VfB Stuttgart vs. Borussia Dortmund – Football Match Report – October 20, 2018



Borussia Dortmund struck three times in the opening 25 minutes to beat hosts VfB Stuttgart 4-0 away on Saturday and protect their four-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.

Jadon Sancho put them ahead with a deflected effort in the third minute before Marco Reus launched their attack for the second goal and finished it off with a fine shot in the 23rd.

Spaniard Paco Alcacer continued his spectacular scoring run two minutes later to notch his seventh league goal this season and become the first Bundesliga player to require just 106 minutes of playing time to do so.

Stuttgart, in 17th place, attempted to force their way back into the game early in the second half but quickly ran out of ideas before Dortmund took control again.

Maximilian Philipp completed the rout in the 85th minute to become Dortmund’s 14th scorer in eight league games this season. The Ruhr valley club has also scored 27 goals so far, a club record after eight games.

Dortmund, who earned their fourth straight league win, are on 20 points, four ahead of champions Bayern Munich, who are in second place.



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Varane 3/10, Ramos 4/10 as Real defence struggles


ESPN FC’s Craig Burley has his say as to who should become Real Madrid’s next Galactico signings.
Are Real Madrid preparing to swap managers? Gab Marcotti and Sid Lowe weigh in on the reports linking Antonio Conte to the Bernabeu.

Another embarrassment for Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui as his team went 2-0 down and broke the record for their longest run without a goal (481 minutes) in their entire 116 year existence before Marcelo’s late consolation.

Madrid could claim some bad luck: two VAR decisions went against them, they hit the woodwork three times and had a late possible equaliser ruled out for offside. But this was a shambles of a performance, and president Florentino Perez could pull the trigger on Lopetegui even before next Sunday’s Clasico at the Camp Nou.

Positives

There were glimpses during the second half comeback that at least showed Madrid do have lots of very good players, with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale looking quality at times. But everybody already knew that.

Negatives

Where do you start? Madrid looked short on ideas, inspiration and energy during a first half in which Levante were tactically and physically far superior. While the historic run without a goal understandably draws the headlines, Madrid’s biggest problems start in defence and midfield where their big name players either do not understand or do not want to do what Lopetegui is asking of them.

Manager rating out of 10

2 — Just like most of the decisions Lopetegui has made since taking over last summer, the team selection backfired awfully. He looked a slightly bedraggled figure as he shook his arms and shouted on the sidelines.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Thibaut Courtois, 5 — Not directly at fault for any of the goals, but showed uncertainty every time a ball was played between him and the defensive line. His settling into the team is clearly not being helped by the general unsteadiness everywhere else.

RB Alvaro Odriozola, 6 — The €30 million right-back was promising in attack in just his third start for Madrid, while understandably a bit shaky in defence. Very unlucky to be the player taken off at half-time to allow Bale on.

CB Raphael Varane, 3 — Completely misjudged a straightforward long ball to allow Jose Luis Morales in for Levante’s opening goal, then his silly handball was spotted by referee and Roger Marti netted the penalty to make it 2-0. All inside the first 13 minutes. The rest of the game was not as calamitous, but it would have been hard to match.

CB Sergio Ramos, 4 — A 400th La Liga game for Madrid was among his worst. He was regularly given the run-around by Levante’s captain Morales and put in no bursts forward either. One of the many senior players who does not appear focused on his job at the moment.

LB Marcelo, 7 — Returning from a calf injury, Marcelo showed how badly he has been missed. He regularly got forward dangerously down the left, and ended the historic run without a goal with a well taken right foot effort from near the penalty spot.

CM Casemiro, 5 — A 100th La Liga game for the Brazilian was one to forget as he was unable to stop Levante regularly counter-attacking through the middle of the pitch. Hit the crossbar with a header at a corner at 2-0 but had little impact.

CM Luka Modric, 6 — The World Cup’s best player has still not got his season properly started, regularly misplacing even simple passes in his own half. Made an effort to turn things around by getting into shooting positions around the box, but didn’t trouble Levante goalkeeper Oier Olazabal.

CM Isco, 4 — Looked very rusty after a month out due to an appendix operation, although one clever disguised pass set up a half-chance for Modric just after half-time. No surprise to see him taken off on the hour mark.

RW Lucas Vazquez, 4 — Missed three clear chances when playing on the right wing in the first half, then contributed little when dropped to right-back after the break.

LW Marco Asensio, 5 — Clearly lacking in confidence at the moment, with just one goal in 12 club games this season. Almost got one back in the first half when forcing the ball over the line from a corner when Madrid were 2-0 down, only for VAR to correctly spot and give offside. He was taken off on the hour mark.

ST Mariano Diaz, 6 — A first ever La Liga start for the 25-year-old, who was eager to make something happen but unable to do so. Hit the woodwork with a flying header in the first half and did find net late on, but the flag was correctly up.

Substitutes

LW Gareth Bale, 6 — Acclaimed as a potential saviour as he came off bench at the break, Bale looked well below 100 percent after recent injury troubles. Had a number of half-chances as he forced Oier into flying save from free kick, and had a minor role in Marcelo’s first goal back. But was still not great.

ST Karim Benzema, 7 — Entered on the hour mark and immediately gave the team an extra level of class. He set up Marcelo for his goal, then shuddered a post soon afterwards with a 20 yard curler. Appeared troubled by a groin problem late on, adding to Madrid’s troubles.

CM Dani Ceballos, 6 — Surprisingly sent on ahead of Toni Kroos, he helped keep the ball flowing towards Levante’s goal during the late pressure.





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For Milan and Inter Sundays derby a chance to show how far theyve come


ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti and Stewart Robson share their predictions for the next chapter between Milan’s rivals.

MILAN, Italy — Stay indoors. Keep the windows closed. Don’t let the kids play outside.

Southerly winds have blown fumes caused by the burning of rubbish you shouldn’t be burning into Milan’s well-to-do neighbourhoods, and the city’s residents are asking questions about what they’re breathing in and whether it’s poisonous. Only one topic is helping to shift conversation and divert attention among the chattering classes out by the canal in Navigli, the bars in Brera and the arcades of the Galleria: Sunday’s eagerly anticipated Derby della Madonnina (Sunday, 2.30pm ET, ESPN+).

One reason for that is the growing confidence among the calcio cognoscenti that its two protagonists are starting to see the light again after too long in the darkness. This is perhaps the first derby since 2012, a year in which Milan sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain and Inter’s treble winners faded, that both teams are perceived to have the kind of quality worthy of the history and tradition of this rivalry.

It’s premature to talk about restoration to its former glory, of course. In fact, the economic stratification of football over the past decade has been so pronounced one wonders if it’s even possible. Nevertheless, it does feel that the instability and dysfunction characteristic of Inter and Milan over the past six years — with three owners each and 16 coaching changes between them — is thankfully over and normal service starting to resume.

Gonzalo Higuain has given Milan the no. 9 they've been sorely lacking and while they're still a work in progress, there's finally hope swirling around the storied club.
Gonzalo Higuain has given Milan the No. 9 they’ve been sorely lacking, and, while they’re still a work in progress, there’s finally hope swirling around the storied club.

The shift in perceptions reached a tipping point over the summer as Inter returned to the Champions League for the first time in six years and Elliott, the American hedge fund, repossessed Milan, appointing Leonardo and Paolo Maldini to run the sporting side of the club while ousting former owner Li Yonghong after he missed a recapitalisation payment. All of a sudden, the Milanesi have a renewed sense of credibility.

In Inter’s case, the passivity of Erick Thohir has been replaced by Suning pumping in half a billion euros to modernise the club, revalue the brand and grow revenues. With Milan, the mysterious Li and the doubts regarding his personal fortune have been redressed by the intervention of Elliott, whose profile and trustworthiness not only were enough to bring about reinstatement to the Europa League but also convinced Maldini to accept Leonardo’s offer, ending his apparent exile and returning him into the fold.

Maldini’s decision in particular represents a huge endorsement of the new project and signals an end to the “House of Cards”-style politicking, the creative differences and the confusion — as incarnated by Li’s tenure and the time Barbara Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani both covered the role of Milan’s chief executive — all of which turned him off returning.

Inter have had their own issues, with Suning initially taking advice from those who helped them get Jiangsu (the company’s Chinese Super League club) off the ground and the appointment as a sporting director for Suning Sports of Walter Sabatini, who has since resigned, in parallel with Piero Ausilio, who does the same job for Inter. The €125.5 million wasted on Gabigol, Joao Mario, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Dalbert continues to haunt Appiano Gentile, but greater clarity does seem to come in the form of Luciano Spalletti, who knows exactly what he wants — a reunion with Radja Nainggolan, please — and the presence of the owner’s son, Steven Zhang, on the ground in Milan.

Hopeful of exiting their settlement agreement with UEFA next summer, Inter have a head start on Milan, but looking at the way Leonardo and Maldini are operating, it doesn’t feel like it’ll be long before the Rossoneri are back in the Champions League.

Inter's resurgence is hitting stride nicely in 2018-19 but there's still some way to go before they bridge the gap to, say, Juventus.
Inter’s resurgence is hitting stride nicely in 2018-19, but there’s still some way to go before they bridge the gap to, say, Juventus.

In Gonzalo Higuain, Leonardo delivered the No. 9 Milan have been missing since the retirement of Pippo Inzaghi. By trading Leonardo Bonucci for Mattia Caldara, a move that left Juventus deeply conflicted, he ensured the team has the defence seemingly set for the next decade, and the announcement last week of the signing of Lucas Paqueta from Flamengo felt like classic Leonardo, following in the tradition of the early swoops to beat the competition for Kaka and Alexandre Pato. The reported role of Kaka in the deal and Rino Gattuso’s continued knack of exceeding expectation in style and results again serve to reinforce the idea that Milan are Milan again.

Every team can be improved, but there is a sense with Milan’s clubs that, at least relative to the lay of the land and where they have been in recent years, they are as complete as they have been in a while. Inter, for instance, have three top centre-backs and are no longer as dependent on Mauro Icardi for goals now that the wingers and midfielders are chipping in. Milan have the centre-forward they were crying out for last season, boast a backline that could start for Italy and can deploy a blossoming Suso in the form of his life.

Make no mistake: there is still a lot of ground to make up, and Juventus remain in a league of their own. But it’s encouraging that, figuratively at least, the air in Milan is clearing, the toxicity is gone and, on the eve of the Madonnina, the future is apparently quite bright.





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Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar flattered by Manchester United summer interest


Mark Donaldson and Craig Burley predict Serie A’s most notable fixtures this weekend, including the Milan derby.

Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar admits he was flattered to be a summer transfer target for Jose Mourinho, but insists he is more than happy at the Nerazzurri in a resurgent Serie A.

The Slovakia international was one of two Italy-based players — along with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly — Mourinho had targeted to strengthen his defence at Manchester United last summer.

With 14 goals conceded in the first eight games of the season, the Red Devils have the joint fourth leakiest defence in the Premier League, inevitably refuelling rumours Mourinho will renew his efforts to sign Skriniar this winter.

The 23-year-old says he is not going to be the man to resolve the Red Devils’ rearguard issues, however.

“When some coach like Jose says that he is looking for a player like me or somebody else, it’s always nice, but I don’t know why these rumours continue,” he told ESPN FC. “I’ve not said anything to anybody, just what you can see on the web.

“Even if Jose is one of the most famous, best, greatest coaches in the world, it’s not something I think of because I’m playing for Inter and am happy here at Inter.

“I’m happy in Milan, it’s a great city, even when my parents or friends come here, we have a look around and I’m happy here and relaxed here. When the results are going well too, it’s all even better.”

Skriniar, whose contract with Inter runs until 2022, is currently enjoying his first taste of Champions League football, with the Nerazzurri heading into a double-header with Barcelona with six points out of six.

And he believes they can look forward to those two games, starting with a trip to the Camp Nou next week, with confidence.

“The Champions League is fantastic — it’s the first time I’ve played in this competition and I’m delighted to be able to play in it with Inter,” Skriniar said. “Our first game was unforgettable because we scored in the 95th minute. I think it was important for the fans also because we were back after so many years and we won the first and also the second game, so it’s great.

“It’s important for us and for Barcelona — we’ve both got six points. Now we go to the Nou Camp and we’ll see. We’ve got to show that we can hold our own against them and play a good game and if we can pick up a few points from these two games, it would be even better.

“I remember [the last-minute winner against Tottenham] really well. As I said, it was important to win the first game in the Champions League.”

That opening victory over Tottenham Hotspur confirmed a resurgence of Italian clubs in Europe, with all four Serie A participants — Inter, Juventus, Roma and Napoli — winning in the same week in the last round of matches.

It was the first time since 2005 that four Italian clubs were triumphant in the Champions League in the same week and it helped Serie A narrow the gap on the Premier League in UEFA’s association club coefficients, confirming the appeal of a league which has been enriched by the high-profile arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in the summer.

“I’m not sure which football is the stronger,” Skriniar said. “We’ve beaten Tottenham and also Napoli beat Liverpool. Maybe [English football] is the most famous in the world, but I’m not sure which is the strongest.”

Inter have certainly shown their strength with a six-game winning streak spanning Serie A and the Champions League, and initial doubts raised in the Italian media earlier on this season have been dispersed by a return to form which coincided with that win over Spurs.

“We want to finish as high as we can — definitely in the top four — but I think we can get even higher,” Skriniar said. “We’ve got to take it bit by bit, game by game, point by point, so we’ll see.

“We were playing well before, but we were not winning and not scoring goals, but now — maybe with the Tottenham game, that is when we started playing better and also getting results and this was important.”





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Premier League W2W4: Jose Mourinho’s most important month at Man United begins


Floyd Konde waxes lyrical as Jose Mourinho prepares to go head-to-head with his former Chelsea charges, now led by Maurizio Sarri.
Floyd Konde waxes lyrical as Jose Mourinho prepares to go head-to-head with his former Chelsea charges, now led by Maurizio Sarri.
ESPN FC’ Alejandro Moreno and Ross Dyer react to Paul Scholes’ assertion that even Lionel Messi couldn’t turn around the current Manchester United.
ESPN FC’s Stewart Robson reveals his best XI for Manchester United ahead of their encounter against Chelsea on Saturday.
The FC crew question if the tactics employed by Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho will lead to an entertaining fixture at Stamford Bridge.
Following a glittering three and a half seasons at Arsenal, it’s clear Alexis Sanchez has yet to hit his stride with Manchester United.

Ahead of each round of fixtures in the Premier League, W2W4 looks at the main storylines to keep an eye on.

The start of Mourinho’s most important month at Old Trafford

There’s an unsettling wind approaching in England, but it’s not the impending cold winter that will be chilling the bones of Premier League managers: it’s sackin’ season. It was around this time that the dominoes started to fall last season, and the man under the most pressure this time is of course Jose Mourinho. That insane victory over Newcastle before the international break might have saved him for now, but Manchester United have a month or so ahead that may well define their season and his.

They face Manchester City on Nov. 11, and between now and then there are two Champions League games against Juventus, a trip to Bournemouth and a home game against Everton. But before all of them, a game against his old team, the place he used to say he was happiest, but also the place where his decline was demonstrated so dramatically: Chelsea.

– Mitten: United, Mourinho back in the spotlight

But this is a game about more than just a manager facing his former team. It’s a game that could determine whether the Newcastle comeback was a brief sticking plaster, or the sign of a recovery. It’s a game that, on a basic level, could see United in a worse position than at the same stage under David Moyes. It’s a game that could potentially put them 10 points off the top of the Premier League and into the bottom half of the table.

And ultimately, it’s a game that could shape the most important month of Mourinho’s tenure at United. Which, unless it goes well, might be his last.

Can Liverpool improve against the Premier League’s weakest?

Here’s one for you stat fans: Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have beaten sides in the bottom three six times in 19 games. In that same time, they have beaten Manchester City six times. You could think of this as a statistical curiosity, you could think of it as a tribute to their strength against the very best, or you could think of it as a concern and something that could be a barrier to any title challenge.

International injuries: Liverpool hit by ‘FIFA virus’

As Liverpool face 18th-place Huddersfield this weekend, for the moment it has to be the latter. Klopp’s Liverpool are essentially whatever the opposite of flat-track bullies are, but to rack up the points and keep on City’s tail, they will have to improve their record against the weakest. The number of injury issues they have (Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane all suffered problems on international duty) could be a concern, but in theory they should have enough to beat a Huddersfield side who have been largely desperate this term. In theory.

Are Arsenal really back?

Unai Emery was reticent when asked about his fans chanting “We’ve got our Arsenal back” as they sauntered to a 5-1 win over Fulham last time out. Understandably so: he won’t want to give the impression that the job is already done just a couple of months into his time in England.

Things are looking pretty good, given they’ve won nine straight games in all competitions, but most of those games have been against relatively modest opposition. Monday’s opponents Leicester might fall into that category too, as will their following three fixtures (Sporting, Crystal Palace and Blackpool), but after that they face Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham inside a month. We’ll find out how good they are then, but if they go into that run on the back of 13 successive victories, they’ll be in much better shape to succeed.

Can Harry Winks become key for Tottenham?

One of the most interesting elements of England’s new, exciting generation of young players is that plenty of them seem to be passing midfielders. One of those is Harry Winks, influential in the terrific win over Spain, but while he has been on the fringes of his club side for a season or two now, he has yet to establish himself in the starting XI.

This weekend might be a key indicator of just how highly Mauricio Pochettino rates him. Winks started Tottenham’s past two games, but that was in the absence of Mousa Dembele, missing with a thigh injury. The Belgian is now back and available for selection, so it essentially seems like Pochettino has a straight choice between the two: if he opts for the Englishman, it could be a sign that Winks is in the team to stay.

Southampton are heading for a big fall

Last season saw Southampton escape relegation at the last, a couple of crucial late wins proving just enough to keep their heads above water. But it felt like delaying the inevitable, a temporary reprieve for a club that have lost their way. Their start to this season seems to have backed that up: just one victory, five defeats and they haven’t even managed a goal in their past three games. Only the incompetence of others has kept them out of the relegation zone.

A south coast team on the way down, this weekend they meet a south coast team on the way up, Bournemouth fresh from pulverising Watford last time out. Where once the Saints were seen as the model smaller club, Bournemouth look like it now: you could think of victory for Eddie Howe’s side as symbolic, a changing of the guard in that part of the world.





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Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are fun but they need to be ruthless if they’re to make a title push


Liverpool and Brazil’s Fabinho insists he is still trying to settle into life under Jurgen Klopp and that his demands in training and matches are extremely intense.

After a so-called nightmare month of tough fixtures, Liverpool remain well placed in the Premier League.

They’ve had a few things go their way late in games. Tottenham were denied a clear penalty in the Reds’ eventual 2-1 win, Daniel Sturridge scored a breathtaking equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Chelsea, while Riyad Mahrez blasted his penalty well over the bar in the 0-0 draw with Manchester City.

That’s how it goes in the biggest clashes: the tiniest moment can turn matches for you or against you. Had they not happened, Liverpool would be six points off the leaders. Not debilitating exactly, so early in the season, but enough to dishearten a club that set its sights on higher things after a big transfer outlay.

In the next few weeks, they will face a reversal in fixture difficulty, beginning with Huddersfield Town on Saturday. While some sit back and smugly wait for the points to roll in, others will be aware that if anything, “flat-track bullying” is the hardest skill to master. It takes intensity, complete focus, respect for the opposition and a surgically precise use of what is already becoming a depleted squad thanks to injuries on international duty.

The transfer spending this summer was of course meant to minimise the underlying dangers of such a sequence, and here comes the first real test of Jurgen Klopp’s 2018 teambuilding. He’s being hampered slightly by a less-than-impressive impact from both Fabinho and Naby Keita. Good results have deflected attention away from the fact that Klopp spent £100 million on two players who have so far failed to deliver what was promised.

The manager has had one big rotation success this season, a 3-0 home win against Southampton where he predicted the visitors’ early caution and used Xherdan Shaqiri in a creative midfield role that ensured the match was over by half-time. Klopp will need more of such choices and stratagems in the coming month. Apart from a visit to Arsenal, Liverpool face a string of league games they really ought to win.

In his first full season at the helm, he often struggled against the bottom 10 sides and was rescued by an impressive list of results against the top 10. His second season in charge was more realistic, with a very healthy 49 points out of a maximum 60 from the bottom 10 sides. In this his third season, the challenge is to combine his team’s efficiency against all teams, wherever they are in the league.

There have always been one or two anecdotes about Klopp’s love of entertainment, with a perceived emphasis on that over the actual results. One recent tale told by Maurizio Sarri about the recent Chelsea clash had a humorous side certainly — Klopp asking his opposite number if he was having fun — but only in the knowledge Liverpool grabbed a late equaliser. Had the score stayed 1-0 to Chelsea, the story would not be so heartwarming.

In year three, Klopp secretly knows he has to deliver something. A trophy would be nice, a significant Premier League challenge that stretched into spring also.

Talk of entertainment and having fun could smack a little of lowering the bar, or it’s probably Klopp just trying to project an aura of calm in case his players start to feel the rising heat a little too much. Liverpool didn’t give him £140 million to spend on Alisson and Virgil van Dijk for fun, certainly.

It is odd that fans are hurt more by defeat against the biggest teams, even though such games can twist and turn on minute details. Having reached a higher level under Klopp, a systematic ruthless garnering of points against the smaller clubs is almost being considered routine by a lot of people. That brings its own pressure, and the discipline needed to bring about such a run of results is the most accurate measure of whether a club has title-winning potential or not.

In the 28 years since their last title, Liverpool often overcame the more talented teams. Anyone can defy the odds if everything falls into place on a given day. That in itself is clearly not enough. Liverpool have begun this league season extremely well. They’ve won all of their opening fixtures they would be expected to win, with healthy results against obvious title rivals.

In the next few weeks it’s vital to return to winning ways and demonstrate Liverpool at last have a ruthless streak, laced with efficiency and control. Such matches may not raise the pulse and grab the headlines, but when Bill Shankly said the league was a marathon not a sprint, games like the one against Huddersfield were precisely what he had in mind.

Klopp may want everyone to have fun, but the Liverpool job is still a tightrope walk where any fall can be fatal.





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Barcelona’s Luis Suarez available but face injuries on defence ahead of tough stretch


ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno and Ross Dyer make their picks for the weekend’s key La Liga fixtures.
Will league-leading Sevilla’s fine run of form continue against Barcelona? Sid Lowe weighs in on the weekend clash between La Liga’s top two.
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Lionel Messi visits the SJD Pediatric Cancer Center and greets the children at a charity event in Barcelona.

BARCELONA — Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto are fit for Barcelona’s triple-header against Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid this week but they still have problems in the middle of defence.

Samuel Umtiti remains sidelined for the foreseeable future with a knee problem, while Thomas Vermaelen will miss the next six weeks with a hamstring injury picked up on international duty with Belgium.

That leaves coach Ernesto Valverde with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet as his only fit centre-backs as Barca prepare for the biggest week of their season so far.

Following four winless games in La Liga, which has seen them relinquish top spot, they return to action on Saturday at home to league leaders Sevilla. Inter are then due at Camp Nou on Wednesday ahead of next Sunday’s Clasico.

“I think Sergi [Roberto] and Suarez will both be available this weekend,” Valverde said in a news conference on Friday.

“But [Umtiti] is still in a recovery process. He needs training to strengthen the muscle, so he has fewer problems [in the future]. We hope he’s back with us soon, but I can’t say when because I am not a doctor.”

Suarez and Roberto have benefitted from the international break. The former didn’t join up with the Uruguay squad, instead staying in Barcelona to work on a knee injury, while the latter returned to training this week from a back problem.

Pique is also free of international duty since retiring in the summer but he has put in more air miles than any other player during the last week. The defender travelled to China to watch the Shanghai Masters and then to Madrid to launch his new revamped version of tennis’ Davis Cup.

His journeys come at a time when Barca are struggling in defence — they have conceded nine goals in eight league games — and have provoked complaints in the local media over his commitment to the club’s cause.

“The issue with Pique, the journeys and all that, it doesn’t worry me,” Valverde said. “The only thing that irritates me about him is that he had a brilliant idea [the Davis Cup] and it didn’t occur to me. That’ s the only thing, other than that, there’s no problem with him. He’s 100 percent.”

With only Pique and Lenglet available in the middle of defence, Valverde has been forced to look for reinforcements elsewhere. He says B team players Chumi and Oriol Busquets are options, while Sergio Busquets could also play there in an emergency.

Valverde also said he has spoken with Arturo Vidal after the player took to social media to express his dissatisfaction at a lack of minutes since joining from Bayern Munich in the summer.

“The idea is to solve any problems we have inside the dressing room, not outside, and we will keep things that way,” the coach said. “But, yes, I have spoken with Arturo Vidal, of course, but I won’t detail about what. We try to deal with things this way so there’s not so much drama generated, as there has been in the last few weeks.”





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Liga MX W2W4 America, Santos Laguna, Cruz Azul vie for first place


A battered Estadio Azteca hosts Club America and Tijuana

You don’t expect to talk about the state of a pitch as the main storyline for a mid-season Liga MX game. Unfortunately, the horrendous work done on the Estadio Azteca pitch, spearheaded by a Costa Rican company last summer, has yielded more than its share of controversy for producing subpar conditions this season. Just when it looked like the pitch had recovered, a Shakira concert earlier this week held on the stadium grass has left it reeling once more.

A rush job to help playing conditions will be tested this Saturday, when Miguel Herrera hosts his former club Tijuana in Mexico City as they look to cement a playoff position moving forward. Cecilio Dominguez, the talented Paraguay winger, looks to be unavailable for the home side coming back from the international break, boosting the chances that 18-year-old starlet Diego Lainez might get a chance to go from the start. Following a strong showing against Costa Rica, striker Henry Martin also looks to be in line to receive significant minutes ahead of either Oribe Peralta or Roger Martinez.

On the Tijuana side, manager Diego Cocca has said the America match is the first of “five finals” that the team needs to get through in order to have a chance at making the playoffs.

Matches in the past between both of these teams have been exceedingly close — the last three have been draws — with Club America not being able to grab all three points against Tijuana at home since 2016. — Eric Gomez

Three-way fight for top of the table 

Cruz Azul’s position at the top of the league table might soon be over. Although La Maquina currently has an impressive tally of 26 points after 12 weeks, two teams sit only two points behind: Club America and Santos Laguna. If Cruz Azul fails to garner an away win against Queretaro on Saturday afternoon, a spot at the very top would then immediately be up for grabs.

Later on Saturday, Club America could gain some ground when Las Aguilas host Club Tijuana at the Estadio Azteca. In spite of the frequent number of upsets seen in nearly every Liga MX weekend — and the unexpected factor of recent Shakira concerts damaging the Azteca pitch — all signs point to a win for Club America over Xolos.

Of course, we can’t forget Santos Laguna either, who kick off against Pachuca at the same time as the clash at the Azteca. If a couple of results over the weekend work in their favor, Los Guerreros can easily sneak into the No. 1 spot of the table with a win. Keeping in mind that Santos Laguna striker Julio Furch is on an incredible run of form with nine goals and four assists, it’s fairly easy to predict a win for his side this weekend.

Either way, be sure to keep an eye on the three teams who will be fighting for first place this Saturday. — Cesar Hernandez

Veracruz seeks to break winless streak vs. fellow bottom dweller Atlas 

No teams have looked more bleak or listless than Veracruz or Atlas this season. In fact, if you were to combine their point tallies, they would still sit in a lackluster position at 14th in the league table.

For better or worse, both squads are set to face-off this Friday night.

Looking at Veracruz, there is now a golden opportunity to end a five-game winless streak that has held the club down at a dismal spot in 17th place. As the team with the worst defense in the league, Los Tiburones Rojos should fully capitalize on an Atlas roster that has only found the back of the net four times in 12 games.

However, Atlas has also shown some recent glimpses of magic. Back in Week 11, Los Rojinegros stunned Mexican soccer fans after clinching a 2-0 home win over Toluca. Despite the fact that the result remains as Atlas’ lone victory in the Apertura, it could still help revive the 18th-placed club that has shown recent signs of progress in the attack.

There’s no way of missing out on Atlas vs Veracruz on Friday night. If you’re hoping to watch an unpredictable game between two hapless and highly flawed sides — which will also see the debut of video-assisted referree in league play — that will be eager to exploit one another, look no further. — Hernandez





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Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri ‘not interested’ in Andreas Christensen quit threat


The FC crew question if the tactics employed by Maurizio Sarri and Jose Mourinho will lead to an entertaining fixture at Stamford Bridge.
ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol sifts through the latest rumours involving Antonio Conte, Neymar, Olivier Giroud and more.
Stevie Nicol and Mark Donaldson give their picks for this weekend’s Premier League fixtures including the headliner of Chelsea vs. Manchester United.

LONDON — Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has said he is “not interested” in the threat that Andreas Christensen could ask for a transfer in January if he does not play more, but added that the defender has a future at Stamford Bridge.

Christensen’s father and agent Sten told Danish television on Friday that his son does not want to leave Chelsea on loan again and will seek a permanent exit if his opportunities do not increase.

Sarri has employed a back four and returned David Luiz to the starting XI alongside Antonio Rudiger, leaving Christensen — who broke into the team at the expense of Luiz under Antonio Conte last season — out.

But speaking in a news conference ahead of Chelsea’s clash with Manchester United on Saturday, the manager said: “The father? I’m not interested… the father? No.

“What can I say? I think that, in the first part of the season, David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger have played really very well, so it’s not easy to change.

“I think, also, that in our last six matches, Christensen has played in three of them. So I think for his father, maybe the Europa League is not important. But for us, it’s important.”

Christensen has voiced frustration at the situation, describing his lack of minutes under Sarri as “very difficult.”

Sarri, however, stressed that he rates the 22-year-old highly and intends to involve him more as the season progresses.

“He is very young,” the Italian added. “I think he has to improve. But I think that he’s a technical defender, so I think he is suitable for me and my way of football. I think that, in the future, he will be available to play very often.”

In an interview with Danish television, Sten Christensen said he did not consider a loan move in the New Year to be a viable option.

“If his situation doesn’t change around Christmas, we’ll obviously schedule a chat with Chelsea and say: ‘OK, what can we do for Andreas? Can we move him?'” he said.

“For me, it’s not a loan again. Either it’s Chelsea or else he needs to leave. I don’t think a loan is the optimal situation for Andreas. It’s sort of either or.

“I think, unfortunately, Chelsea have too many players who just go out on loan if they aren’t going to use them, and I don’t think Andreas should get caught in that.

“I’m of the conviction that we’ll attempt to move Andreas in the winter time [if he is not playing]. Around Christmas, something else needs to happen.”

Christensen has come closer than any Chelsea academy graduate since John Terry to establishing himself as a regular, starting 23 Premier League matches last season at the heart of a back three.

Selling him would be a difficult decision for Chelsea, particularly given that Luiz, keeping him out of the team, is 32 in April and out of contract in June.





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Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui dodges questions regarding future


Are Real Madrid preparing to swap managers? Gab Marcotti and Sid Lowe weigh in on the reports linking Antonio Conte to the Bernabeu.
ESPN FC’s Steve Nicol sifts through the latest rumours involving Antonio Conte, Neymar, Olivier Giroud and more.
ESPN FC’s fantasy expert Mark Donaldson shares his tips for this weekend’s La Liga matches, including choosing Real Madrid’s Luka Modric who has a tasty match up with Levante.
ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno and Ross Dyer make their picks for the weekend’s key La Liga fixtures.
Manu Garcia struck true and left no time for an answer, as Alavés knocked off Real Madrid at a rowdy Mendizorrotza Stadium.

Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui has dodged questions over whether he feels supported by the board — leaving the impression that he is aware his job is on the line ahead of next weekend’s La Liga Clasico at Barcelona.

The European champions are without a win or a goal in their last four matches, and there was intense speculation over Lopetegui’s future during the international break.

Lopetegui was asked on four separate occasions at a news conference on Friday whether he had received any private assurances from above that his job was safe.

“I am absolutely relaxed and just focused on my work,” Lopetegui said. “We are just really looking forward to tomorrow’s game. This season is only beginning, nobody knows yet what will happen. We have to show on the pitch what we can do, obviously with some things we can improve.”

Ahead of next weekend’s trip to the Camp Nou, Madrid face Levante at home in La Liga on Saturday before hosting Viktoria Plzen at the Bernabeu in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Lopetegui accepted that the demands for success at Madrid are “maximum” but pointed out that all teams go through dips in form over a season, and there was still more than enough time for he and his side to come through this one and challenge for all major trophies this season.

“I am feeling fine, this is Real Madrid and the demands are maximum,” he said. “There are three points in play tomorrow, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante. There are ups and downs in a season, but we have the ambition and motivation and we must keep on working and keep believing.”

Lopetegui was evasive when asked whether any or all of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema or Isco would return from injury for Saturday’s game, using the fact that the news conference was taking place before Friday’s training session to avoid giving exact fitness updates.

“Some players have had more time to recover and fortunately we have not had any new injuries [during the international break],” he said. “We have more options now. We will see from training, must wait [on Bale] to see how it goes, and make our decision for tomorrow. We are optimistic.”

A local reporter tried to interrupt Lopetegui to clarify a question asked about Toni Kroos saying on international duty with Germany that he was “not a Casemiro.”

“I understood what you were asking,” Lopetegui said. “That Kroos is not Casemiro is obvious, just as Casemiro is not Kroos. They are different players, but Kroos has played many times in this [holding] position, and done marvellously.”

Lopetegui was calmer when asked about Bale’s injury situation — with the Wales international having joined up with his national squad last week but returned to the Bernabeu without playing a game due to an as yet not officially confirmed muscle complaint.

“Gareth has been very responsible,” Lopetegui said. “He did not play with his national team when maybe he could have forced things. So he has a chance to recover and come back tomorrow.”

Lopetegui said that he is unlikely to bring in reinforcements in the winter transfer window.

“The solution is within the players I have,” he said. “I have full confidence in my squad, all the players. I am sure we will play a great season — each competition is still to be decided, there is a long way to go yet. Each season has ups and downs, but I am sure we will arrive strong at the end.

“At the moment we are just focused on tomorrow’s game – against a tough opponent who have won their last two games – not looking any further. There are three points in play, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante.”





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Transfer Rater Neymar to Barcelona Marcus Rashford to Juventus



Things change in the blink of an eye in football. The Football Whispers Index takes the latest transfer rumours and gives them a score out of five; the higher the score, the more realistic and reliable the Whisper.

Here are today’s top five emerging whispers. And keep an eye on Transfer Talk for all the latest gossip.

Alberto Moreno to Arsenal

The Liverpool left-back has indicated that he is not going to sign a new deal at the club and will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season. This has alerted a number of sides including Arsenal, according to the Mirror, who also report that Moreno has turned down extensions to his current deal in search of first-team football. Unai Emery has previously worked with Moreno at Sevilla, and is looking for options at left-back having used 32-year-old Nacho Monreal in the position so far this season.

Oleksandr Zinchenko to Betis

The 21-year-old Ukraine international is another player in search of first-team football having struggled to break into the Manchester City side on a regular basis. Spanish outlet AS are reporting that the versatile youngster is a target for La Liga side Real Betis, who are in the market for a left back. Though Zinchenko would consider himself a midfielder, he impressed at full back for Pep Guardiola’s side and this could give him more first-team football in the long run.

Marcus Rashford to Juventus

Juventus sent their scouts to the UEFA Nations League clash between Spain and England, with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford the focus of their attention. Reports in Italy by Tuttosport state the Italian champions are looking to take advantage of the 20-year-old’s unhappiness at his hometown club, and will look to make a move for the forward, whose contract has less than two years to run.

Neymar to Barcelona

Rumours of Neymar’s possible return to Barcelona have been given extra weight following new details that have emerged in the Spanish media. Reports on radio station Cadena Ser suggest the player has an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi that will allow him to leave at the end of the season. The deal could see the Brazilian return to the Catalan club for a similar fee that saw him leave for the French capital in 2017.

Franco Vazquez to West Ham United

Manuel Pellegrini’s side will target a forward in the January transfer window, with Sevilla’s Franco Vazquez at the top of their list. Local Seville-based outlet Estadio Deportivo believe that the Argentine could favour a move to east London due to his friendship with one of West Ham’s assistant coaches, Enzo Maresca, who played alongside Vazquez at Palermo. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder has a release clause of around £35 million, but the Premier League club will try to negotiate a lower fee ahead of a possible January move.





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In form Eden Hazard can show Man United first hand the superstar they missed out on in 2012


The guys react to Eden Hazard’s comments about playing for Real Madrid and wonder if Chelsea should begin to make preparations for his departure.
Paul Mariner rates the sensibility of the latest transfer links, including potential comings and goings at Chelsea and Manchester United.
Eden Hazard’s performances at Chelsea are making him a target for bigger European clubs, according to former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien.

When Eden Hazard was weighing up his options after deciding to leave Lille for the Premier League in the summer of 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson made what he thought would be the clinching pitch in terms of persuading the Belgian winger to join Manchester United.

Ferguson, who knew that Manchester City and Chelsea were also battling to sign Hazard, told the then-21-year-old that he would turn him into a world star, citing the example of Cristiano Ronaldo, who had arrived at Old Trafford as a teenager eight years earlier. Hazard was told by Ferguson that nobody could match his or United’s track record when it came to polishing rough diamonds, but despite the big sell, the player chose to reject both United and City in order to sign for Chelsea.

It was a surprise choice. City were the newly crowned Premier League champions and United were still the big draw they had always been under Ferguson, but the lure of London — sources at City and United suggested at the time that only Chelsea were prepared to meet Hazard’s wage demands — proved too great and Hazard headed for Stamford Bridge.

United and Ferguson quickly overcame the disappointment of missing out on Hazard by signing Robin van Persie from Arsenal later that summer and, with the Dutchman’s goals proving so crucial in helping United reclaim the title, Chelsea’s gain did not feel too much like United’s loss initially. But six years on, not only have Chelsea proved to be the big winners from the Hazard pursuit in 2012, Ferguson’s vision of the player’s potential has also been borne out.

Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may still occupy the top two spots in world football’s superstar hierarchy — who sits where in that duopoly depends on your point of view — but on current form, it would be difficult to find a player in more impressive form than Hazard. Kylian Mbappe is unquestionably football’s rising star and the player most likely to dominate the next generation, while Antoine Griezmann, Mohamed Salah and Neymar will all have their supporters. But Hazard’s hot streak from the World Cup with Belgium has now continued into the Premier League campaign with Chelsea and he appears to be back to his best under the management of Maurizio Sarri.

Eden Hazard is thriving at Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri but has made no secret of his desire to join Real Madrid.
Eden Hazard is thriving at Chelsea under Maurizio Sarri but has made no secret of his desire to join Real Madrid.

The Belgian has hit eight goals in all competitions for Chelsea already this season and his performances are a major reason Sarri’s team go into Saturday’s clash with United as joint leaders of the Premier League. The Italian coach has given Hazard the licence to play his natural game, roaming across the front three and dropping off to pick holes in opposition defences, and he is flourishing after being relieved of the more defensive duties demanded of him by Antonio Conte.

Last term, Hazard scored 12 goals in 34 league games under Conte, but he already has seven in eight under Sarri and is on course to eclipse his best season in a Chelsea shirt, when he scored 16 league goals in the 2016-17 title-winning campaign. But if Hazard is to do what Ferguson believed he was capable of and develop into the player that Ronaldo became at United, he has to smash that 16-goal barrier and hit well past 20 this season. The links with Real Madrid are genuine and Hazard is worthy of their interest, but at 27, he must now show he is capable of climbing to the next level to be one of those players preparing to shove Ronaldo and Messi from their pedestal.

Right now, he doesn’t score enough goals, especially when you consider that his tally is topped up with penalties. But with Sarri giving him the freedom to focus more heavily on hurting the opposition, he now has the opportunity to elevate himself into the superstar stratosphere. The irony for Chelsea, of course, is that if Sarri does make Hazard the finished article this season, it simply makes it more likely he leaves for Madrid. Hazard has made no secret of his desire to play for the Champions League winners and next summer will be a crucial period because his contract will enter its final 12 months at Stamford Bridge.

In the end, Ferguson knew for a whole year that Ronaldo was leaving United at the end of the 2008-09 season, but he made sure that the Portuguese gave everything for the cause before heading off to Spain. There may be a similar sense of inevitability about Hazard’s future, but Chelsea should simply make the most of him while they have him. Ferguson was right, Hazard can be in the same bracket as Ronaldo and United might just be about to discover that first-hand on Saturday.





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UEFA still probing reported fan incidents in Paris Saint-Germain Red Star match


UEFA have decided to further investigate the incidents surrounding Paris Saint-Germain’s 6-1 Champions League Group C win over Red Star Belgrade earlier this month.

European football’s governing body confirmed in a statement on Thursday that an “Ethics and Disciplinary inspector” will assess the behaviour of the French and Serbian giants’ fans before any action is taken over the “reported incidents.”

Despite the closure of the Auteuil stand, where PSG’s ultras gather, as well as a ban on travelling fans from Serbia, an increased security presence could not prevent fighting outside the ground after the match.

UEFA opened its disciplinary proceedings against the two clubs, with both charged — PSG over fireworks being set off and Red Star for offensive chanting.

For the moment, PSG have been hit with a €20,000 fine because of the fixture’s late kickoff and coach Thomas Tuchel has also received an official warning after he contributed towards the delay.

UEFA’s investigation into the reported incidents surrounding the encounter in the French capital is unrelated to another one, this time led by France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s office (PNF), which is examining potential match-fixing within the Red Star hierarchy.

L’Equipe reported last Friday that the Serbian official in question is suspected of betting €5 million, via accomplices, on Red Star to lose by five goals, while UEFA’s ethics and disciplinary angle concerns the use of “fireworks, crowd disturbances, late kick-off and improper conduct of officials” on PSG’s part and “illicit chanting and crowd disturbances” on Red Star’s.

UEFA did not rule out potential future punishment for either of the clubs, so the appointed inspector can and probably will hand down further sanctions.

However, for the moment, Les Parisiens‘ two remaining Champions League Group C games at Parc des Princes will go ahead as normal after the closure of the Auteuil end for the visit of Red Star as punishment for bad crowd behaviour during last season’s round-of-16 defeat to Real Madrid.

In any case, PSG have started to take matters into their own hands by banning season ticket holders who have been identified as part of the issues that marred the Red Star win.





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Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk available for Huddersfield match – sources


ESPN FC’s Ale Moreno assesses the latest transfer rumours surrounding Raheem Sterling, Dejan Lovren, Arturo Vidal and many more.

Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk are expected to be available for selection for Liverpool’s trip to Huddersfield Town on Saturday, while Naby Keita looks to be sidelined for around two weeks, sources have told ESPN FC.

Salah and Van Dijk withdrew from their national teams over the international break amid fitness concerns, but trained at Melwood on Thursday afternoon.

A source close to Keita in Guinea told ESPN FC that the player is expected to be ruled out for at least two weeks with his hamstring injury.

Sadio Mane’s availability remains uncertain after he had surgery on the fractured thumb he suffered when away with Senegal and was absent from full Liverpool training on Thursday.

Salah was forced off late in Egypt’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with Swaziland on Saturday because of a groin issue and missed the return fixture three days later.

Van Dijk, meanwhile, has been battling broken ribs for several weeks, according to Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman, and sat out Tuesday’s friendly with Belgium.

James Milner also trained on Thursday, having injured his hamstring in Liverpool’s game with Manchester City over the international break.

Salah and Van Dijk returned to Melwood, where their fitness was assessed by the club’s medical staff, and look set to be fit to feature against Huddersfield, who sit 18th in the Premier League table.

While Jurgen Klopp is expected to be able to call upon two of his most important players on the weekend, he is set to be without Keita for a short period.

Keita sustained the issue while playing on an artificial surface for Guinea in Rwanda on Tuesday.

Huddersfield boss David Wagner, however, believes Klopp, an extremely close friend of his and teammate at Mainz in their playing days, may be overplaying Liverpool’s injury problems.

“I have known Jurgen long enough, I know he loves to use smokescreens,” Wagner told a news conference on Thursday. “I expect that most of his players will be available.

“I have known him long enough and he likes to moan after the international break.”

Liverpool have made a strong start to the campaign with 20 points from eight matches to sit third in the table as one of three unbeaten sides.

Huddersfield’s form is a stark contrast as they seek a first win to potentially climb out of the relegation zone.

Wagner said Saturday’s match represented a chance to build on a 1-1 draw at Burnley last time out.

“Now we have a great opportunity, a wonderful game in front of our fans against a very strong side, where we can hopefully perform at the same level [as our last game]. That’s what we like to do,” Wagner added.

“Every performance gives you belief and every win gives you belief — unfortunately we have no wins so far — but we have performed at a good level consistently over the last weeks and in training the guys look very good as well.

“Sometimes football writes some great stories and nobody knows what is going to happen on Saturday.”

Information from Reuters was used in this story.





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Cristiano Ronaldo joining Juventus saw club ‘kick me out’ – Gonzalo Higuain


AC Milan enjoy a comfortable 3-1 win over Chievo ahead of their showdown with Inter in two weeks after the international break.
Italian Serie A: Gonzalo Higuain – AC Milan 2-0 Chievo Verona
ESPN FC’s Paul Mariner believes the ball is in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s court when it comes to the rumours linking him with a loan move to Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain has said he was “kicked out” of Juventus this summer following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.

Juventus broke their transfer record to sign Cristiano Ronaldo for €100 million, and Higuain left to join AC Milan soon after.

But, while the Argentine said the signing of the former Manchester United man was the final nail in the coffin, the issues began back in May when he was left out of the starting line-up for the Coppa Italia final.

“Inside me, I had the feeling something had something was broken that day,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport when asked whether things took a downward turn after that final. “Then they signed Ronaldo.

“It wasn’t my decision to leave. I gave everything for Juve. I won many trophies then, after Cristiano arrived, the club wanted to make a jump in quality and they told me that I couldn’t stay and they were trying to find a solution.”

Higuain was Juventus’ record transfer before the arrival of Ronaldo and, in two seasons with the club, won two Serie A and Coppa Italia doubles. But, despite being forced to leave, he said he does not bear the club any ill feelings.

“My feelings are that of affection because they really looked after me,” the 30-year-old said. “Both teammates and fans gave me so much affection.

“But I did not ask to leave. Effectively, everyone says it: they kicked me out. At Milan, I immediately received a lot of love and that is how they convinced me [to join].”





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Barcelona’s Arturo Vidal to pay 800,000 euros after nightclub dispute


‘Take The Ball, Pass The Ball’ will feature former and current Barcelona players looking back on Pep Guardiola’s four years and 14 trophies with the club.
ESPN FC’s La Liga correspondent Sid Lowe digs deeper into what’s plaguing Real Madrid and Barcelona during their respective winless streaks.
ESPN FC’s Alejandro Moreno explains how Barcelona’s defensive frailties are impacting all aspects of their game.

Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal has been given an €800,000 penalty order by a Munich court after being charged with aggravated battery following a dispute at a disco last year.

Last year, former Bayern Munich player Vidal was part of a group that allegedly attacked another guest with a bottle of vodka at Crown’s Club in September.

Vidal and his half-brother Sandrino, who was also part of the group, did not appear before the district court on Wednesday, with Vidal playing in Chile’s friendly against Mexico.

At the court on Wednesday, Vidal’s lawyer said he could not appear before the court “for job-related reasons.”

Both were given penalty orders but will be able to appeal within the next two weeks. If they choose not to appeal the penalty orders will be final, but if they do so the trial will continue.

The 31-year-old was hit with 80 daily rates of income, which the court set at €10,000 after deducting alimony for his family.

The court refrained from issuing an arrest warrant, calling that “out of proportion.”





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Juventus invite schoolchildren into stand closed for racist chanting vs. Napoli


Juventus are to ensure their stadium will be full for the visit of Genoa on Sunday, in spite of a partial closure, by inviting schoolchildren to fill the gaps.

The Bianconeri were ordered to close the Curva Sud after fans in that area of the stadium were heard making racist and territorial discriminatory chants during their win over Napoli.

Their appeal against the closure was rejected, meaning they have now turned to a solution they used in the past to fill the stadium after the Curva was closed by inviting schoolchildren born between 2004 and 2011 to attend for free.

“Juventus are against any form of social and territorial discrimination, racism, xenophobia and violence,” a statement on the Serie A champions’ website read. “The one against discrimination is a commitment that sees Juventus amongst the forerunners that also look to involve local communities.

“Following the closure of the Curva Sud decided by the Giudice Sportivo for Saturday’s match against Genoa, the Allianz Stadium will instead host the children belonging to the amateur clubs of Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta, born between 2004 and 2011.

“The initiative, which was well received from the FIGC [Italian FA] is called ‘Gioca con me… tifa con me‘ [Play with me…cheer with me], that falls within the Juventus programmes against racism, alongside the projects: ‘Colour? What Colour?’ created with UNESCO, ‘A kick to racism’ and ‘Gioca con me‘, developed in collaboration with the UNESCO centre of Turin.

“Their objectives are to rediscover the passion for sport and to create a sporting spirit that is also used as an example for future generations.”

Juve launched the same initiative in 2013, when both the Curva Sud and the Curva Nord were closed.

However, it backfired with many of the children copying their peers by making similar discriminatory chants in the 1-0 win over Udinese, leading to further sanctions.





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Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini fit Jesse Lingard doubtful for Chelsea


France captain Hugo Lloris believes Paul Pogba gets judged unfairly because of the record transfer fee Manchester United paid for the midfielder in 2016.
Steve Nicol suggests Marcus Rashford’s lack of game time at Manchester United is affecting his sharpness with England, despite creating chances.
Jon Champion says Jose Mourinho makes himself an easy target for criticism and explains why the Man United boss’ antics make him uncomfortable.
Romelu Lukaku scored twice in Belgium’s win over Switzerland, but the FC crew observe an inconsistency in front of goal for the Man United star.

Marouane Fellaini should be fit for Manchester United’s trip to Chelsea on Saturday but Jesse Lingard is a major doubt.

Fellaini missed Belgium’s 1-1 draw with Netherlands on Tuesday due to a groin injury but manager Roberto Martinez suggested the midfielder had been left out as a precaution.

“He should be fine, it’s just he wasn’t 100 percent,” Martinez said. “He’s got an important game at the weekend and this wasn’t the game to use players who weren’t 100 percent.

“We expect he should be fine in the next couple of days.”

However, United are likely to head to Chelsea on Saturday without Lingard. The 25-year-old missed England’s UEFA Nations League games against Croatia and Spain during the international break because of a groin injury.

He has been receiving treatment at Carrington in a bid to get him ready to face Chelsea but on Tuesday posted an update on social media.

“Back on the pitch soon,” he said. “My injury will take time but I’ll be back stronger than ever.”

Jose Mourinho is also sweating over the fitness of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw.

Matic is a doubt with a back injury but sources have told ESPN FC that there is hope Shaw and Herrera will be passed fit.





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Manchester City may buy big but they sell smart as business model becomes a cash cow


In spite of speculation that Real Madrid are interested in the talented winger, Craig Burley doesn’t think Raheem Sterling is quite at the level of a Galactico.

Manchester City have spent a lot of money. It is both a refrain of Jose Mourinho’s and the truth. Yet it is also true that a club with the fifth-highest turnover in world football are beginning to bring in a lot. City have reported profits in each of the last four financial years, with a surplus of £10.4 million in the 2017-18 season.

That owes something to a profitable ploy: selling players they were unlikely to pick. It sounds obvious, but few have made as much money from superfluous figures as City in recent years. It is an illustration of how a supposed billionaire’s plaything has become a business. The significant numbers at the Etihad Stadium do not just concern the goals, points and wins accrued in a record-breaking season.

In this year’s annual report, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak wrote of “our strategy for on-field success with a commercially and financially sustainable organisation.” Sales help with the sustainability.

This summer around 60 percent of Riyad Mahrez’s club-record purchase was funded by disposing of fringe figures: they raised about £36m from Angus Gunn, Jason Denayer, Bersant Celina, Olarenwaju Kayode, Pablo Maffeo and Angelino. Together, they made a grand total of seven City appearances, with only a 13-minute cameo from Celina in the Premier League. Had Oleksandr Zinchenko, signed for £1.5m and valued at £16 million when Fulham and Wolves were interested, also gone, City’s net spend for the window would have been just £8m.

It was altogether larger last year, but City still brought in around £90m which, to put it another way, financed the arrivals of Kyle Walker and Ederson. If the £25m departure Kelechi Iheanacho scored some important goals, Enes Unal, Aaron Mooy, Olivier Ntcham and Ruben Sobrino never made a senior City appearance. Bruno Zuculini made one. Each brought in more money than the senior players released in the last two summers: Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Willy Caballero. The unknowns and the understudies have proved a cash cow.

“I just think it is good business,” said City’s football administration officer Brian Marwood. “We are developing our assets and we are prepared to put a lot of resources so that player becomes a Man City player or he can have a very good career at a very good level.”

That level may not be City’s. “Realistically, would you have a team full of academy graduates? I don’t think you can in today’s game,” Marwood said. “But there is no reason why we can’t continue to develop players of the stature of Phil Foden.” The midfielder may yet become a regular at the Etihad Stadium, though Jadon Sancho decamped to Borussia Dortmund and debuted for England sooner.

He avoided the fate of the Chelsea products whose development stalled. If comparisons are obvious, City are understandably touchy about them. The Londoners may have a profitable football factory, but their academy products rarely progress to the first team. Potential is identified at other clubs but often goes unfulfilled. Yet there are common denominators among the nouveau riche, of young talents picked up, polished up, loaned out and sometimes sold.

City’s argument is that their investment stretches far beyond the purchase price and salary. “It would be quite mind-boggling if I gave you the sums in terms of what development costs,” Marwood added. “People have to understand there is a huge cost regarding this operation, to create and develop in football from an early age. Clearly, in any business if you have that cost you want to get a return on that.

“We are not the only ones who are doing it. There are other clubs and I am sure they start with the same premise as us of, ‘Can they play in Man City’s first team?’ Can we develop them to become a Man City, or Chelsea or Liverpool player? But if you can’t, then how do you create a better-value player?”

The difference with Liverpool, however, is that whereas they receive the occasional windfall for a key player, whether Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling or Luis Suarez, City have sold only Iheanacho and Alvaro Negredo for £20m or more in the Sheikh Mansour era. Others have left for less eye-catching fees. But collectively, they are starting to add up.

It is a model that the elite clubs, with their pulling power, facilities, relationships and, in City’s case, global network of sister outfits, are best placed to deploy. Marwood argued everyone benefits. “We create pathways for them and that is why loaning them to our partner club NAC Breda, loaning them to Girona, with the relationship we have with Celtic, we want to help grow our players.”

There was a time when Maffeo and Angelino may have been the successors to the four ageing full-backs Pep Guardiola inherited; instead, their fate was finalised by the £100m pair of Walker and Benjamin Mendy. City recouped £14m.

“We take them on this journey and at some point they stay with you or they leave,” said the former Arsenal winger Marwood. “And while they have gone for good money, they have gone to really good clubs. Angelino went to PSV Eindhoven. Pablo Maffeo went to Stuttgart.”

Perhaps it points to the future for Patrick Roberts, Tosin Adarabioyo, Marlos Moreno, Aleix and Manu Garcia, all loaned out now and potential departures who may fund a signing in a summer to come. It is the art of the footballing deal, finding a way to bolster the team without weakening the first-team squad. City have begun to excel at it. And as Marwood said: “If you want to call it a business, it is a good business.”





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Liverpool’s Sadio Mane undergoes surgery on broken left thumb


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Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has undergone an operation after breaking his left thumb while on international duty with Senegal.

Mane returned to Liverpool early after breaking the thumb during Senegal’s 3-0 win over Sudan on Saturday and underwent surgery on Wednesday.

“The surgery, conducted at a northwest hospital and supervised by club medics, was successful,” Liverpool said in a statement.

Mane was one of four Liverpool players to give Jurgen Klopp an injury scare over the international break.

Mohamed Salah (groin) and Virgil van Dijk (ribs) withdrew from their national teams early, and Naby Keita suffered a muscular injury during Guinea’s African Nations Cup qualifier with Rwanda on Tuesday.





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