Europa League: Bruno Fernandes’ Late Penalty Sends Man United To Semi-Final

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Maurizio Sarri has reportedly been sacked as Juventus manager

Continue reading “Maurizio Sarri has reportedly been sacked as Juventus manager”

Napoli Confirm €50m Osimhen Signing From Lille

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Photos: Timo Werner Appears For First Chelsea Training At Cobham

The German international is now officially a Chelsea player following his transfer from Bayern Leverkusen, although he cannot feature for the Blues until the 2020/21 campaign begins.

In the meantime, the focus is on fitness given he hasn’t played a competitive game since the end of the Bundesliga.

After touching down in London on Sunday evening, Timo Werner has been training at Cobham for the first time today, as our exclusive pictures show…

Barcelona & Spain legend Xavi tests positive for coronavirus

The 40-year-old was due to take charge of Al Sadd’s game with Al Khor on Saturday, but he will now self-isolate in line with #Covid-19 guidelines

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Real Madrid Crowned La Liga Champions For The 34th Time

Real Madrid have been crowned La Liga champions for the 34th time with a game to spare.

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Marcus Rashford: Man Utd star to get honorary doctorate from University of Manchester

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford will become the youngest person to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester for his campaign against child poverty.

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Arsenal’s Arteta and Chelseas’s Odoi test positive for Coronavirus

  • Brighton v Arsenal game on Saturday is postponed
  • Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi also tests positive
  • Premier League to hold emergency meeting on Friday

Premier League clubs are preparing for the football season to be suspended after the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday night and their match on Saturday against Brighton was postponed.

Arsenal confirmed their first team squad and coaches would now self-isolate, and they would be unable to play some fixtures on the scheduled dates. In the early hours of Friday, Chelsea announced their players are self-isolating after Callum Hudson-Odoi tested positive.

Meanwhile, having earlier declared that the weekend’s top-flight games would go ahead as planned, the Premier League has called an emergency meeting with its clubs on Friday regarding future fixtures this season.

One club executive told the Guardian they expected the season to be suspended for several weeks in the light of the Arteta news, and didn’t rule out the possibility of the whole season being voided.

On Thursday it was also reported that the Manchester City defender, Benjamin Mendy, is self-isolating after a member of his family fell ill, and three Leicester players have also undergone tests for Covid-19 after experiencing symptoms.

As things stand, the Premier League is the only major top-flight league in Europe not to shut down or close its doors because of the coronavirus. The top divisions in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United States have all been suspended amid the outbreak, while the German Bundesliga and France’s Ligue 1 are holding matches behind closed doors.

Fixtures in the Scottish Premiership also appear set to be postponed after this weekend’s Old Firm clash between Rangers and Celtic, following First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned from Monday.

A press conference is held in Melbourne after the F1 Australian GP was cancelled. Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Earlier, English football had been told to carry on as normal after the government’s medical experts insisted that their remained a very low probability of someone with Covid-19 infecting a large number of people in a stadium. However, the Arteta news quickly made that advice appear complacent.

Earlier, English football had been told to carry on as normal after the government’s medical experts insisted that their remained a very low probability of someone with Covid-19 infecting a large number of people in a stadium. However, the Arteta news quickly made that advice appear complacent.Advertisement

The scale of the problem for global sport due to the rapid spread of the virus was once again illustrated in a fast-moving 24 hours as:

  • European football’s governing body, Uefa, moved closer towards postponing the 2020 European Championships, the final of which is due to be held at Wembley, until 2021. Uefa officials will discuss the future of the tournament next week.
  • Real Madrid’s Champions League match against Manchester City next Tuesday was delayed after a basketball player from the Madrid team, which shares the same training facility, tested positive for the virus.
  • This weekend’s Formula One season-opening Australian GP in Melbournewas called off after a staff member from the McLaren team tested positive for Covid-19.
  • President Trump called for the Tokyo Olympic Games in July to be postponed for a year.
  • Men’s tennis was shut down for six weeks, with the prestigious Miami Open and Monte Carlo tournaments cancelled.
  • The Pro-14 rugby tournament for clubs from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy and South Africa was suspended until further notice.
  • Irish racing was told that it must be held behind closed doors until 27 March.
  • In the US, major league basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer were all suspended, with the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournaments cancelled.

This summer’s European Championships were already expected to be the most complicated ever staged, because 12 stadiums in 12 different countries were being used, starting in Rome on 12 June and ending on 12 July with the final at Wembley. But the spread of the coronavirus has now put its future in doubt. Delaying Euro 2020 could free up space in the calendar for the European leagues to finish their seasons this summer.

The Euro 2021 women’s tournament in England is not due to start until 11 July, so one plan being discussed is for the men’s competition to take place beforehand. A final decision will come when Uefa meets with representatives from the clubs, leagues and the players’ union Fifpro on Tuesday.

Insiders have also told the Guardian that “everything will be on the table” at the meeting – including drastic plans to make the rest of this season’s Champions League and Europa League ties into one-legged games staged in neutral venues.Advertisement

Uefa confirmed the talks were “in the light of the ongoing developments in the spread of Covid-19 across Europe and the changing analysis of the World Health Organisation.”Play Video2:16 Coronavirus and football: how players, fans and managers have been reacting – video report

The International Olympic Committee has insisted that it is still full steam ahead for the Olympics in Japan in July despite calls from Trump for a postponement until 2021.

At a briefing at the White House, Trump said: “I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place,” he said. “If you cancel it, do it a year later. That’s a better alternative rather than having it with no crowd.”

But the IOC said it remained “absolutely in line with our Japanese hosts” in its commitment to deliver a safe Olympic Games this year.

In the cricket, England’s tour of Sri Lanka was continuing. But a spokesperson for the ECB said “this is a highly evolving situation and circumstances are changing rapidly, sometimes several times a day”.

Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid – player ratings: Who shined and who flopped?

Bloomgist Sports  rates the players as Jürgen Klopp loses his first European knockout tie as Liverpool manager.

Liverpool’s starting XI pose for the photographers ahead of Wednesday’s match at Anfield  CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

By Richard Tanner AT ANFIELD

Liverpool (4-3-3)

Has looked vulnerable in recent games and had hearts in mouths when he parried a shot by Felix but recovered to stop Correas scoring from loose ball. Poor clearance led to Atletico’s first goal. 5/10

Trent Alexander-Arnold
Back to somewhere near his best after falling below his high standards in recent games. Pressed forward and delivered a series of dangerous crosses and set-pieces.7/10

Joe Gomez
Another player who needed a return to his best form and did so with an assured display alongside Van Dijk. 6/10

Virgil van Dijk
Early scare when Costa got through but otherwise a towering performance from the Dutchman. Some of his long passes were sublime. 7/10

Virgil van Dijk (right) and his defence were breached twice against a dogged Atlético side CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Andrew Robertson
Not quite as dangerous as Alexander-Arnold but still put in a decent shift and almost got the second when his header struck the bar from Salah’s deflected shot. 7/10

Jordan Henderson
The captain returned as the midfield anchor man in place of Fabinho and underlined how much he has been missed by driving Liverpool on. 8/10

Georginio Wijnaldum
Reprised his heroics in last season’s great comeback against Barcelona by levelling the tie on aggregate with a well-taken header just before half-time. 7/10

Georginio Wijnaldum is congratulated by team-mate Andrew Robertson after scoring the first-half goal CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Justified keeping his place with a display full of attacking verve. Supplied the cross for Wijnaldum’s goal and twice hasd shots saved by Oblak. 8/10

Mohamed Salah
Hard-working display from the Egyptian who linked well with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexander-Arnold on Liverpool’s right flank. Had plenty of shots but couldn’t find the net, try as he did. 7/10

Roberto Firmino
The Brazilian playmaker finally broke his home goal duck this season with the extra-time goal that put Liverpool ahead in the first period of extra-time. 6/10 

Roberto Firmino scored his first home goal of the season in three minutes into extra time CREDIT: ACTION IMAGES

Sadio Mané
Usual lively show by the Senegal international who kept Trippier on his toes all night. Denied a goal by a great save by Oblak early in the second half and went close with an overhead kick. 7/10

Atlético Madrid (4-4-2)

Jan Oblak
Had a busy night on his 50th Champions League appearance. Could do nothing about either of Liverpool’s goals but masde countless saves keep his side in it. 7/10

Jan Oblak, the Serbia international goalkeeper, made numerous saves to keep Atlético Madrid in the match CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Kieran Trippier
Former Tottenham man was back on English territory for the first time since last summer’s ,mpove and no doubt grateful that Correa double up to help him deal with Mane’s constant threat. 7/10

Stefan Savic
Difficult to believe he looked so unsure in his season at Manchester City because he has turned into an uncompromising rock at the heart of Atletico’s defence. 7/10

Glanced an early header just wide but had his work cut out alongside Savic to keep Liverpool at bay. Never afraid to hoof it clear. 7/10

Renan Lodi
Had his hands full trying to contain the impish Salah. Lost him a couple of times but got away with it. 6/10

Ángel Correa
Had to sacrifice his attacking instincts to drop back and help Trippier try to shackle Mane but denied a goal by Adrian in second half. 7/10

Koke (centre) speaks with team-mates Felipe (left) and Ángel Correa CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Thomas Partey
Used the ball well on the odd occasion he had it – but spent most of the game, like his fellow midfielders, on the back foot running and covering. 7/10

Saúl Ñíguez
Scorer of the first leg but spent the second leg helping out his defence and trying to disrupt Liverpool’s rhythm. 7/10

Usual no-nonsense solid midfield display from the the Spaniard. Tackled hard, covered well and passed the ball with economy. 7/10

Joao Felix
Not the sort of game for the Portuguese playmaker to flourish in. Only contribution was a shot saved by Adrian and a tendency to to go down easily and waste some time much to the annoyance of the Liverpool players. 5/10

Diego Costa, the Atlético Madrid forward, won few new friends at Anfield CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Diego Costa
The former Chelsea man was the usual villain of the piece. Shot into the side netting after just 15 seconds and subbed early int he second half – venting his frustration by kicking a water bottle. 5/10

Atlético braced for noisy night at Anfield before going behind closed doors

It may be the last time Atlético fans see their team this season and they are hoping they do not get stage fright as Barça did.

Atlético Madrid’s players train at an empty Anfield before the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against Liverpool. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images

No Madrileños will be at school on Wednesday but 2,800 of them will be at Anfield. Atlético Madrid were at the airport waiting for a plane bound for Liverpool when the latest report about coronavirus dropped. On Tuesday morning children in the Spanish capital went to class for the last time in two weeks, by order of the regional government; by the afternoon, as boarding began at Barajas airport, La Liga had announced that, in agreement with the health ministry, every first and second division game will be played behind closed doors for at least the next two match days.

This will be the last game Atlético’s fans go to for a long time. It may well be the last game any fans go to, in fact. Valencia v Atalanta was played behind closed doors. Sevilla v Roma will be played without fans, as will Getafe v Internazionale and so, it was confirmed, will Barcelona against Napoli. La Liga’s announcement was soon followed by the Spanish Football Federation closing games in the third and fourth tiers. Postponements may well be next – a demand made by the players’ union. Schools, gyms and children’s football clubs have closed, too.

All over European football measures were introduced and Pep Guardiola suggested it is inevitable that the Premier League will end up doing the same. In the meantime, though, UK grounds stay open, so just before four o’clock Atlético arrived at John Lennon airport with around 100 fans. The rest followed: there were four chartered flights as well as the usual commercial routes. Tickets had sold out swiftly. This is a trip no one wanted to miss, at the stadium Fernando Torres told Saúl Ñíguez all about. “I’ve never been; it will be lovely,” says the midfielder who scored the only goal in the first leg.

Atlético Madrid’s Saúl Ñíguez scores the only goal of the first leg against Liverpool at the Estadio Metropolitano. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty

Seen coldly, it might have been beneficial for Atlético had the ban arrived in time to leave Anfield empty. Much of the discussion of the second leg has focused not just on the team who stand before them but on the terraces, too. Everyone in Spain witnessed Barcelona endure what Jorge Valdano called stage fright last season. “We saw Liverpool lose 3-0 at Barcelona last year and turn it around so we know this result means nothing,” Stefan Savic said after the first leg. “We still have Anfield and we know it’s very difficult.” Atlético’s first‑leg win was unexpected; their getting through would be less so now, although this weekend Koke said he “wished” he was at Liverpool’s level and insisted their recent results “won’t influence” this game.


None of Liverpool’s results since then would see Jürgen Klopp’s side through, while every result Atlético have had would allow them to progress, even if they have not always convinced: a 3-1 win against Villarreal, 1-1 at bottom-placed Espanyol and 2-2 with Sevilla. At the end of that game players gathered at the south end. “The Champions League is my obsession,” supporters sang. It has hurt them before but there is hope now.Advertisement

In theory, if there is any side built to hold a 1-0 lead, it is Atlético. This is the team that Kieran Trippier, fit again having missed the first leg, says he joined partly to learn how to defend – “the perfect club”. At the same stage last season they lost a 2-0 first‑leg win against Juventus, although Koke says: “Hopefully that will serve as a lesson.” In Madrid Liverpool did not manage a shot on target; asked what he expects this time, Klopp said “more shots on target”. And perhaps the lesson is that it is not enough to defend.

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If Atlético do score, everything changes but they have fewer than half as many league goals as Barcelona. Álvaro Morata has scored only twice in 2020 – both penalties – and did not train on Monday. Diego Costa, who played 13 minutes in the first leg and is still not fully fit after an operation on vertebrae in his neck, has only two goals all season. João Félix, missing in the first leg, has returned. A €126m summer signing, he scored against Sevilla on Saturday and is their most creative talent although he is an uneasy fit in an Atlético team still seeking the identity that was momentarily recovered in the first leg, leaving them in a strong position for Anfield.


“Today is a reminder [of what we are] and a telling-off, too: we would like to be like this all the time, as committed as we were tonight, the same sacrifice, the same focus,” Saúl said. “I’m not talking about playing good football or bad football; it’s about communicating those values. When you’re playing the champions, in a game like this, there’s an extra motivation and we’d like to compete like this in every game and every competition. We scored early and you think ‘It’s a long time’, but we resisted because we all worked, were together, and made every effort. You have to win every ball and, if you don’t, you win the next one.”

Against Liverpool the old Atlético were revived; now they must resist. Diego Simeone has always talked about going partido a partido, treating every game as if it was their last. At Anfield they will try to prevent this being their final game in Europe this year but there is nothing they can do to stop it being the last they play in front of their fans for some time to come.

‘It was so dramatic’: Chelsea’s Champions League win over Bayern revisited

Players from both sides recall the dramatic events that ended with Didier Drogba’s winning penalty in the shootout.

Chelsea celebrate their Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich. Photograph: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

When Chelsea take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16, first leg on Tuesday it will recall their meeting in the 2012 finalthe most glorious night in their history.

It had not been an easy season for Chelsea, who had made Roberto Di Matteo caretaker manager after sacking André Villas-Boas in February, and few gave them a chance of winning their first European Cup, even after they beat Barcelona in a remarkable semi‑final. As they approached the game with Bayern the pain of losing the 2008 final to Manchester United on penalties weighed heavily.


Mikel John Obi, Chelsea midfielder: We didn’t want something like that to happen again and we even spoke about it the day before the game. For some of us it was the last opportunity. People like Didier Drogba, Petr Cech, Frank Lampard.

Paulo Ferreira, Unused Chelsea substitute: Some of the players had gone close in semi-finals and finals. As you start getting old, you start thinking you will probably not have another opportunity.

The game was held at the Allianz Arena, Bayern’s ground, and they were strong favourites. Chelsea prepared for the mental challenge.

Mikel: We didn’t know Roberto Di Matteo and the club had gone to interview our brothers, sisters, parents, whoever it was that is very close to us. The videos were played in the meeting the night before the game. My younger brother was on my video. I couldn’t believe it when I saw him. We knew that would help to give us more spirit in the game. Those messages from our families were ringing in everyone’s ears.

The two teams walk out before kick-off. Photograph: Chris Brunskill Ltd/Corbis via Getty Images

Ferreira: Playing in someone else’s stadium, you felt they had a little bit of an advantage. But they also had extra pressure. Sometimes playing at home is not an advantage. We had it when Greece beat Portugal in Lisbon in the Euro 2004 final. And Portugal won Euro 2016 against France in Paris. Sometimes it can be good. Sometimes not.


Mikel: The whole stadium was red and white. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Their fans were trying to intimidate us. We could see some of the Chelsea fans behind the goal but you couldn’t really hear them. All you could hear was the Bayern fans. But we’ve played under big pressure before. There was nothing to be afraid of.

Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich defender: Our whole home city could have had a huge celebration. Everything was ready for the party. I don’t remember there being any special pressure on us. We had a feeling of security.

Chelsea’s lineup contained a surprise: Ryan Bertrand on the left wing. The youngster had never played a European game. Di Matteo told him at the team’s base, the Mandarin Oriental hotel, on the day of the game.

Ryan Bertrand, Chelsea midfielder: It was on the rooftop of the hotel in the afternoon. He called me over and said: “You’re starting tonight. Are you ready?” I was like: “Yes, easy, no problem.” I didn’t want to give him any sense of: “Ohhh, he’s not.” I hadn’t seen any papers. The story was out there in the morning but I was not aware. Maybe they cleared the papers out of the hotel so I didn’t see anything. It wasn’t like today with news on Instagram.

Bertrand’s task was helping Ashley Cole to contain Arjen Robben, Bayern’s dangerous winger.

Ferreira: Ryan was ready. That’s why he had the trust from Roberto. He handled the pressure really well.

Bertrand I wasn’t nervous. I’d been on loan at Nottingham Forest and I had Billy Davies as my manager and he always used to scream: “Play the game and not the occasion.” That was in my head.

The Allianz Arena. Photograph: Peter Kneffel/EPA

John Terry was suspended following his red card in Chelsea’s semi‑final win over Barcelona. Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic were also out.

Ferreira Gary Cahill and David Luiz had injuries and I was ready to play at centre-half in case either of them didn’t make it but they did. I even did the warm-up with the starting XI. But as David Luiz said, it’s about motivation, adrenaline. You go through any pain you might have. We knew Bayern would probably have more possession. But in these finals it is all about the details, about concentration.

Lampard captained the side and Terry sat behind the bench.

Ferreira Even I was quite active on the bench. I remember talking with José Bosingwa, trying to help him with his body position. He was up against Franck Ribéry. You are not just sitting on the bench to watch the game. You want to help.

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Bayern bossed the game. They had 21 shots to Chelsea’s six but Mario Gómez’s finishing was poor. Cech was inspired in goal for Chelsea and Bayern had a goal disallowed for offside but Thomas Müller finally gave them the lead in the 83rd minute.

Lahm Thomas’s goal was a huge relief. I didn’t think we were going to let victory slip out of our hands. Then again we had lost a few matches during the season after we’d been leading and playing better.

Ferreira After they scored maybe they felt: “Chelsea will have to take some risks and we might get a second goal.” They had a chance to go 2-0 up.

Mikel John Terry was not on the pitch so Lamps was pushing everyone. Drogba, too. We were all pushing each other. Lamps came to me and said: “John boy, we have to keep going. We can’t lose here.” We still had that belief.

In the 88th minute Chelsea won their only corner. David Luiz ran up to contest it and as he passed Bastian Schweinsteiger he said: “And now goal.” Juan Mata swung it in and Drogba scored with a bullet header.

Lahm It was a perfect corner and a perfect header. You’d need about 50 attempts to swing a corner right in front of the goal like that and for the striker to head it that hard and with such precision. There’s nothing you can do to prevent amazing efforts like that.

Didier Drogba heads home. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/Corbis via Getty Images

Ferreira The header was unbelievable. On the bench we just exploded.

Mikel I thought: “That’s it, we’re definitely winning.”

It was 1-1 after normal time. Then, in the third minute of extra time Drogba fouled Ribéry to concede a penalty.


Ferreira You do everything to help the team, even if you’re a striker. But Drogba dropped so much he gave away a penalty against Barcelona in the semi-final and against Bayern he did it again. Fortunately for us they both missed.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi hit the bar while Robben was foiled by Cech – after some gamesmanship from Mikel.

Mikel I went straight to Robben and I said: “Watch, I’m telling you, you’re going to miss it.” He wasn’t looking at me. We know each other from our days at Chelsea together. And I said to him: “You’re going to miss it. Watch and see. You’re definitely going to miss it.” He didn’t say anything to me. He hit it and he missed. I was like: “Wow. I guessed right.”

Lahm I wouldn’t take that sort of intimidation. If a player says: “And now goal,” that’s something positive. But “You’re going to miss” is below the belt; it contradicts the values of fair play.

Philipp Lahm (left) battles for the ball with Ryan Bertrand (right). Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Ferreira: That’s psychological. But Petr knew Robben. When the player knows a goalkeeper, knows which your best side is, you never know. If they score at that time we probably wouldn’t make it.

Mikel In the week leading up to the game something was telling me: “We will win.” We’d had so many years where we’d had disappointment. The semi-final against Barcelona in 2009 where everyone thought we were robbed at home and 2008 as well when we lost on penalties to United.


Ferreira I have this story about my housekeeper. She is Portuguese and I remember just before we went to Germany, she said: “Paulo, I shouldn’t say this but you guys are going to win.” I was asking and asking why and finally she told me. And it was unbelievable. She said: “When did Paulo become a professional? 18, almost turning 19. What is Paulo’s shirt number? 19. When is the final? 19 May. I’m not saying anything else.” When Müller scored, I’m thinking: “She told me this and now we concede, come on …” But then when Didier scores I said: “Oh. Wait a minute …” Then Robben misses and I felt: “We will win this final.”

It went to penalties. Di Matteo had almost brought Ferreira on for Mata.

Ferreira There were five minutes left and Mata was completely dead. I was supposed to play in midfield. In five minutes anything can happen. But I just remember looking at Robbie and saying: “I’m not a penalty taker, Mata is.” We stopped and went back. We lost the semi-final to Liverpool in 2007 on penalties. We made a circle with José [Mourinho] and he was asking: “Who’s taking the first one?” Then he looked at me and said: “Paulo, you will be last – even Carlo Cudicini will be in front of you.” But in the end Mata missed and I wanted to kill him at the end of the game. I was saying: “I lost the chance to play a few minutes because I was thinking about you.”


Bayern were on top after Mata’s miss. But then Cech denied Ivica Olic and Schweinsteiger.

Ferreira Petr had that need of having a night where he could save penalties. We’d come to finals before and lost on penalties. He was fantastic.

Mikel The penalties were nerve-racking. When I saw one of my teammates going forward, some of them I watched and some I couldn’t because I was so nervous.

Chelsea’s Petr Cech saves the penalty of Ivica Olic. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Drogba stepped up to take the decisive kick and sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way.

Mikel Drogba was not on the field to take his penalty in 2008 against United as he’d been sent off. Seeing Drogba go up to take the fifth penalty, I knew it was over.

Ferreira Everyone knew. He was not just a top player but he was very focused. You see how many steps he took. Short steps. He was so confident.

Mikel When Drogba scored that penalty, oh my God. I didn’t even know where to run. I was just lost, over the moon. Everyone had written us off. We were like: “Wow. How did we do that?”

Chelsea react to Didier Drogba’s winning penalty. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Lahm What that match left behind was a pretty intense feeling. I just knew that we weren’t going to stay lying face down on the ground. Losing to Chelsea was bitter but it served a purpose: it made us into the team we became.

Bayern won the Champions League the following season but 2012 belonged to Chelsea. Their victory ensured Tottenham would play in the Europa League despite finishing fourth in the Premier League. There were cigars in the dressing room and wild celebrations back at the hotel.

Bertrand Cigars are associated with winning. So they were out in abundance. Did we know how to smoke them? Not at that stage. We were just choking on them.


Mikel The after-party was something else. No one could sleep. I had to come out of my room because I couldn’t sleep and there was the party going on, people throwing people into the pool. Roman Abramovich was there. There was a few drinks going on. Did anyone throw Roman in? No chance. Who is going to dare to do that?

Ferreira Didier went to the top floor where the swimming pool was. We threw Gary Cahill fully dressed in the pool.

Mikel A few players slept in their suits on the roof terrace. I don’t know who they were but I think Drogba was among them because I saw him with his suit on in the morning.

Terry gave mini replicas of the trophy to his teammates.

Mikel John, in his position as the captain, had made the replicas. Also, Drogba made some rings for the players, NBA-style ones. We’ve all got rings – 2012 Champions League winner. That’s something that you appreciate for ever. To be the first club in London to have won it, that was the biggest history ever.

Manchester City banned from Champions League for two seasons

  • Ban starts next season and City also fined €30m (£25m)
  • Club say they will appeal to CAS at ‘earliest opportunity’
Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, Benjamin Mendy and Raheem Sterling reflect on last season’s dramatic Champions League defeat by Tottenham. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Manchester City have been banned from the Champions League for the next two seasons by Uefa and fined €30m (£25m) after they were found to have seriously misled European football’s governing body and broken financial fair play rules.

The severity of the ban from both of Uefa’s elite club competitions and the scale of the fine reflect how seriously Uefa’s FFP compliance bodies consider the club to have breached the rules and code of conduct.#


City responded immediately with a characteristically forthright statement, alleging that the process was “prejudicial” and stating that they will immediately appeal to the court of arbitration for sport (Cas). If the appeal is still going on when next season’s Champions League starts, City will be able to compete and, if Cas upholds the ban, it will start in 2021-22.

City were found guilty by Uefa’s club financial control body (CFCB) of having falsely inflated their sponsorship revenues, when they made submissions for the FFP compliance process. The guilty finding follows an investigation sparked by the publication of “leaked” emails and documents by the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2018.

The “leaked” emails and documents appeared to show that City’s owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, was mostly funding the huge, £67.5m annual sponsorship of the City shirt, stadium and academy by his country’s airline, Etihad. One of the leaked emails suggested that only £8m of that sponsorship in 2015-16 was funded directly by Etihad and the rest was coming from Mansour’s own company vehicle for the ownership of City, the Abu Dhabi United Group.

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Manchester City alleged in their statement that the outcome had been prejudged from the beginning, and that the process was “flawed and consistently leaked”, saying the club was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decision. City said they will appeal against the ban and fine “at the earliest opportunity” at CAS. “The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position,” the statement read.

“Simply put, this is a case initiated by Uefa, prosecuted by Uefa and judged by Uefa. With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity.” A City source confirmed that Mansour remains fully committed to the club.

Uefa said in its statement: “The Adjudicatory Chamber, having considered all the evidence, has found that Manchester City committed serious breaches of the Uefa Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to Uefa between 2012 and 2016.


“The Adjudicatory Chamber has also found that in breach of the regulations the club failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case by the CFCB.”

FFP, introduced in 2011 with the aim of encouraging football clubs across Europe not to overspend on players’ wages, restricts the amount club owners can put in to cover losses. Sponsorships boost revenues and therefore the amount clubs have to spend under FFP, so the perception that Mansour himself was funding the Etihad deal led to the serious allegation that City had deceived Uefa’s CFCB, which is responsible for ensuring compliance with FFP.

City have denied wrongdoing throughout and denounced the Spiegel coverage as based on “hacked or stolen” materials taken out of context. Spiegel anonymised its source as “John”, who was quoted as saying he had not hacked computers to obtain the emails.


Shortly after their publication, he was identified as a Portuguese national, Rui Pinto, who has now been charged in Portugal with 147 criminal offences, including hacking and other cybercrimes, which he denies. The charges relate only to Portuguese football clubs and other organisations, not to the “leaks” of City’s or Uefa’s emails.

When City were charged last May, they said that they had been subjected to a “hostile” process which ignored “a comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence”.

10 talking points from last weekend’s Premier League games

Olivier Giroud’s absence is a mystery, Hugo Lloris proves his worth and Manchester United’s defence continues to wobble.

Jefferson Lerma of Bournemouth; Olivier Giroud of Chelsea; Tomas Soucek of West Ham Composite: Action Images/Reuters/PA/Getty/AFP

1) Lloris quick to deliver emphatic reminder of his pedigree

The debutant Steven Bergwijn will rightfully claim the headlines for Spurs but the contribution of Tottenham’s current third-longest serving player against Manchester City should not be forgotten. Hugo Lloris made one of the saves of the season to deny Sergio Agüero in the first half, somehow getting a big toe to turn a deflected shot on to the post, before he also denied Ilkay Gündogan from the penalty spot (the fourth spot-kick City have missed in their past six). Lloris rode his luck – he was clearly off his line when palming Gündogan’s effort away and fortunate not to concede another penalty when challenging Raheem Sterling for the rebound – but his performance is a reminder that the World Cup-winning captain is a big-game player. His return to form in time for the Champions League knockouts bodes well for José Mourinho. Michael Butler

• Match report: Tottenham 2-0 Manchester City


2) Firmino helps Liverpool switch into cruise control

Liverpool hit a few more milestones on Saturday – including a 20th consecutive Premier League home win that opened up a 22-point gap at the summit, the biggest lead witnessed at the end of a day’s play in English top‑flight history – but Jürgen Klopp took greater satisfaction from several key players hitting their stride. Fabinho rediscovered his rhythm in the second half as he continued his recovery from injury, while Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino flourished as an awkward afternoon became a procession. And Firmino created three of the goals to overtake Salah, Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané on Liverpool’s assist list this season. “He is just exceptional,” Klopp said. “But even a player like Bobby needs an address where he can send the ball. How he uses the skills of his mates is special. I do not know a player like him.” Andy Hunter

• Match report: Liverpool 4-0 Southampton

Roberto Firmino laid on three of his team’s goals against Southampton. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

3) What can Giroud do to force himself into Lampard’s plans?

Chelsea could have had a commanding lead in the first half at Leicester on Saturday but they were scruffy in the final third, which has been the case too often this season. If they slip out of fourth spot then critics – and possibly Frank Lampard – will point to their failure to sign a striker last month. But is Lampard making the best use of the ones available to him? Tammy Abraham, who hurt his ankle against Arsenal, did not look in top condition at Leicester and it is hard to believe Olivier Giroud would not have been sharper. But the Frenchman, having been denied a move to clubs who would have used him, was not in the squad. He must not be impressing Lampard in training, though Abraham relishes working with him. “He’s like a big brother to me,” the 22-year-old said. “His attitude has been great. In training we are always doing finishing and we have a competition after training as well. He has been encouraging many of the young lads.” Paul Doyle

• Match report: Leicester 2-2 Chelsea

4) Lindelöf clutching at straws after shaky display

Manchester United were again amateurish under the high ball as the Harry Maguire-Victor Lindelöf centre-back axis failed to deal with regulation crosses put in by Wolves’ João Moutinho. It is a curiosity given that Maguire’s forte is supposedly the basics of defending and Lindelöf’s technical prowess is meant to complement this. Even stranger, then, that the Swede should talk up a display in which he and Maguire might have allowed at least three goals from aerial deliveries. Lindelöf. “He’s a fantastic player – we train every day [together] and play a lot of games now so for every game that we play we get better and better. Hopefully we can keep improving. They didn’t create a lot of chances, and we kept another clean sheet.” Regarding the latter point: only just. And, given United’s difficulty in scoring, they really have to tighten at the back. Jamie Jackson


• Match report: Manchester United 0-0 Wolves

5) Is Lerma’s reputation preceeding him?

Jefferson Lerma has enough bookings to build a yellow brick road, 66 across the past four and a half years (22 in a Bournemouth shirt) and, as much as Eddie Howe would rather the Colombia midfielder was not suspended for the trip to Sheffield United on Sunday, he is equally loth for Lerma to lose his edge. Lerma was superb against Aston Villa until he received his first red card for Bournemouth after picking up the second of two cautions for fouls on Jack Grealish, retribution which his manager felt was a consequence of the player’s reputation. “I think some of the bookings this season have been very harsh,” Howe said. “I think other players wouldn’t have ended up with the same punishment that he has. Unfortunately for Jeff he has put himself in that position and it is very difficult I think to change people’s opinions. I think referees are looking out for him.” Ben Fisher

• Match report: Bournemouth 2-1 Aston Villa

The Premier League January transfers you might have missed – video

6) Burnley have risen to a tough challenge

Burnley have never beaten Arsenal in the Premier League and, perhaps more remarkable still, this was Sean Dyche’s first point against them in 10 attempts. It probably felt more glass half‑full than half‑empty, all the more so because this fixture came at the end of a challenging sequence. Burnley could have found themselves among the relegation candidates had they failed to take anything from games against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal, yet they ended up with a more than respectable seven points. “That’s a really healthy return and the players can have a rest now before we start again,” Dyche said. “They deserve it. There’s some tough challenges in the Premier League and we’ve shown we can hold our own against some of the best teams around.” Paul Wilson

• Match report: Burnley 0-0 Arsenal

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7) O’Connell the unsung hero in Blades backline

Dean Henderson’s form in goal for Sheffield United – the clean sheet at Selhurst Park was his ninth in the Premier League this season, the joint-most in the division – has brought him international recognition with England but Gareth Southgate might well be advised to keep his eye on another member of the Blades’ defensive unit. Though Henderson has excelled, clean sheets are not down to a goalkeeper alone and United are among the Premier League leaders in terms of shots against, allowing fewer than 12 per game on average. The Republic of Ireland international John Egan in the heart of defence has been key to that, but perhaps even more vital have been the contributions of Jack O’Connell on the left of the back three. The 25-year-old, excellent again in south London, surely can not be too far away from Southgate’s thoughts. John Ashdown

• Match report: Crystal Palace 0-1 Sheffield United


8) Bruce’s aversion to buying a striker looks no less puzzling

For prolonged periods it was hard to discern that Norwich were bottom and Newcastle en route to 10th but, as Steve Bruce acknowledged, the Premier League is all about “small margins”. A combination of an excellent goalkeeper in Martin Dubravka and the sensible decision to revert to Rafael Benítez’s five‑at‑the‑back system promises to keep Newcastle safe but Bruce’s side do not score enough goals to feel properly secure. Benítez’s successor believes a lack of midfield creativity – and possession – explains why the £40m Joelinton has scored only one league goal all season, and he has a point. Even so, Tynesiders remain puzzled as to why he prioritised reinforcing midfield above recruiting a striker last month. Bruce did not bid for Jarrod Bowen, who eventually left Hull for West Ham, claiming he was “no better” than forwards he already possessed. Newcastle fans wonder if he was right. Louise Taylor

• Match report: Newcastle 0-0 Norwich

Joelinton endured another game without a goal. Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters

9) Plenty more firefighting for Pearson to do

The relegation battle is increasingly intriguing and Watford are right in it. They are in 19th place, two points from safety, with a negative goal difference surpassed only by Norwich. After the Hornets’ start to the season, this should not be surprising – but such has been Nigel Pearson’s impact it’s sometimes easy to forget. Watford endured a second consecutive defeat on Saturday against Everton and, as against Aston Villa, it didn’t feel like the right result: 2-0 up and cruising, Watford should have gone on to win. But bad marking and, with the late winner, risky play from a high defensive line were punished ruthlessly by Carlo Ancelotti’s men. Such mistakes cannot be repeated and – with Manchester United, Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester in their next five games – Pearson’s relegation challenge has only just begun. Paul MacInnes

• Match report: Watford 2-3 Everton

10) Soucek could prove crucial for embattled Hammers

The manner of West Ham’s collapse here left them scratching for positives but there was a clear one in their midfield debutant, Tomas Soucek. The 24-year-old Czech looks cut out for better sides than this and was particularly instrumental in a first‑half performance that should have set them up for a comfortable win. Soucek is an imposing figure at 6ft 4in and won most of his aerial challenges in an enjoyable midfield battle; even more important was the energy he offered in an all-action display that could have brought a goal. His early header, well saved by Mathew Ryan, came from a free‑kick he had won with a dynamic burst into space. There is much more to come from Soucek but the worry is that, with a devilish set of fixtures ahead, he will have to wield an extraordinary influence if a traumatic end to the season is to be avoided. Nick Ames

• Match report: West Ham 3-3 Brighton

2Man City253651
5Tottenham Hotspur25837
6Sheff Utd25336
7Man Utd25735
14Crystal Palace25-730
16AFC Bournemouth25-1326
17Aston Villa25-1525
18West Ham25-1324

10 things to look out for in Premier League this weekend

An unusual quandary for Manchester City, crunch games at Bournemouth and Newcastle, plus the rise of Wilfried Ndidi.

Laurent Koscielny scored a controversial late winner for Arsenal in 2016 in which he kicked the ball onto his own elbow and into the net. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Reuters

1) Ndidi to eclipse Kanté again?

Credit to Leicester. Or should that be shame on Chelsea? Wherever you choose to put the emphasis, the fact is that Wilfried Ndidi is now a more influential Premier League midfielder than N’Golo Kanté. The Frenchman has been good this season, of course, but Frank Lampard, like Maurizio Sarri, has not been getting the best out of him. Ndidi, meanwhile, has been outstanding and, if he dominates central midfield again on Saturday, then Leicester will probably put their Carabao Cup disappointment behind them, take a significant step closer to Champions League qualification, and make the jostling for fourth place very interesting. PD

  • Leicester v Chelsea, Saturday 12.30pm (all times GMT)

2) Walker-Peters has work to do

Ralph Hasenhüttl deserves acclaim for the way that Southampton have tightened up since that historic mullering by Leicester in October. But they have still conceded more goals in their last two league matches than Liverpool have in their last 10. And their defence is likely to have a new look at Anfield on Saturday, with Kyle Walker-Peters set to step in on the right-hand side for the Arsenal-bound Cédric Soares. Japhet Tanganga did a fair job containing Liverpool’s wingers earlier this month but his solitary lapse was punished by a goal that gave the league leaders victory at Spurs. Southampton hope that the player who left White Hart Lane after being overtaken by Tanganga can do better against the champions-elect and reignite his career with help from Hassenhüttl. PD

• Liverpool v Southampton, Saturday 3pm

3) How do City prime themselves for Europe?

Manchester City are in an awkward position. With 14 games still to go, they’ve no chance of winning the league, no chance of finishing outside the top four, and next to no chance of not finishing second. So, though they’re still in both domestic cups, their focus is on winning the Champions League. The question is how they go about it: do they give everything in every game, or do they save themselves so that they’re fresh when they need to be? On the one hand, it’s hard to turn it on just like that, but on the other, it’s hard to turn it on when you’re knackered, and neither approach can compensate for the defensive deficiencies that have cost them in each of the last three seasons. Against Spurs, they should expect to have no choice, because their opponents need points, and José Mourinho needs to make one – not just because his genetic code dictates he can do no other. Since he succeeded Mauricio Pochettino, his team have produced few decent performances never mind any signature performances, playing joyless, guileless football in the process. They and he need something, and soon. DH

Tottenham v Manchester City, Sunday 4.30pm


4) Chase for Europe continues at Old Trafford

By any measure this is a massive game between two clubs hoping to secure European football next season – Wolves and Manchester United drew 1-1 at Molineux in August and there is still nothing to separate them, level-pegging as they are on 34 points, with the dream of fourth place or the relative nightmare of mid-table still possible. It might be key that Wolves have had 10 days to prepare, the benefit of losing to these opponents in the FA Cup third round, while United have had to negotiate two testing cup matches. Given their poor recent league results – their last two games ended in 2-0 defeats to Liverpool and Burnley – United and their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, could not afford to take the visit to Tranmere lightly, while the Carabao Cup semi-final would have demanded full focus even if the opposition had not been Manchester City. But this game could turn out to be much more important than either of those. SB

• Manchester United v Wolves, Saturday 5.30pm

Emotional Bruno Fernandes gives final Sporting interview – video

5) Coincidences abound at Vicarage Road

After three months out with injury Danny Welbeck is expected to return to the Watford squad for this game, against Everton, a side he was repeatedly linked with last season. Perhaps the greatest tactical problem Watford have faced this season is a complete inability to attack cohesively without Troy Deeney to knit the forward line together, but Welbeck has the technical quality to improve an unhealthy over-reliance on their captain – if he can stay fit. The game will also feature a winger who used to play for Everton and Barcelona but is now with Watford and one that used to play for Watford, now plays for Everton and is rumoured to be wanted by Barcelona. In geographical coincidence news, Everton’s last visit to London was when they drew with Crystal Palace on the first day of the season, since when they have not played, even in the cups, anywhere between Birmingham and the south coast. They play Watford, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham in their next five away games. SB

Watford v Everton, Saturday 3pm


6) Howe has striking headaches against buoyant Villa

Bournemouth’s 3-1 win over Brighton last week merely confirmed that Graham Potter’s team are in a world of bother, not that Eddie Howe’s side are too good to survive this season. There is no reason to back them to win Saturday’s relegation showdown with Aston Villa – except, of course, that Villa have been prone to shooting themselves in the foot, including when these sides met at Villa Park in August. But Dean Smith’s team are getting things together and go into this game looking as strong as they have at any other point in the campaign, with a relatively new formation and plenty of confidence following consecutive last-gasp wins over Watford and Leicester. They are likely to create a lot of chances for their new striker, Mbwana Samatta, while Howe must decide whether to keep waiting for Dominic Solanke to locate the net or to give a first Premier League start to Sam Surridge instead. PD

• Bournemouth v Aston Villa, Saturday 3pm

7) Norwich need to roll back the months

When these sides met in August with the sun on their backs, Norwich romped to a 3-1 victory inspired by a Teemu Pukki hat-trick, and Newcastle looked much the likelier to figure in the relegation battle. Five months on, and it’s Norwich who face the survival battle, while Newcastle have moved into the middle tier and could be about to escape Mike Ashley’s frying pan for the ethical fire. On the field, things have begun to tick for Newcastle, which makes this another formidable assignment for Daniel Farke’s side, who haven’t been playing that badly – they were frankly robbed at Tottenham – but are carrying an air of loveable-but-doomed about them. So they need to take points, preferably three, from fixtures such as this. Unlike Newcastle, Norwich have had a quiet transfer window and with Spurs and Liverpool up after this, the Canaries need to tighten , buckle up and win here. TD

• Newcastle v Norwich, Saturday 3pm

8) Dyche seeks to stem the flow

There are seven clubs that Sean Dyche has faced as a manager without so much as drawing. Six of those – including Sheffield United, who will visit Turf Moor in April – he has only faced once, but the other is Arsenal, who he has come up against 10 times already in league and cup without success of any sort. He has come close on occasion – the Laurent Koscielny stoppage-time handball winner of 2016, say, or the two stoppage-time Alexis Sánchez penalty winners of 2017 – but always, somehow, the Gunners have prevailed. With Arsenal still inconsistent as Mikel Arteta beds in and suffering a string of defensive injuries – though Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will return from suspension – and Burnley having beaten Leicester and Manchester United in their last two league games, perhaps this will be the time. “There’s been a lot of last-minute goals and it would be nice to get one against them,” said Jack Cork. “They are going through a transitional stage and it would be good to get them at a time where they’re a little bit vulnerable and try and get at them.” SB

  • Burnley v Arsenal, Sunday 2pm

9) A fun clash of the frail?

If you were to organise a conference for the latest round of football’s interminable Entertainment v Efficiency debate, the ideal venue would be Brighton. Graham Potter’s funky new side have played some lovely stuff but continually found ways not to win. And now look at them! They have fewer points than Chris Hughton’s bores had at this stage last season and find themselves going to West Ham feeling almost as vulnerable as their hosts. A clash between two teams who are far from clinical, often short on aggression and always liable to make a defensive blunder could be, in its own inefficient way, highly entertaining. PD

• West Ham v Brighton, Saturday 3pm

10) How will Wilder manage change?

It’s a long time since a promoted side has imposed itself on the Premier League as brilliantly as Sheffield United. Though Wolves’ patient possession game worked very well last season, Blades’ fast, aggressive approach is far more interesting to watch and has also been accomplished without the involvement of Jorge Mendes. Most particularly, what they are doing and what we are enjoying is a triumph for Chris Wilder, who understands football in all its aspects: his adult response to Oli McBurnie enjoying himself is every bit as important as all the cogitation and innovation. But this week he has set himself a new challenge: can he integrate an expensive outsider? Attracting a talent of Sander Berge’s calibre looks like being yet further testament to the work he has done, but disturbing the balance of something which already works is always a risk. We have no reason to think that Wilder will not find a way – beginning at Selhurst on Saturday. DH

• Crystal Palace v Sheffield United, Saturday 3pm

2Man City243851
5Man Utd24734
6Tottenham Hotspur24634
8Sheff Utd24233
11Crystal Palace24-630
16Aston Villa24-1425
17West Ham24-1323
18AFC Bournemouth24-1423
Premier league table

Fans attack home of Man United vice-chairman Ed Woodward

  •  Woodward understood not to be at home at the time
  • ‘Anybody found guilty will be banned for life by the club’

The home of Ed Woodward was attacked on Tuesday night in a sickening escalation of the tensions between supporters and the Manchester United executive vice-chairman.

Fans, who are unhappy at the way in which the club is being run, have recently sung songs celebrating the death of the 48-year-old who has become a figure of hate among some sections of the United support. However, the situation took a sinister turn on Tuesday night when a group wearing balaclavas launched flares at Woodward’s Cheshire home. One video was then posted on social media with the caption: “Ed Woodward’s gonna die.”


It is understood neither Woodward nor his family were at home. He is married with two young daughters.

United quickly released a strongly worded statement condemning those involved and promising to hand out life bans to anyone found guilty of any criminal offence.

A spokesman said: “Manchester United Football Club have tonight been made aware of the incident outside the home of one of our employees.

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“We know that the football world will unite behind us as we work with Greater Manchester Police to identify the perpetrators of this unwarranted attack.

“Anybody found guilty of a criminal offence, or found to be trespassing on this property, will be banned for life by the club and may face prosecution.

“Fans expressing opinion is one thing, criminal damage and intent to endanger life is another. There is simply no excuse for this.”


Defeats at Arsenal and at home to Burnley have increased the pressure on United, who are 33 points behind the Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s games

Grealish, Saka and Chalobah shine in draws, while Newcastle are ready for reinforcements after a late win.

Jack Grealish of Aston Villa; Bukayo Saka of Arsenal; David de Gea of Manchester United. Composite: Getty/EPA

1) Saka’s swap could fill a gap for Arsenal

Arsenal’s injury problems at left‑back have led them to explore signing Layvin Kurzawa from Paris Saint-Germain. But what if the solution lies closer to home? Bukayo Saka is 18 and earlier this season was being rightly lauded for his rich promise as a flying winger. But he has filled in at full‑back four times in the past month, most recently against Sheffield United on Saturday, and looks the part. Saka is tenacious, diligent, has speed and energy to burn and a knack of picking out teammates with his deliveries. “I think he could,” Mikel Arteta said when asked if Saka could carve out a long-term future in the role. “He is someone that’s never played there before but he’s really trying to do it as well as possible. You can see that he’s got many strengths to play in that position.” Club and manager might have hit upon something far more exciting than they expected. Nick Ames

• Match report: Arsenal 1-1 Sheffield United

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2) Grealish’s positive attitude gives Villa confidence

England fans will have only Gareth Southgate to blame if Jack Grealish is not in their next squad. The player could hardly do more to prove he deserves a chance. His terrific goal at Brighton was the latest evidence of his exceptional ability. He has the skills and attitude to fit into a variety of positions and has shown at Aston Villa that he thrives on responsibility. “He’s turned into an all-round player,” said Dean Smith, Villa’s manager. “He keeps pushing us as coaches to make him better. When you’ve got that attitude, that application, then he’s going to be a top player. People will take notice of him, that’s for sure, and he’s doing what he can to get himself noticed for the England squad.” Grealish has scored seven league goals this season – his best haul. With him and Villa’s new striker, Mbwana Samatta, the club can be confident of climbing out of relegation trouble. Paul Doyle

• Match report: Brighton 1-1 Aston Villa

3) Rodgers detects Leicester’s lack of confidence

Brendan Rodgers was not being peevish when he said Leicester deserved to win this game. They created most of the chances and, but for an exceptional goalkeeping performance by Nick Pope, would probably have gone home with something. “Somehow we lost,” the Leicester manager said. Crucial saves from Pope were the most obvious reason, particularly when denying Jamie Vardy from the penalty spot in the second half, though Rodgers also thought he could detect a drop in desire and motivation. Leicester’s passing ability was superior but they were unable to make it count. While they remain a good bet for a top‑four finish it is possible they are finding it hard to keep up their earlier pace. “The character is strong but maybe the confidence isn’t as strong as it has been,” Rodgers said. “I’m sure we’ll get it back.” Paul Wilson

• Match report: Burnley 2-1 Leicester

Nick Pope’s fine display included saving Jamie Vardy’s penalty. Photograph: Rich Linley/CameraSport via Getty Images

4) De Gea’s meekness becoming a regular failing

Roberto Firmino’s disallowed goal could be argued over for eternity but there is no debating that it involved a desperately timid piece of goalkeeping from David de Gea. The Spaniard was impressive thereafter but he plays in an unforgiving position and what will stick in the mind is his meekness in coming to meet a high ball – strikingly similar to his costly mistake against Everton last month. Watford, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and Portugal have also benefited from De Gea blunders in recent memory and they are only the most glaring. The 29-year-old has been a rare jewel in the rubble of the post-Ferguson years but it is no exaggeration to say that he is in danger of becoming a liability. His club can, however, lay claim to a keeper with the joint‑most clean sheets in the division: Dean Henderson. Time for De Gea to worry? Alex Hess

• Match report: Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United

5) Hodgson decides not to throw at Stones

Roy Hodgson felt compelled to defend John Stones after the defender had another shaky outing that culminated in him allowing Wilfried Zaha to force Fernandinho’s late own-goal equaliser. Hodgson, who gave Stones his international debut when England manager, said: “John is a good player – young, too. He still has his best years ahead of him, he’s still learning the game, learning it in a fantastic environment with very good players around him. I still think that John Stones is every bit that we expected him to be. But he’s playing in a very important goldfish bowl at the moment. Every mistake or every good thing is magnified 10 times over. He’s very much a player that City and England will have good use from in the future. It’s for Pep to decide.” Guardiola voiced rare public criticism of the “mistake” that prompted Fernandinho’s blunder. Jamie Jackson

• Match report: Manchester City 2-2 Crystal Palace

6) Reinforcement can add to Newcastle’s happiness

Matt Ritchie celebrated Isaac Hayden’s last-gasp winner by kicking the corner flag into the crowd – where it hit a Newcastle fan in the groin, leaving him in agony. Frank Lampard and Chelsea probably felt much the same after monopolising possession and having 19 shots on target. What the bald statistics do not reveal is the visitors often passed sideways and created mainly half‑chances. While Reece James shone for Chelsea at right‑back the other contenders for man of the match were all Newcastle players. They should shortly be joined by the Austria winger Valentino Lazaro after a provisional loan agreement was reached with Internazionale. Lazaro can expect some expert “out of possession” training‑ground tutelage from Steve Bruce and his assistant Steve Agnew. The defensive masterclass here was not accidental. Louise Taylor

• Match report: Newcastle 1-0 Chelsea

 Isaac Hayden (right) and his Newcastle teammates celebrate their late winner. Photograph: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images

7) Duda adds sparkle to Norwich’s fight against relegation

The January transfer window has offered little of note so far but one move that flew under the radar when it went through last week was Norwich’s signing of Ondrej Duda on loan from Hertha Berlin. On the face of it a slight, technical midfielder is hardly the sort of player required in a relegation dogfight – especially by a team who have conceded the most goals in the division and already possess Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendía. Yet Duda – who scored 11 times in the Bundesliga last season – slotted into the team alongside both and was his side’s standout performer, dictating the tempo with his crisp passing and denied a debut goal only by the illegal acrobatics of Steve Cook. If Norwich go down, they will go down playing sparkling football. But if Duda plays like that every week, they might just get the best of both worlds. Alex Hess

Match report: Norwich 1-0 Bournemouth

8) Nuno accepts Wolves have to invest in transfer window

After a stirring comeback victory it would have been easy for Nuno Espírito Santo to be cavalier but the Wolves head coach acknowledged such a result does not alter the need for reinforcements. The shirt numbers of his substitutes at St Mary’s read akin to lottery numbers and the average age was 22. As it happened, Nuno’s tactical switch changed the game – Adama Traoré caused havoc centrally – but Wolves had few options on a bench which featured two teenagers, including Ryan Giles who was recalled from Shrewsbury last week. Wolves rallied but Nuno recognised he needs to add to his supporting cast, with backup for the match-winner, Raúl Jiménez, in short supply after Patrick Cutrone joined Fiorentina on loan. “This window is not the best one to do things but we need to,” he said. “We already have a good team but we need to improve.” Ben Fisher

• Match report: Southampton 2-3 Wolves

 Pedro Neto scores Wolves’s first goal in the comeback win. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

9) Chalobah rules roost in midfield for Watford

Watford looked the equals of Tottenham during this largely drab draw. Their midfield three outfought their opponents but they had more to their game than just strength. Most intriguing of the trio was Nathaniel Chalobah. The 25‑year‑old’s fitness history is chequered but even when fit he has struggled to play under some of Watford’s frequently changing managers. Nigel Pearson trusts him, however. “He’s been fabulous again,” he said. “He’s a gifted player but he’s had to find a way of regaining his form. It’s been a difficult year or so for him [but] he’s the type of player that is very important for us.” From the base of Watford’s midfield Chalobah was effective in breaking up Spurs’ attacks but his distribution high up the field was also crucial. He has a broad range of attributes for an English defensive midfielder and another manager who trusts him is Gareth Southgate. Paul MacInnes

• Match report: Watford 0-0 Tottenham

10) Bench shows West Ham’s lack of options

The West Ham fans who protested against David Sullivan and David Gold before this draw with Everton will be paying close attention to whether the board reacts to a growing injury list by backing David Moyes in the transfer market. Missing Felipe Anderson, Michail Antonio and Andriy Yarmolenko, West Ham lacked ideas in the second half and did not have many attacking options on a bench containing three centre‑backs, an untried youngster, a left-back and Albian Ajeti, a forward whose only contribution was jutting his head into Mason Holgate’s jaw after replacing Manuel Lanzini. Moyes admitted concern about the lack of support for the £45m striker Sébastien Haller. With a trip to Leicester on Wednesday, a double‑header with Liverpool, games at Arsenal and Tottenham and visits from Chelsea and Wolves, West Ham need reinforcements. Jacob Steinberg

• Match report: West Ham 1-1 Everton

Champions League last 16 draw: analysis and predictions

PSG may have got it right at last, Frank Lampard returns to Munich – and it’s now or never for Cristiano Ronaldo and Juve.

N’Golo Kanté of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, João Felix of Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric. Photograph: Getty Images

Borussia Dortmund v Paris Saint-Germain

Could this, finally, be Paris Saint-Germain’s year? Although their domestic form has been indifferent (they lead Ligue 1 by just seven points), the 3-0 evisceration of Real Madrid in their opening group match suggested the balance of the midfield – with Idrissa Gana Gueye joining Marquinhos and Marco Verratti – may at last be right. The big question is whether that cohesiveness can be maintained as Neymar returns. The PSG manager, Thomas Tuchel, has the advantage of knowing numerous Dortmund players from his time at the club. The form of Lucien Favre’s side, meanwhile, remains oddly patchy although the fact they ousted Inter in the group stage suggests they shouldn’t be underestimated.
Prediction: PSG


Real Madrid v Manchester City

Real Madrid paid a heavy price for finishing as runners-up in their group, although the sense is that both sides may look rather different come February. Madrid have slowly improved after a difficult start to the season, following the familiar pattern of Zinedine Zidane sides, but the reconstruction of their midfield will be severely tested by a City side who, with Liverpool 14 points clear of them in the Premier League, will presumably devote their attentions fully to Europe. Their recent stutter has been rooted in two issues: problems at the back and a lack of attacking ruthlessness, but they may melt away when Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Agüero return. City, anyway, should be a far stiffer test than they were against Madrid in the 2016 semi-final.
Prediction: Manchester City

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Atalanta v Valencia

These were the sides every other club probably wanted to face in the last 16 and, if there is any romance left in European football, it is represented by Atalanta. They squeaked through with an enormous amount of luck, with just seven points from their six group games. Nonetheless, the hard pressing practised by Gian Piero Gasperini’s side can unsettle any opponent, while Valencia have been far from convincing this season. They progressed largely because of slightly fortuitous 1-0 away wins against Chelsea and Ajax and while they have won four of their last six league games, and drawn with Real Madrid in that run, there is a reason they still lie seventh in the Spanish table.
Prediction: Atalanta

Atalanta’s Timothy Castagne celebrates his against Shakhtar. Photograph: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Atlético Madrid v Liverpool

What was most impressive about Liverpool’s qualification was the way, having gone 2-0 up against Salzburg in their final group game, they were able to hold vibrant opponents at arm’s length. It’s a side of their game that hasn’t been much in evidence as they have surged clear at the top of the Premier League, but a useful attribute to have in two-legged ties. Atlético are in the middle of a major rebuild, the foremost result of which appears to have been a lack of fluency: they have drawn eight of their 17 league games so far this season. An inability to finish sides off, though, is less of a drawback in knockout football than in the league.
Prediction: Liverpool

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Chelsea v Bayern Munich

In 2012, Chelsea went to Munich for the Champions League final and pulled off a major shock, beating Bayern on penalties. Frank Lampard may not enjoy this trip quite as much. Chelsea were extremely fortunate to draw against Ajax (4-4) and Valencia (2-2) in the group stage, two games in which their defensive limitations were badly exposed. And as Tottenham found, Bayern, only the seventh side ever to win all six group games, have in Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry two in-form forwards ideally suited to take advantage. That said, Bayern remain fifth in the Bundesliga and it’s far from clear whether the interim manager, Hansi Flick, will still be in charge come February.
Prediction: Bayern

Serge Gnabry completes his hat-trick against Tottenham. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Lyon v Juventus

Perhaps no side in the last 16 is under such pressure as Juventus. Their decision to sign Cristiano Ronaldo in summer 2018, based on the belief his goals were the final ingredient that would bring them a third European crown, represented a huge financial gamble. A quarter-final exit to Ajax last season represented a major disappointment. Ronaldo will be 35 by the time this year’s last-16 tie comes round. The clock is ticking. And Juve have not been at their best domestically since Maurizio Sarri replaced Max Allegri, currently standing level on points at the top of Serie A with Inter. They still, though, should have far too much for Lyon who are eighth in France and have, in Rudi Garcia, a coach who has not been accepted by the fanbase because of his previous association with Lyon’s great rivals Saint-Étienne.
Prediction: Juventus


Tottenham v RB Leipzig

ottenham represent a dangerous wild card this season. Five wins out of seven under José Mourinho suggest a corner has been turned since the departure of Mauricio Pochettino, but the defence is still extremely vulnerable, as was seen in the way Bayern picked them apart. There must be doubts as well as to whether Mourinho’s happy-and-relaxed shtick will endure another two months and what impact a more familiar grumpy José may have on players who at the moment seem enthused by their new boss. Either way, this represents a great clash of approaches: Julian Nagelsmann is at the forefront of the modern breed of hard-pressing young managers and, while Tottenham were used to that style under Pochettino, Mourinho’s instincts are to a more reactive approach.
Prediction: Tottenham

On Premier League

Napoli v Barcelona

Barcelona are top of the league in Spain and finished top of their Champions League group for a 13th time, yet the feeling around them is one of vague dissatisfaction. Lionel Messi – who, if not in the form of his life, is in the form of this minimalist phase of his career – papers over a lot of cracks, and they remain, as they have been for four or five years, vulnerable to sides who counterattack at pace. Napoli, though, now under the management of Gennaro Gattuso, are in a full-blown crisis of their own, with numerous players in open revolt against the president Aurelio De Laurentiis following his attempts to send them to a punitive training camp.
Prediction: Barcelona

Six Premier League signings last season who are struggling this season

Pablo Fornals, Moise Kean, Wesley, Joelinton, Dani Ceballos and Che Adams are not living up to their price tags.

With the halfway point of the season fast approaching, some of the biggest signings of the summer are still struggling to adapt to their new surroundings. That’s nothing new but, given the money spent on transfer fees these days, clubs will be hoping these newcomers come good in the new year.

Moise Kean, Everton

Given the way Moise Kean ended last season, it was a shock that Juventus allowed him to leave. It was even more surprising that Everton were relatively unopposed in their pursuit of the Italy international – and that there was no buy-back clause in his contract. Even at a fee of £29m – which could rise to £37m – it was still an exciting signing for the club.


Kean is still just 19, but he did not impress Marco Silva and really needs a fresh start under a new coach. Given their modest options to lead the line, it looked as if Kean would be first choice at Everton, but he has started just two of his 11 league appearances and has only completed the full 90 minutes once – a 2-0 defeat at home to Sheffield United.

He is yet to score for his new club and has only set up one goal. He has averaged 3.3 shots and 2.7 completed dribbles for every 90 minutes he has been on the pitch, so there are some encouraging signs but Everton fans have seen far less of Kean – and far less from him – than they would have expected.

Che Adams, Southampton


If evidence were ever needed about the step up in quality from the Championship to the Premier League, Che Adams’ start to life on the south coast has provided it. Having scored 22 goals last season for Birmingham City in the second tier, Adams impressed in pre-season and looked ready to nail down a starting spot at Southampton after his £15m move in the summer.

The 23-year-old was given his chance at the beginning of the campaign but, after six matches without a goal, he was dropped. Adams hasn’t been back in the starting XI since. Since losing his place in the side, he has made five substitute appearances, mustering just two shots on target. Like Kean, he has made 11 appearances and scored no goals for his new club.

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Adams may struggle to regain his place. Danny Ings has been picked for the last 10 games and has scored in eight of them. Adams will be rueing his missed chances. The step up to the Premier League can be unforgiving.

Pablo Fornals, West Ham

Signing Pablo Fornals seemed to be a real coup for West Ham in the summer, given that he had just won the U21 European Championship with Spain. The midfielder had a big reputation, but his form for Villarreal had been stuttering.

In his first season with Villarreal, in 2017-18, Fornals scored three goals and registered an outstanding 12 assists in La Liga. However, his form dipped last season, with just two goals and three assists.


The 23-year-old is capable of sublime moments of skill but it is telling that he has made more tackles (2.2 per 90 minutes) than he has attempted shots (1.6), created chances (1) or completed dribbles (0.7) for West Ham. He has only started eight of his 15 league games so far and is yet to score.

Dani Ceballos, Arsenal

Dani Ceballos was also in the Spain team that won the U21 Euros in the summer and he has also struggled in London this season. Injuries have played their part, but he has not made the biggest impression after his loan move from Real Madrid.

It all started so well too. He set up two goals in his first game at the Emirates as Arsenal beat Burnley 2-1 on a sunny afternoon in August. He looked a looked a class apart from most of the players on the pitch. But, in his nine appearance since then, he has not scored or set up a single goal. Ceballos has missed Arsenal’s last five league games due to injury but, even before his spell on the sidelines, he looked off the pace.

Dani Ceballos is yet to settle at Arsenal. Photograph: Chloe Knott/Getty Images

Joelinton, Newcastle

Newcastle forked out a club record fee of £40m for Joelinton and it is not obvious to see why. The Brazilian striker proved to be a strong outlet for Hoffenheim last season, using his physicality to bring others into play and defending admirably from the front, but his goal return was not much to write home about.


He scored seven goals and chipped in with a respectable five assists in the Bundesliga, but his finishing often left a lot to be desired. His conversion rate of 12.5% was modest to say the least and it has dropped further still at Newcastle. He has played 16 times for his new club and only scored one goal – back in August against Tottenham.


The 23-year-old has not scored in his last 13 games. Moreover, his averages of 1.8 shots, 1.1 key passes and 1.4 dribbles per 90 minutes are all some way down on the figures he posted in Germany. As a result, Andy Carroll – who was signed on a pay-as-you-play basis – is now very much in competition with the £40m signing for a starting spot.

Wesley, Aston Villa

Wesley is another young Brazilian striker who has found the move to English football troubling. He started the season well enough – scoring four goals in his first eight games – but he has really dropped off the pace since then. He has not scored in his last eight games and, truth be told, has rarely looked like finding the net in that time. He won his first cap for Brazil last month, which was a touch bemusing given that it came in the middle of a barren run in front of goal for Aston Villa. On current form, the 23-year-old will have to wait some time for his second cap.


He is clearly low on confidence and is really struggling to use his stature to hold up the ball for Aston Villa – all too often it’s coming right back as a result. Despite his 6ft 4in frame, he has won just 38% of his aerial duels. On top of that, he has lost possession due to an unsuccessful touch 42 times (the seventh worst in the Premier League). Given the lack of competition at Villa Park, there was a lot of pressure on Wesley to hit the ground running. At this stage, he needs to be taken out of the firing line and given a rest.

Arsenal sack Unai Emery as head coach

Unai Emery has been sacked as manager of Arsenal.

The Spaniard oversaw a disastrous run of form that saw his side go seven games without a win for the first time since 1992.

Touted to be the messiah the Gunners wanted, Emery, 48, was appointed in the summer of 2018 following the departure of Arsene Wenger.


He guided the Gunners to fifth in his debut campaign, one point adrift of Spurs, before losing 4-1 to Chelsea in the Europa League final.

His side also went 22 games unbeaten combined with a run of 11 straight defeats.

However, the past weeks have been disappointing and the final straw was the Europa League defeat at home to Frankfurt.

Arsenal on their website said Emery and his coaching team have been told to leave.

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Speaking on behalf of the Arsenal board and owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Josh Kroenke said: “Our most sincere thanks go to Unai and his colleagues who were unrelenting in their efforts to get the club back to competing at the level we all expect and demand. We wish Unai and his team nothing but future success.”

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The club said the decision has been taken due to results and performances not being at the level required.

Arsenal have asked Freddie Ljungberg to take responsibility for the first team as interim head coach adding that they have full confidence in Freddie to take the club forward.

Already a couple of names have been brandished to take over at the London club.


Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo remains favourite to take the role with Mikel Arteta also in the running.

Former Juventus boss Max Allegri remains on the shortlist while the club could make a stunning approach for ex-Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino.


Shkodran Mustafi on his way to a hat-trick of Palace gifts. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Premier League 2018-19 review: failures and surprises

From Manchester United to Shkodran Mustafi, some of those who may well wish to forget this past campaign

Welcome to the review of the 2018-19 Premier League season. We have nominated some contenders for this category but this is just to get the discussion going: offer your suggestions below the line …

Manchester United

A purple patch following José Mourinho’s sacking aside, it has been a truly disastrous season for United. There are any number of overriding images from this latest sorry damp squib – Alexis Sánchez, whose £490,000-a-week wages translate to an hourly rate of around £2,900, skulking around nonplussed, Fred floundering in countless midfield duels, Paul Pogba strutting round and simultaneously causing Roy Keane to self-combust, an off-colour David de Gea making yet another uncharacteristic error or the grimace on the face of Phil Jones. Take your pick, it has been a torturous time. The final descent of Mourinho’s reign was spectacularly sullen but, six months on, things are not much better. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has declared this as the end of the road for some players – Sánchez’s limp down the tunnel at Huddersfield was symptomatic of an entire campaign – and, in truth, the chance to start over cannot come soon enough.The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh

Signed for £17m last summer, the winger is Brighton’s club-record signing but has badly struggled to live up to that fee. A quick glance at his numbers says it all: this time last season, Jahanbakhsh was heading into the World Cup with Iran off the back of a glittering campaign in which he scored 21 goals for AZ Alkmaar. Not only have the goals dried up, they have been non-existent, with Jahanbakhsh still to register a single goal or assist for Chris Hughton’s side. He has completed 90 minutes just three times in what has been a difficult season, punctuated by niggling injuries and compounded by conceding a soft penalty at Arsenal earlier this month. The 25-year-old studied to become an auto mechanic before turning professional in the Eredivisie and, despitestalling in his maiden season in Sussex, Hughton has expressed confidence Jahanbakhsh will fare better second time around.

Jahanbakhsh is challenged by Spurs’ Danny Rose last month. Photograph: Frank Augstein/AP

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Yerry Mina

For an entourage of Everton officials, deadline day last August was spent in Spain. A lot of effort went into frenetically arranging meetings, medicals and signing off paperwork as they got a £28m deal for Mina and a season-long loan for André Gomes over the line. Everton are yet to fully reap the rewards of that labour. Mina formed a trio of headline arrivals from Catalonia, with Lucas Digne having already signed from Barcelona. Gomes and Digne have enjoyed excellent campaigns but the same cannot be said for the towering Colombia defender. Mina did not start a game for Marco Silva’s side until November because of a foot problem and has not featured since March following a hamstring injury picked up on international duty. Mina has not become useless overnight but his first season at Everton has been desperately disappointing.

Yerry Mina reacts after a goal for Manchester City during their 3-1 home win over Everton in December. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images via Reuters

Shkodran Mustafi

That there is, a rather cruel, 10-minute montage of Mustafi’s mistakes doing the rounds speaks volumes. The Arsenal defender has too often proved a defensive liability, typified by his hopeless display in defeat against Crystal Palace, when he gifted away not one but three goals. On the face of it, signing Mustafi for £35m three seasons ago appeared a masterstroke, a player Arsène Wenger had been crying out for. Arsenal had snapped up a World Cup winner, someone with – stereotypically at least – all of the desired attributes synonymous with a German centre-back. He seemed a cure to their decade-long defensive woes. What Arsenal really acquired was a flimsy imitation of a top-quality defender. For Mustafi, along with Denis Suárez, who mustered up just four substitute appearances after being borrowed from Barcelona in January, it has been a poor campaign.

Shkodran Mustafi on his way to a hat-trick of Palace gifts. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images

Jean-Michael Seri

After being touted for a move to Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, when the £25m midfielder rocked up at Aldershot Town last summer for a Fulham pre-season friendly, his arrival was greeted with considerable fanfare. Seri’s signing was supposed to be a major coup but, barring the odd glimpse of class, Fulham must feel short-changed. Before a ball had been kicked, Fulham fans were giddy at the prospect of Seri, and the raft of new faces, catapulting them into the upper echelons of the Premier League. Therein lies the problem. Seri has little appetite to play in England’s second tier, and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, another who endured a miserable debut season, led to the break-up of a trusty three-man midfield that had Fulham purring in the Championship: Tom Cairney, Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen. They could do worse than leaning on that trio again next season. For Seri, signed from Nice, a return to Ligue 1 surely beckons.

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

Wigan’s Will Grigg shocks Manchester City and ends quadruple dream

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola refused to blame his players after the runaway Premier league leaders, reduced to 10 men at half-time, were knocked out of the FA Cup by third tier Wigan Athletic.

FA Cup Fifth Round - Wigan Athletic vs Manchester City
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were beaten 1-0 by Wigan Athletic in FA Cup. Photo: Reuters

Monday’s 1-0 fifth round defeat at the DW Stadium, a repeat of the 2012-13 final won by Wigan when the Latics were in the top tier, ended City’s hopes of an unprecedented league and cup quadruple this season.

“Congratulations for Wigan for the qualification,” Guardiola told BBC radio. “We did absolutely everything, we made a mistake and this kind of game is like a final. OK, we accept the defeat,” added the Spaniard.

“Wigan won, congratulations to them and now we rest to prepare for the League Cup final.” City play Arsenal in the final of that competition at Wembley next Sunday.

Manchester City fans start to launch advertising hoardings on to the pitch and in the direction of the police after the final whistle in a dark reminder of the in 1970s. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

The overwhelming favourites against opponents fighting for promotion from League One, City were always wary of Wigan’s proud reputation as a ‘bogey team’ in the world’s oldest and most romantic domestic cup competition.

Apart from beating them the 2013 final, Wigan had also dumped them out at the quarter-final stage of the competition at the Etihad Stadium a season later just as City were heading for the league title under Manuel Pellegrini.

Pep Guardiola and Paul Cook clash after Fabian Delph is sent off. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

City started with their Argentine top scorer Sergio Aguero, and had Belgian midfielder Kevin De Bruyne waiting on the bench but neither were able to make the most of their side’s dominant possession.

In the end, the match turned on the sending off of Fabian Delph on the stroke of half-time with the City midfielder shown a controversial red card for a sliding tackle as team mates crowded around the referee in protest.

Wigan Athletic’s Jay Fulton celebrates with fans on the pitch after the match. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Wigan’s prolific goalscorer Will Grigg then fired in a 79th minute winner.

Despite his obvious anger at the time, Guardiola steered clear of criticism of the official after the final whistle. “Red card. It was the decision,” he said. “They had one shot on target, I don’t have regrets with the way we played, the performance, the heart,” continued the manager. “I judge my players on intentions and not results and the intentions were good.”

Will Grigg celebrates with Ryan Colclough. Photograph: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

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The 100 best footballers in the world 2017

There were only four goals, and no assists, in Messi’s seven international appearances this year as Argentina laboured through World Cup qualification, but three of them came in a win-or-bust final group match against Ecuador in Quito, in which the visitors found themselves a goal down inside 45 seconds. What followed was a brilliant individual performance, which dragged an underperforming team to Russia. “Today luckily the nationality of the best player in the world is Argentinian,” said Jorge Sampaoli, their manager, afterwards. “Messi does not owe a World Cup to Argentina – football owes a World Cup to Messi. He is the best player in history.” This has not been Messi’s most gilded year: last season Barcelona came second to Real Madrid in La Liga and were knocked out of the Champions League by Juventus in the quarter-finals, with the Copa del Rey – in which Messi scored and was named man of the match in the final, won 3-1 against Alavés – their only silverware. But still he has shone, outscoring and out-assisting Cristiano Ronaldo over the calendar year by a comfortable margin, and in November he signed a massively lucrative new contract that will keep him at the Camp Nou until the summer of 2021. The voting among our 169 judges was incredibly close but Messi just edged his great rival Ronaldo and retakes the No1 spot in this year’s top 100. Simon Burnton

02 – Cristiano Ronaldo
Those who doubted whether, at 32, the best days were behind Portugal’s talisman have been provided with a definitive answer as Ronaldo continues to set new standards. Rounded off the year by winning a record-equalling fifth Ballon d’Or ahead of Lionel Messi a few days after becoming the first player to score in every Champions League group stage match. That he misses out on top spot to his arch-rival in this year’s Guardian list having taken the plaudits 12 months ago probably owes much to the fact that his overall goals tally is slightly down on this time last year, although it is still the seventh year in a row that he has topped the half-century mark for club and country. In any case the voting among our 169 judges was incredibly close. Having guided Portugal to a surprise victory at Euro 2016, Ronaldo’s next challenge is to inspire them to a repeat performance at the World Cup, although a treacherous group that includes Spain may represent too much to ask for even a player of his ability. Before then, Real Madrid’s tie against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League will provide an intriguing comparison between him and two of the players tipped to take his mantle one day – Neymar and the teenager Kylian Mbappé. Ed Aarons
03 – Neymar
The most expensive player in the history of world football and the man esteemed by many to be the next best thing after the joint phenomena of Messi and Ronaldo, for Neymar 2017 will go down as the year of the move. In swapping Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain for the neat yet mind-boggling sum of €222m, he was at the centre of a transfer that provoked a new round of debate about the relationship between salaries and sporting virtues. Neymar’s status in the PSG project is vast. Leaving the Messi-Suárez-Neymar trident at Barcelona naturally asks different questions of the Brazilian. He has not had many problems scoring and creating goals for his new club. No doubt he can enjoy the fact that in the Champions League group stage from last season to this season Barcelona dropped from 20 to nine goals scored. Paris Saint-Germain’s trend over the same group stage went from 13 goals to 25. The Neymar effect has been an interesting one. Remarkably, aged 25 he is not so far away from a century of caps for the Seleção, and he will be the poster boy for Brazil at the World Cup once again. Amy Lawrence

04 – Kevin De Bruyne
José Mourinho explained that Chelsea had to sell Kevin De Bruyne to Wolfsburg in 2014 because the then 22-year-old, who made only five starts during his time at Stamford Bridge, was “an upset kid … crying every day that he wanted to leave”. Understandable, perhaps, but it is now Chelsea who must think back to that and weep. At Manchester City De Bruyne has evolved into one of the world’s best creative midfielders. “He is world class because he can do absolutely everything,” says Pep Guardiola. Perhaps the most remarkable thing that the Belgian can do is coax the attacking intent out of any team-mate by rewarding any run with an impeccable quick pass that demands a similar finish. No one pulled strings in midfield as well as him during 2017. There is still scope for him to score more goals even though he is making progress on that front, as he demonstrated by walloping in the winning goal for City at Chelsea in September. De Bruyne’s quest for fulfilment also involves his country and, as he helped Belgium canter to the World Cup, he has called on his national team’s manager, Roberto Martínez, and players to improve if they are to achieve what they are capable of. Paul Doyle

05 – Harry Kane
When Pep Guardiola described Tottenham Hotspur as “the Harry Kane team,” it went down predictably badly but there is little doubt that the talismanic striker has threatened to transcend his club. The 24-year-old has made no secret of his desire to rival Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s top player and, during a jaw-dropping 2017, he has posted Messi and Ronaldo-type numbers. He finished last season with his second straight Premier League Golden Boot – he had been the runner-up to Sergio Agüero in 2014-15 – and he has carried his consistency into the Champions League, where a wider audience have come to appreciate his power, deceptive pace and dead-eyed instincts in front of goal. One of the special things about Kane is that he is not a confidence player. Missed chances do not affect him and nor do barren spells, such as his now traditional dry August. He scored 13 goals in eight matches for Tottenham and England in September. Zinedine Zidane called him the “complete No9” and nobody was arguing while, at Tottenham, they can see from the data that he is in the best physical condition of his career. The consummate professional, Kane continually strives for the marginal gains in areas like nutrition and recovery. His trends are inexorably upwards. David Hytner

06 – Luka Modric
Has Modric got better with age, or has his brilliance simply been taken for granted? This is his first appearance in the top 10 and you would be forgiven wondering why it has taken so long. His influence on games has rarely fluctuated: it is near-impossible to find a footballer with comparable passing range and, just as importantly, with such finely-tuned instinct as to when a game needs speeding up or slowing down. The latter was shown in a masterful dousing of a raging Atlético Madrid fire during last season’s Champions League semi-final second leg; Modric went on to be influential in the second half of the final, upping the ante on a Real performance that took time to get going. Perhaps it has become easier to focus on his gifts now that Cristiano Ronaldo, the star of the show for so long, has become less explosive outside the penalty area. A single goal for Real in this calendar year hints at one reason for his lack of presence in the headlines; they would be an entirely different side without him though, and so would the Croatia team he captains, although that relationship has not quite been as simple. Modric and company qualified for the World Cup via the play-offs after the sacking of Ante Cacic, who he had notably refused to support as the national team tottered. Next summer’s tournament will probably be the last he competes in: 20 years since Croatia reached the last four, a similar performance would be befitting of his ability. Nick Ames

07 – Robert Lewandowski
An astonishing record that has seen Lewandowski score 53 goals in just 54 matches for club and country since the start of the year sees Poland’s talisman maintain his place in the top 10, although he is no longer the highest-ranked traditional No9 on the list having been overtaken by Harry Kane. Nonetheless, a new record that saw the 29-year-old become the first player to score 16 goals in a major European international qualifying campaign and yet another Bundesliga winners’ medal was just reward for a man who has now found the net more than 15 times every season since in 2011. In any other era, that would be enough to make him a contender for the top spot every season but, as he acknowledged in an interview this year, the presence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has always restricted his chances. “It might be every hundred years that two such good players play at the same time, so I’m happy to be playing in that same period,” he said. Lewandowski also admitted in an interview last month that he could follow in the footsteps of André Villas-Boas when he retires and take up motor racing. Yet, with his instincts in front of goal showing no signs of diminishing, that may still be a few years away. Ed Aarons

08 – Kylian Mbappé
If 2017 belonged to anyone outside of the Messi-Ronaldo duopoly, it is hard to look beyond Kylian Sanmi Mbappé Lottin, who began the year as a bright young thing causing a stir at Monaco, and ended it as the most expensively transferred teenager of all time in a deal that will cost PSG around €180m. As whirlwinds go, not many match the year Mbappé’s career caught fire – a flurry of big and brilliant goals, league title, Champions League starring roles and an international debut came suddenly. Occasionally a player comes along and possesses the charisma of a generational talent and Mbappé has that. Compared by pundits to the Brazilian Ronaldo and his compatriot Thierry Henry because of his attacking power and panache, expectation is weighty. Coveted by all last summer after his sensational burst with Monaco, the natural ease with which he excelled in the Champions League, and his accelerated promotion to the French national team, Paris Saint-Germain won the prize. The only other teenager to make this top 100 is Christian Pulisic, ranked at 77. For Mbappé to be the highest new entry, straight into the top 10, is testament to the quality of his explosive arrival. Amy Lawrence

09 – Toni Kroos
Toni Kroos is a massive Robbie Williams fan, but that doesn’t mean he’s not cool – on the pitch, at least. As Real Madrid evolved into a more technical, controlling team, their game focused more on control, so Kroos played an ever more central role. Although it is not really his aim, he got more noticed, too – he’s up 12 places from last year – as he kept the ball always moving with pace and precision on route to Madrid winning a league and European Cup double for the first time in 59 years. Precision may just be the word that best defines him, in fact. There’s an elegant efficiency about everything he does from his role just to the left of a midfield three (although it is true that he has occasionally suffered on those rare occasions when he is forced to play a less natural, more defensive role in the absence of Casemiro or when Madrid are under pressure). Kroos doesn’t score many but there is something of a signature goal emerging when he does: running on to the ball, struck cleanly, first time, curling along the floor, almost like a bowling ball on a polished lane, and going in by the post. Sid Lowe

10 – Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard has been the creative inspiration for Chelsea’s two Premier League title successes in the last three years, all scuttling dribbles and sumptuous touches, and boasts a ruthless streak in front of goal which adds to his armoury. His significance to his club side was illustrated by Chelsea’s initial toils in their title defence while the Belgian was recovering from ankle surgery, undergone over the summer . Yet Antonio Conte has now effectively challenged him to break the Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly when it comes to the Ballon d’Or. “I like to call it a ‘sacred fire’, when you have it inside you, the will to win every game to score goals,” said the Italian when asked recently about Hazard’s motivation to further his game. “At this level you must have this type of situation. The flame can be big or little. When you have an inferno it means you are like Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar. Eden has right characteristics to fight with these giants.” That is a measure of his talent. Chelsea’s only real concern is whether they can convince the 26-year-old to sign a contract extension at Stamford Bridge in an attempt to snuff out the interminable rumours of Real Madrid’s interest. Hazard has always wanted to play for Zinedine Zidane. Should the Frenchman ever depart the Bernabéu, the Chelsea hierarchy would breathe a collective sigh of relief. Dominic Fifield

11 – Sergio Ramos
In the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Napoli in March, Real Madrid found themselves in peril. Real were leading 3-2 on aggregate but the Italians were pushing for the strike that would give them the lead on away goals. Then Real won a corner, Toni Kroos centred and Sergio Ramos headed in. Six minutes later Ramos scored again (though some put this down as a Dries Mertens own goal), and Real were safely through. That weekend Real were being held at home by Real Betis when they won an 81st-minute corner. Kroos took it, Ramos headed in, and the game was won. The 31-year-old’s defensive abilities are nothing new, but in the last year he has seemed more vital to his team than ever. Simon Burnton

12 – Isco
This will go down as the year Isco made the leap towards greatness. For some time he had been knocking on the door of the top bracket, not quite doing enough to convince Carlo Ancelotti or Rafa Benítez that his playmaking wiles matched his all-round contribution. Under Zinedine Zidane everything has fallen into place to the extent that he re-enters this list a lofty position; his rise has been a defining characteristic of the coach’s tenure and it says plenty that his form in the second half of last season rendered Gareth Bale’s absence inconsequential. At his best Isco shows shades of Zidane the player, a pure footballer with the workrate on top: there have been enough high-level contributions in 2017, including a crucial Champions League semi-final strike against Atlético Madrid and a marvellous two-goal performance for Spain against Italy, to make the prospect of a longer-term comparison seem not entirely fanciful. Nick Ames

13 – Edinson Cavani
The departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from PSG last year finally handed the Uruguay striker the central role he has craved since joining from Napoli in 2013 and the result has been a remarkable return of 52 goals from only 56 matches so far in 2017. That puts Cavani in elite company and means he is also poised to overtake Ibrahimovic’s all-time record for PSG – not a bad return considering he is no longer on penalty duties for his club following the very public clash with Neymar. After climbing 34 places up our poll this year, quite whether Cavani can force his way into the top 10 will probably depend on how deep PSG can go into the latter stages of the Champions League, which looks a lot harder since they were drawn to face holders Real Madrid in the last 16Ed Aarons

14 – Paulo Dybala
The next Lionel Messi? Dybala pleaded with reporters not to force that label upon him before a Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona in April, then promptly gave them fresh cause to do so with two magnificent strikes in a 3-0 win. He subsequently took over Juventus’s No10 shirt at the start of this season, and scored 12 times in his first eight games wearing it. But the goals have dried up somewhat since, and consistency remains elusive. It was Messi who shone brightest when the two men met again in this year’s Champions League group stagePaolo Bandini

15 – Luis Suárez
The darkest predictions had Barcelona falling away after Neymar’s departure called time on the fabled “MSN”. Not if Suárez had anything to do with it. After starting 2017 by scoring his 100th goal for Barça and finishing last season prolifically, his return has been a shade lighter since the summer, but to focus on that would be to ignore the importance of his all-round play. He has had to make sacrifices but there are few who can match his intensity and vigour; Suárez raises everyone around him with his work ethic and will get another chance to show it at the World Cup with Uruguay. Perhaps he can make headlines for more wholesome reasons than at Brazil 2014. Suárez will be 31 next month and there will not be many similar opportunities left; the hope is that his drop in this year’s ranking is not the start of a longer-term decline. Nick Ames

16 – Gianluigi Buffon
Only a heart of flint would have been left unmoved by the sight of Buffon, devastated by the realisation that he would never wear the Azzurri’s No1 jersey again, in tears after Italy’s World Cup play-off defeat to Sweden. When he did so against Albania last March it brought up 1,000 career appearances for a 39-year-old who, although the end is nearing, remains as brilliant as ever. The big question that remains is whether he can inspire his beloved Juventus to the Champions League victory that would fill the only significant void in his medal collection. He came so close this year, performing wonders to keep out Kylian Mbappé and Monaco en route to the final; Juventus fell short though and if they do so again then Buffon, such an eloquent and dignified ambassador for the sport, looks certain to retire. Nick Ames

17 – N’Golo Kanté
The France midfielder, rather mystifyingly, has dropped a place in the rankings despite his dynamism in Chelsea’s midfield having been so key to securing the club’s Premier League title. That was the second claimed in successive years by the 26-year-old, and his impact has been as significant at Stamford Bridge as it was with Leicester City. Witness how the side virtually fell to pieces as soon as he succumbed to a hamstring injury in September this time around. Antonio Conte, while conceding Kanté’s game lacks glamour, has even suggested “every coach would say N’Golo has to win the Ballon d’Or”, though his credentials will no doubt go the same way as those of Paolo Maldini and Gianluigi Buffon. Dominic Fifield

18 – Antoine Griezmann
It tells you something about the soaring standards Griezmann set in the past as a leading forward for club and country, and how quickly football can gnaw at form, that he only just makes the top 20 having been in fourth place in these rankings this time last year. The Frenchman’s form in 2017 has been modest compared to the freescoring enjoyment and audacious ambition he possesses when at his best. Speculation that he might leave Atlético Madrid for a Premier League club won’t go away, as his suitors follow the creed that form is temporary and class permanent. Amy Lawrence

19 – Marcelo
Included in FIFPro’s team of the season for the third time in succession, the Brazilian has enjoyed yet another stellar year after helping his club side retain the Champions League. A new contract signed in September that will take the 29-year-old deep into his second decade at the Santiago Bernabéu was recognition of his status as one of the club’s most influential figures, even if he has been singled out as a scapegoat for this season’s slow start. Despite a patchy international record that has yielded a surprisingly low number of caps – 47 – he is likely to begin the World Cup as first choice for Brazil but could face a fight with Alex Sandro of Juventus. Ed Aarons

20 – Sergio Agüero
Manchester City’s current abundance of brilliant attackers has perhaps made Agüero come to seem a little less vital. Already this season he has spent four league games as an unused substitute, something he never had to endure in the previous campaign, and the sense that for all his brilliance he is no longer essential explains his slip down our rankings. He scored six goals in City’s first six league games, before he flew to Amsterdam for a concert and fractured a rib in a car crash, further denting his prestige. He remains, though, a phenomenal goalscorer, as of November statistically the finest in City’s history. Simon Burnton

21 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Any striker with 31 goals in the calendar year by early December deserves his place among the elite. So how can the Gabon international’s decline from eighth last year to 21st this year – one of the biggest fallers in our poll – be explained? Having seen off Robert Lewandowski in a hotly-contested race to finish as the Bundesliga’s top scorer last season and begun this campaign with 12 goals in his first 13 league matches, Aubameyang could justifiably point to an improvement yet still finds himself well below his Polish rival in this list. A series of disciplinary problems that culminated in the 28-year-old being dropped from the Borussia Dortmund squad to face Stuttgart in November has fuelled rumours that he may be ready to leave BVB this summer, with Liverpool and Milan among his potential suitors. Ed Aarons

22 – Mohamed Salah
It has been quite a year for the player once deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea by José Mourinho. Eight goals in November saw Salah voted as the Premier League’s player of the month to cap an astonishing start to his career at Anfield and came just a few weeks after his two goals helped Egypt qualify for the World Cup for the first time in a generation. In total, Salah has accumulated an astonishing 28 goals and nine assists the past 12 months to underline his status as one of the most clinical finishers in world football having also guided the Pharaohs to the final of the African Cup of Nations in January. Even Jürgen Klopp admitted he has been surprised by Salah’s swift adaptation to the Premier League but now the question is how high up this list can he go? Ed Aarons

23 – David de Gea
For the first time in four years the 2016-17 season ended with someone other than De Gea being named Manchester United’s player of the season, and the week after that announcement he was left on the bench for the Europa League final. But he remains a masterful shot-stopper, as he proved as the year drew towards its conclusion. In all he made 74 saves in the league last season, only five times more than the 14 he was forced into during December’s victory over Arsenal, a match that ended with José Mourinho beaming that “what I saw today was the best from a goalkeeper in the world”. It is a view that seems to be shared by Real Madrid, who continue to covet him. Simon Burnton
24: Philippe Coutinho
In 2016-17 Coutinho scored as many Premier League goals as in the two previous seasons combined, ending it with a run of seven in Liverpool’s last nine games and a prominent position on Barcelona’s shopping list. His summer was clouded by rumour and uncertainty, and he made clear his preference was to leave for Spain, but there has been no hint of disappointment in his subsequent performances for Liverpool. In his first game of the season, delayed by a back injury, he scored a glorious goal for Brazil and he has proceeded to sparkle in his club’s effervescent attack, culminating in the first hat-trick of his career against Spartak Moscow in DecemberSimon Burnton

25 – Christian Eriksen
Last year’s voting placed Eriksen well outside the top 100, but his performances in 2017 have propelled him into the top 25. The Dane ended last season with 15 Premier League assists and eight goals, a record almost identical to the previous year’s 15 and six, but perhaps he has been rewarded for his role in his country’s World Cup qualification. In nine international appearances in 2017 Eriksen scored nine goals, created four and never experienced defeat, culminating in a decisive second-leg hat-trick in the play-off against Republic of Ireland, “an incredible performance and probably his best international game”, according to Nicklas Bendtner. Simon Burnton

26  – Dani Alves
Having defined his position on the pitch for several years, Alves has now also taken on an accompanying role off it; that of elder statesman, leader, motivator and winner. Having done almost the same at Juventus as he did at Barcelona two years before – excelling to push them to the final of the Champions League, saving his best form for the competition – he is now already a dressing room cornerstone at Paris Saint-Germain, with his closeness to Neymar making his presence pivotal. He still weighs in during the biggest games, too, as he did for Juve against Monaco last season and this term for PSG versus Bayern Andy Brassell

27: Dries Mertens
Mertens’ transformation from decent winger to unstoppable striker has been stunning – more than earning him such a lofty position for his first inclusion in this list. Until October 2016 he had essentially been a backup to Lorenzo Insigne at Napoli, showing flashes of quality but rarely looking like a player to build a team around. Since taking his chance up front he has been lethal for Mauricio Sarri’s side, second in Serie A by a point at the time of writing; by December his calendar year had brought 33 goals for his club and the Belgium national team, and a slight dip in the autumn cannot mask his importance to one of the slickest attacking units in Europe. At his age, Mertens could have been excused for thinking his day in the sun would not quite come – but there was life in the “street dog”, as he has called himself, yet. Nick Ames

28 – Casemiro
“He’s the best in the world in his position,” was how the former Brazil player Mauro Silva, who knew a thing or two about the holding midfield role, described Casemiro recently. There is a compelling case to be made and his rise in this year’s ranking mirrors another stellar year in which he packed a punch further up the field, too. His long-range effort, albeit deflected, put Real 2-1 up in the Champions League final and three months later he opened the scoring against Manchester United in the Uefa Super Cup final. Those were vital contributions but his general contribution, providing such a calm and steady presence behind Real’s more forward-thinking players, continues to be the glue for everything Zinedine Zidane’s side do. Nick Ames

29 – Andrés Iniesta
There were times last season when, in Iniesta’s words, “it looked like I might have been finished”. Tellingly the midfielder’s 23 league appearances was his lowest tally since 2003-04, and though Luis Enrique praised him – “Iniesta is Harry Potter, he makes magic, and it’s difficult to find another,” he said in January – he also marginalised him. Iniesta has slipped down our list a little, but the 33-year-old has been integral once again under Ernesto Valverde this season, and declared it was “like I have been reborn” when he signed a lifetime contract in October, the first time Barcelona had ever offered such terms. Simon Burnton

30 – Paul Pogba
Perhaps feeling unshackled by no longer being the word’s most expensive footballer, Pogba has shone for Manchester United this season, influencing matches on a regular basis as well as scoring the odd goal. Overall he is down 13 places on this year’s list, however, because of his less than stellar form during the back end of the previous campaign, during which the Frenchman stood out more for his changing hairstyles than ​for what he did on the pitch. ​He also helped France qualify for the World Cup this year and could be one of the standout performers in Russia next summer. Sachin Nakrani

31 – Dele Alli
One of the great hopes of English football has jumped 59 places on this year’s list, despite periods of inconsistency, and it is because when he is good, he is spellbindingly good – when he is on his game, he does things that elevate him to a higher plane. His talent is impish, precocious and he can sometimes give the impression that his priorities are feints, nutmegs and putting on a show. But the 21-year-old can sting where it matters – he finished last season with 22 goals in all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur – and, with his ability to rise to the big occasion, it is little wonder that he has been linked with Real Madrid. David Hytner

32 – Alexis Sánchez
The combination of Chile’s failure to qualify for the World Cup and Arsenal’s drift out of the Champions League has impacted perceptions of the dynamic, hurtling attacker – he drops 23 places in this year’s list. Sánchez remains capable of brilliance, and he was decisive in helping Arsenal to win their third FA Cup in four seasons. But his moods, and carelessness in possession, have been noticed more as he winds down his contract. His determination, hard running and strike return means he will still be an asset, wherever he plays his football. Amy Lawrence

33 – Mauro Icardi
A section of Inter’s support insisted that they could never again recognise Icardi as the club’s captain following his ill-advised autobiography last year. Fourteen months later, those voices have fallen rather quiet. Week by week, the sceptics are being won over by Icardi’s strike-rate – which sits close to one goal per game – but also his increased work-rate and willingness to sacrifice himself to the cause. Such efforts were noted by the Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli, who handed the striker his first international call-up in three-and-a-half years back in May, and now looks likely to take him to Russia next summer. Paolo Bandini

34 – Gonzalo Higuaín
When Argentina played Brazil in a friendly in June Higuaín was substituted at half-time and Jorge Sampaoli has not named him in his squad since, having “established his presence was not ideal for him or the national team”. Lionel Messi insists “he is vital, one of the best forwards in the world”, but, though he remains important for Juventus, Sampaoli’s decision has had significant reputational damage. Statistics show that on the greatest stages he stalls: over his career Higuaín has averaged 0.6 goals per league game but less than half that (0.28) in the Champions League and in major finals, including last season’s Champions League showpiece, he has repeatedly disappointed. Simon Burnton
35 – Jan Oblak
One of only three goalkeepers to make the 30-man 2017 Ballon d’Or shortlist, the 24-year-old Slovenian is a reassuring presence who is as adept at cutting off opposition passing lanes as he is at organising his own defence. His distribution is excellent and he is capable of pulling off astonishing saves. Following his near-perfect performance against Bayern Munich in last year’s Champions League semi-final, he further frustrated German opposition in March with a breathtaking triple save against Bayer Leverkusen. While the Slovenian’s club may be having a rough trot of it at the moment, their shortcomings have little to do with him. Barry Glendenning

36 – Sadio Mané
Mané’s year began with the low of a quarter-final defeat courtesy of his penalty shootout failurewith Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations but ended with the high of him helping ​the nation qualify for the World Cup. In between the forward has continued to be a consistently excellent performer for Liverpool, with his pace, work rate and ruthless finishing helping Jürgen Klopp’s side not only qualify for the Champions League but progress to the last-16 stage. It is no surprise to see the 25-year-old move up 33 places in this year’s list​. Sachin Nakrani

37 – Romelu Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku is 24. That’s worth remembering from time to time because the Manchester United centre-forward is, for whatever reason, a footballer around whom discussion frequently centres on what he can’t do, rather than what he can. Of course, that first touch can be a problem and he scores goals in bunches. But think of it this way: if he is such a limited footballer, it’s pretty impressive that he has a career scoring record at little over one every two games. A new entry to the top 100 (he was 101st last year), a convincing second half of the season at Manchester United might silence the remaining doubters. Nick Miller

38  – David Silva
A gentle rise in the rankings for the man with a gossamer touch who has been landing knockout blows for Manchester City for seven years. Since Pep Guardiola’s arrival he has added captaincy to his skillset, without diminishing his creative impact. In May Vincent Kompany called him “the wizard”, pointing out that “as much quality as we have in the team, there is only David that can pick certain passes”, and he is set to create more goals this season than ever before. In November he extended his contract to 2020, with Txiki Begiristain, director of football at the Premier League leaders, describing him, to little dissent, as “the best creative midfielder in English football”.​ Simon Burnton

39 – Gabriel Jesus
Jesus has not just been an outstanding performer for club and country in 2017, he has also been their lucky charm. Prior to Manchester City’s 2-1 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk this month, the forward had not lost a single competitive match, in the process helping City establish themselves as the outstanding team in England and Brazil qualify in style for the World Cup. It’s remarkable to think Jesus is only 20 such is the composure and class he regularly displays. Up 25 places in this year’s list, he will be challenging for a top-10 spot before too long. Sachin Nakrani

40 – Manuel Neuer
Still seen by many as the best goalkeeper in the world, Neuer only just scrapes into the top 40 after a miserable, injury-hit year in 2017. With only three Bundesliga games played this season – no goals conceded – for a grand total of 13 in the calendar year – four conceded – the Bayern mainstay’s aura remains as imposing as it ever was. The 31-year-old still found the time to win a fifth Bundesliga title and take part in his team’s agonising Champions League quarter-final exit to Real Madrid. He has no doubt he’ll be fit for the World Cup, in which he is set to be hugely influential again. Andy Brassell
41 – Radamel Falcao
Few would have imagined Falcao being back among the cream of the list after his efforts to make the World Cup in 2014, following serious injury, precipitated two years of misery in England. That he will be at the 2018 edition in Russia, unforeseen circumstances notwithstanding, is his richly deserved reward. The 31-year-old has found peace back at Monaco, recovering all of his goalscoring instincts as they won an improbable Ligue 1 title, and is now continuing to lead the club’s young players with his dignity and productivity after the summer exodus. He was also key in the club’s thrilling ride to the Champions League semi-finals. Andy Brassell

42 – Marco Asensio
“We just have to let him keep improving with calmness and not allow his head to be filled with little birds,” was Isco’s analysis of his Real Madrid team-mate, who has been tipped by most pundits in Spain as the next superstar of world football. Having burst onto the scene last season following loan spells at Mallorca and Espanyol, Asensio has maintained his progress under Zinedine Zidane but is yet to fully establish himself as a first choice despite scoring seven goals in all competitions before December. That should come with time for a player who possesses a wand-like left foot and mesmerising dribbling skills, with a new six-year contract signed in September testament of how highly he is rated at the Santiago Bernabéu. Ed Aarons

43 – Edin Dzeko
Back among the top 100 and rightly so given his form during 2017. Dzeko has been outstanding for Roma, finishing the 2016-17 campaign as top scorer in Serie A with 29 goals and continuing to consistently find the back of the net as the club put themselves firmly in the title race and qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League. At 31, the Bosnian is arguably playing better than ever and was justifiably named on the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or. Sachin Nakrani

44 – Lorenzo Insigne
A generation of Italians will never forgive Gian Piero Ventura for his scant use of Insigne as the national team crashed to a World Cup play-off defeat against Sweden. A prolific goalscorer and provider of assists from the left wing, he is sufficiently indispensable to Napoli that he started 60 consecutive games across all competitions before injury finally forced him to the sidelines this December. The only Italian footballer valued at over €100m by the CIES Football Observatory, he is a new entry on our list, but hardly a fresh discovery to fans watching on the peninsula. Paolo Bandini

45 – Leonardo Bonucci
Bonucci’s move to Milan has not exactly gone to plan. The curious transfer from Juventus in the summer came as a shock to most, not least because in Turin Bonucci was part of a unit, a defensive dynasty with Giorgio Chellini and Andrea Barzagli that still had a few years left. If he had stayed at Juventus he might have climbed our list, but as it is he falls 19 places. Which is not to say it is over for him: Bonucci is still clearly a class act and, while he has not shown it this season, he still has plenty left in the tank. Nick Miller

46 – Sergio Busquets
In October the former Barcelona midfielder Xavi described Busquets as “the best midfielder in the world … vital to the prospects of the national team, Barcelona and all who love football”. And yet here he is, slipping down seven places to No46. Busquets is a player whose game is almost designed not to catch the eye, scorer of seven goals in nearly 300 league games and never more than once in a season, but he remains the metronome who makes Barcelona tick. At 29 he continues to improve: sixth in the rankings last term and never higher than third at a season’s end, as of mid-December he had played more passes than any other player in La Liga. Simon Burnton

47 – Álvaro Morata
Morata could have remained at his hometown club, Real Madrid, where he had won the Champions League as a bit-part player last term, but instead chose a very new kind of challenge: that provided by regular first-team football. Chelsea only truly turned to him after missing out on Romelu Lukaku, but he has been their first-choice over the first half of the campaign and, particularly in the air, has looked the part in English football. He is obviously very different to the departed Diego Costa, but Chelsea have looked fluent and incisive when Morata and Eden Hazard have combined at pace. There is promise in that partnership. Dominic Fifield

48 – Marco Verratti
It has been a strange 2017 for Le Petit Hibou, who was profoundly affected by Paris Saint-Germain’s humiliating exit from the 2016-17 Champions League and strongly considered leaving the French capital during a summer of soul-searching. Exactly why Barcelona were so desperate to sign him and PSG flatly refused to sell is clear; few midfielders in the world have his sense of vigour and incredible range of passing. With Blaise Matuidi gone and Thiago Motta in the twilight of his career, Verratti is more vital than ever to PSG, where he has also taken up the role of dressing-room leader since Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s departure. Andy Brassell

49 – Thiago Alcântara
Bayern’s collective excellence has long since made it difficult for some of their players to get individual recognition (take Franck Ribéry’s failed run at the 2013 Ballon d’Or, for example), and that is perhaps true today of Thiago, the perennial German champions’ standout player of 2016-17. He is the complete midfielder; a passer, a tackler, a goalscorer and unbelievably adaptable, and deserving of cracking the top 50 this year. The Bayern players’ public reaction to the muscle injury that curtailed his year shows exactly how vital and valued he is on and off the pitch at the Allianz Arena. Andy Brassell

50 – Gareth Bale
It has been a frustrating 12 months curtailed by injury for the Welshman, whose lack of game time means he drops 44 places from last year’s lofty position of sixth. Bale was restricted to a 13-minute cameo in Real Madrid’s Champions League final win over Juventus in Cardiff and denied a fairytale goal in his hometown final by the human portcullis that is Leonardo Bonucci. Occasionally the target of unfair derision from Real fans, his future at the Bernabéu no longer looks assured. He was also largely consigned to a watching brief as his country’s bid to qualify for the World Cup came off the rails. Barry Glendenning

51 – Karim Benzema
Benzema scored 11 league goals in 2016-17, less than half as many as the previous season and his lowest tally since 2009-10, and is on course to lower the bar further this term, with just two to his name by mid-December. It is just as well, then, that his manager does not consider goals to be this striker’s primary contribution. “We want Karim to score, but the most important thing is the way he helps others to play better,” Zinedine Zidane said in February. He remains essentially static in our rankings, thanks to his contribution to Real’s bulging trophy haul last seasonSimon Burnton

52 – César Azpilicueta
Beyond the tiresome “Dave” moniker, Azpilicueta is Chelsea’s Mr Reliable and has returned to the top 100. His versatility is the stuff of head coach’s dreams, whether at right wing-back, either full-back berth or centre-half, and he has been the mobile and streetwise performer on the right of Antonio Conte’s back three over the last 18 months. Added to that is the 28-year-old’s delivery. Diego Costa used to thrive from his trademark diagonal centres, and Álvaro Morata has merely tapped into the same source of opportunities this time round. The defender’s omission from the teamsheet feels like a proper event these days and, given an exemplary injury record, is usually born of Conte desperately seeking to give him a breather. Chelsea invariably feel fragile without him. Dominic Fifield

53 – Naby Keïta
His move to Anfield may still be a few months away but anticipation of Keïta’s impending arrival has been building steadily in Liverpool ever since a fee in excess of £50m was agreed with RB Leipzig in August. That will make the midfielder from Conakry the most expensive African footballer of all time – quite an achievement for a player who is in only his second season at the highest level. Is he worth all the fuss? Only time will tell if the performances that guided Leipzig to the runners-up spot behind Bayern Munich last season can translate to success in a new league, although all the evidence is that Jürgen Klopp has landed a versatile player who is comfortable in several midfield positions and also has an eye for goal. Ed Aarons

54 – Timo Werner
At just 21 years of age, Werner is in the 100 for the first time after an astonishing 2017. Having been on the radar for a while after debuting for Stuttgart at 17, his career has skyrocketed since he made the controversial choice to join Leipzig. Werner was the top German goalscorer in the Bundesliga last season with 21 as he delivered the promoted side to the Champions League and has established himself as Germany’s centre-forward in a prolific start to his international career, despite public criticism branding him a diver and mocking him for his choice of club. Andy Brassell

55 – Marc-André ter Stegen
When a beaming Ter Stegen walked away with the man of the match award after Germany’s Confederations Cup final win over Chile, the thought occurred that this must surely be just the start. It has taken time for him to be recognised among the top bracket of goalkeepers globally but surely that moment has come: he has been outstanding in Barcelona’s fine start to their La Liga season, keeping eight clean sheets in the league by mid-November and shining at a time when, despite their lofty position, they have sometimes wobbled defensively. Footwork and ability on the ball, which attracted Barça to him back in 2014, remain huge assets for a player making a first appearance on this list. There is next to no chance of it being the last. Nick Ames

56 – Giorgio Chiellini
When Chiellini hangs up his boots, one suspects that the last six years will be remembered most prominently – the part where he joined together with Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli in front of Gigi Buffon to form the great BBC. But the first of those team-mates left Juventus this summer, and the latter two are approaching retirement. Chiellini, at 33, is graduating now into a different role: the continuity man who must keep things steady as fresh combinations are tested around him. After a shaky start, a run of clean sheets through the early winter suggested he was succeeding. Paolo Bandini

57 – Ivan Rakitic
As Barcelona have adapted in the post-Neymar era, so has Rakitic. He has so many strings to his bow and that has been particularly evident since August, with Ernesto Valverde often fielding him in a deeper midfield role. Rakitic can handle it: he is one of the side’s mainstays, a nailed-on performer who can pull the strings and put in a tireless shift anywhere on the pitch. The goals, usually a reliable addition to his game, have dried up this season but his influence for both club and country remains unimpeachable. There have been some fraught moments with the latter but Croatia eventually made it to the World Cup and how Rakitic performs will be key to the fortunes of a lavishly talented squadNick Ames

58 – Gerard Piqué
Mr Shakira is seemingly always in the firing line when he joins up with the national team. Whistled by Spain’s fans because of his defence of Catalans’ right to hold a referendum on independence and, before that, his mischievous winding up of Real Madrid and his identification with Catalonia, Piqué is outspoken and honest – which is rarely a good tactic if you seek popularity. But then there’s the bottom line: the way he plays. No one doubts that when it comes to the football itself he is irreplaceable. Arguably Europe’s best centre-back, yet curiously it’s an argument very few seem to make. Sid Lowe

59 –Ousmane Dembélé
The second most expensive player in history has been frustrated by injury since his move to the Camp Nou for an initial €105m, with the insatiable Catalan press providing daily updates on his recovery. He should be worth waiting for. In just one season in the Bundesliga, Dembélé showed why there had been such a scramble for his signature the previous summer as he found the net six times and provided 12 assists – meaning he was involved in a goal every 113 minutes he was on the field last season. Whether he can live up to the tag as Neymar’s long-term replacement remains to be seen but the 20-year-old showed he is not fazed by high expectations with a brilliant performance in France’s 3-2 friendly win over England back in JuneEd Aarons

60 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The scorer of 11 goals in 19 games for Manchester United between the turn of the year and his season-ending knee injury against Anderlecht in April, Ibrahimovic’s long – but considerably shorter than expected – convalescence means he has dropped 40 places in 12 months. If not for that injury, the 36-year-old would almost certainly have broken the 30-goal mark in his first season in English football and he is clearly something of an inspirational figure around United’s training ground. Fit again and getting precious minutes under his belt, it remains to be seen if the iconic Swede will come out of international retirement for one last World Cup hurrah. Barry Glendenning

61 – Leroy Sané
As 2017 dawned Sané had made little impact on the Premier League; he started only four times in 2016 following his August arrival at the Etihad, never completed a game and had contributed one goal and an assist. But having been on the field for just 21% of Manchester City’s first 21 games of last season, he was there for 91% of the last 17, a run that began days after his 21st birthday in January. After starting this season once again on the bench – Pep Guardiola said “he didn’t make a good pre-season and he didn’t deserve to play” – since September he has been in phenomenal form, and an integral member of England’s leading side. Simon Burnton

62 – Raheem Sterling
If you ever require a rejoinder to anybody doubting Pep Guardiola’s chops as a coach, simply observe Raheem Sterling’s improvement over the last year. It was interesting that Guardiola rejected out of hand Arsenal’s suggestion of a swap deal with Alexis Sánchez in the summer, because to that point Sterling’s Manchester City career had been at best a moderate success. But this season he has exploded, turning into a sort of winger-poacher, popping up with goals aplenty, and at crucial times. He’s already having the best season of his career, and you suspect there is plenty more to come too. Climbs 26 places. Nick Miller

63 – Diego Godín
No player epitomises the sheer heart and soul of Diego Simeone’s time with Atlético Madrid quite like Godín, a warrior of a centre-back who forms the axis of a back line that has defied more decorated opponents time and again. A year in which he passed 300 appearances for Atléti ended trophyless although their latest appearance in the Champions League’s latter stages owed plenty to the spirit he radiates. There will be no repeat performance in 2018, and indeed the manner in which Álvaro Morata dominated him during September’s critical group stage defeat to Chelsea added to the impression he is slowing up slightly. That partly explains the 31-year-old’s fall on this list but it would take startling ignorance to write off Godín, who will captain Uruguay at next summer’s World Cup, just yet. Nick Ames

64 – Joshua Kimmich
Barring accidents, this could be Kimmich’s last time outside the top 20 on the Guardian list. He is that good. Converted into a central defender by Pep Guardiola, who fancied him as his mini-Mascherano, the 22-year-old was returned to midfield to fine effect by Carlo Ancelotti. Since, he has been converted to right-back (where he already played for Germany), doing the near-impossible in replacing Philipp Lahm. Kimmich has even added to the role by chipping in with goals from his new spot. He has reached 100 Bayern appearances little over two years since his debut and played in 23 successive Germany games, a national record. Andy Brassell
65 – Thibaut Courtois
In February Courtois was asked who he considered the finest goalkeeper in the Premier League. “I’m the best,” he said. “I always think I’m the best. I feel good this year and think I’m playing better than ever before at Chelsea.” Courtois shoots up 27 places on the back of his club’s title success, and his manager at Stamford Bridge, Antonio Conte, says he is “one of the best, maybe the best goalkeeper in the world”, but then Conte also said he was a very good penalty taker, which is why he allowed Courtois to take a spot-kick in Chelsea’s shootout defeat to Arsenal in the Community Shield in August. He missed. Simon Burnton

66 – Arturo Vidal
It has been a tumultuous year for the all-action Chilean midfielder. He was a key figure in Bayern’s Champions League exit to Real Madrid – opening the scoring and then missing a crucial penalty in the first leg, before being red-carded in the second. He then missed out on reaching the World Cup with Chile, who also lost to Germany in the Confederations Cup final, and decided to retire from international duty before a swift backtrack. Still, Vidal has finished on a title-winning side for six successive seasons with Juventus and now Bayern, and is highly likely to make it a seventh. He will be integral, too, with Jupp Heynckes pulling him into line and drawing the best out of him again since his autumn arrival. Andy Brassell
67 – Mesut Özil
Such an enigmatic, flitting talent. While those on the extremes regard him as uniquely cerebral or unnecessarily lazy, there is a consistent creator of chances in there who remains one of the best around when it comes to laying opportunities on a plate for team-mates. Sometimes Özil looks comfortable, especially at a club like Arsenal who tend to indulge that kind of thing, and in a team that is not built to do much dirty work for him to free him up. But he still produces moments of elite skill in the glorious mould of an old fashioned No10. Amy Lawrence
68 – Diego Costa
Despite being restricted to just 24 appearances for club and adopted country, 2017 has been a rather eventful year for Costa. Despite finishing Chelsea’s title-winning season as the club’s top scorer and snarler-in-chief, the striker was informed by text he was surplus to requirements and promptly went into self-imposed exile in his native Brazil. Having flirted with a big-money move to China in January, Costa secured a £57m return to Atlético Madrid in September. Ineligible to play for the Spain side because of their transfer ban, he last played competitively in June but is expected to return for Atlético in January. Barry Glendenning

69 – Emil Forsberg
“He’s so damn cool,” said former Sweden forward Kennet Andersson about his compatriot Emil Forsberg recently. A slightly curious choice of words, conjuring images of Forsberg playing in a leather jacket with a cigarette hanging from his lips, but you can see what Anderson means. Forsberg is the creative hub of the RB Leipzig team that pushed Bayern Munich as close as anyone last season, contributing more assists than any player in Europe’s top five leagues. He has also taken over from Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the man his national team looks to for inspiration: he might be one of the stars at the World CupNick Miller

70 – Mats Hummels
“It’s been a very good year,” said Hummels at the end of last season, his first back at Bayern. “I’m highly satisfied with the way things have gone for me personally. I played incredibly often and consistently turned in good displays.” His fine form has continued into this season, in which he has also captained his country for the first time, in the friendly against England at Wembley, after which Joachim Löw said he “made us solid in defence” and “cleared up lots of situations”. Still, he falls 19 places in our rankings, surely more a reflection of Bayern’s lack of impact in Europe and the problems that led to Carlo Ancelotti’s dismissal in September than his own performances. Simon Burnton

71 – Ciro Immobile
A first appearance on this list for Immobile, who scored 23 Serie A goals in 2016-17, and was already two-thirds of the way to matching that figure in this campaign by the end of November. Although not the most technically refined striker, his instincts and timing mark him out as an elite poacher, and he has thrived under Simone Inzaghi at Lazio. Immobile’s goals sank Juventustwice in three months at the start of this season, but he could not deliver for Italy when they needed him most in their World Cup play-off against SwedenPaolo Bandini
72 – Radja Nainggolan
The driving force behind Roma’s success dropped out of the top 100 last year but a series of brilliant performances for his club meant the 29-year-old chainsmoker could not be ignored this time. Eleven Serie A goals in 2016-17 from his more advanced position, including several from long distance, was a reward for his loyalty having turned down an approach from Chelsea and Nainggolan has continued in the same vein this season, leading coach Eusebio Di Francesco to describe him as a “superhero”. Was finally recalled to Belgium’s squad in November after announcing his international retirement two months earlier following a dispute with Roberto Martínez, only to pull out due to injury. Ed Aarons

73 – Samuel Umtiti
A striker when he first joined Lyon’s youth team, Umtiti is now a typical Barcelona defender: an intelligent reader of the game, composed and creative on the ball and, despite toughening up since joining from Lyon in 2016, not totally dominant in duels. He made a smooth transition from Ligue 1 to La Liga and has become even more important in his second season at the Camp Nou, his continued improvement earning him an entry into the top 100. He has also become more significant for France, whose manager, Didier Deschamps, called him up to Euro 2016 only because of injuries to others. He scored his first goal for his country in the friendly win over England in JunePaul Doyle

74 – Nemanja Matic
The Serbian midfielder’s summer move from Chelsea, with whom he won his second Premier League title last season, was seen to represent quite the coup for José Mourinho in so far as it bolstered Manchester United’s squad while appearing to weaken that of a fellow title contender. It was seen as a strange decision, despite Chelsea’s traditional willingness to sell good players – Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata, Petr Cech – to English rivals. Matić has made the transition to Manchester United seamlessly and helped Serbia qualify for the World Cup; whether or not he is missed at Stamford Bridge is open to debate. Barry Glendenning

75 – Marcus Rashford
José Mourinho said in February that for Rashford 2016-17 was “a season of growing up, being strong – physically strong, mentally strong, tactically strong”. “Obviously,” Mourinho added, “he has an amazing future.” His present is pretty remarkable as well: despite having to fight for attention in one of the most expensively-assembled squads in the history of football he was, as of mid-December, the only United player to have appeared in every one of their first-team fixtures this season, and has appeared in all but one of his country’s 10 matches in 2017, starting four of the last five. Simon Burnton

76 – Thiago Silva
Even in a game not exactly stuffed with world-class centre-backs these days, few but the most committed Silva fans would argue that he is still the undisputed best. At 33 the muscle injuries that sporadically remove him from the lineup persist, and there have been questions over his leadership abilities in Paris for the first time, which reached fever pitch after the Champions League capitulation to Barcelona. With that said, he is still outstanding on his day and his neutering of future team-mate Kylian Mbappé in the Coupe de la Ligue final earlier this year underlined there are few better than the veteran Brazilian. Andy Brassell

77 – Christian Pulisic
“I’m not a prodigy – or a ‘wonderboy,’ as some have put it,” wrote Pulisic in the aftermath of the United States’ disastrous failure to reach the World Cup in October. Some Borussia Dortmund fans would beg to differ. Still only 19, and one of only two teenagers on this year’s list, the forward made 29 Bundesliga appearances last season and has been a regular this term under the now sacked Peter Bosz having moved to Germany in February 2015. The departure of Ousmane Dembélé to Barcelona in the summer placed even more responsibility on his young shoulders but he has not looked fazed despite his side’s struggles. Signed a contract extension last January that keeps him at the Westfalenstadion until 2020, and BVB would do well to tie him down for a longer term as soon as possible. Ed Aarons

78 – Keylor Navas
Last season it took until November for Navas to keep a clean sheet, as injury and then some rocky form disrupted his season, but he has been more consistent in 2017. He still has to cope with constant speculation about his future – as last season ended in triumph his team-mates petitioned the club not to replace him. “After a difficult season he has finally reached his highest level,” said Sergio Ramos. “He is an extraordinary goalkeeper, in my opinion one of the best in the world.” He is particularly treasured in his native Costa Rica, who he has once again helped to World Cup qualification; a film about his life, Hombre de Fe (Man of Faith) is slated for pre-Christmas release in his homeland. Simon Burnton

79 – Arjen Robben
Just adding this year’s Bundesliga title and DFL Supercup to his trophy cabinet seems almost a modest year for the 33-year-old, but that is just a mark of the remarkable career he has had. After a 2016 disrupted by niggling injuries, Robben is up 10 places after a year of stellar performances. Full-backs have always known that Robben tends to cut inside, but have still found it impossible to stop, as was to Arsenal’s detriment in last season’s Champions League, with the Dutchman scoring spectacularly as Bayern defeated the Gunners 10-2 on aggregate. Retired from international duty in October after Holland failed to qualify for the World Cup despite Robben scoring six goals in seven internationals this calendar year. Ed Aarons

80 – Saúl Ñíguez
Outstanding for Spain at the Uefa Under-21 Championship until their surprise defeat to Germany in the final, the versatile midfielder is a new entry in this list and can be expected to feature many more times if he continues his progression. Saúl signed a nine-year contract to commit his future to Atlético in July having starred for Diego Simeone’s side in their run to the Champions League semi-final and it will be a tough task for any of Europe’s heavyweights to prise him away from the club he joined from Real Madrid as a 13-year-old. Adept in central midfield or in a more attacking role, he has struggled at times to replicate last season’s form so far this campaign but will be a key member of Spain’s squad in Russia next year. Ed Aarons

81 – Hugo Lloris
The captain of France and Tottenham Hotspur exudes quiet authority, commanding respect with his intelligent reading of situations both on and off the field. The prototype modern sweeper-keeper, he allows his club to play a daringly high defensive line but it is his consistency and dependability that mark him out. Blessed with incredible reflexes, he makes difficult saves look routine and, as such, his work is sometimes taken for granted. Mauricio Pochettino knows that Tottenham cannot be without him. The manager’s trust in him is such that Lloris has come to feel like a member of the coaching staff. David Hytner

82 – Toby Alderweireld
Has dropped 24 places in this year’s list, perhaps standing out less because of Jan Vertonghen’s fine performances and the emergence of Davinson Sánchez. The Belgium defender, however, has still been a colossus for Spurs, particularly in this season’s Champions League. Alderweireld put in near-perfect displays as Spurs survived enormous pressure in key games against Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, playing a vital role in their progression as group winners. Also vital in last season’s title push, the Belgian would probably get into any defence in world football, and will again be important for Tottenham when he returns from injury in the new year. Ed Aarons

83 – David Luiz
What did Chelsea do with the old David Luiz? The one-time “Playstation footballer” is another player to re-enter our top 100 and does so on the back of a rebirth that was fundamental to last season’s title win. His return from PSG last year had been controversial but a liability blossomed into a linchpin: the old rushes of blood were consigned to the past and replaced by mature, constructive displays at the heart of Antonio Conte’s back three. He deserved his place in the PFA’s team of the year although it may prove difficult to repeat the feat: his relationship with Conte has been the subject of speculation recently and he has been linked with a second move away from Stamford BridgeNick Ames

84 – Bernardo Silva
After missing his country’s victorious Euro 2016 campaign because of injury, Silva returned to fitness in spectacular style, helping Monaco become one of the most thrilling teams in Europe as they blew away Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. Silva may be waifish in stature but he exerted huge influence thanks to his exceptional vision and a deft touch that led Monaco team-mates to dub him “Chewing Gum” because the ball seemed stuck to his foot. He has yet to become a regular starter at Manchester City since joining the club for £43.6m in the summerPaul Doyle

85 – Miralem Pjanic
It took Pjanic a little while to find his role in the Juventus midfield following a 2016 switch from Roma, and he has slipped 15 places down our rankings accordingly. Yet he still ended last season as a Champions League finalist and Serie A champion, not to mention Juventus’s leading provider of assists. At his best, he is an exceptionally tidy footballer whose passes cut through defences with the calm precision of a surgeon’s knife. As a Gazzetta dello Sport editorial put it recently: “If the Bosnian could just add continuity to his game, he would be a little [Luka] Modric.” Paolo Bandini

86 – Dani Carvajal
A floppy blond-haired kid with freckles from the satellite town of Leganés 13km south of the Spanish capital, Dani Carvajal laid the first stone at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground alongside Alfredo Di Stéfano and then graduated from there, via a year in Germany with Leverkusen, to become arguably the best right-back in the world now. Fiercely competitive and conscious that his first duty is to defend, that does not stop him bursting up the pitch, where he rarely wastes the ball and his delivery is often decisive. First choice for club and country. Sid Lowe

87 – Thomas Lemar
One of the highlights of Monaco’s swashbuckling 2016-17 season was the combination on their left flank between Benjamin Mendy and Thomas Lemar, with the latter often cutting infield to use his astute passing to deadly effect. He is also a handy dribbler and possesses a fearsome shot, as he showed when scoring his first two senior international goals in France’s 4-0 demolition of Holland on the same day in August during which Arsenal made a belated attempt to try to buy him from Monaco for a record fee. There are likely to be more big bids for Lemar in January. Paul Doyle

88 – Koke
Koke is down 47 places on last year and may well be likely to fall further over the next 12 months because Atlético are out of the Champions League – except that the World Cup could bring him back into the collective eye. He will probably start alongside Sergio Busquets in the middle of Spain’s midfield in Russia, offering energy to go with the passing. Diego Simeone still tends to play him slightly to the side of the midfield rather than right in the middle but he is still the player who leads and through whom the ball most often passes. Sid Lowe

89 – Jordi Alba
“To build an understanding with the best player in the world is easy,” admitted Alba this month. But while many have come and gone in Lionel Messi’s decade of dominance at the Camp Nou, the Spain defender has now established himself as the Argentina forward’s new partner in crime on Barcelona’s left flank having provided four assists for him in La Liga already this season. Alba has successfully seen off the challenge of the Frenchman Lucas Digne to become Ernesto Valverde’s first choice and remains a regular for his country. Was 72nd on this list in 2015 and is capable of hitting those heights again next year, particularly with a World Cup in which to impress. And he has previous in major tournaments, having scored in the Euro 2012 final against Italy. Ed Aarons
90 – Alex Sandro
What better education could a full-back ask for than the one that Sandro has received at Juventus? After serving for a year as Patrice Evra’s understudy on the left of defence, last season he had the opportunity to start regularly on the opposite flank to Dani Alves. Like his compatriot, Sandro is an attack-minded player and excellent crosser of the ball, but demonstrated during the run to the Champions League final that he could hold his line and defend diligently when Juventus required greater balance. Indifferent form at the start of this season has fuelled speculation that he may be unsettled in TurinPaolo Bandini

91 – Fabinho
After losing so many star names during the summer there was only one thought in Monaco’s corridors of power when Manchester United came calling for another: keep hold of Fabinho at all costs. There were flashier components of a team that won the Ligue 1 title and turned heads during a thrilling Champions League run but none more important. Fabinho operates with a maturity far beyond his years and, since converting to central midfield from right-back, has been the tactical brain of a side better known for its swashbuckling. A vital goal against Manchester City in March showed he can contribute on the latter front, too; whether he holds the fort at Stade Louis II for much longer may hinge on the continued interest of United or one of his other suitors. Nick Ames

92 – Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Mkhitaryan excelled during Manchester United’s run to the Europa League title last season, scoring in five of their eight knockout fixtures including the final, but beyond that competition this has been a year to forget. There have been three league goals in 27 appearances, and a worrying slide towards the margins of his club squad. He has not completed 90 minutes for United since their first Champions League game in September, and as the year comes towards its conclusion has drifted out of the first-team picture altogether. In November José Mourinho criticised him in the harshest terms, saying “his performance levels were decreasing” and that “he was disappearing”, the latter an accusation which seems literally to be true. Simon Burnton

93 – Cesc Fàbregas
It is amazing now to consider that, by December 2016, Fàbregas had started only one Premier League game under Antonio Conte and was very much a backup performer to whom the head coach turned to unlock packed defences. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried,” admitted the midfielder, who at least knuckled down, regained his place and has made himself integral since. His creativity, either delivered from alongside N’Golo Kanté or, this season, in a midfield five, has eked the best from Eden Hazard and Álvaro Morata, with the 30-year-old’s career enjoying an Indian summer. A player who once felt surplus to requirements has reminded all of his class on the ball. Dominic Fifield

94 – David Alaba
Alaba is a whole 33 places lower than in the 2016 edition, which seems harsh for a 25-year-old who already numbers almost 300 matches for one of Europe’s standout clubs. If anything has slightly dented his reputation, it is his versatility. Both Bayern and Austria used him all over the pitch, as if his quality is too great to be hidden at left-back, and it has not always done him too many favours. Under Carlo Ancelotti and now Jupp Heynckes, he has been finding consistency in his old position, and this should make for a more stable future for an outstanding talent. Andy Brassell

95 – Raphaël Varane
There is something smooth about the way that Raphaël Varane runs that disguises just how quick he is. Tall and graceful, he never, ever gets outrun, making him a centre-back who stands out for his recovery and ability to sweep up behind as players seek to break through the defence. Brought to the club by Zinedine Zidane when he was an 18-year-old at Lens, he scored on his debut against Barcelona with a towering header and is always a threat in the air. Always unflustered and unfussy, neat and tidy too, but does have a tendency to suffer injury. Will also start for France in the summer. Back in the top 100 after missing out in 2016Sid Lowe

96 – Jamie Vardy
This has been a turbulent year for Leicester, featuring three permanent managers and a couple of caretakers, and it started unhappily with Claudio Ranieri’s dismissal in February. Vardy, blamed by many for the Italian’s departure and out of form at the time, received death threats in the aftermath. But his performances have improved since and Claude Puel, who took over from Craig Shakespeare at the end of October, declared that Vardy was “the complete player” who “works hard for the team and always has a positive attitude”. Nevertheless, amid his team’s travails he has plummeted 77 places down our rankings. Simon Burnton

97- Benjamin Mendy
When an athlete reveals themselves to have a personality, it can often overshadow appreciation of their sporting ability. That is sort of the case with Benjamin Mendy, one of the better footballers to follow on social media, but there can be little doubt about how good the French left-back is and can be after his sensational season for Monaco. The knee injury that has curtailed his yearcould not have been more unfortunately timed, because his start at Manchester City suggested he was going to carry on that excellence in the Premier League. Hopefully, he will be just as good when he returns. Nick Miller

98 – Mario Mandzukic
The secret to sticking around as the years advance is adaptability. Mario Mandzukic knows that, which is why a man who was previously a classic No9, a target man who thrived on service, has sometimes found himself out wide for Juventus, playing a supporting role rather than a leading one. With colleagues like Gonzalo Higuaín and Paulo Dybala he might not have much of a choice, but Mandzukic remains one of the wiliest forwards around, earning a re-entry into the top 100 after a two-year absence. And if none of that convinces you, simply observe his phenomenal, inventive, acrobatic goal in the Champions League finalNick Miller

99 – Adrien Rabiot
At a club whose response to adversity was to spend even more outrageous sums than before, it is sometimes tricky to get yourself noticed. Rabiot has managed that at PSG though; his more understated stylings have not made as many highlights reels as Neymar or Kylian Mbappé, but a stellar 2017 has seen the young midfielder establish himself as the hub of Unai Emery’s side. In many ways the perfect modern midfielder, Rabiot’s combination of power and efficient distribution meant PSG were confident enough to let both Blaise Matuidi and Grzegorz Krychowiak leave in the summer. Nick Miller

100 – Ángel Di María
It has been an up-and-mostly-down year for the Argentinian, summed up by the fact that he scored twice in Paris Saint-Germain’s annihilation of Barcelona in February and was then dropped for the away leg, which ended in humiliation for PSG. His inconsistency for the French club has cost him a regular place in the side but did not stop Barcelona trying to buy him in the summer, only for their bid to be turned down. During Argentina’s stuttering but ultimately successful World Cup qualification campaign he became the most substituted player in his country’s history when he was withdrawn for a 45th time on his 88th appearance, in September’s 1-1 draw with Venezuela. Paul Doyle

Who will be crowned Kenya’s best football player of 2017?

Who will be crowned the 2017 SportPesa Premier League Most Valuable Player when the league holds its awards gala Friday night in Nairobi?

Five nominees are in the running for the prestigious accolade that comes with cash prize of Sh1 million.

They are John Oyiemba (Kariobangi Sharks), Patrick Matasi (Posta Rangers), Michael Madoya (Zoo Kericho) and Lawrence Juma (Nzoia Sugar) and Meddie Kagere (Gor Mahia).

In the running for Coach of the Year award are, William Mluhya (Kariobangi Sharks), Bernard Mwalala (Nzoia Sugar), Sam Ssimbwa (Sofapaka), Sammy Omollo (Posta Rangers) and Mike Muruli (Kakamega Homeboyz).

The league will also name Midfielder of the Year, Defender of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year amongst other awards

Former Harambee Stars coach James Nandwa expects either Kagere or Matasi to walk home with the MVP award.

SOURCE: Daily Nation, Kenya

Thierry Henry crowned 'Igwe of football' in Lagos

Thierry Henry crowned ‘Igwe of football’ in Lagos

Former Arsenal and France international striker Thierry Henry who is in Lagos for the Guinness Made of Black programme has been crowned the, Igwe of football’ in Nigeria.

Thierry Henry crowned 'Igwe of football' in Lagos
Thierry Henry crowned ‘Igwe of football’ in Lago. Photo: Vanguard

Henry who is in Lagos to meet the ‘Be a Front Row Fan’ winners; a consumer promotion of the company also watched the West Brom v Manchester United EPL game at Landmark Event Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Aside receiving the ‘igwe of football’ title, Henry also participated in the cooking of Jollof rice.

The 40-year-old Frenchman retired from football in 2014.

SOURCE: Vanguard, Nigeria.

Cameroon 1 – 1 Nigeria – 2018 World Cup Qualifiers | Cameroon manages a draw against Nigeria at home

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and the Super Eagles of Nigeria are back for a testy clash in the 2018 World Cup qualifying series.

The Super Eagles were the better team when both sides clashed last Friday in Uyo, winning 4-0 at the Nest of Champions.

While World Cup qualification is seemingly out of reach for Cameroon, it is expected that the wounded Lions will battle for pride in Monday’s tie fixed for at the Stade Omnisports Ahmadou Ahidjo in the heart of Yaoundé.

The Super Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr, has said he would largely keep his winning team and only make few changes for the injured players.

One of those injured and a major doubt for Monday’s 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon is Odion Ighalo.

Rohr has hinted that either Kelechi Iheanacho or newbie, Anthony Nwakaeme will step in as a direct replacement for the injured former Watford star.

While the Lions have been largely invincible at their home ground in recent times, it is not impossible for the Eagles to shock the reigning African champions one more time, especially when the Eagles know that Nigeria could become the first African team to earn a slot in Russia as early as Tuesday.

If Nigeria defeat the Cameroonians on Monday in Yaounde and Zambia fail to beat Algeria at the Stade Mustapha Tchaker in Blida on Tuesday, the Super Eagles will seal their World Cup ticket with two games to spare.

As we expect another feisty encounter, stay with The Bloomgist for Live Updates from

7:52: Full time: Cameroon manages to hold a draw against the Eagles.

7:28PM: SUB: Mikel off Agu on. Nigeria trying to inject more energy into the middle

6:48: HT – Cameroon fans are seen leaving the stadium as the game comes to a half time with the Super Eagles still on the lead

6:30PM: Goal!

Simon Moses put Nigeria on the lead with a super strike. It’s Cameroon 0 – 1Nigeria

4:23 PM: The Super Eagles coach Genort Rohr has reeled out his starting XI for the game against Cameroon and he has opted to stick with his winning team.

The 11 players that started in Uyo are also starting in Yaounde as the Eagles will again play the 4-2-3-1 formation with skipper Mikel Obi handed a free role.

Kick-off is 6pm.

Eagles starting XI: Ezenwa – Elderson, Shehu, Ekong, Balogun – Ndidi, Onazi – Mikel, Victor Moses, Simon – Ighalo

Rooney back at Everton would be a story – but it may not end well

Rooney back at Everton would be a story – but it may not end well

Romelu Lukaku was always going to leave a big hole to fill at Everton but few would have predicted a combination of, say, Wayne Rooney and Olivier Giroud, perhaps to take over in the likely event of the Belgian striker’s departure.

Rooney back at Everton would be a story – but it may not end well
Wayne Rooney poses with the Everton manager, David Moyes, right, and the deputy chairman, Bill Kenwright, following the signing of his first professional contract on 17 January 2003. Photograph: Getty/Getty Images

Reported overtures to Arsenal’s Giroud make perfect sense; he is a reliable goalscorer, proven in the Premier League, at 30 he will have a few good years left in him and he was no longer a regular starter under Arsène Wenger. Those imagining Everton would seek a like-for-like replacement for Lukaku, as if similarly built striking powerhouses were in plentiful supply, might have to think again. Giroud, should he move to Merseyside, could be just the cutting edge required for the quick-passing side Ronald Koeman is looking to put together.

Rooney is an entirely different story. Once upon a time, as Everton remember only too well, he brought a cutting edge like no other. He has also been spending too much time in the shadows at his present club and it is entirely understandable he should wish to seek more game minutes with his boyhood team, though there is a reason why Rooney dropped off the radar at Manchester United.

Whether used as a striker or a No10 in recent seasons, José Mourinho and before him Louis van Gaal found it difficult to incorporate the club captain into a system that worked. Mourinho actually began by saying he had complete faith in Rooney’s striking abilities and would resist the temptation to drop him back to midfield, though as the season wore on it became plain – not that the manager ever admitted it or said anything over-critical – that the solution he had come up with was to drop the player altogether.

At 31 Rooney is only a year older than Giroud – not to mention four years younger than Zlatan Ibrahimovic – though perhaps because he started out so young, his playing career seems to have caught up with him. Ibrahimovic stole all the goalscoring headlines at United last season, with Rooney barely getting a look-in, and whereas Giroud was also relegated to a substitute’s role at Arsenal he frequently came off the bench and made a scoring impact. Rooney’s impact in his last few seasons at United has been muted, to put it as kindly as possible, and for that reason it is tempting to wonder not only why Koeman wants him, when there will be money in the kitty after Lukaku’s departure, but also where he plans on playing him.

As a No10 seems most likely, if only as the most effective way of making it plain to Ross Barkley other options are available. At this rate the latest homegrown Everton wunderkind is going to be making way for the previous one, 13 years after the latter left Merseyside for Manchester. Though he has lost much of his pace, Rooney retains an eye for a pass and an ability to deliver from set pieces – witness his free-kick at Stoke last season to score his 250th Manchester United goal and break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record – yet Mourinho was also interested in speeding up the tempo of attacks and in the end he preferred Ander Herrera or Juan Mata.

Rooney back at Everton would be a story – but it may not end well
José Mourinho, like Louis van Gaal, has found it difficult to incorporate Wayne Rooney into a system that worked. Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

It is highly debatable whether Rooney is a better bet as a creative playmaker than Barkley, even if there are problems with the younger player’s contract. Gylfi Sigurdsson of Swansea is another player Koeman admires for the same position, and were Everton to be in a position to land the Iceland international it is hard to know what role Rooney may be asked to fulfil.

On the other hand, Everton stand to acquire a lot of leadership, experience and club tradition on a free transfer, even if the wage bill is likely to make Bill Kenwright’s eyes water. It should also be remembered Everton are in Europe this season, and are quite likely to opt for a significantly different lineup in cup competitions than the one they use for Premier League games. There is no problem about animosity from present Everton supporters towards a player who turned his back on the club in search of fame, fortune and trophies. Everton fans know better than most how the world works, and the famous (infamous?) “Once a blue always a blue” slogan is already being revisited approvingly rather than sarcastically.

Lots of United players have ended up at Everton in recent seasons, from Phil Neville and Tim Howard to Tom Cleverley and Morgan Schneiderlin, and looked at in such a way it is perhaps natural a player should wish to extend his career in the North-west without joining rivals such as Manchester City or Liverpool.

Yet City and Liverpool would not have been interested in signing Rooney anyway, and Neville, Howard, Schneiderlin et al still had plenty of career years left to contribute. Not everyone can keep up the peak performances United demand for the whole of their careers, and Everton have proved a useful alternative without dropping down the league too far. In one sense Rooney fits into that category and in another he does not.

Rooney has already spent all his peak years at United, that is precisely the point. To the naked eye he appears to have none left, but maybe Koeman knows better. Let us all hope so, for a homecoming hero is always a tale worth telling and it will be good to see Rooney in blue again rather than in China or on the front pages through some sort of boredom-related bother. Only a killjoy or a spoilsport would add a word of warning to such a feelgood story, but it is only a year since Mourinho had complete faith in Rooney’s undimmed ability and so did Roy Hodgson. Neither found a happy ending.

Champions League semi-finals: All you need to expect

Champions League semi-finals: All you need to expect

We are just about 180 minutes away from confirming the finalists of this season’s UEFA Champions League. But barring any monumental collapses, we are almost sure the two teams that would qualify. Real Madrid threw down the gauntlet at Atletico Madrid as Juventus exploited the naivety of Monaco. These are six things we saw from those two matches:

Champions League semi-finals: All you need to expect
Gonzalo Higuain celebrates after scrong one of his goals

Higuain is a ‘fat’ goal scorer

Often derided on social media as being fat and lugging a big ass, Gonzalo Higuain answered in the most appropriate way on Wednesday by scoring the two goals away at Monaco to give the Italian champions a very comfortable first leg lead. The brace made it 31 goals for the season in all competitions. The Argentine can argue all he wants that he is not physically fat but he is definitely goals-fat.

Ronaldo is six steps away from the Ballon d’Or

If – and these are valid assumptions; Cristiano Ronaldo leads Real Madrid to a successful defence of the Champions League [getting through the second leg and the final] – something that has not been done since the tournament metamorphosed in 1992.  If he can also help Zinedine Zidane and Madrid to hold their nerves in their last four La Liga matches. Six successful matches and you are almost sure that next January, Ronaldo would win his fifth Ballon d’Or – equalling Lionel Messi’s record.

80% sure it would be a Real Madrid versus Juventus final

Can Diego Simeone inspire a comeback from 3-0? Yeah, possible, because anything is possible in football and this season we have already witnessed the minor miracle of Barcelona coming back from the dead against PSG. Would it happen is another question and you have to back Real to score at the Vicente Calderon if Atletico go all out in search of the needed goals. For Juventus, it should be assumed that it is done and dusted. Gianluigi Buffon has not conceded three goals in one match this season – Monaco indeed have to score three goals without conceding. Nah, almost impossible!

No refereeing controversies

Referees Martin Atkinson and Antonio Mateu showed good judgments throughout the first legs of the semi-final. In the 3-0 Real Madrid win over Atletico, Cristiano Ronaldo was supposedly in an offside position when the first cross was delivered by Sergio Ramos but he was not also interfering with play but when the second cross came in – he was onside.

Defensive base would always be a good foundation

The two semis witnessed shutouts from Real Madrid and Juventus – the basis of champions. Whilst many managers are throwing caution to the wind as they try to play beautiful football – the art of defending has supposedly been cast aside. But the two semifinal first leg winners showed that clean sheets would always be the foundation for comfortable victories.

Champions League draw made with new new surprises

The Confederation of African Football has completed the draw for the group stages of the Champions League.


It is the first time that there will be four groups of four teams as up to now there have been just two groups of four teams.

One of the surprises this year is the presence of Zimbabwe’s Caps United. They went into the draw after defeating the much-fancied TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

BBC Africa’s Nick Cavell says they have a tough group with three difficult games in North Africa to manage.

The draw has also thrown up a Sudanese derby with the country’s two top teams – Hilal and Merrikh – drawn in the same group.

Cash-strapped Nigeria NFF gets financial boost

NFF relieved of financial burden, receives US$9.2 million from an Energy Company

The cash-strapped Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has received a financial boost from an energy company worth around US$9.2 million over the next five years.

Cash-strapped Nigeria NFF gets financial boost
Cash-strapped Nigeria NFF gets financial boost

The deal with the Aiteo Group will commence on 1 May.

“This will make it easier for us to plan adequately for our national teams,” NFF boss Amaju Pinnick said.

“It is important to note that this will also take care of the national team coaches’ salaries.”

Pinnick hopes that this means no repeats of problems paying national team coaches that has troubled the NFF in the past.

“There will be no owing of coaches for the next five years,” he added.

“This lucrative deal with Aiteo will cover all the national teams and has an option of a one-year extension,”

“We are happy to have a sponsor come in at this crucial time and this is a big boost for our football.”

Former Nigeria coaches Christian Chukwu, Shaibu Amodu, Samson Siasia,Austin Eguavoen, Sunday Oliseh and the late Stephen Keshi have all previously complained about outstanding salaries in recent years.

Chelsea restores Premier League lead to seven with a 4-2 win against Southampton

Chelsea restores Premier League lead to seven with a 4-2 win against Southampton

Chelsea restored their lead at the top of the Premier League to seven points with a convincing win over Southampton at Stamford Bridge.

Eden Hazard opened the scoring for Chelsea with a low strike

Antonio Conte’s side had seen their advantage cut by Tottenham after the Blues’ loss at Manchester United – but this was an emphatic response to follow on from Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final win against their London rivals.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa were both back in the starting line-up after Wembley and were key figures, the Belgian putting Chelsea ahead with a low shot after five minutes.

Former Chelsea midfielder Oriol Romeu bundled in an equaliser for Saints before Gary Cahill headed the title pace-setters back in front right on half-time, a moment that effectively decided the destination of the points.

Costa confirmed Chelsea’s supremacy with a header early in the second half before scoring his second with a low shot late on.

Ryan Bertrand, another former Chelsea man, was on target in the dying seconds – but the victory was secured for Conte’s men and now Spurs must respond at in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday (20:00 BST kick-off).

Conte gets Hazard and Costa calls spot on

Conte manoeuvred his resources to perfection in the victory against Spurs at Wembley – and did it again here as Hazard and Costa made decisive contributions to a vital Chelsea win.

Conte raised eyebrows when he left his two most dangerous attackers out of his starting line-up on Saturday but used them as game-changers to great effect, deploying them as substitutes after an hour and Hazard then scoring the goal that swung the match in favour of his side.

Hazard and Costa were back from the start against Southampton and illustrated why they have been such integral components of Chelsea’s rise to the top of the table this season.

The pair combined in the fifth minute for Hazard to score and Spain striker Costa was simply too strong for Bertrand when he arrived on the end of Cesc Fabregas’ cross to score the third goal early in the second half.

And they were at it again soon afterwards – a neat exchange with Pedro leading to Costa getting his second and Chelsea’s fourth with a powerful low drive in the closing moments.

Conte has put the Blues right back on track after their loss at Manchester United with wins in the FA Cup semi-final and here at Stamford Bridge – and his shrewd use of two of his most vital assets has helped him achieve it with a superb piece of management.

Chelsea survive test of nerve

Southampton – and of course Tottenham – would have been hoping anxiety and pressure might just have played a part in a shock result at Stamford Bridge.

And for a spell those factors came into play as the Saints recovered from Chelsea’s perfect start to equalise through Romeu and then exert a measure of control.

However, the hosts kept their nerve to run out comfortable winners and avoid the sort of slip-up that would have played into the hands of Spurs.

Stamford Bridge ended the game in celebratory mood and the feeling that Chelsea’s equilibrium had been restored after those recent slips at home to Crystal Palace and away to Manchester United.

Can Tottenham respond?

“We’ve put pressure on Spurs,” said goalscorer Hazard.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side will have felt the door had opened when Chelsea lost at Old Trafford and the gap at the top of the table was reduced to only four points. Suddenly the pressure was on Conte and his players.

The tables have now been turned and it will be Spurs and their manager who will be feeling the heat and the need to win when they travel to in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Spurs have reeled off seven straight league wins – their best sequence since 1967 – but all the self-belief built up during that run will be required to face Sam Allardyce’s rejuvenated side, who have beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in recent weeks.

They will not only have to respond to the Blues’ win that restored their seven-point lead, but also to the disappointment of losing the FA Cup semi-final to their London rivals at Wembley on Saturday.

These are defining moments in the Premier League season – with a huge weekend ahead as Chelsea travel to Everton and Spurs face Arsenal in the north London derby on Sunday.

Hull City striker Oumar Niasse has three-match ban overturned

Hull City striker Oumar Niasse has three-match ban overturned

Hull City forward Oumar Niasse has had a three-match ban overturned after his red card against Watford was rescinded.

Hull City striker Oumar Niasse has three-match ban overturned
Niasse has scored five times for Hull since joining on loan from Everton in January

The 27-year-old Senegal international was shown a straight red card for a tackle on M’Baye Niang during Hull’s 2-0 win over the Hornets on Saturday.

However, Hull, who are two points above the relegation zone with four games to play, made a successful appeal to the Football Association.

It means Niasse will be available for Hull’s trip to Southampton on Saturday.

Arsenal through to FA Cup Finals with Chelsea after Beating Manchester City. Photo: REUTERS/Standard

Arsenal through to FA Cup Finals against Chelsea after Beating Manchester City

Alexis Sanchez’s scrambled extra-time winner secured Arsenal an FA Cup final date with Chelsea – and ensured Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will end a season without a trophy for the first time in his coaching career.

Arsenal through to FA Cup Finals with Chelsea after Beating Manchester City
Arsenal Beat Manchester City to Reach FA Cup Finals against Chelsea

Sanchez settled a contentious semi-final 11 minutes into the extra period after Manchester City failed to clear Mesut Ozil’s free-kick.

Arsenal showed great resilience to come from behind – and eased the pressure on manager Arsene Wenger – after Sergio Aguero raced clear of Nacho Monreal to put City ahead in the 62nd minute.

Monreal made amends with the equaliser 11 minutes later as he drilled in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross at the far post – but City were left nursing a serious sense of injustice after this disappointing defeat.

They had a goal wrongly ruled out in the first half when Leroy Sane’s cross was adjudged to have gone out before Aguero and Raheem Sterling combined to turn it into the net, while Yaya Toure and Fernandinho hit the woodwork after the break.

It left Arsenal victorious and Wenger aiming for a record seventh FA Cup triumph.

Wenger gets his statement of intent

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal Players

Wenger’s future – and the lack of clarity surrounding it – has only been brought into sharper focus by Arsenal’s recent fall outside the Champions League places.

The manager needed a statement, as did his team, to ease the growing disquiet among Arsenal fans at the prospect that he will extend his stay as manager.

Arsenal’s Wembley win against Manchester City will not ease the concerns in the minds of the doubters but he can point to the victory, and the manner in which it was achieved, as evidence that he could yet be the man to take the club forward.

Victory in the final on 27 May would strengthen his and Arsenal’s case for continuity, but for now there was much for the Frenchman and his players to treasure about this triumph.

Wenger persisted with an unfamiliar three-man defensive system comprising youngster Rob Holding, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny and set up his team to deliver an uncharacteristically stubborn performance.

Arsenal rode their luck at times – but Wenger will take that all day.

Alexis Sanchez has scored four goals in his last three appearances at Wembley for Arsenal

Wenger’s players have been accused of not playing for him in recent months. No such accusation could be levelled here as they dug deep for victory.

The Gunners’ embattled manager pumped his fists towards the skies at the final whistle and beamed with delight – he may yet achieve glory amid the worst discontent of his reign.

Were Manchester City robbed?

Manchester City will argue long and hard that their chances of reaching the final were sabotaged by a first-half decision that saw a good goal ruled out.

Referee’s assistant Steve Child judged that Sane’s cross had gone behind before Aguero turned it back at the far post and then Sterling made sure. Replays suggested the ball had not gone out and City were the victims of an injustice.

City will also feel Lady Luck deserted them as they lost playmaker David Silva to injury early on and saw those efforts from Toure and Fernandinho hit the woodwork.

In the final reckoning, they must also accept the brutal truth that once more they enjoyed superiority in possession and territory but could not find the ruthless touch.

Guardiola faces a big challenge

Arsenal through to FA Cup Finals with Chelsea after Beating Manchester City
Pep Guardiola won 14 trophies in four seasons at Barcelona, and seven in three years at Bayern Munich

Guardiola, arguably football’s most celebrated coach, was brought to Manchester City to lift them to another level – and on that basis his first season without a trophy in a glittering managerial career will be regarded by many as a failure.

He has found it more difficult than he may have imagined after the seamless successes of his years in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

Stick or twist?
Manchester City named an unchanged line-up under Pep Guardiola for the first time, in what was his 50th game in charge.
The three players who have started the most often are David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne – 38 times each.
Another three players have started just once for Guardiola – Joe Hart, Tosin Adarabioyo and Angelino.

He must now address the problems that have undermined City this season, particularly uncertainty over the goalkeeper position, where his decision to replace Joe Hart with Claudio Bravo has been unsuccessful, and also sort out an uncertain and ageing defence.

Guardiola’s main priority now is securing a top-four place and getting into the Champions League, starting with Thursday’s derby against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium.

Failure to achieve that objective is unthinkable.

Man of the match – Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain (Arsenal)

Perfect 20 for Arsenal – the key match stats

  • Arsenal have reached their 20th FA Cup final, a competition record.
  • This was Manchester City’s first FA Cup semi-final defeat since 1932, also against Arsenal – the Citizens had won eight consecutively before this defeat.
  • Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s top scorer in games at Wembley, with four goals – he overtook Marc Overmars and Ian Wright on three.
  • Sanchez has now been involved in more goals than any other Premier League player in all competitions this season (38, 24 goals and 14 assists).
  • Sergio Aguero has scored 12 goals in his past 12 matches for Manchester City in all competitions.
  • It was Aguero’s second goal at Wembley, having netted for City against Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final in April 2013.
  • Nacho Monreal’s last two goals for Arsenal have come in the FA Cup, both against Manchester clubs (having scored against Manchester United in March 2015).
  • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has six assists in his past 10 FA Cup starts for Arsenal. In all competitions this season, only Mesut Ozil (10) and Alexis Sanchez (14) have more assists than Oxlade-Chamberlain (nine).

What’s next?

Manchester City return to Premier League action with a home derby against neighbours United on Thursday. Arsenal are at home to Leicester in the league on Wednesday.

Iheanocho's brace puts Manchester City back on third place

I love the challenge, and I will fight for my place at Manchester City – Iheanacho

Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho says he is ready to fight for his place in the team, amidst competition from Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.

Kelechi Iheanacho 7
Iheanocho’s brace puts Manchester City back on third place during one of the Premiership outings

The Nigeria international, 20, has scored seven goals this season but has found first-team chances harder to come by than during his debut campaign.

Despite only five Premier League starts this season, Iheanacho welcomes the extra competition and insists he is improving by playing alongside great players.

“I cannot pretend that I don’t hear what people back home [in Nigeria] say about my lack of regular football but I will continue to fight,” Iheanacho told BBC Sport.

“I don’t worry about those comments. All I need to do is to keep working, keep doing well and keep improving every day.

“Sergio Aguero and Gabriel [Jesus] are really really great players that we need in our team.

“As a young player, I’m happy playing alongside these fantastic players because I learn and get better every day.

“It’s a big thing for my career to compete with these players. I’m okay with the way things are going and I wish Gabriel a quick recovery to return and help the team.”

Iheanacho scored 14 times and produced seven assists last season even though 25 of his 36 appearances were as a substitute.

That feat saw him finish as City’s third-highest scorer in all competitions, behind Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne.

At international level, Iheanacho has scored five goals in eight appearances for Nigeria since making his senior debut against Swaziland in November 2015.

He starred as Nigeria won the 2013 Fifa U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates for a record fourth-time.

He emerged as the tournament’s outstanding player, being voted the Most Valuable Player.

Iheanacho scored six goals to secure the Silver Boot as the competition’s second-highest goal-scorer.

Ex-England international Ugo Ehiogu dies aged 44

Former England footballer Ugo Ehiogu has died at the age of 44.

Ehiogu, who worked as under-23 coach for Tottenham Hotspur, had been taken to hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest at the club’s training ground on Thursday.

Ex-England international Ugo Ehiogu dies aged 44
Ex-England international Ugo Ehiogu dies aged 44

On Friday morning, Tottenham wrote on Twitter: “It is with immense sadness that we announce the passing of Ugo Ehiogu, our Under-23 coach.”

The former Aston Villa and Middlesbrough defender collapsed and was treated at the scene before being taken to hospital by ambulance.

His wife Gemma and young son had rushed to the hospital to be with him.

However, the 44-year-old passed away in the early hours of Friday morning.

John McDermott, Tottenham’s head of coaching and player development, described Ehiogu as “irreplaceable”.

Tottenham midfielder Joshua Onomah wrote: “Way more than just a coach, a father figure as well! Done so much for all of us boys. RIP Ugo. See you soon.”

Ehiogu had been at Spurs since 2014, but began his career as a trainee at West Bromwich Albion before moving to Aston Villa in 1991.

He went on to feature in more than 300 matches for Villa over a nine-year spell, winning the League Cup in 1996.

After joining Middlesbrough for a then club-record £8m fee, he won the same trophy with the northeast club in 2004.

Capped four times by England, he also played for Leeds, Rangers and Sheffield United before retiring in 2009.

Aston Villa wrote on Twitter: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of our former defender Ugo Ehiogu. Our thoughts are with his family at this terribly sad time.”

They will hold a minute’s applause before their derby with Birmingham City on Sunday and both sets of players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect.

Aston Villa’s manager, Steve Bruce, paid tribute to the footballer in a press conference, saying: “I played against him. Big Ron bought him for £45,000 – what a bargain. He was a great player.”

Former striker Stan Collymore, who played with Ehiogu at Aston Villa, posted a photo of the pair on Twitter, writing “One of the good guys. Truly broken.”

Former England player Rio Ferdinand wrote: “Can’t believe the news that Ugo Ehiogu has passed away. Calm & warming vibe when in his company. My heart goes out to his family! #RIPUgo.”

Sky Sports journalist Adam Lindsay wrote on Twitter: “Humans do not come much better than Ugo Ehiogu. RIP.”

Ehiogu wrote his last message on his Twitter page three weeks ago, when he shared an impulsive good deed with his fans.

“Gave a homeless girl £10 last night in Dalston. She didn’t ask or beg. Random impulsive act from me. Not gona lie. Felt good. #dosomethingkind”.

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Sky News/Daily Mail

How Chelsea And Man United fans escaped death in Delta state

How 30 people died in football viewing center in Calabar: survivor explains

A man who survived the tragic incident that led to the electrocution of over 30 people at a football viewing centre in Calabar, capital of Cross River state, has his stars to thank.

How Chelsea And Man United fans escaped death in Delta state
File photo: Viewing center in Nigeria

A high tension cable reportedly fell on the football fans as they were watching a UEFA Europa league quarter-final match between Manchester United and Anderlecht.

Manchester United won the match 3-2 aggregate, with Marcus Rashford netting the winner in the 107th minute.

Speaking with Punch after the encounter, the survivor said a transformer near the viewing centre located in the Iyang-Esu area of Calabar municipal local government area, exploded during the match.

He reportedly said this caused a high-tension cable to drop on the viewing centre.

“It happened during the match between Manchester United and Anderlecht. I heard a deafening bang. I rushed out to see what was happening,” he was quoted as saying.

“When I turned back to go inside the viewing centre, I saw a cable coming down on the centre and this electrocuted the viewers in the hall.

“It was a horrible sight to behold. I wish I didn’t come out to watch the match. Come to think of it, I have DStv at home but I enjoy watching matches at viewing centres. I could have been dead. I can’t believe that the people I was chatting and joking with a few minutes ago are all gone in a most anguishing way. This world is vain.”

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Punch/The Cable

Reactions as resilient Leicester knocked out of Champions League

Reactions as resilient Leicester City knocked out of Champions League by Atletico Madrid

Leicester’s superb debut Champions League campaign came to an end as Atletico Madrid sealed their progress to the last four with a draw at the King Power Stadium.

Reactions as resilient Leicester knocked out of Champions League
Saul Niguez’s header was only the second home goal Leicester have conceded in the Champions League this season

Leading 1-0 from the first leg in Spain, Atletico took control through Saul Niguez’s first-half header.

City took the game to Atletico after the break and gave themselves hope via Jamie Vardy’s close-range finish.

But the visitors held on to reach their third semi-final in four seasons.

Details soon…

Confederation Cup: Defending Champions TP Mazembe through to group phase

Confederation Cup: Defending Champions TP Mazembe through to group phase

The African Confederation Cup holders, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo, booked their place in the group phase of this year’s tournament with a 0-0 draw away to JS Kabylie in Algeria on Sunday.

Confederation Cup: Defending Champions TP Mazembe through to group phase
TP Mazembe won the Confederation Cup for the first time last season

Mazembe – who won the home leg of their play-off 2-0 last weekend – held off Kabylie’s challenge to continue the defence of their crown.

There was a big shock in Abidjan as former African Champions League winners, Asec Mimosas, were knocked out by CF Mounana of Gabon.

Mimosas went into their home leg needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg, but despite fielding a side including the likes of Burkina Faso star Aristide Bancé, the match ended 0-0 with Mounana going through 2-1 on aggregate.

Also on Sunday, Platinum Stars of South Africa squeezed past another Ivorian side AS Tanda to progress 5-4 on penalties after their tie had ended 2-2 on aggregate.

The South Africans went into their home leg in Rustenburg trailing 2-0 overall, but fought back to take the tie to spot-kicks and book their place in the group phase.

It was much more straightforward for another South African side, SuperSport United, who overwhelmed Liberia’s Barrack Young Controllers 5-0 in Pretoria.

A hat-trick from Jeremy Brockie helped SuperSport United take the tie 6-1 on aggregate.

Sudan’s Al Hilal Obeid defeated Ports Authority of the Gambia 3-0 at home to progress 4-1 on aggregate.

Confederation Cup fixtures:

First leg:


  • Rivers Utd (Nigeria) 2-0 Rayon Sports (Rwanda) (Delayed due to commemoration of the Rwanda genocide)

Second legs:


  • CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) 2-0 Rail Kadiogo (Burkina Faso) (CS Sfaxien win 4-1 on aggregate)


  • Mbabane Swallows (Swaziland) 4-2 AC Leopards (Congo) (Mbabane Swallows win 4-3 on aggregate)
  • Zesco Utd (Zambia) 3-0 Enugu Rangers (Nigeria) (Zesco United win 5-2 on aggregate)
  • Recreativo Libolo (Angola) 0-0 CNaPS Sport (Madagascar) (1-1 on aggregate. Recreativo Libolo win on away goals)
  • Club Africain (Tunisia) 4-2 AS Port Louis (Mauritius) (Club Africain win 6-3 on aggregate)
  • MAS Fes (Morocco) 1-1 FUS Rabat (Morocco) (FUS Rabat win 3-2 on aggregate)
  • Smouha (Egypt) 1-0 Wits (South Africa) (Smouha win 1-0 on aggregate)
  • Mouloudia Alger (Algeria) 4-0 Young Africans (Tanzania) (Mouloudia Alger win 4-1 on aggregate)
  • Al Masry (Egypt) v KCCA (Uganda) (1-1 on aggregate. KCCA win 5-4 on penalties)
  • Ittihad Tanger (Morocco) 3-2 Horoya (Guniea) (Horoya win 4-3 on aggregate)


  • Platinum Stars (South Africa) 2-0 AS Tanda (Ivory Coast) (2-2 on aggregate. Platinum Stars win 5-4 on penalties)
  • Asec Mimosas (Ivory Coast) 0-0 CF Mounana (Gabon) (CF Mounana win 2-1 on aggregate)
  • SuperSport Utd (South Africa) 5-0 Barrack Young Controllers (Liberia) (SuperSport United win 6-1 on aggregate)
  • JS Kabylie (Algeria) 0-0 TP Mazembe (DR Congo) (TP Mazembe win 2-0 on aggregate)
  • Al Hilal Obeid (Sudan) 3-0 Ports Authority (The Gambia) (Al Hilal Obeid win 4-1 on aggregate)

Also on Sunday, Nigerian side Rivers United secured a 2-0 home win over Rwanda’s Rayon Sports in the only remaining first leg of the play-offs.

The match had been delayed due to the commemoration of the Rwanda genocide.

On Saturday, nine teams booked their place in the newly expanded group phase of the Confederation Cup, including Mbabane Swallows, whose 4-3 aggregate win over Congolese side AC Leopards made them the first club from Swaziland to reach the group stage.

CS Sfaxien of Tunisia became the first side to reach this year’s Confederation Cup group phase with a victory over Rail Kadiogo on Friday.

The draw for the group phase will be held on 26 April 2017 in Cairo.

How Chelsea And Man United fans escaped death in Delta state

How Chelsea And Man United fans escaped death in Delta state

The love of football and the loyalty fans have for their clubs almost lead to the death of hundreds of  football lovers in Delta State.

How Chelsea And Man United fans escaped death in Delta state
File photo: Viewing center in Nigeria

Fans escaped death while many others sustained various degrees of injury at Ojobo community in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State when a football viewing center they had converged to watch the European Premier League, EPL match collapsed on them.

Located at Oyateigha II quarters of the community, the viewing center which was built by the shore wall protection of the riverine community by an indigene of the community, was said to have collapse owing to the huge weight of the football fans that had trooped in to watch the Manchester United versus Chelsea match.

Giving details of the incident, a resident of the community, Boumoepre Youkere said the building which is mostly built with wood and zinc materials, came down at about 4:30p.m amidst screams from the fans.

“The building was overcrowded when it came down. At the end of the carnage, a lot of persons sustained various degrees of bone injuries as personal effects were also missing during the incident,” he added.

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/NND/Osun Defender/

Sports Roundup: Drogba joins Phoenix as player and owner as Alcaraz appointed new Algeria coach

Sports Roundup: Drogba joins Phoenix as player and owner as Alcaraz appointed new Algeria coach

The Bloomgist – This weekend on our Weekend Sports Roundup, we are talking about Former Chelsea and Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba who recently joined United Soccer League side Phoenix Rising as a player and co-owner.

Sport Roundup: Drogba joins Phoenix as player and owner as Alcaraz appointed new Algeria coach
Didier Drogba

Drogba, 39, has not played since leaving Major League Soccer club Montreal Impact in November.

He will start out as a player but has also joined Phoenix’s “MLS expansion franchise ownership group”.

“To own a team and be a player at the same time is unusual but it’s going to be very exciting,” Drogba said.

“It’s a good transition because I want to carry on playing but I’m almost 40 and it’s important for me to prepare for my later career.”

Phoenix have just started their fourth season in the Western Conference of USL, which forms part of the second tier of the American league system.

Sports Roundup: Drogba joins Phoenix as player and owner as Alcaraz appointed new Algeria coach
Didier Drogba

The Arizona club hope to become one of four planned expansion teams in MLS over the next three years.

“I had offers from China, from England – in both the Premier League and even the Championship – but they were only as a player,” Drogba told The Premier League Show.

“This was the right offer because it was important for me to think about playing, because I enjoy it, but also to get to the next stage of my career.”

Drogba scored 157 goals in 341 appearances during his first spell at Chelsea from 2004 to 2012, winning three Premier League titles and the Champions League.

Following moves to Shanghai Shenhua in China and Turkish side Galatasaray, Drogba returned to the Blues for the 2014-15 season, scoring seven goals in 40 appearances, helping Jose Mourinho’s side to the title, before 18 months with Montreal.

Sport Roundup: Drogba joins Phoenix as player and owner as Alcaraz appointed new Algeria coach
Drogba last played for Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer

He joins former Chelsea team-mate Shaun Wright-Phillips at Phoenix, who have one win and two defeats from three games this season.

“I’m still a player but it’s important to respect the decision of the manager,” added Drogba, who is Ivory Coast’s record goalscorer.

“When we’re on the pitch, he’s going to be the one who decides and when we go to board meetings, it’s a different thing.”

Lucas Alcaraz appointed new Algeria coach

Algeria have appointed Lucas Alcaraz as their fourth full-time coach in the last 13 months.

The Spaniard was sacked on Monday as the coach of Granada, who are currently bottom of the Spanish La Liga.

The 50-year-old replaces Belgian Georges Leekens who quit after Algeria were eliminated from the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations at the group stage.

Sports Roundup: Drogba joins Phoenix as player and owner as Alcaraz appointed new Algeria coach
Lucas Alcaraz was replaced as coach of Spanish club Granada by former England defender Tony Adams

Christian Gourcuff left as coach in April 2016 to be replaced by Milovan Rajevac who quit after just two games.

The move came as a surprise to many in Algeria as another Spaniard Joaquin Caparros had been expected to be given the job.

Former Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka had also been linked to the position.

Alcaraz’s first competitive match in charge will be against visiting Togo as Algeria begin their qualifying campaign for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Benin and The Gambia are the other two teams in Group D with only the pool winners guaranteed a place at the finals in Cameroon.

Algeria’s forward Riyad Mahrez (C) celebrates with Algeria’s midfielder Yacine Brahimi (R) during one of their games

Algeria are aiming to reach a third straight World Cup but are bottom of their qualifying group with a single point from two matches so far.

They are five points behind leaders Nigeria and their next games are home and away against Zambia, who are also on one point.

Only the winners of Group B will play the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/BBC/Sky Sports/Phoenix Today

FIFA aproves 9 World Cup slots for Africa, await ratification

FIFA aproves 9 World Cup slots for Africa, await ratification

FIFA has agreed on the proposed slot allocation recommended on January 10 to expand the World Cup to a 48-team competition.

FIFA aproves 9 World Cup slots for Africa, await ratification
The host country will automatically qualify for the World Cup, and its slot would be taken from the quota of its confederation

The FIFA President Gianni Infantino and presidents of each of the six confederations agreed at a meeting in Zurich on Thursday, the world football governing body said in a statement.

“The recommendation will now be submitted for the ratification of the FIFA Council, whose next meeting is scheduled for May 9 in Manama, Bahrain, two days prior to the 67th FIFA Congress,” FIFA added.

If ratified, Africa (CAF) will get four more slots added to the current five of the 32-team competition and will take effect at the 2026 edition of the FIFA World Cup.

The recommendation will now be submitted for the ratification of the FIFA Council, whose next meeting is scheduled for May 9 in Manama, Bahrain, two days prior to the 67th FIFA Congress.

The new 48-team competition has 46 direct slots. The two other slots will be decided after a play-off tournament between six teams with each one from a confederation except UEFA, and one additional team from the confederation of the host country.

Also, the host country will automatically qualify for the World Cup, and its slot would be taken from the quota of its confederation.

In the event of co-hosting, the number of host countries to qualify automatically would be decided by the FIFA Council.

Below are the slots per confederation.

  • Confederation of African Football (CAF) – 9 direct slots
  • Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – 8 direct slots
  • North, Central American and Caribbean Football Confederation (CONCACAF) – 6 direct slots
  • South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) – 6 direct slots
  • Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) – 1 direct slot
  • Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) – 16 direct slots
Daniel Sturridge

Daniel Sturridge’s return gives Liverpool a boost ahead of Merseyside derby

Liverpool have been given a pre-Merseyside derby boost with Daniel Sturridge’s return to training, but the chances of captain Jordan Henderson making the visit of Everton on Saturday are unlikely.

Daniel Sturridge

Sturridge has not featured since Feb. 4 because of a virus, which forced him to be sent home from a training camp in Spain last month, and then a hip injury, which meant he missed the club’s trip to Tenerife last week.

However, the England international was pictured taking part in an outdoor session at the club’s Melwood training ground on Thursday to raise hopes of him making the squad for the 228th Merseyside derby.

Henderson’s prospects are less encouraging, though. The Liverpool captain has not played since the Feb. 11 victory over Tottenham because of a foot problem.

Although he did travel to Tenerife with the squad, his involvement was limited and Press Association Sport reports he is highly unlikely to be ready to face Liverpool’s neighbours in the lunchtime kickoff.

Brazil internationals Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino returned home reporting no problems after the club chartered a private jet to bring back the pair immediately after the World Cup qualifying win over Paraguay.

Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has yet to be on the losing side in seven Merseyside derbies and says he enjoys the hostility of the occasion.

The Belgium international has conceded just one goal in the last three home games against Everton, whose last win in the fixture came at Goodison Park in October 2010.

“It’s always a bit hostile, but like in any other derby game that’s something you relish — two groups of fans who are cheering their team on,” he told Liverpool’s official website.

“It’s a bit special, of course, in Liverpool because in some families you have got both Everton and Liverpool supporters. Although it’s a derby I don’t think there is so much hatred between the two clubs.

“In the time I’ve been here, we’ve always had great results against Everton at home. It’s always a big fixture to look forward to. On the day itself, it’s nice to be part of it. It is pretty special.”

Liverpool plan to honour the memory of Ronnie Moran at the weekend. The former captain, coach and caretaker manager died aged 83 last week and among the tributes will be a mural on the Kop at Anfield.

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Today

Man City gets £35,000 fine for misconduct against Liverpool

Manchester City have been fined £35,000 for the misconduct of players during their recent Premier League clash against Liverpool, the Football Association announced on Monday.

Man City gets £35,000 fine for misconduct against Liverpool

City last week pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to ensure their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion during the 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on March 19.

City players protested after Liverpool were awarded a controversial penalty early in the second half.

They continued complaining after James Milner had struck from the spot to give the visitors the lead, delaying the restart of the game.

A statement from the FA read: “Following an independent regulatory commission hearing, Manchester City have been fined £35,000 after the club admitted an FA misconduct charge.

“City breached FA Rule E20(a) in that in or around the 50th minute of the game against Liverpool on 19 March 2017, the club failed to ensure that its players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion.”

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/Today

Super Eagles friendly match against Burkina Faso cancelled over Visa issues 

The Super Eagles’ second international friendly against the Etallons of Burkina Faso has been cancelled after seven players in the Burkinabe contingent failed to secure entry visas into the United Kingdom.

The match was scheduled for Monday, March 27 in London.

The chairman of the NFF Technical and Development Committee, Chris Green, told in London: “We regret to announce that the second friendly match we had scheduled for the Super Eagles as part of preparations for the remaining matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying series and the beginning of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification race would no longer take place on Monday, 27th March 2017.

“The match in question is called off due to no fault of either the organizers or the Nigeria Football Federation. We will announce further plans for the Super Eagles’ preparation for these two important qualifying campaigns in due course.”

There is no British Embassy in Ouagadougou, and officials of the Federation Burkinabe de Football had been shuttling between Accra and Ouagadougou for visa processing.

FBF sources said the Embassy in Accra told them last week to proceed to Morocco (where the Etalons played the Atlas Lions on Friday) and that the visas would be issued there.

However, the applications were still pending at the British Embassy in Morocco as at close of work on Friday, the last working day before match day in London.

The Burkinabe Football Federation on Friday, by 7pm UK time, telephoned the match organizers to say some of their players and officials were unable to secure entry visas into the United Kingdom and therefore would not be able to honor the match.

NFF president and CAF Executive Committee member, Amaju Pinnick, who expressed disappointment with the cancellation, however said the objectives of satisfying the technical team’s desire of squaring up against tough, physical African opposition and fostering team bonding and organization were achieved.

“The Technical Adviser (Gernot Rohr) wanted to play very physical African teams, as part of the preparations for the World Cup qualifying matches against Cameroon, and we duly fulfilled that with the arrangements we made for Senegal and Burkina Faso.

“Unfortunately, some of the Burkinabe players could not secure entry visas into the UK. It is nobody’s fault. Our joy is that we were able to play Senegal and got a fair result with a depleted squad, and also the objectives of team bonding, team building, team discipline and further imparting the Technical Adviser’s philosophy to the group have been well served.

“The Technical Adviser has also been able to look at a few more options, and our strength-in-depth is looking very good.”

SOURCE: The Chosen Press/Sahara Reporters

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