Messi equals Barcelona's LaLiga appearances record set by Xavi

By Sports Desk February 13, 2021

Lionel Messi equalled Barcelona's all-time LaLiga appearances record set by Xavi by starting Saturday's clash with Deportivo Alaves.

It was thought Ronald Koeman might opt to leave Messi out given the importance of Tuesday's Champions League round-of-16 first-leg game against Paris Saint-Germain.

However, given the depleted nature of the Barca squad at the moment, Koeman made the decision to include his captain from the start.

It was Messi's 505th LaLiga appearance for Barca, tying the haul managed by club great Xavi, and the Argentinian could surpass his former team-mate next week at home to Cadiz.

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    Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta conceded the Gunners were not good enough as they suffered stoppage-time heartbreak against Everton in the Premier League.

    Arteta's Arsenal suffered their third defeat in four Premier League matches after Demarai Gray's stunning individual effort saw the hosts snatch a dramatic 92nd-minute victory.

    Martin Odegaard had given the visitors a half-time lead with his neat volley from Kieran Tierney's cross at Goodison Park.

    Arsenal were made to rue their failure to convert their winning position, as Richarlison equalised before Gray completed the turnaround in the second minute of stoppage time.

    Arteta felt his players were punished for their lack of game management after succumbing to three consecutive league defeats to Everton for the first time since 1986.

    "In the first half, we were very inconsistent with the ball," Arteta told Sky Sports. "I didn't like it. [We had] no penetration; one of the few times we did it, we scored. 

    "Second half, we tried to do more of those things, created four big chances, but conceded a very sloppy goal when you need to manage the game.

    "I think the team tried to keep going, we kept pressing high. We lost a few important duels that put us some pressure."

    "What I want is more from my team. Today, you have the game under control even though you're not playing your best, and you have to find a way to win it.

    "It could have been very different, but we haven't managed to do it. When the opponent is there for the taking, you have to do it, and we haven't. It wasn't good enough."

    Odegaard concurred with Arteta that seventh-placed Arsenal must significantly improve their performance levels.

    Former Real Madrid midfielder Odegaard was one of Arsenal's better performers on Merseyside; registering game-high tallies of four key passes and three shots on goal.

    Odegaard's goal was the ninth consecutively scored by Arsenal in the Premier League by a player aged 23 or younger, their longest such run in Premier League history.

    He also became the youngest Norwegian (22 years, 354 days) to score in back-to-back Premier League appearances since John Arne Riise in August 2002 for Liverpool (21 years, 328 days).

    "It's a hard one to take. I think in general, we were not at the level we needed to be at today," he said. "We had some good moments, but we have to do much better. We should have been better.

    "It's hard to say exactly what happened. We have to do better when we have that lead. We stopped playing and gave them the game they wanted to play.

    "I think it is [a mindset problem]. When you're leading 1-0, you get afraid to lose the win and, in my opinion, that's what we did wrong today. 

    "You go for the second goal and that was the intention, but we didn't manage to do that on the pitch."

    Arsenal have lost consecutive Premier League matches when scoring the first goal in each match, the first time they have done that since December 2016, with one of those defeats also a 2-1 loss against Everton at Goodison Park – the other was a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City.

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    Demarai Gray's stoppage-time wonder goal saw Everton snatch a dramatic 2-1 victory over Arsenal and relieve the pressure on boss Rafael Benitez.

    Martin Odegaard put the Gunners in front just before half-time at Goodison Park with a neat volley from Kieran Tierney's cross.

    But despite twice being denied by VAR, Richarlison equalised with 10 minutes remaining, before Gray completed the turnaround with a stunning 25-yard effort in the second minute of stoppage time.

    Now without a win in four Premier League visits to Goodison, Mikel Arteta’s side missed the chance to return to fifth place in the table.

    Everton were unbeaten in their three previous home games against Arsenal in the Premier League and made a bright start to proceedings.

    Top scorer Gray and Abdoulaye Doucoure were off target, while Anthony Gordon had a shot blocked inside the box.

    The hosts thought they had taken a 44th-minute lead when Richarlison headed in Andros Townsend's cross, but VAR denied them as the Brazil international strayed marginally offside.

    The visitors capitalised in first-half stoppage time, Odegaard arriving late to neatly volley home Kieran Tierney's centre.

    Odegaard almost turned provider eight minutes after the restart, the former Real Madrid midfielder’s cross finding Gabriel Magalhaes, whose header was saved by Jordan Pickford.

    Everton and Richarlison were denied by VAR again four minutes later, the latter offside by a fraction once more as he received Doucoure's pass before slotting beyond Aaron Ramsdale.

    But their persistence paid off 10 minutes from time, Richarlison reacting quickest to head home the rebound after Ramsdale had done brilliantly to turn Gray’s initial effort onto the crossbar.

    Eddie Nketiah then squandered a glorious opportunity to snatch the points for Arsenal; the substitute somehow hitting the post with a close-range header.

    It proved costly as Everton snatched all three points in the second minute of added time, Gray embarking on a strong run before bending a wonderful 25-yard strike in off the post.

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    James Anderson and Stuart Broad were the only members of the England squad who were born when the tourists last won an Ashes Test at the Gabba.

    The hostile iconic Brisbane venue has been such a fortress for Australia that you have to go back to November 1986 for their previous Test defeat to England at the ground where the 2021-22 series starts on Wednesday.

    Yet India consigned Australia to a first Gabba loss in the longest format for over 32 years in January and England captain Joe Root is backing his side to end the hoodoo, despite a lack of match practice due to rain.

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    Ben Stokes' return gives England a massive lift as they attempt to wrestle back the urn, though they won't have the usual level of backing from the Barmy Army as usual due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

    The tourists were thrashed 4-0 in their last Ashes series Down Under in 2017-18 after the humiliation of a 2013-14 whitewash, so it is almost 10 years since their last Test win in Australia.

    Stats Perform looks at some of the key factors that will decide whether they can make it a miserable start to Pat Cummins' reign as Australia Test captain.

     

    Stoking the fires

    Stokes has not played for his country since July, but declared himself fit to face Australia after taking a break to prioritise his mental well-being and fully recover from a fractured finger.

    The all-rounder was England's player of the series in an Ashes series two years ago that ended in a 2-2 draw, scoring 441 runs at an average of 55.12 and producing one of the great innings at Headingley to pull off an unlikely victory.

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    Root must keep racking up the runs

    It has been an incredible 2021 for Root, who has scored six Test centuries - including one double-hundred in Sri Lanka and another in India.

    The skipper said this tour will define his captaincy and England will need him to keep racking up the runs if they are to return home with a surprise series win.

    Only five batsmen have scored more Test centuries in a year than Root's tally, with Mohammad Yousuf holding the record with a staggering nine in 2006.

     

    Lack of pace potency?

    Not for the first time in Ashes, a lack of pace could be a big issue for England and how they would love to have a fit Jofra Archer firing.

    Australian Troy Cooley was brought into the touring party as a consultant pace bowling coach and there is no doubting the quality in the England attack, led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

    Broad tormented Warner in the 2019 series, but the opener could be much more difficult to dismiss on home soil with a Kookaburra ball and returned to form in Australia's recent T20 World Cup triumph.

    Mark Wood is capable of doing damage but it remains to be seen how many Tests the injury-prone quick can play. Ollie Robinson could make a big impact in his first Ashes series and Chris Woakes can hit the sort of lengths to trouble batters in Australia.

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