore put PSG in charge against the run of play.

Minutes later, Mathieu Bodmer deflected a speculative effort from Said Benrahma to level with the last kick of the half.

But Paris took a decisive lead in the second half with a fine volley from Pastore and an Edinson Cavani penalty in a game sandwiched between Champions League commitments.

PSG temporarily moved a point ahead Lyon at the top of the table ahead of Sunday’s derby against Saint-Etienne.

Nice remain mired in midtable in 11th but are still not sade, only six points above the relegation zone.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti suspended, on top of injuries to Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta, PSG coach Laurent Blanc had to rely on a reshuffled team to get past the French Riviera side.

Lucas Moura, Serge Aurier and Lucas Digne were introduced into the starting line up while former Chelsea defender David Luiz, despite not being fully fit, was bestowed with the captain’s armband.

But it was Pastore’s fourth goal of the season, following a defence-opening pass by Lucas, who gave PSG the breakthrough with their first real chance of the match.

It was, however, quickly cancelled out by former Parisian Bodmer, although Nice still went into the half-time break frustrated to have nothing more to show form their first half dominance.

The second half was a complete reversal, though, as Nice goalkeeper Simon Pouplin shined, preventing David Luiz and Lucas from finding the back of the net.

Pastore added his second of the afternoon just after the hour mark as he latched onto a rebound after Pouplin saved his original driven effort.

Cavani, brought down in the box by Jordan Amavi, bagged his ninth of the season on 69 minutes to seal the deal.

Later on Saturday, Monaco can strengthen their grip on third by beating Rennes before looking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit when they host Juventus in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final next week.

At the foot, the bottom two Metz and Lens meet in what is almost certainly the last chance for either to avoid the drop.

On Friday, Marseille’s slump continued as Marcelo Bielsa’s side went down to a 1-0 defeat at Nantes that further damaged their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Photo Credits : AFP

Messi nets 400th goal as Barca edge past Valencia

Lionel Messi scored the 400th goal of his Barcelona career as the Catalans beat Champions League-chasing Valencia 2-0 to move five points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga on Saturday.

Luis Suarez got Barca off to a flying start as he slotted home the opener after just 54 seconds from Messi’s through ball.

However, it was Valencia who enjoyed the majority of the chances thereafter and they were left to rue Dani Parejo’s missed penalty in the first half.

And Messi made sure of all three points with the final kick of the game after Diego Alves had saved his initial effort.

Madrid can move back to within two points of the leaders when they host Malaga later on Saturday.

Defeat, meanwhile, leaves Valencia still a point adrift of third-placed Atletico Madrid, who are in action away to Deportivo la Coruna.

Suarez scored two wonderful individual goals as Barca all but secured their place in the Champions League semi-finals with a 3-1 win away to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

And he took less than a minute to pick up from where he left off in the French capital as Sergio Busquets fed Messi and his pass was fired low past Diego Alves by Suarez for his 12th goal in as many games.

However, Valencia went on to dominate the remainder of the opening 45 minutes and were desperately unlucky still to be behind at the break.

Rodrigo flashed a shot just wide before he was deemed to have been brought down inside the area by Gerard Pique.

Parejo’s penalty was poorly struck, though, and Bravo made a comfortable save low to his right.

Paco Alcacer then had a hat-trick of chances to grab a deserved equaliser as he turned Andre Gomes’s dangerous cross wide, saw a goalbound effort blocked by Pique and struck the outside of the post.

However, it could have been even worse for the visitors had Messi not sliced wide a great chance on his weaker right foot five minutes before half-time.

Barca boss Luis Enrique introduced Ivan Rakitic for Adriano at half-time in a tactical rejig to gain more control in midfield and Valencia found chances much more difficult to come by in the second period.

Messi was first to threaten after the break as he sent a dipping free-kick off the crossbar 25 minutes from time.

Luis Enrique then took the slightly surprising decision to replace Suarez with Pedro Rodriguez to keep the former Liverpool striker fresh for the return leg against PSG on Tuesday.

Bravo was needed to come to his side’s rescue once more 15 minutes from time when he turned the ball behind from Rodrigo’s volley.

But it was Messi who had the final word as he was given all the space he needed to break clear and score his 400th goal in 471 games for Barca in stoppage time as Valencia chased in vain for an equaliser.

Photo Credits : AFP

Barcelona’s Suarez hails ‘most important goal’

Luis Suarez lauded his El Clasico winner as his biggest goal since moving to Barcelona, as the Catalan giants moved four points clear of Real Madrid with a 2-1 win on Sunday.

Suarez controlled Dani Alves’s ball over the top and fired past Iker Casillas just before the hour mark to hand Barca a huge win.

“It is my most important goal for Barca so far, it has an extra meaning given the opponents that it was against,” said Suarez.

The former Liverpool star’s strike came at a crucial juncture in the game as Madrid looked the more likely to go ahead after Cristiano Ronaldo had cancelled out Jeremy Mathieu’s early opener for Barca.

“I tried to take advantage of the space between the defenders as quickly as possible to not give them time to react. Luckily it went in,” added Suarez.

Barca boss Luis Enrique lauded the Uruguayan’s quality and said that is why the club splashed out a club record fee for the 28-year-old despite his chequered past.

“It is clear the goal is something very few players can do. That is why we signed him. We valued him because he is a player that makes the difference,” said Enrique.

“Ever since he arrived we have been very happy with his performances, his commitment and everything he does for the team.”

A third defeat in four games was another huge blow for Madrid, who led the league by four points just three weeks ago.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti was consoled by his side’s much improved display in the first hour of the game compared to their wretched form in recent weeks.

– ‘Mental problem’ –

However, he admitted his side wilted under the pressure of chasing an equaliser for the second time after the break.

“I think it was a mental problem not a physical one. We started looking for more difficult passes and that is why the last half-hour didn’t go like the first-half.

“We are disappointed, but it is better to have better feeling in the way we played. We can have more confidence in the future games in the league and the Champions League.”

Suarez admitted that Barca had played a dangerous game in the first-half, but had far more control once he had fired them in front for a second time.

“We fell into the trap of playing an end-to-end game which they like and we weren’t in control of the game like we normally are. We played very direct and Madrid are very good at pressing.

“We didn’t have the ball in the first half, but we wanted to do better in the second and that’s how it went.”

Suarez, though, insisted Barca can’t take their foot of the gas having seen Madrid blow the same advantage in recent weeks.

“There is a long way to go and the league is very difficult,” he said.

“We need to take advantage of the gap we have against a very strong opponent in Madrid. Like in all leagues, you don’t know what can happen if you relax a little.”

And Ancelotti said his side wouldn’t give up the chase in the remaining 10 games of the season.

“At the moment the league isn’t finished. Barca have an advantage, like we had before. In football anything can happen.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Suarez stunner hands Barca victory over Madrid

Barcelona moved four points clear at the top of La Liga as Luis Suarez’s brilliant individual effort handed them a 2-1 win over Real Madrid on Sunday.

Jeremy Mathieu headed Barca in front early on from Lionel Messi’s free-kick, but Cristiano Ronaldo hit back at his critics in recent weeks with a deserved equaliser before the break.

Suarez was to have the final say, though, as he registered his first goal in El Clasico by controlling Dani Alves’s long ball before turning to strike into the far corner.

A third defeat in four games for Madrid will see coach Carlo Ancelotti come under increasing pressure to hold onto his job, but it was Madrid who posed the greater danger early on.

Karim Benzema pulled a shot wide of the far post before his teasing cross was volleyed onto the bar at the back post by Ronaldo.

However, it was Barca who went in front on 18 minutes when Mathieu headed home Messi’s in-swinging free-kick from the left for his first league goal for the club.

Neymar should have doubled the hosts’ advantage on the half hour when he fired straight at Iker Casillas with the goal gaping after a mishit Suarez shot rolled across goal.

Seconds later Real were level thanks to a lovely move as Benzema backheeled Luka Modric’s pass into Ronaldo’s path and he poked the ball past Claudio Bravo on the stretch.

The visitors then went on to end the half the stronger as Gareth Bale had a goal ruled out for offside, whilst Bravo tipped a piledriver from Ronaldo over and Bale stabbed inches wide from the resulting corner.

Madrid also had the first opportunity of the second-half as lovely link-up play between Benzema and Ronaldo this time put the Frenchman through on goal, but Bravo did just enough to parry his shot to safety.

And they were again caught by a sucker punch when Alves’s ball over the top was brilliantly controlled and finished by Suarez on the turn.

Ronaldo, who had been booked in the first-half for diving, was then fortunate not to see red when he appeared to kick out after being fouled by Javier Mascherano.

The cautions continued to mount as 11 players were booked in all.

Neymar nearly made amends for his miss in the first period with an incredible run from inside hs own half past numerous Madrid players, but again his finishing was wayward as he blasted over.

Messi had been very quiet given his stunning performances of late, but he was inches away from sealing the points 17 minutes from time as his shot curled just wide.

Neymar then blazed wide again from a Messi pass as space began to open up for Barca.

Those wasted opportunities nearly came back to haunt the Catalans as Bravo had to produce a brilliant save to turn Benzema’s deflected effort behind for a corner.

Casillas kept Madrid in the game at the other end with a pair of fine saves to deny Jordi Alba and Messi, but it was to no avail as Barca racked up their 18th win in 19 games.

Photo Credits : AFP

Barca into Cup final thanks to Neymar double

Barcelona eased into their fourth Copa del Rey final in five years as they completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Villarreal with a 3-1 win at El Madrigal on Wednesday.

Neymar had missed a penalty in Barca’s 3-1 first leg win three weeks ago, but made amends after just three minutes when he turned home Lionel Messi’s cross.

Jonathan dos Santos gave the hosts hope with an equaliser on the night against his old club, but Villarreal’s chances of a famous comeback faded when Tomas Pina was shown a straight red card for a heavy challenge on Neymar.

Luis Suarez slotted home his 11th goal of the season to make it 2-1 before Neymar rounded off the scoring from Xavi’s cross late on.

However, victory also came at a cost for Barca as Sergio Busquets was stretchered off in the first-half with a high ankle sprain that could keep him sidelined for a significant couple of weeks with the Catalans set to face Real Madrid in La Liga on March 22.

Barca boss Luis Enrique started Javier Mascherano and Suarez despite both being one yellow card away from missing the final and that decision was vindicated inside three minutes as both were involved in the move that let to Neymar’s opener.

The ball eventually found its way to Messi and his tantalising in-swinging cross was looped over Sergio Asenjo by the Brazilian captain.

Villarreal refused to be beaten despite that early setback as Ikechukwu Uche fired into the side-netting, whilst Marc-Andre Ter Stegen denied Luciano Vietto and Denis Cheryshev.

Marcelino’s men finally got their reward when Dos Santos slotted home Jaume Costa’s cross at the back post six minutes before the break.

And Barca suffered a further blow as Busquets had to be stretchered off after Pina stood on his right ankle in the build-up to the goal.

Villarreal’s momentum was lost 20 minutes into the second period, though, when this time Pina was punished for a dangerous challenge on Neymar from behind.

Suarez and Neymar then passed up good chances to make the tie safe with the latter being denied by a fine save from Asenjo.

However, there was nothing the ‘keeper could do to prevent Suarez scoring for the third consecutive game as he latched onto Mascherano’s ball over the top and kept his composure to round Asenjo before rolling the ball into the unguarded net.

And Neymar notched his second of the night with an easy header from another sumptuous cross, this time from Xavi.

Barca will face either Espanyol or Athletic Bilbao, who play later on Wednesday, in the final with the two sides locked at 1-1 after the first leg.

Photo Credits : AFP

Messi to be enjoyed – Luis Enrique

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique said he is savouring the chance to watch Lionel Messi after the Argentine notched his fifth hat-trick of the season in a 5-0 romp over Levante on Sunday.

Messi was at the heart of the action as he teed up Neymar for the opener and then struck three times either side of half-time to take his tally for the season to 37 on his 300th La Liga appearance.

Neymar was then replaced by Luis Suarez midway through the second-half and he also made his presence felt with a stunning overhead kick to round off the scoring.

Enrique had made eight changes to the side that had beaten Villarreal in the Copa del Rey in midweek, but dismissed suggestions he could have also taken the chance to withdraw Messi after he had completed his hat-trick.

“The idea is to enjoy. That is what we are doing, enjoying him as much as possible,” said Enrique.

The four-time World Player of the Year has been unstoppable in 2015 with 14 goals and 10 assists in 11 appearances.

That upturn in fortunes has coincided with Messi moving to a slightly wider position to allow Suarez to play as a central striker and Enrique lauded his ability to create as well finish.

“Against teams that play deep and with a lot of players in the middle of the field we need to have width and move the ball quickly to crate danger.

“It is key for us that Leo participates a lot, that he can have many touches to be able to create two or three on ones, makes passes and create space.

“When there are a lot of people in the middle it is harder for him to combine, so he has freedom to go where he can find space.”

Enrique received criticism earlier in the season for his rotation policy, but he is beginning to look justified as Barca enter a decisive part of the campaign on the back of an 11-game winning run, whilst Madrid have faltered in recent weeks.

“That was an objective we had at the start of the season to have a big squad with so much quality,” he said.

“Having so many quality players allows you to rotate. I would say that we have almost unlimited resources.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Messi misses Barcelona training due to ‘personal reasons’

Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi missed training on Monday due to “personal reasons”, Barcelona confirmed.

“Messi hasn’t trained today, with the permission of the club, due to personal reasons,” Barca said in a statement.

The Argentine continued his fine form with the winning goal as Barca came from behind twice to beat Villarreal 3-2 on Sunday.

Yet, it is just over a month since Messi missed another training session in front of the club’s fans, claiming to be suffering from gastroenteritis, a day after he had been left on the bench for Barca’s 1-0 defeat at Real Sociedad.

His absence on that occasion sparked a mini-crisis at the club as speculation grew over coach Luis Enrique’s future due to his frosty relationship with his star player.

However, since then Barca have strung together eight straight victories to move into the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and remain just a point adrift of La Liga leaders Real Madrid.

Barca aren’t in action again until Sunday when they travel to face Athletic Bilbao, so Enrique has given all of his squad Tuesday and Wednesday off ahead of a return to training on Thursday.

Photo Credits : AFP