Barcelona v Inter Milan key battle: Luis Suarez takes on Mauro Icardi

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Mauro Icardi

The big-ticket fixture on Wednesday night has Spanish giants Barcelona pitted against a rejuvenated Inter side.

These two teams last faced each other in the Champions League semi-finals in 2010 when the Italian side emerged victorious and went on to claim the title. On Wednesday, they will be fighting for the top spot of the group. 

Both teams are on six points after overcoming Tottenham and PSV Eindhoven. The Italian side are on an incredible seven-game winning run in all competitions which also includes a closely fought Milan derby. On the other hand, the Catalans were subject to contrasting fortunes in the league. After a poor run of form, Barcelona outclassed Sevilla on Saturday to climb to the top the table 

In Mauro Icardi and Luis Suarez, we have a battle between two extremely high-profile strikers. The winner can potentially decide the outcome of the game. We build-up to the big game with a comparison. 

Mauro Icardi against a fragile Barcelona backline 

Mauro Icardi.

Mauro Icardi.

This straightforward battle sees an in-form Icardi take on a vulnerable Barcelona defence. Barcelona haven’t kept a clean sheet since their 4-0 thrashing of PSV in the Champions League over a month ago.

Ter-Stegen has saved 24 shots this season with an aggregate xGA (Expected goals against) of 3.23 while his opposite number Handanovic has saved the same number of shots but with an xGA of 2.24. This massive difference further supports the fact that Barcelona have been conceding too many goal-scoring opportunities and are heavily reliant on Ter-Stegen’s heroics to save the day.  

Icardi enters this game after scoring a last-minute winner in a derby. The striker has scored four goals in seven games in the Serie A and has two assists to his name. While this statistic does not sound particularly appealing, the fact that he managed to score more than his xG (Expected goals) of 3.12 shows that the Argentine can latch on to half-chances.  

The 25-year-old scored a goal in both his European outings this season which included a sensational long-range effort against Spurs. 

It’s highly likely that an Argentine can decide the outcome of the match despite Messi missing the clash due to his injury as Icardi takes on a shaky Barcelona defence. 

Luis Suarez seeks salvation 

Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez

Suarez has been a shadow of his former self since the beginning of this season. The forward has found the net four times in the league like his Argentine counterpart at the other end. However, this statistic hides an important argument that the Uruguayan would prefer to be hidden. 

The 31-year-old has a massive xG of 7.17 in the Spanish league this season. Suarez has clearly been at the end of more clear-cut opportunities than Icardi has but has scored the same number of goals. Mathematically put, the Uruguayan should have scored twice as much as his Inter counterpart, given the quality of his chances. 

The Uruguayan shoots more often than Icardi and has been inefficient in front of goal. From about 3.88 shots per 90 minutes, he has just 0.48 goals every game. This does not compare well with the Argentine who has taken 2.9 shots every 90 minutes to reach his figures of 0.63 goals every 90 minutes. 

However, Suarez does contribute to build-up play and creates a lot of goalscoring chances. The forward has added elements to his game that is not recorded by statistics. He had a key role in each of Messi’s goals against Spurs without touching the ball. The Uruguayan remains a more complete player. 

With Messi out, Suarez will go into the game without his major source of goalscoring opportunities. However, his partnership with Coutinho can cause all sorts of trouble to the Inter defence headed by Stephan De Vrij. 

There isn’t much time left until we have a winner in the battle of the strikers, a battle between two of Europe’s finest. 

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Barcelona without Lionel Messi: What do the numbers say?

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Lionel Messi’s injury leaves Barcelona with a large hole in their forward line – although history suggests his absence may not be as much of a worry as first thought.

Messi fractured the radial bone in his right arm after falling awkwardly in the 4-2 victory against Sevilla on Saturday and he is set to be sidelined for around three weeks.

He is therefore set to miss a Clasico for the first time since 2007 this coming Sunday, as well as the Champions League double-header against Inter Milan.

The Argentinian has been such a phenomenon at the Nou Camp through the years, breaking an assortment of records, the worry is that sitting out a few crucial games could significantly impact Barca’s progress this season.

But does the data suggest they should be concerned?

Win percentage higher without Messi 

The Catalan giants, currently sitting at the top of LaLiga, have pointed out that previous instances of Messi being injured, suspended or rested have not led to a slump in team form.

Indeed, in the 61 games in all competitions Messi has missed since the 2010-11 season, Barcelona have won 49 times, with six draws and as many defeats.

Barcelona’s total win percentage in the Champions League with Messi in their ranks stands at 60 per cent, with 78 victories in 131 matches, as well as 33 draws and 20 losses.

However, since Messi’s debut in December 2004, on the rare European nights where he has not been included, that figure leaps up to 77 per cent with 17 wins in 22 games and only three defeats.

The disclaimer

It is worth taking into consideration that many of these instances came when Messi was rested against arguably lesser sides or before he became a first-team regular.

Three years ago, a knee injury precluded him from playing for nearly two months and, once more, Barcelona’s fortunes did not dip as a result.

In the nine games he missed – five in La Liga, three in the Champions League and one in the Copa del Rey – Barcelona’s record was seven wins, one draw and one defeat.

A little help 

Luis Suarez, left, and Neymar thrived when Messi was out for nearly two months in 2015. On that occasion, the other two star men from the famed MSN forward line picked up the slack, with Neymar and Suarez scoring 18 of their 21 goals in that time.

Neymar has since moved on to Paris Saint0Germain but Suarez is likely to be a pivotal figure over the next few weeks, while Ousmane Dembele, who replaced Messi at the weekend, has the opportunity to step out of the 31-year-old’s shadow.

Real Madrid loom large as Barcelona’s next La Liga opponents but they have been misfiring without Cristiano Ronaldo to call upon following his move to Juventus over the summer.

A Clasico collector’s item 

This Sunday marks the first Clasico in more than a decade that neither Messi nor Ronaldo – two players widely considered the best of their generation and among the greatest of all-time – will feature.

And on that occasion in December 2007, Real won 1-0 to stretch their unbeaten record against their rivals to four matches. Maybe there is a need to worry after all.  

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Everything you need to know about the 2019 AFC Asian Cup

Nick Watkins 22/10/2018
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Zayed Al Ameri celebrates after giving the UAE a 3-0 lead against Timor-Leste.

Taking place in the United Arab Emirates from 5th January to 1st February 2019, this is the second time the tournament has been held in the UAE – the first being in 1996 –  the 2019 AFC Asian Cup will by the 17th edition of the competition, which is organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

The upcoming competition sees 24 teams completing in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, which is an expansion of the usual 16-team set-up. The new format sees a group stage consisting of six groups of four teams, followed by a knockout stage of 16 teams.

Asian Cup qualification

Qualification for the tournament saw 23 teams reach the final stages (UAE already qualified as the host nation), with a total of 45 national teams taking part in the qualifying stages. The three-year qualifying process took place between March 2015 and March 2018.

Australia are the defending champions heading into the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, having won the previous competition in 2015. The prize for the winners of the upcoming tournament will see them play in the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup – the venue of which is yet to be determined after Qatar lost the rights to host the competition due to weather concerns.

The qualification process took part in three stages, starting with the lowest ranked teams playing each other over two legs in order to reduce the number of nations in the competition to 40. Stage two saw the teams split into eight groups of five playing home and away fixtures. The eight group winners and the four best group runners up advanced to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals. Completing the qualifying stages, round three saw the next best 24 teams eliminated from round two divided into six groups of four to compete for the remaining slots in the tournament.

2019 AFC Asian Cup teams

All 24 teams have now qualified for the tournament with a few nations making their debut at the competition and several teams are appearing for the first time since 2004. Lebanon and Vietnam have both qualified for the first time since hosting the tournament in 2000 and 2007 respectfully.

United Arab Emirates
The host nation will make their 10th AFC Asian Cup appearance at the 2019 event.

Saudi Arabia
The Saudi national team have appeared in the competition nine times prior to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Australia
The Second Round Group B winners enter the competition without captain Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill who both retired after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Qatar
Qatar qualified as winners of Group C back in March 2016. This will be their tenth Asian Cup appearance.

Iran
Historically, Iran have a good record in qualifying for the finals of the tournament, the 2019 AFC Asian Cup will be the nation’s 14th. Iran qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup for the first time as a CAFA member, having qualified as part of the WAFF before.

Japan
They were knocked out of the Round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup but qualified for the Asian Cup finals by winning the Second Round Group E.

Thailand
They’re one of three nations having qualified after being after being absent in several Asian Cup tournaments spanning from 2004 to 2015

South Korea
Loses to Sweden and Mexico meant their heroic 2-0 win over Germany at the 2018 World Cup was in vein, as they didn’t make it out of Group F. They qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup as winners of Group G.

Uzbekistan
This will be the country’s seventh Asian Cup appearance, having qualified as winners of Group H in March 2016.

Iraq
They qualified for their ninth finals after going through as the Second Round 1st Best Runners Up in March 2016.

Syria
Syria join the other 23 nations thanks to their Second Round Second Best Runners Up qualification. It’s the nation’s first appearance at the finals since 2011.

China
China qualified having finished 4th best runners-up in the Second Round. This will be their 12th appearance at the finals.

India
The India national side made it through to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals in October 2017 having finished as Third Round Group A winners. This will be only their fourth ever appearance at the finals.

Kyrgyzstan
This will be the first time ever Kyrgyzstan have qualified for the tournament, having done so as Third Round Group A Runners-Up.

Lebanon
It’s only Lebanon’s second appearance at the Asian Cup, but the first time through qualification, having debuted in 2000 as the host nation.

North Korea
The North Koreans enter the fray having made it through thanks to their Third Round Group B Runners Up finish in March 2018.

Jordan
In what will be only their fourth appearance at the Asian Cup finals, Jordan made it through as winners of Group C.

Vietnam
The Runners Up of Group C take their place for the first time since 2007, when they qualified as tournament hosts. Incidentally, that was the first time Vietnam, has qualified for the AFC Asian Cup as a unified nation, having participated as South Vietnam in 1956 and 1960.

Palestine
The country’s only previous appearance at the Asian Cup was in 2015. They go into 2019 as Third Round Group D Runners Up.

Oman
Oman secured their spot in the tournament back in October 2017 as Third Round Group D winners. They previously made it to the finals in 2004, 2007 and 2015.

Bahrain
The winners of Group E take their place at the 2019 Asian Cup, having appeared five times previously, including the last four tournaments.

Turkmenistan
Their only previous qualification for the Asian Cup finals came in 2004. They head into 2019’s tournament as Third Round Group E Runners Up.

Philippines
Group F winners the Philippines will make their Asian Cup debut at the upcoming tournament.

Yemen
Yemen joins the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan as 2019 AFC Asian Cup debutants after qualifying as Third Round Group F Runners Up.

2019 AFC Asian Cup draw

The teams were drawn to decide the group stages of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup back in May 2018, at Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Using FIFA rankings as seedings the 12 nations that qualified by the second round were in pots one and two. Teams that advanced during round three were allocated to the remaining pots. Hosts UAE were drawn from pot one. Former Manchester City and Crystal Palace star Sun Jihai was one of four Asian players taking part in the draw.

Format

At the finals, the 24 teams will be drawn into six groups of four teams each, where the teams in each group will play each other once. The top two teams and the four best third teams will advance to the knockout stage, beginning with the round of 16. For the first time since a knockout stage was added to the competition in 1972, there will be no third place play-off. The format is exactly the same as the once which was applied to UEFA Euro 2016, and is similar to the format of the 1986, 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups with the exception being the World Cup included a third place play-off.

Venues

After the expansion of the tournament from 16 teams to 24 it was decided that games will be played at eight stadiums across the UAE, although initially it was agreed that fixtures would be played in just six stadiums. Several of the venues have since been rebuilt (or in the process of being rebuilt). The expanded competition will take place across eight world-class stadiums in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah, and  should encourage more fans than ever before to be a part of the biggest sporting event ever hosted in the region.

The eight venues to host matches are Zayed Sports City Stadium, Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium and Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium and Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, Al-Maktoum Stadium and Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, and Sharjah Stadium in Sharjah.

Zayed Sports City Stadium, one of the three stadiums in Abu Dhabi, will stage both the opening match and the final. The match schedule itself will maximise the use of venues with at least five matches played at each stadium and every ground hosting at least one match in the knockout stage. The semi-finals will be played on different days in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. No city will host two matches on the same day – except in the final round of group stage matches when simultaneous kick-off is required.

Stadiums

Abu Dhabi 

Zayed Sports City Stadium – 43,000 seater

National stadium: UAE play home games at Zayed Sports City stadium

National stadium: UAE play home games at Zayed Sports City stadium

Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium – 42,056 seater

First class: Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium

First class: Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium

Al Nahyan Stadium – 12,000 seater

Al Wahda's Al Nahyan Stadium will host the event [Photo: Al Wahda]

Al Wahda’s Al Nahyan Stadium will host the event [Photo: Al Wahda]

Dubai

Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium – 12,000 seater

ffScreen Shot 2018-10-21 at 17.38.24

Al-Maktoum Stadium 15,000

Under development: Plans for the updated Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium

Under development: Plans for the updated Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium

Al Ain

Hazza bin Zayed Stadium – 25,965 seater

World-class: Al Ain's Hazza Bin Zayes Stadium

World-class: Al Ain’s Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium

Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium – 16,000 seater

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 17.44.59

Sharjah

Sharjah Stadium – 11,073

Screen Shot 2018-10-21 at 17.46.52

Group stages

The top two teams of each group and the four best third-placed teams advance to the Round of 16 of the 2019 Asian Cup

Group A
United Arab Emirates
Thailand
India
Bahrain

Group A Fixtures

5th January 20:00
United Arab Emirates v Bahrain
Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi

6 January 201917:30
Thailand v India
Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi

10 January 201915:00
Bahrain v Thailand
Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai

10 January 201920:00
India v United Arab Emirates
Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi

14 January 2019 20:00
United Arab Emirates v Thailand
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al-Ain

14 January 2019 20:00
India v Bahrain
Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah

Group B
Australia
Syria
Palestine
Jordan

Group B fixtures

6 January 2019 15:00
Australia v Jordan
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al-Ain

6 January 2019 20:00
Syria v Palestine
Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah

10 January 2019 17:30
Jordan v Syria
Sheikh Khalifa Stadium, Al-Ain

11 January 2019 15:00
Palestine v Australia
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai

15 January 2019 17:30
Australia v Syria
Sheikh Khalifa Stadium, Al-Ain

15 January 2019 17:30
Palestine v Jordan
Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi

Group C
South Korea
China
Kyrgyzstan
Philippines

Group C fixtures

7 January 2019 15:00
China v Kyrgyzstan
Sheikh Khalifa Stadium, Al-Ain

7 January 2019 17:30
South Korea v Philippines
Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai

11 January 2019 17:30
Philippines v China
Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi

11 January 2019 20:00
Kyrgystan v South Korea
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al-Ain

16 January 2019 17:30
South Korea v China
Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi

16 January 2019 17:30
Kyrgyzstan v Philippines
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium

Group D
Iran
Iraq
Vietnam
Yemen

Group D Fixtures

7 January 2019 20:00
Iran v Yemen
Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium

8 January 2019 17:30
Iraq v Vietnam
Zayed Sports City Stadium

12 January 2019 15:00
Vietnam v Iran
Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi

12 January 2019 17:30
Yemen v Iraq
Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah

16 January 2019 20:00
Vietnam v Yemen
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al-Ain

16 January 2019 20:00
Iran v Iraq
Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai

Group E
Saudi Arabia
Qatar
Lebanon
North Korea

Group E fixtures

8 January 2019 20:00
Saudi Arabia v North Korea
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium

9 January 2019 20:00
Qatar v Lebanon
Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain

12 January 2019 20:00
Lebanon v Saudi Arabia
Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai

13 January 2019 15:00
North Korea v Qatar
Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, Al-Ain

17 January 2019 20:00
Saudi Arabia v Qatar
Zayed Sports City Stadium

17 January 2019 20:00

Lebanon v North Korea
Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah

Group F
Japan
Uzbekistan
Oman
Turkmenistan

Group F fixtures

9 January 2019 15:00
Japan v Turkmenistan
Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi

9 January 2019 17:30
Uzbekistan v Oman
Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah

13 January 2019 17:30
Oman v Japan
Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi

13 January 2019 20:00
Turkmenistan v Uzbekistan
Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, Dubai

17 January 2019 17:30
Oman v Turkmenistan
Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi

17 January 2019 17:30
Japan v Uzbekistan
Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium, Al-Ain

Tickets

Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Shaikh Salman Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “The AFC ‘s vision and mission outlined our ambitions to provide world-class platforms for our teams, players and passionate fans.

“The launch of ticket sales is an important milestone and the UAE is the perfect host nation to unite the Asian football family. I am confident that the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 will provide the ultimate stage to showcase Asia’s remarkable talent and engage and excite more fans than ever before.

Ticket prices for the competition have been set to allow as many people as possible—from the millions of Asians already residing in the UAE to the two billion living within a four-hour flight—to come and experience the thrill of top-class, live international football.

Ticket Categories:

                                     CAT3       CAT2        CAT1

GROUP STAGE           Dh25        Dh50        Dh75

ROUND 16                   Dh25        Dh50        Dh75

QUARTER-FINALS     Dh50        Dh75        Dh150

SEMI-FINALS              Dh50        Dh75        Dh150

FINAL                          Dh75        Dh150      Dh300

Tickets are available from www.the-afc.com

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