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European football leagues’ popularity and increased internet access make football betting attractive among young people in Nigeria. Catherine Ivill/AFP via Getty Images

A ban on football betting Nigeria is not the answer to the problems it creates

European football leagues’ popularity and increased internet access make football betting attractive among young people in Nigeria. Catherine Ivill/AFP via Getty Images

By Saheed Babajide Owonikoko, Modibbo Adama University of Technology

In Nigeria, football betting has a long history that can be traced to colonial times, when pool betting was popular, especially among older adults. Since then, more younger people have taken up betting on the results of football matches, including European league football.

The country has many betting outlets where people can place a bet manually. They can also open an account online with a betting company, using a debit card, and place bets on the website or app.

A report revealed that about 60 million Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 40 are involved in active sport betting. They spend almost ₦2 billion on sports betting daily. This translates to about ₦730 billion annually. In an economy where the 2020 national budget is almost ₦11 trillion, this is huge.

Two factors are responsible for increasing football betting among youth in Nigeria. One is the increase in poverty and unemployment. Among Nigeria’s estimated population of around 200 million, around 87 million are said to be extremely poor. The youth unemployment rate in 2018 was put at 36.5%.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 29.7% of youths between the ages of 15 and 34 were unemployed at the third quarter of 2018. Betting may appear to be a way to make quick money, either as a betting operator or as a gambler.

The second factor driving and enabling football betting in Nigeria is the growing use of the internet and smart mobile phones. In 2017, 84% of Nigerians had mobile phones. The number of internet users in Nigeria is 122 million based on figures from the Nigerian Communication Commission. This is more than half of Nigeria’s estimated population. The increase in internet users in Nigeria can be attributed to affordability of internet access; with less than ₦100 (less than US$1), internet connectivity is assured. It is easy and convenient for people to place bets online using their phones.

I was interested in the potential consequences of this situation for Nigerian society and particularly for young people. I wanted to know whether the ease of online betting for economically hard-pressed young Nigerians was creating any social problems such as conflict, crime and addictive behaviour.

For my study, I collected data from in-depth interviews with fans of European football clubs, betters, parents and guardians of fans and betters, security personnel, owners and operators of betting outlets as well as football viewing centres in Lagos, Ibadan, Oyo State, south west Nigeria and Yola, Adamawa State, north east Nigeria. In addition, I observed betting activities and collected data from recent online news reports and other published works.

From the various interviews conducted and my observation, I found there was a link between football betting by young Nigerians and a perceived increase in violence and criminal activities. But in my view the answer is not to ban such betting but to address the unemployment and poverty which propel people into it.

Behaviour around betting

My interviews and observations in the field show that there is a concern about teenagers stealing to fund their football betting. I was in a security meeting in Adamawa State where parents complained to the police that they had noticed unprecedented theft of their money by their teenage children/wards to fund football betting. A parent interviewed in Adamawa State explained that:

I noticed that money was getting lost in our house on daily basis. At first I thought it was mere misplacement. Later I started to hear from my neighbours also complaining of loss of money within their homes. We later got to know that our sons were the ones stealing the money to play football betting because we always see them with receipts of bet and we know that they do not have business from where they can get money for betting.

Interactions with these teenage betters show that they spend between ₦1,000 (about $2) and ₦3,000 (about $7) on betting daily. But the jackpot rarely comes. At football viewing centres, customers are routinely warned about fighting. One operator of a viewing centre in Yola told me:

In recent times, we have witnessed outbreaks of violence among our viewers. Some of these fights are over unresolved longstanding issues. Sometimes, it is as a result of anger sustained from major loss in football betting.

Football betting may also sometimes promote ritualism, especially the use of “good luck charms”. I spoke to one gambler who said:

You cannot just go and put a huge amount of money into betting without any form of spiritual enhancement that will guarantee and insure you. If you do that without spiritual enhancement, you will just continually give your
money to bet companies with their managers and staff to feed fat on while you continue to stay broke. Even bet company operators use spiritual power to ensure that their clients do not win…

There have been calls from moralists, especially in religious circles, for the government to criminalise betting, especially football betting. I witnessed two such discussions during an Islamic preaching in Yola, Adamawa State. In fact, one state has been urged to take the first step. I believe this is unlikely to be effective. It would only push betting into the background and make it more difficult for the government to regulate and control it. Government should instead pay more attention to widespread poverty and unemployment.

Saheed Babajide Owonikoko, Researcher, Centre for Peace and Security Studies, Modibbo Adama University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“Ighalo is better than Ronaldo and Messi combined”: six tweets that shows what Ighalo means to Nigerians

Odion Ighalo may not be a global superstar but Manchester United’s newest signing has been able, with just a move, turned every Nigerian into a United fan any time he’s on the pitch playing.

The 30-year-old already has Premier League experience, appearing 99 times for Watford between 2014 and 2017, but the reaction back home to Ighalo’s signing shows the worldwide global appeal an ailing Manchester United still possesses.

“It was crazy because all over the news for the last few days of my signing, it is about my deal to Man United,” Ighalo told the club’s website.

“Even the street I grew up on, they are doing parties, celebrating Ighalo signing for United. “They sent me the video, I was just laughing and happy because many of them are supporting Man United and some of them are supporting some other teams in the Premier League.

The booze seem not to be calmed as every time there is a news about the Eagle’s star, Nigerians know just how to make a great deal – and on his birthday, you need to read the trends.

We gathered five tweets that shows what the fans thinks about the man at United,

Even Ugandans are not letting the share pass them.

A little bit of humour

To Nigerians, Ighalo is better than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi combined, yes, you read.

Believe it or not, to Nigerians, Ighalo is Africa’s greatest striker.

‘My classmates judged me because of my skin colour’

1998 World Cup winner Lilian Thuram. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

One man in France’s 1998 World Cup-winning squad felt particularly affected by the sense of racial harmony that had descended on the country after that historic triumph. Ever since moving from Guadeloupe as a nine-year‑old, Lilian Thuram was confronted by discrimination. The attitudes he witnessed as a boy shocked him to such an extent that once his career ended, he decided to focus his energy on the fight against racism.

For those few happy weeks after the World Cup, Thuram was delighted to see people in France treated equally regardless of race. “The black-blanc-beursymbol we created was positive and I liked it,” he says of the “black, white, Arab” motto.

“It wasn’t only a reference to the football team, it was about all of society. I’m not naive. I know very well that outside football people aren’t treated the same. They are not allowed to dream about the same things. Depending on your skin colour, depending on your origins, you do not have access to the same opportunities. So this is why I’m very happy that for a period at least there was this recognition.”

Lilian Thuram (holding the trophy) is proud of the period of racial equality in France that the World Cup triumph brought. Photograph: Daniel García/AFP/Getty Images

I am talking to Thuram at the headquarters of his association in the Odéon district of central Paris. He launched the Fondation Lilian Thuram after quitting his final club, Barcelona, in 2008, with the aim of educating young people on the roots of racism and why it is wrong. France’s most‑capped player now battles racism with the ferocious determination that made him one of the leading defenders of his generation and travels the world for talks at schools, universities and conferences.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Securing a meeting with Thuram has proved difficult and not just because he is extremely busy. Thuram has found himself at the centre of a media storm following an interview he gave to the Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport. Contacted to discuss the continuing racism in Serie A, he was reflecting on the history of the problem when he said: “It is necessary to have the courage to say that white people believe they are superior.” This sentence upset some of his compatriots and notably prompted the influential football journalist Pierre Ménès to claim: “The real problem in France, in football in any case, is anti-white racism.”

The controversy made Thuram reluctant to accept another interview but a month later he has agreed to meet and seems to be more relaxed. “The fact the subject of racism is being debated more and more is good,” he says. “And if I’m being attacked then it means that in some way my actions are making certain people uncomfortable. They feel in danger, which, again, is a good sign. Don’t forget that Nelson Mandela was accused of being an anti-white racist. Martin Luther King, too.”

The Frenchman does not consider himself to be the next Mandela or King but the number of books on the shelves of his office dedicated to those two historical figures suggest he is deeply inspired by them.

Born in French West Indies, Thuram has been intrigued by the subject of racism ever since his mother moved the family to the greater Paris region in 1981. “What struck me when I arrived was that some of my classmates judged me because of my skin colour. They made me believe my skin colour was inferior to theirs and that being white was better,” he says.

 Lilian Thuram in Monaco after being signed by Arsène Wenger, aged 17. Photograph: Christian Liewig/Corbis/Getty Images

“These were nine-year-old kids. They weren’t born racist but they’d already developed a superiority complex. From that moment I started to ask myself questions: ‘Why are they teasing me? Where does this come from?’ My mother couldn’t provide me with answers. For her this was just the way it was. There are racists and it won’t change.”

Unsatisfied with his mother’s response, Thuram buried himself in books to find a better explanation, studying events that had created this damaging mindset. “Historically, we ranked people. We created hierarchies according to skin colour,” he says. “We educated the white person to think he is dominant over others. Just as we educated men to feel dominant over women. These are intellectual and ideological mechanisms that were constructed in order to exploit other people.”

Thuram speaks in a calm, intelligent manner. His gentle demeanour contrasts with the aggressive way he defended during his playing days. It is also very different to the stereotypical image that some individuals in Francehave of black people who come from the suburbs. “People like to fantasise,” Thuram says, allowing himself a throaty chuckle. “They like to think the suburbs are full of violent thugs but they’re not. The majority of people are just like me. They try to live well in a calm, peaceful way.”

Raised by his mother, who was a cleaner, in the modest council estate of Les Fougères in Avon, south of Paris, Thuram knows what it is like to struggle on the periphery of French society. Football helped him gain respect in a tough community made up of immigrants from all corners of the globe. “I played with kids from Pakistan, Lebanon, Vietnam, Congo, Algeria … the whole world was there. Football has this great strength of bringing people together and making you feel part of something.”

His first club, Portugais de Fontainebleau, were founded by Portuguese expats but the players hailed from many different cultures. “At the weekends, I became Portuguese,” Thuram says. “Opponents used to insult me by calling me a ‘dirty Portuguese’, which, as a West Indian, I found pretty funny.”

Like many of his peers Thuram spent every spare moment with a ball at his feet. “The best way to be good at something is to do it a lot. When you’re in the suburbs, you play a lot of football. You don’t have access to piano or violin lessons. During the school holidays you don’t go away, you stay at home and you play football all day long. That’s the reason why so many players emerge from these areas.”

Thuram’s world changed when Arsène Wenger brought him to Monaco aged 17. This proved to be the start of a long, trophy-laden career. Yet, for all his success, the spectre of racism never left. At Monaco, despite being a regular in Wenger’s title-chasing team, Thuram would often be refused entry to nightclubs and exclusive restaurants. During the 10 seasons he spent in Italy with Parma and Juventus after leaving Monaco, he heard monkey chants on a regular basis.

 Lilian Thuram’s career took him to Parma, Juventus and Barcelona. Composite: Getty Images

It must have been difficult to bear but Thuram had the tools to rise above it. “I was lucky that from a young age I understood the mechanism behind racism,” says the two-times Serie A winner. “So, when I heard the monkey chants, there was no doubt in my mind that the people with the problem were the ones making monkey noises, not me. I didn’t get angry, I tried to understand why they did it.”

Thuram has a burning desire to share his knowledge and, much like his marauding raids forward with Les Bleus, he is difficult to stop when he gets into stride. “Racism stems from a feeling that you are superior to the other person. You think you’re ‘normal’ and they aren’t. It’s the same with homophobia. Heterosexuals were educated to think they are normal and gay people aren’t. Well, we need to explain very nicely to these people that they are not ‘the norm’. There is no norm. I understood that very early and when you understand racism you know you are not the one with a problem.”

When I say that racism in football looks to be escalating because more incidents are being reported, he says the suggestion is naive. But surely the terrible scenes in Bulgaria the week before our interview, when England’s players were racially abused throughout their Euro 2020 qualifier, are evidence the situation has deteriorated?

“People often try to analyse racism through their own country or through their feelings but you have to consider racism on a global scale and take on board the historical depth,” Thuram says. “European societies were built on racism. It has been integrated into the collective subconscious for centuries.”

To illustrate the progress humanity has made, Thuram takes the example of his own family: “My grandfather was born in 1908, 60 years after the abolition of slavery in Guadeloupe. When my mother was born, in 1947, there was segregation in the United States. When I was born, in 1972, there was apartheid in South Africa. In France, state racism ended in the 1960s. If you’re not aware of this deep history, you may think there’s more racism today. But I can tell you there isn’t. There’s far less.”


Matthew Spiro’s Sacré Bleu tells the story of France’s turbulent journey from their first World Cup triumph in 1998 to the second 20 years later. To order a copy for £13.99, visit Biteback Publishing.

Ighalo’s contract with Man United likely to end next week

Odion Ighalo, former Super Eagles forward, looks set to leave Manchester United next week after Shanghai Shenhua, his parent club, reportedly refused to extend the striker’s loan deal.

The 30-year-old Nigerian was signed to his boyhood club by Ole Gunnar Solskjær on a temporary contract on the final day of the January transfer window.

He has also proved a success, scoring four times after eight appearances for the Old Trafford giant. His loan spell, however, looks to end next week with his initial deal only penned until May 31.

According to Daily Mail UK, Shenhua have rejected United’s requests to keep the player for another three months with the Asian club requesting that the former Watford star rejoin them to prepare for the start of the delayed Chinese Super League season.

United are keen to keep Ighalo until the end of this season and have held discussions with Shenhua about extending the loan deal.

It is understood that Shenhua would only be willing to accept a fee of £20 million to part ways with Ighalo, even though a permanent deal has not been discussed.

The development came after Gary Neville, a former United defender, had warned Solkjaer against signing the Nigerian for £20 million.

The original agreement between both clubs was to cover the end of the season but with the campaign postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis, Ighalo would likely be missing the remaining nine Premier League games, coupled with the FA Cup and Europa League matches.

Ighalo had earlier made it clear that he would love to finish the season at Old Trafford.

Premier League clubs accept need to use neutral venues to finish season

  • Neutral grounds without fans now a prerequisite
  • Some players and clubs feel season should end

The Premier League’s clubs put on a united front during a three-and-a-half-hour video conference on Friday saying they remained determined to find a way to complete the season in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, with the use of neutral stadiums without fans now a prerequisite.

But the harmony is not complete, with more than one club privately feeling the campaign ought to end because the obstacles to the hoped-for resumption in mid-June are simply too great.

The principal concern is whether playing on would put the health of the players, club staff members and, by extension, their families at risk. The Manchester City striker Sergio Agüero said on Thursday that he was “scared” to finish the campaign for this reason and there are other players who share that fear.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has made it plain that the safety of the players is its overriding concern; it will not contemplate putting them in harm’s way and the Guardian understands some players want the union to make a stand on their behalf. On the other hand, there are many more players who do want to continue. As on so many points, consensus is difficult to achieve.

The Premier League issued a lengthy statement after the conference call and one line stood out. “It was agreed that the PFA, LMA, players and managers are key to this process and will be further consulted,” it said.


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The PFA knows that what the government and Premier League want is fundamental and the government has said football should return as soon as it is safe to do so; this is partly for the lift that it would give to the population. The government on Friday began a set of meetings with sporting bodies to map a route towards resumptions.

There are players and club staff members who think the resumption of the season is wishful thinking; they cannot see how the rates of infection will drop to a manageable level quickly enough but, for now, it is a waiting game until the government indicates next Thursday whether they can ease the current lockdown. The Premier League will meet again next Friday.

Eight to 10 stadiums are being identified for use as neutral venues. Almost all are expected to be Premier League grounds and clubs would not play in their own stadium. The move follows advice from police but not all clubs support it.

Stadiums chosen will be those granted licences by the sports grounds safety authority. That will take into account factors such as their suitability for respecting physical distancing inside the stadium, for keeping people away from the outside of the stadium and local infection rates.

Brighton’s Amex Stadium could potentially be used as a neutral ground as it is away from highly populated urban centres. Photograph: James Boardman/EPA

There was a preference articulated for grounds – such as Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium and Brighton’s Amex Stadium – which are away from highly populated urban centres. The league aims to ensure that clubs would not have to travel long distances and travel be as equally spread as possible.

The conference call went into detail on proposed plans for a safe return to training and playing, including protocols around testing and creating a sterile environment for players and staff. Protocols are still being worked on for a return to full training and matches and there is an understanding the players’ views must be considered. On Thursday Brighton’s Glenn Murray described the idea of wearing face masks in training as “farcical” but it is understood the detail presented was well received.

All 20 clubs suggested they were committed to continue with the season, with the sense among some that if a restart is not possible now then it may not be later either. Those clubs that have reservations against resumption chose not to speak out. None of the issues that have so far split clubs – from the extension of contracts to concerns over player welfare – were raised.

With no vote taken on which way to proceed, pending advice from government, the key meeting passes to next week. If the League is to stick to its preferred outcome of a return to training on 18 May and matches from 8 June, however, the window for finding a way forward is narrowing.


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The League said: “The clubs reconfirmed their commitment to finishing the 2019-20 season, maintaining integrity of the competition and welcomed the government’s support.”

Bobby Barnes, the PFA’s deputy chief executive, said earlier in the week: “We have reiterated that players are not just footballers but partners, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, who share the same health concerns as everyone else during this pandemic.

“We have been assured of the intentions of all that there would be no resumption unless guarantees of safety could be given to the players. The overriding principle for all parties is the healthy and safety of all participants on and off the field and, of course, the wider public.”

Kolo Toure’s grand plan to become pioneer for African coaches

Kolo Tour has big aims while in the dugout CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Kolo Toure has followed Brendan Rodgers from Celtic to Leicester City, where the 39-year-old is now a first-team coach, but at some point he will branch out on his own. For now, he is happy at City, but weeks before he completes his UEFA A License – he is speaking at St. George’s Park, where he is completing the final furlong – Toure’s thoughts have naturally turned to what his ultimate aspiration, in management, might be. 

The plan? Club, then national, team, then “the World Cup, for [an] African team”. He estimates the last one could be twenty to thirty years in the making, “but the day is going to happen”. Until then, the more immediate goal is to fill the dearth of black coaches in the English game. There is the old adage that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’: at various points in Toure’s career it has been hard to pinpoint an iconic African manager or player in whose footsteps to follow, because there have been so few. 

“When I came to the UK, we had no-one from the Ivory Coast in the Premier League,” Toure says. “I had no-one to aspire to, no-one I could look to for inspiration. We had players coming from different countries – like from Cameroon, or Nigeria with Kanu – I’m used to the situation where you have to come from a long way because you have no idols, no role-models to look up to.

“The first thing is to have the knowledge. I am doing my badge here because I know I am getting the best advice, the best management skills, the best way to coach players, communicate with players, impact the players. Some of my friends who have been playing maybe haven’t thought of that. But I want to do it because I think Africa needs that. Africa needs people who can inspire them. It’s difficult. You are putting yourself out there and it’s going to be hard. But there always has to be one person to start – and then the rest will follow.” 

Toure remains the African player with the most Premier League appearances – 353 – and the second-most capped player of all time for the Ivory Coast. He is one of only eight players who have won the Premier League with two clubs – Manchester City and Arsenal – but in those early days, arriving at Arsenal after brother Yaya’s failed trial, felt a pressure to represent those who would follow.   “I felt I had to do everything properly,” he says. “Because when you are the first player to come from your country, people judge every other Ivory Coast player by how you do. If you do things right, they will always think, Kolo Toure comes from the Ivory Coast and he’s doing well. That means there are other good players in the Ivory Coast. They will go and find new talent there.  

Kolo Toure enjoyed a very successful career as a player in England becoming one of only eight men to win the title with two different clubs CREDIT: AFP

“I was really proud of that because Drogba, Yaya, Zokora, Gervinho, Salomon Kalou, many players from the Ivory Coast came here to express their talent. The one thing I really like about the Premier League [is] it doesn’t matter where you come from. People judge you on what you do. The song we have, me and my brother Yaya – people were singing our names here more than in [our] own country. Of course people in Africa love us, but the expression of love here is unbelievable. We were coming from another country but people will embrace you. Of course, up and down, there is bad and there is good. But the good is much bigger.” 

It has not always been smooth sailing. In 2011, while at Manchester City, Toure received a six-month ban, backdated to March of that year, after testing positive for the weight loss drug bendroflumethiazide, which he claimed, at the time, to have been contained in some water tablets he obtained through his wife. The commission chairman said that he was satisfied Toure had not intended to enhance his performance, but had not worked hard enough to check the content of the tablets. 

“The worst part was doing something and not knowing I had done anything wrong,” Toure says now. “All I did was take something to make me do more pee-pee. I am very careful of my weight, even now, and weigh myself pretty much every day because I don’t want to put any weight on. I have done that since the start of my career. My weight had been up and down a little bit. When you put on two, three, four kilos, you are a different player.” 

Kolo and his younger brother Yaya Toure both starred for the Ivory Coast  CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

He did not expect to fail the test. “I was shocked. Honestly, I was shocked. The thing that hurt a lot more is that my 15-year-old daughter just came to me and said to me, ‘Dad, you took drugs?’ I think one of the boys at school made a comment to her. ‘We’ll have to test you,’ he said, ‘because your dad took drugs.’

“I said to her, ‘No, no, darling – it’s not ‘drugs’. In the football world, when people say ‘drugs’, it can just mean something that is banned and you cannot have. But it is not cocaine or anything like that.’   “Having to explain hurt a little bit. That is the bad side of it – explaining to her at the time. I told her not to worry about it, but I felt like I had hurt her a little bit.”

His daughter is 15 now, understanding more every day, and Toure knows she must be thin-skinned if and when he takes the leap to become a head coach. “They’re growing up and they know a little bit,” he says. “I’m used to that, but they will get used to it anyway.” 

They will have to, given their father’s certainty that this is what he wants to do. Once his playing career finished, he thought about “what I could bring to the world” and considered going into finance, “but there are people who can do that.

“The only thing I know, and the only way I can help people and young people from my continent, is football. One of the most important things – touching my heart – is that I am from Africa. I have a dream that one day an African team may win the World Cup. This is what I am working for. I want someone from my continent to win it. It is going to be difficult but it’s in my head. It’s my target.”  

Uefa considering neutral venues for remaining Champions League matches

  • Government’s decision means PSG cannot play in France
  • Manchester City and Chelsea among 12 teams still involved
Gabriel Jesus celebrates giving Manchester City a 2-1 first-leg lead over Real Madrid in the Bernabéu, but the second leg is yet to be played. Photograph: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images

efa could press ahead with plans to stage the final stages of the Champions League behind closed doors and at neutral venues after the French government confirmed there would be no professional football allowed in the country until at least 1 September.

With Paris Saint-Germain one of four clubs already through to the quarter-finals of Uefa’s flagship competition, the prospect of completing the Champions League in its normal two-leg format is impossible given restrictions announced by France’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, on Tuesday.


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European football’s governing body is understood to be considering proposals which would involve the 12 remaining teams, including Manchester City and Chelsea, playing at stadiums under strict controls similar to those in Germany for the proposed return of the Bundesliga next month. All players would be rigorously tested before and after every match, with restrictions on the number of people present.

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PSG’s president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, told the radio station RMC: “We respect of course the French government decision. In agreement with Uefa we intend to participate in the final rounds of this season’s Champions League at the time and place at which it will be organised. If it is not possible to play in France, we will play our matches abroad with the assurance that we will place our players and all our staff in the best possible health conditions.”

Uefa is not expected to announce before the end of May its plans to complete the Champions League or Europa League. Last week it backtracked on proposals to ban clubs from European competition if they cancel their seasons and said leagues must decide how to determine final placings “based on sporting merit”.

The seasons in Belgium and the Netherlands have ended, although whereas Club Brugge were crowned champions, the Eredivisie leaders Ajax saw their hopes of another title dashed by their governing body’s decision to void the 2019-20 campaign aside from determining which teams proceed to next season’s European competitions.

Domestic leagues in Europe have a deadline of 25 May to inform Uefa of their intentions, with an executive committee meeting two days later likely to determine the fate of the Champions League and Europa League. At the start of April the Uefa president, Aleksander Ceferin, said it would be a “better option” to conclude this season’s competitions behind closed doors than scrap them, although he admitted they could be abandoned if coronavirus restrictions remain into September.

Troost-Ekong: Messi remains the best among all the great players I’ve played against

As the debate on who is the better player between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi continues, William Troost-Ekong, Super Eagles defender, says the Argentine star player is “special”.

In an Instagram live chat with Super Eagles official handle, Troost-Ekong, who was airing his opinion, said having played against both players, Messi stood out for him.

“Messi. He is special,” he said.

“I have played against both (Ronaldo and Messi). I have also played against Neymar, Zlatan and many greats of the game, but Messi is something different.

“The goal against us in St. Petersburg, I can still see it in slow motion, not being able to do anything about it.”

The Udinese centre-back also bemoaned his own goal against Algeria in the semi final match at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Egypt.

“Bad moments was obviously my own goal against Algeria as well as the penalty moment against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup,” he said.

“I have made mistakes, but we learn more from the mistakes, they were not for the lack of trying. As a defender a mistake usually leads to a big chance or a goal.

“These times are all part of the character. I have made mistakes in the game along the way, but you have to own them and not repeat them.”

The 26-year-old football star made his debut for the Eagles in 2015. He was part of the squad that won bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

He also represented Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup and played a key role in the country winning bronze medal at the 2019 AFCON.

FIFA propose five substitutions to help teams after coronavirus layoff

  • Plan designed for player safety amid fixture congestion
  • Temporary measure would be at discretion of leagues

Teams will be able to make up to five substitutions under a Fifa proposal to help players cope with fixture congestion amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The substitutions will be allowed in a maximum of three in-play slots and at half-time to avoid unnecessary stoppages but are being proposed in recognition of the long layoff and anticipated high volume of matches if and when games resume.

The Fifa proposal is subject to the approval of the game’s law-making body, the International Football Association Board, and competitions such as the Premier League could then decide whether to implement it.

“When competitions resume, such competitions are likely to face a congested match calendar with a higher than normal frequency of matches played in consecutive weeks,” a Fifa spokesperson said.

“Safety of the players is one of Fifa’s main priorities. One concern in this regard is that the frequency of matches may increase the risk of potential injuries due to a player overload.

“In light of this and the unique challenge faced globally in delivering competitions according to the originally foreseen calendar, Fifa proposes a larger number of substitutions be temporarily allowed at the discretion of the relevant competition organiser.

“In competitions where less than five substitutions are currently allowed, each team would now be given the possibility to use up to five substitutions, with the possibility of an additional substitution remaining during extra time where relevant.”

The temporary dispensation would apply to competitions due to be completed or to start in 2020 or 2021. It would also cover national team matches up to and including 31 December 2021.

How Premier League clubs are dealing with coronavirus

Jürgen Klopp (left) has made it clear football is not a priority at the moment, while Manchester City’s João Cancelo (right) is finding looking after his young child a good distraction. Photograph: Getty/Shutterstock

Arsenal

The club has been in lockdown since Thursday night, when their head coach, Mikel Arteta, received a positive test result for coronavirus. Around 100 employees, including the first-team squad and coaching staff, are self-isolating while the London Colney and Hale End training centres have been closed. No further positive tests have been disclosed but staff throughout other areas are working from home. Training is set to resume on 24 March but that depends heavily on what is a rapidly developing situation. In the meantime players have been given individual training programmes; some have their own gyms at home but equipment has been sent to those who need it. Arsenal’s executive team are holding meetings every morning; the club is actively involved in the discussions surrounding the season’s future but no conclusions have yet been drawn. Nick Ames

Aston Villa

No Villa players have suffered any symptoms and the squad trained as normal on Monday, and other essential “performance-related” staff also worked as usual. The rest of the club’s staff were allowed to work from home or given time off. The club say people’s health is paramount and they have not yet formulated a firm view as to what should happen if the season is not able to resume on 3 April. Pepe Reina, on loan at Villa from Milan, said in an interview in Spain that the season should have been suspended sooner. “It was crazy to keep playing,” the keeper was quoted as telling Marca, adding: “The leagues should only start again when everything calms down … and the most logical thing is to postpone Euro 2020 to next year.” Paul Doyle

Bournemouth

The goalkeeper Artur Boruc and four first-team staff remain in self-isolation after reporting symptoms, but none have been formally tested for Covid-19 as per government guidelines. Players are due to resume training for their fixture against Newcastle on 4 April next Monday. Until then, players are preparing remotely after being given tailor-made training programmes, while injured players such as Chris Mepham and Charlie Daniels have been permitted to report for treatment on a staggered basis. Eddie Howe met with club doctor Craig Roberts on Friday morning and, while there are no firm travel restrictions, the Bournemouth manager has advised his players to act sensibly and in line with government guidance. The club’s chief executive, Neill Blake, is set to represent the club at the league’s emergency meeting on Thursday. Ben Fisher

 Artur Boruc is in self-isolation after reporting coronavirus-like symptoms. Photograph: Robin Jones/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

Brighton

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Graham Potter’s squad are continuing to train despite the hiatus ,and the fact that five members of the club’s staff entered self-isolation last week as a precaution. “There is a contingency plan in place,” said Paul Barber, the club’s chief executive and deputy chairman who caused some controversy over the weekend when he admitted he could be in favour of Leeds and West Brom joining a 22-team top-flight next season. “I think that is a possible option,” he said on Football Focus. “To leave the 20 teams in the Premier League as it is would obviously help us and would help others, but to bring the top two teams from the Championship up, give us a larger league for next season … it has some merit. We are in an unprecedented time and we may need an unprecedented solution for this particular problem.” Ed Aarons

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Burnley

All academy football from under-16s down has been stopped until further notice but otherwise it is business as usual. Sean Dyche and his players are still in training at Barnfield, office and admin staff are reporting for work and corporate events are still being held at Turf Moor. There has been increased screening at the training ground and stadium as the club follows government and Premier League advice on the pandemic. The club will accept any decision the authorities take on the future of the Premier League season, but is understood to be in favour of the campaign being completed. Andy Hunter

Chelsea

Chelsea are in lockdown, their players and coaching staff in self-isolation and part of their training ground closed, after Callum Hudson-Odoi’s positive test for the virus last week. So, in that context, it was shocking to see pictures of Mason Mount on Sunday having a kick-around with friends at a football centre in north London. For Chelsea, exasperation does not cover it and the club have reminded all of their players of why it is so important to follow government advice. Hudson-Odoi’s test result came back on Thursday night but he had shown signs of a cold from the beginning of last week and had stayed away from the training ground since then. He was feeling fine by Wednesday night, his symptoms having been mild. Chelsea’s players are scheduled to return to training on Sunday but, as with everything, it is subject to change at a moment’s notice. David Hytner

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson may be affected by government guidelines for people aged over 70. Photograph: Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Crystal Palace

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The decision to close the first team and academy training grounds in Beckenham on Monday for a week was taken as a precautionary measure, and players have been given individual fitness plans to carry out at home until further notice. Given proposals that the government could soon ask all people over the age of 70 to self-isolate, Palace will have concerns over 72-year-old Roy Hodgson, the Premier League’s oldest manager. Co-chairman Steve Parish offered a tongue-in-cheek response after being asked how the Premier League should finish off the season. “Finally a sensible solution,” he tweeted after another user suggested basing the final standings on the form table for the past three matches. That would give Palace a first league title and leave Liverpool down in sixth place. EA

Everton

All staff, players and coaching team included, have been advised to stay away from all club sites until further notice. The decision was taken after an unnamed player reported a high temperature on Thursday. The player’s condition has improved but he will remain in self-isolation for a total of seven days. Others are following individual training programmes at home and have been advised to stay away from public places unless absolutely necessary. As things stand, it will be 22 March before the first team squad resume training at Finch Farm. The club’s stated position on the league season is as follows: “Everton is committed to working alongside the Premier League – and all of its clubs – to make a collective decision in the best interests of the wellbeing of our country. The first priority must always be public health as we battle the coronavirus pandemic.” AH


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Leicester City

No other players have reported feeling unwell after three went into seven days of self-isolation with very mild flu-like symptoms. The whole squad have been given several days off since the league was put on hold and are not scheduled to resume training before Thursday’s meeting, where plans for the rest of the season may become clearer. The club, who sit third in the table and are on course for Champions League qualification, say they must operate as if their match at Everton will go ahead on 6 April and do not believe there is any need yet to take a public stance on what should happen if that is not possible. PD

Liverpool

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In line with Jürgen Klopp’s statement on Friday that health comes before football, and given the variables at play with the pandemic, the league leaders maintain it is inappropriate to adopt a public position on the future of the season at this time. Club officials will make representations to the various federations and governing bodies when talks take place, and sporting integrity will be central to Liverpool’s position. In the meantime, players will follow individual training programmes at home having been advised to stay away from Melwood since Friday. They are due to return this month providing the season does resume from 3 April. Injured players are allowed access to Melwood but their rehabilitation schedules are being restricted and staggered to minimise contact. All players have been advised not to travel abroad. AH

Manchester City

City players have been training at home over the weekend with Gabriel Jesus, Nicolás Otamendi, Oleksandr Zinchenko, João Cancelo and David Silva posting images on Instagram of themselves working out. Although Benjamin Mendy self-isolated after fears his father may have the coronavirus, it is understood he has been cleared. Cancelo also published a picture of himself and a baby with the legend: “The best quarantine.” Whether this is a clue regarding the state of Pep Guardiola’s squad is unclear; the club are remaining tight-lipped regarding whether they will be training together as usual. Jamie Jackson

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Manchester United

The players have been given a few days off by Ole Gunnar Solskjær after Thursday’s 5-0 win at Lask and are due back on Tuesday to continue training as normal at the club’s Carrington base. This is the plan for the foreseeable future unless government advice changes. A number of precautions are in place to decrease the potential for the disease being caught across the club. A statement said: “[There are] strengthened hygiene procedures and additional limits on access to our Aon Training Complex, where visitors will be asked to complete questionnaires about their recent travel and potential exposure to coronavirus.” JJ

External visitors to Manchester United’s training centre have been asked to give details of their recent travel. Photograph: Craig Brough/Action Images via Reuters

Newcastle United

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The club have closed their training ground to virtually everyone for two weeks, although injured players are expected to attend for physiotherapy. The club’s nearby academy has also been shut for a fortnight. That training ground has been regularly deep-sprayed since Christmas, when a few players and coaches developed a different virus, and that will continue. No Newcastle player or staff member has the virus or is isolating and every player has a personal training programme to follow at home. Steve Bruce is open-minded about players travelling abroad during their two-week break but wants any case to be assessed individually with the club doctor. The plan is for training to resume on Monday week. Bruce believes the season should be completed if possible but suspects it could be six or eight weeks before it restarts. Newcastle had been preparing for what they regarded as an inevitable shutdown for the past four weeks and individual training player programmes were ready. Louise Taylor

Norwich City

Norwich’s players have been given time off, which is largely being spent with their families. Injured players are continuing their rehabilitation programmes but the club’s stance is to assess the situation as time goes on, with training recommencing accordingly if the season does in fact restart on 4 April. No positive tests for coronavirus or cases of self-isolation have been disclosed. The club’s season is on a knife-edge given Norwich’s position at the foot of the Premier League but with a number of winnable games left. No judgment has been made, publicly or in private, about how they feel it should proceed. NA

Sheffield United

The Blades have not trained since last week and are keeping their plans for this week dynamic. “It’s a fluid situation,” said one official on Monday afternoon, explaining he was not sure when training would resume. “The priority is to keep everyone safe so we are keeping things under constant review.” The club has suspended indefinitely all non-essential business and closed all offices at Bramall Lane at least until next week. PD

 Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhüttl has said his club will do ‘everything possible’ to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Photograph: Toyin Oshodi/ProSports/Shutterstock

Southampton

All players reported to training on Monday morning as expected but the club has tightened restrictions at their Staplewood training campus and at St Mary’s. A deep clean has been conducted at both the training ground and the stadium sites. Staff that work elsewhere across the club, such as foundation projects and development centres, are being managed on a case-by-case basis, with necessary precautions taken. Customer-facing areas of the club such as the ticket office and stadium store are closed until further notice. No players have reported symptoms but former player Manolo Gabbiadini, now of Sampdoria, tested positive for Covid-19 last week. “We have to do everything possible to make sure that the virus is not spreading so quickly,” said Ralph Hasenhüttl on Thursday. “This is the goal we all have.” BF

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Tottenham

Tottenham have seen no symptoms of the virus among their players and they trained as normal on Monday, with Son Heung-min back among their number after a 14-day period of self-isolation. The winger had returned to his native South Korea – which has been badly affected by Covid-19 – to undergo surgery on a fractured forearm. José Mourinho and his players will continue to work as usual, although they will now be able to factor in a few days off because of the postponed matches. The club’s training base in Enfield is fully operational and the hierarchy’s view is that they want to find a way to complete the season. DH

Watford

Watford’s players last trained on Friday and are due to return on Wednesday after a short break. No decisions have been taken about a long-term training regime, which is obviously dependent on the overall situation and the health of the players, the coaching staff and their families. All players and coaches are understood to be in good health currently – three tested negative for coronavirus last week – though some administrative staff are off work as a precaution. It is felt that a decision regarding the fate of this season would be useful and allow the necessary preparation to begin but that it is unlikely the requisite 14 league clubs will agree on any one outcome this week. Simon Burnton

 West Ham’s home game with Wolves was part of the Premier League weekend programme called off on Friday. Photograph: Steven Paston/PA

West Ham

Karren Brady, West Ham’s vice-chair, says the “only fair and reasonable thing to do is declare the whole season null and void.” The club’s manager, David Moyes, and his assistants were forced to self-isolate for seven days after coming into contact with Mikel Arteta, who has tested positive for the virus, but they did not display any symptoms and neither have any of the players. West Ham have overseen a “deep clean” of their stadium and all training facilities, with the players due back in later this week. All training will be in the open air, with input from the medical team. DH

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Wolves

No Wolves player has reported any symptoms that would require isolation or treatment, and Nuno Espírito Santo and his team continue to train as normal at Compton Park. But the rest of the club has practically been placed into lockdown, with Molineux closed at least until 4 April, all administrative staff ordered to work from home and the club shop, ticket office and conference facilities shut. The chairman, Jeff Shi, posted a message on the club’s website urging fans not to “underestimate” the virus, explaining that his discussions with family and colleagues in China “afford me an acute awareness of the virus’s threat and impact”. PD

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)

Adrian
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

Felipe
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

Koke
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.

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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.

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“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.

Premier League, Carabao Cup and clásico: the weekend’s talking points

Underrated Pearson has transformed Watford, Wolves’ unsung hero comes to fore and Messi and Griezmann just don’t click.

1) Artful Pearson proves an unlikely renaissance man

The sound of a top-flight stadium reverberating to “We’ve got super Nigel Pearson, he knows exactly what we need” (tune: Bad Moon Rising) can be filed among the things few envisaged in August. But Watford’s win against Liverpool was a measure of the uplift one of the season’s less likely appointments has contrived. “He is always about feet on the floor, he [has] never overreacted and you have to stay focused,” said Abdoulaye Doucouré. “He showed us videos and said we can do it. Nigel is a great, great manager, a great lad, and now he will keep everyone on the floor to make sure we keep our goal to stay up.” Pearson’s tactical acumen can be underrated – as he showed with his setup against the leaders, stretching Liverpool yet managing to stay compact – but his man-management is getting crucial extra percentages out of his players. Nick Ames

• Match report: Watford 3-0 Liverpool

2) The future has finally arrived for Foden

Long tipped as the future of Manchester City, Phil Foden has been a largely peripheral figure in their glittering present. A regular in early cup rounds, he had played only one minute across City’s two previous League Cup finals. His selection ahead of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez on Sunday felt significant, and was just reward for a player who has seized the opportunities he has been given. Foden played the full 90 minutes and was the game’s outstanding performer, setting up Sergio Agüero’s opener with an instinctive header back across goal. It is no mean feat to slot into Pep Guardiola’s team, surrounded by big names playing to a metronomic rhythm. To look like he belongs, as he did at Wembley, shows a mental fortitude to match his immense natural ability. Foden has had to balance patience and self-belief to avoid getting lost in the Manchester City machine; now he is set to become a crucial cog. Niall McVeigh

• Match report: Aston Villa 1-2 Manchester City

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3) Big-screen drama caps a blockbuster at Goodison

The first thing to understand about a frantic finish at Goodison is that it was not merely another VAR controversy. Because Gylfi Sigurdsson was clearly offside the Harry Maguire deflection that beat David de Gea was checked and, though the verdict that the Everton player was interfering aggrieved the home side, it was a reasonable conclusion to draw even if the goalkeeper was never going to reach the ball. The VAR story was moved on a little though, for the reason the whole stadium was booing at the end was not just Carlo Ancelotti’s red card but because the whole incident had just been replayed on the big screen. Spectators do not normally get to view disputed footage, but someone must have decided the paying customers deserved to see what Stockley Park officials and an armchair television audience were seeing. About time, too. This might just be the future. Paul WilsonAdvertisement

• Match report: Everton 1-1 Manchester United

 ‘Not the first time, not the last’ jokes Carlo Ancelotti after red card against Man United – video

4) Lampard left to lament a lax mindset

It did not take long to get to the heart of Frank Lampard’s irritations after Marcos Alonso got Chelsea out of jail at Bournemouth. Lampard criticised his players’ game management after conceding two goals in three second‑half minutes and acknowledged there is significant room for improvement on Tuesday night against Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round after Eddie Howe’s side exposed a recurring soft centre. Ruben Loftus-Cheek could step up his comeback with the under-23s on Monday and Callum Hudson‑Odoi is expected to return against Everton on Sunday but, in the meantime, Chelsea have defensive frailties to remedy. “Every game is different but you have to have a mindset within the group on the pitch,” Lampard said. “Sometimes you have to dig in and concentrate that little bit more as a group – that we have been tested with a lot. We have talked about it a lot. The players have to find that solution on the pitch.” Ben Fisher

• Match report: Bournemouth 2-2 Chelsea


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5) Leicester’s season hinges on Vardy

Leicester need a fit and firing Jamie Vardy in double-quick time if their season is not to turn from outstanding to merely very good. Vardy missed the flat defeat at Carrow Road with a calf injury and has struggled with a series of niggles since Christmas. “It is a concern,” Brendan Rodgers said. “We’ve spoken about that with him and the medical team.” Rodgers hopes he will be back to face Aston Villa on 9 March, with Kelechi Iheanacho not the most convincing of deputies. In the short term Vardy is required to see Leicester over the line to the Champions League spots but his recent spate of absences may have longer-term implications: his injury record in recent years has been exemplary, but he has just turned 33 and cannot go at full tilt for ever. How Rodgers can address that reality in the summer may depend on where Leicester finish. Nick AmesAdvertisement

• Match report: Norwich 1-0 Leicester

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6) Jota evidences top-tier credentials

If we were not already, it is probably time to bracket Diogo Jota among the best and most intelligent all‑round forwards in England. His goal at Spurs was his sixth in three games but his all-round display, culminating in a marvellous run to set up Raúl Jiménez’s winner, was exceptional and the 23-year-old just keeps getting better. Jota is quick, difficult to knock off the ball and deft when releasing it – and on Sunday he also posed a threat in the air, a leap and flex of the neck muscles producing a header that almost flew in after half-time. Jiménez and Adama Traoré have taken most of Wolves’ headlines, and the former looked typically imperious in their latest win, but Jota belongs in that company too. Nuno Espírito Santo demands extreme tactical rigour from his front men in order that their flourishes have foundation; Jota fits the bill in both senses. Nick Ames

ntering the final straight of the season with Premier League survival still in doubt is a familiar feeling for Glenn Murray. The veteran striker has been through his fair share of relegation battles since being promoted to the top flight in 2013 with Crystal Palace before moving to Bournemouth and then back to Brighton. But despite this damaging home defeat against their arch rivals on Saturday – a result that left Graham Potter’s side sitting precariously above the drop zone by one point – the 36-year-old knows they must end a run of just one win from their past 18 Premier League fixtures soon to avoid being dragged under. “It’s nothing new to us,” Murray said. “We don’t think we are better than this. We aim to improve all the time but this is the scenario we are in and we’ve got to deal with it.” Ed Aarons

• Match report: Brighton 0-1 Crystal Palace

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7) Murray unfazed by prospect of a dogfight

Entering the final straight of the season with Premier League survival still in doubt is a familiar feeling for Glenn Murray. The veteran striker has been through his fair share of relegation battles since being promoted to the top flight in 2013 with Crystal Palace before moving to Bournemouth and then back to Brighton. But despite this damaging home defeat against their arch rivals on Saturday – a result that left Graham Potter’s side sitting precariously above the drop zone by one point – the 36-year-old knows they must end a run of just one win from their past 18 Premier League fixtures soon to avoid being dragged under. “It’s nothing new to us,” Murray said. “We don’t think we are better than this. We aim to improve all the time but this is the scenario we are in and we’ve got to deal with it.” Ed Aarons

• Match report: Brighton 0-1 Crystal Palace


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8) Wood shows Newcastle are barking up the wrong tree

Burnley’s Chris Wood has scored 10 goals in 25 league appearances this season. The New Zealand striker began on the bench but made a big difference once he stepped off it, worrying Steve Bruce’s experimental back four. Wood’s movement and ability to make his physical presence felt prompted memories of Bruce’s predecessor, Rafael Benítez, regularly extolling his virtues. Considering Wood would probably have cost around half the £40m Newcastle invested in Joelinton – the scorer of one goal in 28 league games – it would surely have been worth Bruce trying to buy him last summer. But such an attempt would have been vetoed; Wood is 28 and Mike Ashley, Newcastle’s owner, has a policy of buying only players younger than 25 with high resale potential. Should the club suffer a third relegation on Ashley’s watch that will look like a shockingly false economy. Louise Taylor

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9) Hammers still built on shaky foundations

While the focus was on West Ham’s forwards after their 3-1 win over Southampton, David Moyes still wants more balance between defence and attack. West Ham have not kept a clean sheet in the league since 1 January and Moyes knows better defending will increase his side’s survival hopes. “If you are going to lose lots of goals you will always be in trouble,” he said. “If we want really good attacking players we have to have good defenders.” There were some encouraging signs against Southampton. Issa Diop and Angela Ogbonna impressed in central defence, while Jeremy Ngakia had another promising game at right-back. “I am working with them,” Moyes said. “Diop has incredible potential but he also has the mistakes of a young centre-half that we have seen over recent weeks. I have a 19-year-old right‑back playing his third game. We have to make sure we are strong defensively.” Jacob Steinberg

‘Goodbye to our history for nothing’: West Ham fans are protesting

Stephen Cross, of the Hammers United supporters’ club, on why he and others will protest against the board on Saturday.

Next-level football: that was the dream West Ham fans were sold when we were asked to leave Upton Park. That was the rhetoric the board spun to convince us to swap our spiritual home for the London Stadium. We were shown a grand vision of the future, one featuring a world-class team playing in a world-class stadium, and it caused us to make the move with an open mind.

But after four years in Stratford we are still waiting for the world-class West Ham to emerge. The club has proven incapable of delivering on its promises and many supporters have lost faith with the owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, and the vice-chairman, Karren Brady. We said goodbye to our history for nothing and that is why we protested before last month’s home game against Everton, it is why we protested at Liverpool on Monday night and it is why we are protesting before Saturday’s visit from Southampton.

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Hammers United was created as an independent supporters’ group almost a year ago – our membership stands at almost 12,500 – and our initial aim was not to force the board out. It was to seek a constructive dialogue with the club. Yet the board have repeatedly refused to engage and our members now want them out.

It has very little to do with league position, even though there has not been much to celebrate since Gold and Sullivan bought West Ham 10 years ago. Our issue is that there seems to be a focus on the commercialisation of the brand over the needs of supporters.

Take the matchday experience. One of the romances of going to the Boleyn Ground was walking through the streets, going past the vendors and meeting in the pubs; everyone coming together as one. Those little football rituals have been lost. Now you walk through a shopping centre. As for the supposed world-class transport links, trains in and out of Stratford are often a nightmare.

West Ham fans display a banner at Liverpool on Monday. Photograph: Paul Greenwood/BPI/Shutterstock

Not as bad as the stadium, though. When we first saw it in the sunshine in August 2016, it looked impressive from the outside. Then you get closer and realise it is not designed for football. It is an athletics arena and there are areas that simply look unfinished. People in corporate hospitality are looking down at scaffolding and the facilities on the concourses are poor. The price for a pie and a pint is extortionate.

We see many day-trippers turn up for games and others dipping in and out. Tickets might be owned but the stadium is never full. We have no singing section and have lost our home advantage. The stadium is soulless and while supporters have made an effort to get behind the team, the atmosphere seems to be all but gone. The connection is fading.

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The distance from the pitch doesn’t help. When we were looking at possible protests, someone suggested that we emulate Charlton’s fans by throwing soft toys or tennis balls on to the pitch. I had to point out that not many of our supporters have the Olympic standard throw required to throw something over the running track.

There is, of course, a chance for progress to be made should the club engage with Hammers United, which is affiliated to the Football Supporters’ Association. But that has never been on the cards. They only want to deal with the Official Supporters’ Board, which is a club construct. Our members do not recognise the OSB, whose ineffectiveness is best summed up by their representatives hearing about last season’s season-ticket rises only when they saw the press release.


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This week an OSB meeting, which we declined to attend, was postponed until May to allow democratic elections to be introduced. Why do West Ham feel the need to be involved in democratic elections for a supporters’ group? There is simply no desire to speak to anyone independent. We cannot ask why Sullivan and Gold charge interest on the loans they gave the club. We cannot ask why Brady has seen her pay go up to £1.136m a year.

So we protest. On Monday we released black balloons and held up banners in the away end at Anfield and anyone who thinks that dissent will harm performances only had to look at the players almost nicking a point. The demonstration brought some of the feeling back and on Saturday we will take a casual stroll down the Greenway, which starts in Plaistow and runs up to the stadium. We will protest peacefully and then we will support the team.

Stephen Cross is the Hammers United joint secretary

‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Frank Lampard angry over Maguire’s red-card escape

  • Maguire admits ‘catching’ Michy Batshuayi off the ball
  • ‘I don’t like the way we’re losing games,’ says Lampard
 ‘Universally wrong decision’: Frank Lampard on Maguire’s red-card escape – video

Frank Lampard said after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat against Manchester United that he believed Harry Maguire should have been sent off.

Television replays showed the United central defender appearing to kick out at Michy Batshuayi as the pair tangled off the field in the first half. The incident was reviewed by video technology and no card was given; to compound Chelsea’s chagrin Maguire went on to score United’s second goal.

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“Maguire should have been sent off,” Lampard said. “That’s clear, and that obviously changes the game. It’s just a wrong decision – everyone I’ve spoken to has said the same. Which I suppose is harder to take with the presence of VAR. Decisions like that are crucial. That’s a major part of what VAR was brought in for: a second viewing, different angles. I don’t get why they aren’t looking at the monitor. It should be used.”

Maguire defended his actions by claiming that his kick at Batshuayi was a form of pre-emptive strike. “I know I caught him,” Maguire admitted. “I felt he was going to fall on me and my natural reaction was to straighten my leg to stop him.

“It wasn’t a kick-out and I had no intent to hurt him. I apologised to him and it was nice that the referee [Anthony Taylor] saw sense.”

United’s win reignites the battle for fourth place, with only three points separating Chelsea, United and Tottenham (as well as Sheffield United in sixth place).

“I don’t like the way we’re losing games,” Lampard said. “With lots of possession, lots of shots at goal and we’re not finishing them.”


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Ole Gunnar Solskjær was delighted with the win but not entirely happy with United’s performance. “I didn’t think we played particularly well,” he said. “Particularly with the ball. In the first half we were cumbersome, slow, the passing wasn’t great. But we got the first goal and hung in there.”

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Solskjær also brushed off Mino Raiola’s comments about Paul Pogba. Raiola, Pogba’s agent, claimed earlier on Monday that Pogba was “not Solskjær’s property” and appeared to suggest that Solskjær had broken promises to the player in the summer. “People can say whatever they want on social media,” Solskjær retorted. “I don’t really need to say anything.”

The stadium in Asaba is named after Nigeria's most successful coach, Stephen Keshi.

Nigeria ‘finally’ pick venue for 2021 AFCON

The Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, southern Nigeria will host next month’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone.

The stadium in Asaba is named after Nigeria’s most successful coach, Stephen Keshi.

There have been suitability talks and concerns raised by some players about whether the venue will meet the Confederation of African Football (Caf) requirements to be able to hold competitive fixtures.

But the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has confirmed that the Group L fixture, set for 27 March, will take place at the ground named after the country’s most successful coach, Stephen Keshi.

“We have finally settled for the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba for the qualifying match against Sierra Leone. The match will be played on Friday, 27 March 2020,” NFF general secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, said in a statement.

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It has previously hosted the West African nation’s friendly fixtures against Uganda, Egypt and Zimbabwe, as well as their 2019 Nations Cup qualifying win over Seychelles en route to last year’s continental showpiece.

Three-time champions Nigeria host bottom side, the Leone Stars, in back-to-back games in March, with the reverse fixture scheduled for the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown.


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The Super Eagles have maximum points from two matches – after wins over Benin at home and Lesotho away – to stay top of Group L.

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.#

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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.

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“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.

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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”.

European Football: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Farke faces defensive dilemma for Liverpool, Forest need their best XI, Chelsea’s women eye treble and a six-pointer in Austria.

Clockwise from top left: Jack Grealish, Frank Lampard, Raúl Jiménez, Mikel Arteta, Daniel Farke, a Hearts fan, Emma Hayes, Sabri Lamouchi, RB Salzburg and Ralph Hasenhüttl. Composite: Getty, Shutterstock, PA, EPA

1) Forest need to be back to full-strength at the Hawthorns

Leeds are falling apart. Maybe. But here’s the thing: anyone who beats them ends up falling apart too. None of the eight teams who have got the better of Marcelo Bielsa’s men in Championship this season have won their next match – seven of them have lost it. Nottingham Forest were the latest to find that beating Bielsa’s side takes a heavy toll, as on the back of last weekend’s 2-0 win at the City Ground, they flopped to a home defeat by Charlton. But they are still only two points off the automatic promotion places and could foil West Brom’s attempt to pull away at the top again by winning at the Hawthorns on Saturday. To do that, Sabri Lamouchi would be well advised to reverse the changes he made for the Charlton game and deploy the lineup that beat Leeds, assuming Lewis Grabban, Samba Sow and Sammy Ameobi have overcome the knee problems that forced them to miss mid-week. PD

  • West Bromwich Albion v Nottingham Forest: Saturday, 12.30pm (all times GMT)

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2) Farke to risk a back three against Liverpool?

Ben Godfrey played every minute of Norwich’s first 17 league games at centre-back, before sustaining a relatively minor knee ligament injury against Leicester in December. He missed five games, and the entire festive schedule, but on returning to fitness was thrown straight back into the starting XI alongside Christoph Zimmermann for the club’s last home fixture, the 1-0 win gainst Bournemouth, whereupon he was promptly sent off and forced to sit out another two matches. The last of those, a goalless draw at Newcastle, featured an assured defensive display from a rearguard in which Zimmerman was paired with Grant Hanley, and the team’s only clean sheet all season that didn’t come against Bournemouth. Daniel Farke must therefore decide whether to bring back the 22-year-old Godfrey, stick with the more experienced Hanley, or perhaps play all of them at the same time. Farke did experiment with a back three in pre-season but last used it in a competitive game nearly two years ago, and if there’s any opponent who will ruthlessly expose any defensive uncertainty it is Liverpool. SB

  • Norwich City v Liverpool: Saturday, 5.30pm
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3) Salzburg face stiffest test in title six-pointer

The Austrian Bundesliga resumes after its winter break on Friday night with an absolute cracker, pitting first against second in what could come to be seen as a premature title decider. Should Lask be defeated at RB Salzburg they would be five points and a good chunk of goal difference behind, and stuck chasing a side that have not lost in the league all season; should they win they would lead by a point, and the race is on. They have done well to stay within touching distance of a fearsome Salzburg side who have scored 29 more goals than their closest domestic rivals in only 18 matches, but while Lask have the benefit of consistency the leaders have lost Erling Braut Haaland (to Dortmund), Takumi Minamino (Liverpool) and the centre-back Marin Pongracic (Wolfsburg) since their last league game and this could be the ideal time to face them. With any luck it will be as dramatic as the teams’ first meeting of the season in September, when Lask roared into a two-goal lead, Petar Filipovic was sent off with quarter of an hour to play and Patson Daka scored his second of the game to equalise in the last minute. SB

  • RB Salzburg v Lask: Friday, 6pm
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4) Can Arteta get Arsenal’s attack firing?

Mikel Arteta has made the point more than once that, in a hectic first six weeks at Arsenal, there was little time to get anything bar the simplest of messages across to his players. He did a good job of that, even if five draws from seven league games denote little more than a steadying of the ship, but a fortnight let loose on such an underperforming squad should have allowed them to take a few more steps forward. Arsenal spent four days on the training pitch in Dubai during that time and the noises that have emerged from Arteta and his players are, albeit perhaps predictably, uniformly positive. “We are improving every day,” Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang said. Now they need to show it against a Newcastle side that will, if little else, be well drilled. Arteta believes a good run can still propel them towards the Champions League spots but that will be a short-lived hope if home assignments such as this cannot be ticked off without fuss. Having calmed Arsenal’s defence down, the logical next step is for Arteta to get their attackers firing: the extent of any improvement on Sunday may well reveal whether they can hope to achieve anything of note over the next three months. NA

  • Arsenal v Newcastle United: Sunday, 4.30pm
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette enjoy Arsenal’s winter break in Dubai. Photograph: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

5) Grealish threat gives Mourinho plenty to ponder

Only Norwich City have won fewer away games than Tottenham in the Premier League this season, so Aston Villa, who have won their last two home matches thanks to last-gasp goals, will fancy their chances of thrilling the locals at Villa Park again on Sunday. Jack Grealish will inevitably be instrumental in much of what the hosts do well and the outcome of this match could hinge on the duel between the most fouled player in the league and Serge Aurier, who has lots of qualities but is not renowned for his composure. Grealish is sure to try to use his skills to taunt the full-back if he plays, which is why, with the fit-again Ben Davies now an option at left-back, José Mourinho may choose to play Japhet Tanganga at right-back instead. PD

6) Are Liverpool powerless to halt Chelsea’s women?

Can anything stop Chelsea’s women storming to a domestic treble? Their form since the turn of the year has been sensational, eight games in three competitions bringing eight wins and 31 goals; they already have a WSL Cup final against Arsenal to savour in two weeks’ time and it feels as if Emma Hayes’s painstaking work to amass a squad with formidable depth is bearing fruit. So what hope do relegation battlers Liverpool have when they visit Kingsmeadow on Sunday? They will surely take heart from the 1-1 draw they ground out when Chelsea visited them in the league two months ago, which was a shock result then and looks all the more remarkable now. It was the last game Chelsea failed to win and, if nothing else, it suggests nothing can be taken for granted this time. Liverpool will have to better that performance though and, if they cannot, Hayes’s team will be a big step closer to regaining the trophy they handed over to Manchester City last season. NA

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Chelsea v Liverpool: Sunday, 12.30pm

7) Will Jiménez put Vardy in the shade?

Leicester were fortunate to draw 0-0 at home with Wolves on the opening day, when they had a lot of the play but struggled to stop the visitors’ counterattacks – and Adama Traoré did not even play that day. If Traoré is fit enough to play on Friday – which is not certain, since he suffered a dislocated shoulder against Manchester United – then Leicester will have cause for concern, especially with Wilfred Ndidi likely to be missing from their midfield owing to knee trouble. Still, Brendan Rodgers’s side are sure to have spells of possession and must hope that a week’s break has helped Jamie Vardy to rediscover the sharpness he showed earlier in the season. The striker, who at one stage this season seemed nearly certain to finish as the Premier League’s top scorer, has been below par in the past month or so, unlike Wolves’ Raúl Jiménez, who continues to perform like one of the best centre-forwards on the planet. PD

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers v Leicester City: Friday, 8pm
Jamie Vardy looks back to full fitness for Leicester City. Photograph: Plumb Images/Leicester City via Getty Images

8) Saints have Europe in their sights

Could Southampton finish in the European spots? Could Burnley? Both sit among the teams on 31 points – Arsenal among them – that are almost certainly safe from the drop and might, with another result or two in the bag, fancy taking the shackles off for a late sprint towards a largely vulnerable top six. Both have a game in hand on fifth-placed Sheffield United, eight points ahead as things stand, and they are pulling out enough results to suggest nothing can quite be discounted. Southampton, in particular, will find encouragement in what looks a remarkably inviting run of games before they host Manchester City on 11 April. It would still take an extraordinary hot streak but, given the way Ralph Hasenhüttl has turned their fortunes around since that grim 9-0 defeat to Leicester, it would probably be wise not to bet too heavily against them climbing higher still. NA

  • Southampton v Burnley: Saturday, 12.30pm
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9) A calmer mood at Chelsea as off-colour rivals meet

Manchester United have scored in only one of five league games this calendar year, while Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in only one of their five games of 2020, so at least one unfortunate record is going to look a bit brighter by the end of Monday. Chelsea’s last two league matches have finished in 2-2 draws, which was also the score the last time Manchester United played at Stamford Bridge – Ross Barkley scored a 96th-minute equaliser and United’s manager, José Mourinho, had to be restrained from responding violently to the Chelsea coach Marco Ianni’s gloating celebration. Since then Ianni has followed Maurizio Sarri to Juventus, Mourinho has gone to Tottenham, and relations between Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjær and their respective coaching teams are likely to remain cordial. SB

  • Chelsea v Manchester United: Monday, 8pm

10) Hearts’ best chance to lift survival hopes

Now that even Steven Gerrard has admitted that Rangers have bottled their title challenge, the chief intrigue in the Scottish Premiership is on the brawl to avoid relegation. Last-placed Hearts host second-from-bottom Hamilton on Saturday in a clash that will probably go a long way towards deciding who goes down. Hamilton arrive in wretched form – Guillaume Beuzelin described his side’s performance during Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat at home to Aberdeen as “horrendous” – and are likely to be deprived of key players, including the captain, Brian Easton, who suffered a shoulder injury on Tuesday. If Hearts do not take advantage this weekend, it is had to see them getting off the bottom this season. PD

  • Hearts v Hamilton: Saturday, 3pm

The new Super Eagles Jerseys is everything hot

And yes, we have new jerseys!

Super Eagles Jersey 2020

Remember the last Super Eagles jersey, designed by Nike just before the 2018 World Cup, how it was so beautiful it sold out and won design awards? (And GQ ranked it as the best World Cup kit.)

It’s been kicked to the curb, guys, and it looks like its successor is even prettier. (Or, at least, as pretty.)

We’d shared back in 2019 that Nike was to design new kits for the team. Well, they’re finally here!

Super Eagles Jersey 2020

The NFF shared a photo, on their Twitter, of the kit, and it’s so beautiful, guys.

Check them out for yourself.

SOURCE: Bella Naija

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

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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

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• 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


Weekend briefing

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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

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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

PosTeamPGDPts
1Liverpool254573
2Man City253651
3Leicester252849
4Chelsea25941
5Tottenham Hotspur25837
6Sheff Utd25336
7Man Utd25735
8Wolverhampton25335
9Everton25-633
10Arsenal25-231
11Burnley25-1031
12Newcastle25-1231
13Southampton25-1531
14Crystal Palace25-730
15Brighton25-726
16AFC Bournemouth25-1326
17Aston Villa25-1525
18West Ham25-1324
19Watford25-1623
20Norwich25-2318

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)
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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

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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

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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
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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

PosTeamPGDPts
1Liverpool244170
2Man City243851
3Leicester242848
4Chelsea24940
5Man Utd24734
6Tottenham Hotspur24634
7Wolverhampton24334
8Sheff Utd24233
9Southampton24-1131
10Arsenal24-230
11Crystal Palace24-630
12Everton24-730
13Burnley24-1030
14Newcastle24-1230
15Brighton24-725
16Aston Villa24-1425
17West Ham24-1323
18AFC Bournemouth24-1423
19Watford24-1523
20Norwich24-2317
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.”

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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.”

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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

Best 11: the weekend’s best Premier League photos

Hero tatts and upside down play in this week’s roundup of the best top-flight pictures.

By Daffydd Bynon @daff_25


Sergio Agüero carries the match ball away after scoring his 12th Premier League hat-trick, overtaking previous hat-trick record-holder Alan Shearer, and also becoming the leading foreign goalscorer in the history of the competition.
Photograph: Tom Flathers/MCFC via Getty Images
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe screams instructions as he watches his team go down 3-0 against resurgent Watford at the Vitality Stadium. The Cherries have now lost 81 Premier League matches since their first campaign in the competition in 2015-16 – only today’s victors Watford (82) have suffered more since then. The Cherries have also conceded the most goals in the competition since their first game back in August 2015 (300).
Photograph: Matthew Childs/Action Images via Reuters
Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho on his knees after Giovani Lo Celso misses a chance to score late in the game. Spurs have conceded 20 goals in 13 matches in all competitions under Jose Mourinho; it took Mourinho’s Chelsea side 44 games before letting in their 20th goal during his first spell managing in England in the 2004-05 season.
Photograph: Javier García/BPI/Shutterstock
Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk (left), Tottenham Hotspur’s Lucas Moura (second left) and Serge Aurier jump for a high ball during Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Liverpool have 61 points in the Premier League in 2019-20 – the most any side has ever registered after 21 games in a single season across Europe’s big five leagues (under three points for a win).
Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Everton’s Richarlison bends a shot around Brighton & Hove Albion defender Adam Webster to score the opening goal – and the winner – for the Toffees at Goodison Park. Since the start of last season, only Liverpool (15) have kept more clean sheets at home in the Premier League than Everton (14).
Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images
Shirtless Southampton striker Danny Ings celebrates netting the winner in the Saints’ 2-1 away victory against Leicester at the King Power Stadium. So far this season, Ings has scored 40% of his Premier League career goals (14/35) – he is the club’s highest-scoring player in a single campaign since Jay Rodriguez in 2013-14 (15).
Photograph: Plumb Images/LCFC via Getty Images
Anthony Martial (left) celebrates with Victor Lindelof after scoring United’s third goal against Norwich. Martial has been involved in 14 goals in 22 games in all competitions for United this season (11 goals, 3 assists), as many as in 38 appearances last term (12 goals, 2 assists).
Photograph: Magi Haroun/Shutterstock
A heavily tattooed Manchester United fan pictured outside Old Trafford, before the Red Devils’ emphatic 4-0 success against Norwich City.
Photograph: Jon Super/Reuters
ames Tarkowski of Burnley takes out Tammy Abraham of Chelsea. Abraham scored the second goal to help his side win 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Abraham has scored 13 Premier League goals for Chelsea this season – Frank Lampard is the only Englishman to score more in a single campaign in the competition for the club (he did so three times).
Photograph: Elli Birch/IPS/Shutterstock
Arsenal defender David Luiz falls on his head during the 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. The Gunners have failed to win any of their previous 15 Premier League away games against teams starting the day above them in the table (D4 L11), since a 5-2 victory at Leicester back in September 2015.
Photograph: David Klein/Reuters
Sheffield United’s Oliver McBurnie celebrates with his team-mates after scoring the only goal of the game to beat West Ham at Bramall Lane and move to fifth place in the table. United have won 14 points from the last 21 available at home in the Premier League (W4 D2 L1), with their only defeat in this run coming against Newcastle at the beginning of December (2-0).
Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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José Mourinho apologises to Eric Dier after first-half substitution

Mourinho apologised to Dier for first-half substitution

  • Tottenham manager replaced Dier in tactical switch at 2-0 down
  • ‘He is an intelligent boy with a good understanding of the team’
José Mourinho apologises to Eric Dier after first-half substitution
José Mourinho apologises to Eric Dier after first-half substitution

José Mourinho felt compelled to apologise to Eric Dier after substituting him after just 29 minutes of Tottenham’s 4-2 Champions League win over Olympiakos, which ensured the club’s qualification for the last 16 of the competition.

Spurs were awful in the first-half – they trailed 2-0 after 19 minutes – and Mourinho said he had swapped Dier for the more attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen for the balance of the team. He already had one deep-sitting midfielder on the pitch in Harry Winks.

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Dele Alli gave Spurs a lifeline with a goal in first-half stoppage-time before Harry Kane and Serge Aurier put them in front after the interval. Kane rounded off the scoring with his second of the evening – his 20th goal in 24 Champions League appearances.

“The most difficult moment of the game for me was not when Olympiakos scored the first or second goal but when I made the change in the first-half,” Mourinho said. “Hurt the player but hurt myself. It’s important the player understands and I was lucky that my choice was a very intelligent boy who has a good understanding of what the team is. It was not about his performance.

“We were losing 2-0 in a very difficult moment and one positional midfield player was more than enough. I apologise to Eric, in spite of the fact he knows I did it for the team and not with the intention to hurt him.”


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Spurs took control of the game with Kane’s equaliser for 2‑2 – after the quick-thinking of a ballboy. He returned the ball swiftly for a throw-in to allow the team to break upfield.

“To do that you have to be a very good ballboy,” Mourinho said. “I was a very good ballboy between 10 and 15 or 16 years old. The kid understands the game, reads the game. He’s not there just to look at the stands, the lights or the stars. He’s there to watch the game. I tried to invite him to the dressing room at the end but he disappeared.”

Africa Player of the Year: Salah, Mane and Osimhen nominated (Full list)

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has revealed its preliminary lists of nominees for the 2019 African men’s and women’s Player of the Year awards.

30 names have been revealed for the men’s category, with 10 of the nominees playing in the English Premier League.

Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who has won the men’s title for the last two years, is joined on the list by his two Liverpool team-mates, Sadio Mane of Senegal and Guinea’s Naby Keita, following their European Champions League success.

Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez, who helped Algeria win the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, is one of four Algerians nominated for the men’s award – more than any other nation.

Some nominees on the men’s shortlist are also named on other lists, including Uganda and Mamelodi Sundowns goalkeeper Denis Onyango who is also nominated for the newly-named African Interclubs Player of the year award which has been re-introduced by Caf to reward Africa-based players.

Others, including Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi and Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen, also appear on the African Youth Player of the Year list.

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Madagascar’s famous run to the quarterfinals of the 2019 Nations Cup, on their tournament debut, has earned them a place on the list for the men’s national team of the year, with their coach Nicolas Dupuis also nominated.

In the women’s player category, the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France is well represented with seven of the 10 names on the list having featured at France 2019.

Nigeria have three players on the list including three-times former Caf award winner Asisat Oshoala. Last year’s winner Thembi Kgatlana of South Africa is also named.

The list of nominees is compiled by a panel of media and technical professionals and the awards will take place on Tuesday 7 January 2020 in Hurghada, Egypt.

African Player of the Year (Mens)

  • Achraf Hakimi (Morocco & Borussia Dortmund)
  • André Onana (Cameroon & Ajax)
  • Baghdad Bounedjah (Algeria& Al-Sadd)
  • Carolus Andriamatsinoro (Madagascar & Al Adalah)
  • Denis Onyango (Uganda & Mamelodi Sundowns)
  • Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Cameroon & Paris Saint-Germain)
  • Ferjani Sassi(Tunisia & Zamalek)
  • Hakim Ziyech (Morocco & Ajax)
  • Idrissa Gueye (Senegal & Paris Saint-Germain)
  • Ismail Bennacer (Algeria & AC Milan)
  • Jordan Ayew (Ghana & Crystal Palace)
  • Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal & Napoli)
  • Kodjo Fo Doh Laba (Togo & Al Ain)
  • Mahmoud Hassan”Trezeguet” (Egypt & Aston Villa)
  • Mbwana Samatta (Tanzania & Genk)
  • Mohamed Salah (Egypt & Liverpool)
  • Moussa Marega (Mali & Porto)
  • Naby Keita (Guinea & Liverpool)
  • Nicolas Pepe (Ivory Coast & Arsenal)
  • Odion Ighalo (Nigeria & Shanghai Shenhua)
  • Percy Tau (South Africa & Club Brugge)
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon & Arsenal)
  • Riyad Mahrez (Algeria & Manchester City)
  • Sadio Mane (Senegal & Liverpool)
  • Taha Yassine Khenissi (Tunisia & Esperance)
  • Thomas Partey (Ghana & Atlético Madrid)
  • Victor Osimhen (Nigeria & Lille)
  • Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria & Leicester City)
  • Wilfried Zaha (Ivory Coast & Crystal Palace)
  • Youcef Belaili (Algeria & Ahli Jeddah)

African Women’s Player of the Year

  • Ajara Nchout (Cameroon & Valerenga )
  • Ange N’Guessan (Ivory Coast & Tenerife)
  • Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria & Barcelona)
  • Chiamaka Nnadozie (Nigeria & Rivers Angels)
  • Elizabeth Addo (Ghana & Jiangsu Suning)
  • Gabrielle Ouguene (Cameroon & CSKA Moscow)
  • Refiloe Jane (South Africa & AC Milan)
  • Tabitha Chawinga (Malawi & Jiangsu Suning)
  • Thembi Kgatlana (South Africa & Beijing Phoenix FC)
  • Uchenna Kanu (Nigeria & Southeastern Fire)

African Interclubs Player of the Year

  • Ali Maaloul (Tunisia & Al Ahly)
  • Anice Badri (Tunisia & Esperance)
  • Denis Onyango (Uganda & Mamelodi Sundowns)
  • Emmanuel Okwi (Uganda & Simba)
  • Ferjani Sassi (Tunisia & Zamalek)
  • Fousseny Coulibaly (Ivory Coast & Esperance)
  • Franck Kom (Cameroon & Esperance)
  • Herenilson (Angola & Petro de Luanda)
  • Ismail El Haddad (Morocco & Wydad Casablanca)
  • Jean Marc Makusu (DR Congo & AS VITA)
  • Kodjo Fo Doh Laba (Togo & RS Berkane / Al Ain)
  • Mahmoud Alaa (Egypt & Zamalek)
  • Meddie Kagere (Rwanda & Simba)
  • Meschack Elia (DR Congo & TP Mazembe)
  • Taha Yassine Khenissi (Tunisia & Esperance)
  • Tarek Hamed (Egypt & Zamalek)
  • Themba Zwane (South Africa & Mamelodi Sundowns)
  • Trésor Mputu (DR Congo & TP Mazembe)
  • Walid El Karti (Morocco & Wydad Casablanca)
  • Youcef Belaïli (Algeria & Esperance / Ahli Jeddah)

African Youth Player of the Year

  • Achraf Hakimi (Morocco & Borussia Dortmund)
  • Amadou Haidara (Mali & RB Leipzig)
  • Amadou Sagna (Senegal & Club Brugge)
  • Enock Mwepu (Zambia & Red Bull Salzburg)
  • Ismaïla Sarr (Senegal & Watford)
  • Krépin Diatta (Senegal & Club Brugge)
  • Moussa Djenepo (Mali & Southampton)
  • Moussa Ndiaye (Senegal & Excellence Foot)
  • Musa Barrow (Gambia & Atalanta)
  • Osvaldo Pedro Capemba ‘Capita’ (Angola & Primeiro de Agosto)
  • Patson Daka (Zambia & Red Bull Salzburg)
  • Samuel Chukwueze (Nigeria & Villarreal)
  • Sekou Koita (Mali & Red Bull Salzburg)
  • Steve Regis Mvoue (Cameroon & AS Azur Star)
  • Victor Osimhen (Nigeria & Lille)
  • Zito Luvumbo (Angola & Primeiro de Agosto)

African Men’s Coach of the Year

  • Aliou Cisse (Senegal – Senegal)
  • Christian Gross (Switzerland – Zamalek)
  • Corentin Martins (France – Mauritania)
  • Djamel Belmadi (Algeria – Algeria)
  • Faouzi Benzarti (Tunisia – Wydad Athletic Club)
  • Gernot Rohr (Germany – Nigeria)
  • Moïne Chaâbani (Tunisia – Esperance)
  • Mounir Jaouani (Morocco – Berkane FC)
  • Nicolas Dupuis (France – Madagascar)
  • Pitso Mosimane (South Africa – Mamelodi Sundowns)

African Women’s Coach of the Year

  • Alain Djeumfa (Cameroon)
  • Bruce Mwape (Zambia)
  • Clementine Toure (Ivory Coast)
  • Desiree Ellis (South Africa)
  • David Ouma (Kenya)
  • Thomas Dennerby (Nigeria)

African Men’s National Team of the Year

  • Algeria
  • Madagascar
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal
  • Tunisia

African Women’s National Team of the Year

  • Cameroon
  • Ivory Coast
  • Kenya
  • Nigeria
  • South Africa
  • Zambia

Premier League: 10 things to expect this weekend

Wilfried Zaha is a threat to injury-hit Liverpool, José Mourinho checks in at Spurs, and Chelsea can make a statement.

Clockwise from top left: Wilfried Zaha, Steve Bruce, New Spurs head coach José Mourinho, Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori, Quique Sánchez Flores, Sheffield United’s Phil Jagielka, Unai Emery, Rúben Neves, Brighton mascot Gully and Teemu Pukki. Composite: Getty Images, Shutterstock, Reuters

1) Mourinho settles in at Spurs after tables turn

It has been 50 weeks since the Sun led with the back-page headline “£40m to get Poch”, in which they detailed how Mauricio Pochettino was poised to take over from José Mourinho at Manchester United. “The Tottenham boss is the ONLY contender to replace Mourinho next summer,” they insisted, adding that “Daniel Levy faces a huge battle to keep his manager”. Mourinho did indeed leave United, and some time sooner than the summer, but he has since pulled off a complete reversal of fortunes. Now it is Pochettino who is out of a job, and Mourinho who was headhunted to replace him. Mourinho spoke warmly and generously of his predecessor on Thursday in his first Tottenham press conference, but a person as proud as the Portuguese will surely take some pleasure at the situation. Mourinho will face West Ham in his first game as Tottenham manager, just as Pochettino did, and Tim Sherwood before him. SB

  • West Ham v Tottenham (12.30pm, Saturday)
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2) Can Zaha prosper against depleted Liverpool?

Liverpool could go 12 points clear of Manchester City before Pep Guardiola’s side kick off against Chelsea later on Saturday, but to do that they will have to win at Selhurst Park without, in all likelihood, Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson, both of whom are set to miss out with ankle injuries. Divock Origi will probably replace Salah while James Milner is likely to step in for Robertson. Both deputies are very useful, but neither is nearly as good as the man he will replace. With Robertson missing, Palace will no doubt hope that Wilfried Zaha keeps Trent Alexander-Arnold going backwards, in which case Liverpool would have far less creativity than usual from the full-back positions. That will increase the need for extra thrust from midfield – so Jürgen Klopp must have been pleased to see Georginio Wijnaldum score a hat-trick for the Netherlands during the international break and, perhaps, to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain start both of England’s matches. Both should feature on Saturday if fit. PD

• Crystal Palace v Liverpool (3pm, Saturday)

3) Emery hopes to cash in on Emirates home banker

It feels like a pivotal couple of weeks for Unai Emery although, in one way, the Arsenal head coach is on a hiding to nothing. Southampton simply must be beaten at the Emirates on Saturday if the home crowd are to afford him a modicum of breathing space. Eight days later, a visit to Norwich will hold similar importance. Arsenal really should win both, even allowing for their shoddy run before the international break, but that may only dampen the discord before Manchester City, United and Chelsea all visit within three weeks. For now, they can only defeat what is in front of them and Emery believes a dominant performance would fuel some optimism. “Getting three points is 100% our focus, but above all we need to connect with our supporters, while playing better and being in control of the game” he said on Thursday. Bonding with the fans has become a consistent theme for Emery. The processmust begin this weekend if the cries of discontent are not to grow louder. NA

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4) Leicester to prey on tired Brighton

Lewis Dunk has played every Premier League minute for Brighton this season at the heart of their defence, but after picking up five bookings, the Seagulls will have to do without Dunk and the injured Adam Webster here, against in-form Leicester and the league’s top scorer, Jamie Vardy. . The caution Dunk received against Manchester United came in the 19th minute; the centre-back’s four previous bookings came in the 83rd, 88th, 88th and 89th minutes. This suggests that Dunk, and possibly his defensive colleagues too, are tiring in the second half. It is not unusual for a team to tail off towards the end of matches, but Brighton have conceded almost as many goals in the last 15 minutes of games (five) as in the first half (six). Leicester, on the other hand, get better as games go on. The aggregate score in the first half-hour of their games this season is 5-5; across the remaining hour they lead 24-3. SB

  • Brighton v Leicester (3pm, Saturday)
Jamie Vardy goes in search of his 12th league goal this season, as Leicester visit Brighton. Photograph: Rui Vieira/AP

5) Sky’s the limit for Chelsea if they can upset City

On Sunday night, pressed to comment on Chelsea’s title chances after making his England debut in Kosovo, Fikayo Tomori applied the neat trick of playing everything down while ruling nothing out. “We’re just focusing on ourselves … at the same time I don’t think we should limit ourselves to anything,” he said. If Frank Lampard’s side come away victorious at the Etihad then everyone would be forgiven for wondering what their ceiling really is. They are in outstanding form and the Saturday evening fixture may tell us a lot. Chelsea’s last league defeat was to Liverpool two months ago and this is comfortably their stiffest task since then. Despite being a point and a place ahead of City, Chelsea find themselves under far less pressure to compete with Jürgen Klopp’s side at this point, a curious dynamic that may work to their advantage. The shackles can come off and, if they can capitalise on City’s skittishness, perhaps the idea of going the distance will seem within their boundaries. NA

  • Manchester City v Chelsea (5.30pm, Saturday)

6) Disruption at the back will test Blades

Sheffield United have been able to name the same back six for every league game of the season so far, and each member of it has done superbly. But this weekend Chris Wilder will have to change against Manchester United. On-loan goalkeeper Dean Henderson is forbidden from playing against his parent club, while the participation of John Egan, the linchpin of central defence, is in doubt owing to a calf problem picked up while playing for the Republic of Ireland on Monday. Back-up goalkeeper Simon Moore, 29, is likely to make the first Premier League appearance of his career, while Phil Jagielka could get a first league start since rejoining the Blades in the summer. Perhaps those are developments that will work in the favour of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who is under even more pressure than usual now that Pochettino is free to take calls. PD

• Sheffield United v Manchester United (4.30pm, Sunday)

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7) Pukki to spoil the party at Goodison Park?

After this game Everton play Leicester, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in a row before Christmas, with Manchester City to follow on New Year’s Day. The need to improve on their current league position of 15th (albeit only three points behind Sheffield United in fifth) as the league’s bottom side visit this weekend is pressing. Norwich have taken one point from 21, scoring two and conceding 16 since September’s victory over Manchester City. Daniel Farke will at least be able to call upon a morale-boosted Teemu Pukki, fresh from two goals and an assist in Finland’s two international games. The Canaries have not won a league game at Goodison Park since 1993, when they came back from a goal down to thump their hapless opponents 5-1, Efan Ekoku becoming the first person to score four in a game in the Premier League era. SB

8) Neves can end Wolves’ lean run at Bournemouth

Wolves fans were not 100% serious when they sang that Rúben Neves is “better than Zidane”, but it was a fun tune with which to celebrate a fine player. It hasn’t been sung much this season because Neves has been below par. In the last few weeks, however, the midfielder has shown signs of regaining his influence, especially going forward, and he crowned a return to form by scoring a lovely goal against Aston Villa. If he continues like that, despite the muscular attention of Philip Billing and Jefferson Lerma, he should help Wolves to their first victory at Bournemouth since 1948. PD

• Bournemouth v Wolves (3pm, Saturday)

Troy Deeney is expected to feature for the first time since August – and Watford could use his firepower. Photograph: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

9) Don’t expect a thriller at Vicarage Road

Watford have the second-worst home record in the division, having mustered just three points (all from draws) in six games at Vicarage Road. Burnley have the second-worst away record in the division, having mustered just three points away from Turf Moor in six games – all from draws. Something has to give here, unless there is a repeat of last season’s action-free 0-0 draw. Clearly the bookmakers suspect that is a very possible outcome, given that the first goalscorer betting is led by Troy Deeney, who has not played since August. It would be Watford’s third stalemate in four home matches, with Quique Sánchez Flores prioritising defensive stability. That will have to be achieved without the suspended Christian Kabasele, sent off at Carrow Road as the Hornets snaffled their first win of the season last time out. NA

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10) Bruce returns to Villa Park with point to prove

Villa’s summer spending spree will not have been lost on Steve Bruce, who spent much of his tenure at the club operating with one hand behind his back. “We were practically bust … it was horrendous at the time,” he said on Thursday of the period before the NSWE group took over. They replaced him with Dean Smith within weeks and there was the indignation, at his final game in charge, of seeing a cabbage hurled in his direction. Bruce did not deserve that and his early fortunes at Newcastle, where the red carpet was not exactly rolled out, suggest he is still a capable enough manager at the top level. He returns to Villa Park with the sides in contrasting form, Newcastle having gained seven points from their last three games and Villa zero. In mitigation, Smith’s side faced Manchester City, Liverpool and Wolves, and have shown enough to suggest they should not be worrying about relegation come May. Bruce is not one to harbour ill feeling but he would gladly heighten any anxiety creeping in around his old workplace. NA

I was left ‘smiling for two days’ at Tottenham – José Mourinho

  • Manager is ‘stronger’ and ‘relaxed’ after break from football
  •  Mourinho tells Pochettino Spurs will ‘always be his home’
Mourinho says Pochettino always welcome at Spurs as he is unveiled as new manager

José Mourinho says taking over as Tottenham manager has left him “smiling for two days” and made a point of telling his predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino, the club would “always be his home”.

Tottenham sent shockwaves through the Premier League on Wednesday when they followed the surprise news of Pochettino’s sacking with the swift appointment of Mourinho. Appearing in front of the media for the first time at the club’s training base, the Portuguese said: “I do it with a bit of sadness but I have to speak about Mauricio. I have to congratulate him for the work he has done. This club will always be his home. This training ground will always be his training ground. The door will always be open for him. He will find happiness again. He will find a great club again. He will have a great future.”



Mourinho appeared fractious and frustrated for much of his time at Manchester United, delivering the Carabao Cup and the Europa League but falling short of restoring them to the highs of the Sir Alex Ferguson era and, subsequently, being sacked as manager 11 months ago.

Asked to elaborate on whether his outlook had changed during his hiatus, he said: “I think, I have to believe so. I always thought these 11 months were not a waste of time. They were months to think, to analyse, to prepare. You never lose your DNA, you never lose your identity, but I have time to think about many things. During my career I have made mistakes.

“I am stronger, I am relaxed, I am motivated, I am ready and I think the players felt that in two days. I am ready to support them, this is not about me. It is about the club. I am here to try and help everyone.”

Mourinho is known to be enthused by the quality of the players at his new club, and was even linked with several of them while in charge at Old Trafford. Yet he would not have been handed this opportunity had Spurs’ form not been in a slump, a fact he acknowledged. “In relation to the difficulty of the job, every time a club changes in mid-season it is because the situation is not good, that is obvious, unless something strange happened that we don’t know outside.

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“Results make these decisions. I don’t have a great experience of getting teams in mid-season, it is only the second time I have done it. I did it in Porto in 2001, but I thought about it for the last few months because I thought I was going to get a team in mid-season.”

Being based in London once again was understood to have been a great draw for Mourinho and his family, but it does place him in close quarters with Chelsea. He has arguably never been more beloved than during his early days at Stamford Bridge and it was a second spell in charge of the club that drew him back to English football in 2013.

Responding to the notion he was seen as “Mr Chelsea”, he said: “I think they have to see me as Mr Inter, Mr Real Madrid, Mr Porto. I am a club man, but [a] many clubs man. I am not Chelsea, I am not Inter, I am not Real Madrid, I am all of them. I gave everything to all of them and that is what I am going to give here.

“I decided to have this adventure, go to different countries, until what I call the grand slam, England, Spain and Italy. I did it with this passion and then the Premier League, I thought, is my natural habitat.”

South Africa’s Baxter: ‘We can’t give the country hope’

British manager has taken Bafana Bafana to the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations despite chaotic preparation and underfunding

South Africa head coach Stuart Baxter, centre, celebrates with his players after the win over Egypt. Photograph: Hassan Ammar/AP

There are times when Stuart Baxter surveys the agonies surrounding South Africa’s football team and asks himself whether the benefits really add up. “It’s not one of those you get used to,” he says. “You’re constantly wondering if it’s worth it. Constantly.”

It is easier to answer that question during a week when, against all odds, Bafana Bafana have hauled themselves back among Africa’s elite. Baxter calls South Africa “a country of extremes” and he should know, given that he is two years into his second spell managing the national team. On Saturday night the dial swung to paroxysms of euphoria as they outplayed Egypt, host country of the Africa Cup of Nations, in front of a baying home crowd and reached the last eight with a 1-0 win. For the 65-year-old Baxter, taking South Africa through to next Friday’s final would be the pinnacle of a globetrotting career that has never been defined by his Anglo-Scottish upbringing.

“Winning this would be the biggest,” he says, with Nigeria posing the next challenge in Wednesday’s quarter-final. “Without sounding egotistical I think this would represent a massive personal victory for me, partly because it’d be coming far more quickly than it should and partly because this is such a big tournament.”

Africa Cup of Nations: Hosts Egypt stunned by late South Africa strike

 Read more

It was 1996 when South Africa, only four years out of a lengthy Fifa suspension and still buoyant in the early stage of Nelson Mandela’s presidency, won their first and only Cup of Nations. Baxter has brought Mark Fish, their defensive cornerstone back then, into his backroom staff to maintain a connection but he is at pains to point out that so much has changed since then. At that time Bafana Bafana, managed by Clive Barker, could ride the wave all the way home; these days they face a smothering pall of negativity that he believes places unrealistic demands on the sport’s role.

“The whole country was full of optimism in ’96,” he says. “Full of hope and belief in the future. I think the team reflected that hope. When we beat Libya to qualify this time, the sports ministry wrote to me and said: ‘You’ve given the country hope’, and for me that’s where all this negativity stems from.

“If the country is dependent on a result by the national team to give it hope, we fail. We can give it hope for five minutes, but every defeat is met with such negativity because on wider level those hopes and dreams have been flattened. There’s too much going wrong in the country: getting the electricity shut down every day, the water shortages, the unemployment, you name it. The country’s not hopeful and they’re in a mental stage of depression; I think that gets reflected. They cannot accept any more negativity so one bad result is met by a tirade.

“We can’t give the country hope. We can’t. Only temporarily. I’m just happy we can give them a night off where they can wear the shirt proudly.”Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks.

South Africa lost to Ivory Coast and Morocco during the group stage, squeaking past lowly Namibia in between, and only reached the knockouts on goal difference as one of the best third-placed sides. The dissenting voices were deafening at that point; Bafana’s early matches had been turgid, although Baxter points out that their preparation for this tournament verged on the disastrous, with funding issues seeing their schedule decimated and only one friendly, against Ghana, eventually being played. An already young, reconstructed squad arrived in Egypt badly undercooked and Baxter says their performance against the hosts, in which they obeyed his instructions to play an aggressive, attacking game to the letter, was the kind that banishes any weariness.

“That’s basically why I’ve hung in there, because the players have shown such an interest in wanting to be better, such a genuine pride in themselves when they get it right,” he says. “They’ve been so loyal and patriotic that I’ve always gone that extra mile.”

Baxter is used to doing that. His story is well told by now but a quick refresher course in his life and times underlines what a journey it has been. He has coached in eight countries, won titles in Sweden with AIK and South Africa with Kaizer Chiefs, bitten his lip when fired after two games in Turkey and contributed significantly to football’s explosion in Japan. Were it not for the Midlands inflection – Baxter was born in Wolverhampton – it would feel like a chat with Roy Hodgson, as much for his urbanity and unaffected studiousness as for his winding road here. But unlike Hodgson he has never heard a loud clarion call from home, despite a few offers earlier in his career.

South Africa celebrate during their win over Egypt. Photograph: Samuel Shivambu/EPA

“As it’s moved forward there hasn’t been the opportunity, and that’s because I fall between two stools really,” he says. “I’m not the exotic foreigner and I’m not the big-name English knight in shining armour; I’m neither the José Mourinho nor the Frank Lampard, and the game in the Premier League has become about perception.Advertisement

“I’m not saying that’s the alpha and omega of it, but it’s why I’m realistic to know I’m not going to have a queue of people saying: ‘He’s won leagues all over the world and he’s a Brit, let’s bring him back.’ I’ve become a little, not exactly cynical, but non-expectant. When the phone rings it’s from other places: I’m exotic and attractive there but back home I’m not.”

He fancies another crack at the Champions League, in which he competed with AIK, but feels confident in his capacity to set down roots anywhere in the world and describes himself as “pretty easily transportable”, moulding himself to the project at hand. “I’m not this instructor going round the world teaching football according to the theories of Stuart Baxter,” he says. Perhaps there is an extent to which, in an era where philosophies and grand visions tend to seduce more than sheer practicality, that has held him back too.

Not that there will be any sense of regret when South Africa walk back out at Cairo International Stadium, the venue stunned into dumbfounded silence by Thembinkosi Lorch’s 85th-minute winner those few short days ago, to face Nigeria. “We have to do it as underdogs again,” he says. “They are one of the best, but if we can put together a gameplan that gives them the problems we gave Egypt then we have a chance. At this stage it sometimes takes on its own life. The difference in the squad now, the belief they have, is absolutely night and day.” Dawns like that are why, for all the brickbats and moments of doubt, Baxter comes back again and again.

SOURCE: The Guardian, UK

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

10 most creative players in Europe’s top five leagues

The players who have created the most chances since Opta records began – July 1, 2006 – have been revealed. 

The results are fascinating, no less because they speak to who’s come to prominence when and for how long they have the dominated.

Names on the list are a relative who’s who of silky playmakers and offensive flair players.

Only two have managed to create more than 1,000 chances at league level since 2006; perhaps most surprising is Dimitri Payet, who at 31-year-old has never played for a truly elite side. The Frenchman has created 1016 chances since the summer of 2006.

At the top, however, is the sometimes-maligned-often-vaunted Mezut Ozil, with 1033.

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We also got in touch with Opta who have provided us with even more information about the top 10 chance creators. Armed with games played, minutes and assists of each player, we’ve ranked Europe’s chance-creating elite using a per 90 minutes filter.

Find out if Mesut Ozil can keep top spot as the countdown begins.

10. Cristiano Ronaldo

1.83 chances created per 90

Italy: Serie A: Juventus vs Napoli

Games played: 401
Minutes played: 34,107
Total chances created: 695
Total assists: 111
Clubs played for: Man Utd (06/07 to 08/09), Real Madrid (09/10 to 17/18), Juventus (18/19 to present)

The Portuguese attacker starts off the list with a decent chance-creation output in what has been a career defined by his relentless scoring. The number (695) might be higher had he not transformed into a roaming, free-form type of striker in his mid-twenties and latterly, an out-and-out goalscorer.

9. Marek Hamsik

2.15 chances created per 90

SSC Napoli v Genoa CFC - Serie A

Games played: 400
Minutes played: 30,952
Total chances created: 740
Total assists: 80
Clubs played for: Brescia (06/07), Napoli (07/08 to present)

Slovakia’s finest ever player and Napoli’s all-time top scorer, Marek Hamsik has been a consistent performer in the period since 2006, in fact that’s basically when he came to prominence, scoring 10 goals in 40 games for Brescia before being brought to Naples in 2007 for £4m. A truly two-footed player, Hamsik’s passing is sharper than the career-defining mohawk on his head.

8. Lionel Messi

2.33 chances created per 90

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Games played: 402
Minutes played: 33,213
Total chances created: 861
Total assists: 151
Clubs played for: Barcelona (06/07 to present)

A real talent, is Messi. Not much we can do here that isn’t tired and done, but he’s obviously a creative force as well a goalscoring record-setter. With 861 chances created, he’s fifth on Opta’s total list but eighth when using the per 90 filter with 2.33 chances created on average.

Messi does lead the way for assists (151), however, which add to his 382 La Liga goals for Barca in this period. Remember the name.

7. Juan Mata

2.51 chances created per 90

Sevilla FC v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg

Games played: 355
Minutes played: 25,960
Total chances created: 723
Total assists: 79
Clubs played for: Valencia (07/08 to 10/11), Chelsea (11/12 to 13/14), Man Utd (14/15 – present)

The much-loved Spanish magician places above more glossy names on this list, with 2.51 chances created per 90 to his name since 2006/2007. Since leaving Spain for London, and later Manchester, Mata has always been a fan favourite with his consummate technique and predilection for scoring curling free-kicks.

6. Eden Hazard

2.61 chances created per 90

Chelsea v Olympique Lyonnais - Pre-Season Friendly

Games played: 363
Minutes played: 27,377
Total chances created: 794
Total assists: 77
Clubs played for: Lille (07/08 to 11/12), Chelsea (12/13 to present)

The dribble king of Stamford Bridge, Eden Hazard has been in the news a fair bit of late as he continues to dream aloud about what the future might bring. But as of right now, he is one of if not the best player in the Premier League, and he has been at that level for a while. His numbers back it up: 2.61 chances created per 90, 794 chances created and 77 assists in all. Much more than a take-on merchant, it seems.

5. David Silva

2.69 chances created per 90

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Games played: 374
Minutes played: 29,604
Total chances created: 886
Total assists: 100
Clubs played for: Valencia (06/07 to 09/10), Man City (10/11 to present)

Probably the best player City have had since they became one of the richest clubs in world football. Silva was whizzing about in La Liga when Opta’s stats began studiously jotting every minute down, and 12 years later, he sits fourth in overall chances created and fifth when calculated per 90.

4. Cesc Fabregas 

2.98 chances created per 90

Chelsea v Vidi FC - UEFA Europa League - Group L - Stamford Bridge

Games played: 372
Minutes played: 28,174
Total chances created: 932
Total assists: 133
Clubs played for: Arsenal (06/07 to 10/11), Barcelona (11/12 to 13/14), Chelsea (14/15 to present)

A creator-in-chief, Fabregas has made a career out of lofting passes and playing cute slide-rule balls that weren’t there to begin with. The Spaniard comes fourth since the summer of 2006 for chances created per 90, with 2.98 and holds the record as the youngest player to record 15+ assists in a single Premier League season. He’s also the only player to provide 10+ in six different Premier League campaigns.

TL;DR: Fabregas is good.

3. Dimitri Payet

3.06 chances created per 90

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Games played: 404
Minutes played: 29,844
Total chances created: 1016
Total assists: 104
Clubs played for: Nantes (06/07), Saint-Ettiene (07/08 to 10/11), Lille (11/12/19 to 12/13), Marseille (13/14 to 14/15), West Ham (15/16 to 16/17), Marseille (16/17 to present)

It’s amazing to think Dimitri Payet is third on this list, and second on the overall tally concocted by Opta, considering he rarely factors into the conversation when the game’s best playmakers are compared. But that he obviously is, 1016 chances created since 2006 is remarkable, considering he’s not often played in particularly strong club teams.

His brilliance from set-pieces propels him up this list, but to be one of the most consistent creators since records began – one of three to average over 3.00 chances created per 90 – is a testamant to the quality in those deliveries.

2. Francesco Totti

3.07 chances created per 90

AS Roma v Genoa CFC - Serie A

Games played: 284
Minutes played: 20,405
Total chances created: 696
Total assists: 73
Clubs played for: Roma (06/07 to 17/18)

Despite Totti’s legendary one-club career, he has perhaps always lacked that one incredible stat to back up his talent rather than his longevity. Scoring 307 goals through his Roma career is sensational, of course, but to be ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi and other great playmakers of the modern era should silence any of his critics.

The Roma No.10 was turning 30 the season that Opta began collecting this data – he only played four league games as a 29-year-old – so the fact he is second on this list should be considered a special achievement.

The king of Rome does not quite take the chance-creating crown, but he’s closer than you ever would have thought.

1. Mesut Ozil

3.5 chances created per 90

Arsenal v Paris Saint Germain - International Champions Cup 2018

Games played: 354
Minutes played: 26,561
Total chances created: 1033
Total assists: 128
Clubs played for: Schalke (06/07 to 07/08), Werder Bremen (08/09 to 09/10), Real Madrid (10/11 to 12/13), Arsenal (13/14 – present)

The German playmaker tops the bill both for chances created in total (1033) since 2006 and for chances created per 90 (3.5). What else can you can say? He lives for setting others up and should be considered as one of the best playmakers of his era because of that. Body language is not a factor.


SOURCE: Squawka Football/Opta Franz

13 players you definitely forgot were still in Premier League clubs

13 players you definitely forgot were still in Premier League clubs

Premier League squads have plenty of players, including some you may have forgotten about.

13 players you definitely forgot were still in Premier League clubs

Premier League squads are now so big and clubs are so rich that the incentive to offload the deadwood is great but often difficult. Many squad players may be on favourable terms and so trying to find them a move elsewhere proves difficult, so they just stay where they are. They don’t play, and then they fall out of our memory.

Here are 13 of the Premier League’s most “wait, he’s still there?” men:

Carl Jenkinson

Arsenal, 26 years old

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Yes, Big Jenks, possibly the last of the Arsenal meme players, is still at Arsenal. A remnant of a bygone era in more than one way, Jenkinson never really cut the mustard at the Emirates even though his impassioned plea to Theo Walcott to actually defend in Arsenal’s 8-2 loss to Manchester United will go down in history.

Cohen Bramall

Arsenal, 22 years old

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Remember 2017 when Arsenal signed this young left-back basically because he was blisteringly fast? It was kind of like what Arsene Wenger did with Gael Clichy, except Arsene Wenger just didn’t have the sauce anymore. Bramall played a bit in pre-season and was then loaned out. Away from Wenger’s guidance, he failed to grow, and Arsenal have failed to offload him since Wenger’s departure.

Anders Lindegaard

Burnley, 34 years old

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If you cast your mind back, you will actually remember a time when Sir Alex Ferguson dropped David De Gea for Anders Lindegaard. It was a wild and hectic time in the world. Lindegaard signed for Burnley just over a year ago, yet only debuted in July 2018, as a sub, in Europa League qualifying. He played one more game in Europe and hasn’t featured since. Even so, with Joe Hart, Tom Heaton and Nick Pope all ahead of him in the Turf Moor pecking order, you could make an argument that Lindegaard is the world’s best fourth-choice goalkeeper.

Emerson Palmieri

Chelsea, 24 years old

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Hey, remember when Chelsea signed Emerson Palmieri to be Marcos Alonso’s back-up? No, us neither. He did very little in his first half-season and has only featured in the League Cup and Europa League this season. That said, he signed for Chelsea just one month after returning to fitness after an ACL injury, which means he probably won’t reach  100% sharpness until January 2019. So watch out for this guy in the run-in!

Lucas Piazon

Chelsea, 24 years old

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In addition to cultivating the best youth academy in the country, Chelsea also went through a period of signing great young talents. Lucas Piazon was one such talent. A future genius, the new Kaka! Well, not exactly. He’s been on more loans (5) than he has played games for Chelsea (3) and was last seen playing for Fulham in the Championship. Yet he’s still somehow bound to the Blues!

Vicente Iborra

Leicester, 30 years old

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When Leicester signed Iborra, it made a lot of sense. They had depth in defensive midfield but no one as enormous as Iborra. Yet the Spaniard never really settled in the Midlands; but instead of absconding back to La Liga as Roque Mesa did, he’s stuck around apparently. Maybe Jamie Vardy’s parties are really great?

Divock Origi

Liverpool, 23 years old

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Divock Origi was once ready to explode as a next-level talent under Jurgen Klopp. Then he didn’t, because he’s not a next-level talent. He is a good striker, though, and has generally done quite well on his loans away from Merseyside. Yet the Reds never shifted him out this summer, and he’s still there, training and watching assorted teenagers pass him in the pecking order.

Lazar Markovic

Liverpool, 24 years old

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One of the more inexplicable wastes of talent in the Premier League, Lazar Markovic should have been magnificent. But Jurgen Klopp has had as much interest in playing him as he does with playing slow, patient, possession football. Markovic was on loan to Anderlecht this year and was supposed to move back there permanently. Yet the deal fell through (some say over money, Markovic says otherwise) so now he remains at Liverpool, unregistered and unnumbered.

Eliaquim Mangala

Manchester City, 27 years old

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Mangala should have been a colossus for Manchester City, but something just never clicked for him in the Premier League. Every now and again he had a run of games where you thought it’d come good, but no. You’d figure his contract would have run out by now (he signed for City in 2014!) but no, there’s still time to go on whatever megabucks offer he was given. So he’s gonna chill and ride that deal out.

Rolando Aarons

Newcastle United, 22 years old

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Rolando Aarons should have been Newcastle’s next big thing, but sometimes talent doesn’t coalesce in the way you want. In the end, despite the incredible promise of his debut as a teenager, Aarons was just a dude. People will remember him from back then and will assume he has moved on somewhere, but no, he’s still a Magpie – even if he has managed to secure a loan FC Slovan Liberec.

Vincent Janssen

Spurs, 24 years old

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Oh goodness, where to begin? Signed to be a back-up to Harry Kane but was so comically inept at everything (save penalties) that he became a joke. Pochettino had no use for him, so he spent last season loan in Turkey. If you’re thinking he was sold this summer, you’d be wrong. Yeah, sure, he’s not registered in Spurs’ Premier League squad, nor does he have a shirt number, but he’s there. No, seriously!

Stefano Okaka

Watford, 29 years old

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One of the many strikers that Watford have paired with Troy Deeney, Okaka looked like he could be the real deal for a hot minute there. He scored on the opening day of last season in a 3-3 draw with Liverpool but hasn’t found the back of the net since. In fairness, he’s also barely played since then as the Hornets have found other, better options. Though Watford haven’t sold him, and apparently even turned down an offer from Bursaspor to loan him. Maybe he’s really funny?

Reece Oxford

West Ham, 19 years old

West Ham United Training and Press Conference

Reece Oxford wasn’t just tipped to be West Ham’s next big thing, but also England’s. Oxford made his Hammers Premier League debut in a 2-0 away win at Arsenal in 2015 at the tender age of 16 but put in the kind of performance you’d expect from an experienced 30-year-old. Since then, however, things just haven’t ignited for Oxford with loan spells at Reading and Monchengladbach proving to be wholly unsuccessful. Oxford’s big saving grace, though, is that he still just 19-years-old and may yet discover the key to unlock his undeniable talent.

 

Sierra Leonean referee collapses and dies while officiating a match

Sierra Leonean referee Victor Marah died after collapsing while officiating a community league football match in Freetown on Tuesday.

The incident happened a few minutes before the end of a well-attended match between Kroo Bay and Falcon 12 FC.

Attempts were made to revive the 27-year-old but he was pronounced dead after being rushed to hospital.

The exact cause of death is not yet known.

Marah took part in a Confederation of African Football (Caf) referees’ course in Cairo just a few weeks ago.

The course was the latest step in Marah’s career that could have seen him eventually become an internationally recognised match official.

“I can’t believe the news. This is a great loss to Sierra Leone football.” a Sierra Leonean Caf referee’s instructor and assessor Sanusi Rachid told BBC Sport.

“He was promising, and we had earmarked him to be a referee Sierra Leone should be proud of in the future.”

“This was why we nominated him to represent Sierra Leone in a Caf referee promising course last month in Cairo where he excelled.”

Family sources have confirmed that Marah will be buried on Friday.

Sierra Leone’s top referees officiate community football (non league) matches in the absence of official league football.

This is the first time in Sierra Leone a referee has collapsed during a match and died.


Cover Photo: Victor Marah. Photo: BBC

Premier League: 10 things to expect this weekend

Iheanacho looks to impress, what now for Mourinho’s shambolic defence and no change for Rafa at Man City.

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Clockwise from top left: Watford’s Roberto Pereyra, Newcastle manager Rafael Benítez, Everton’s Ademola Lookman and Leicester’s Kelechi Iheanacho. Composite: Reuters; Getty; Everton via Getty; BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

1) Iheanacho has his chance to impress against Liverpool

Despite not dropping a point or conceding a goal, Liverpool have yet to really hit their stride in the current campaign. West Ham took very little beating in their opener, while subsequent victories over Crystal Palace and Brighton were a mite laboured. An away trip to Leicester on Saturday lunchtime should provide another reasonably stiff test ahead of what is likely to be a more challenging trip to Tottenham Hotspur after the international break. Leicester clearly missed the searing pace of the suspended Jamie Vardy against Southampton and Kelechi Iheanacho struggled to impress in his role as replacement. The striker got off the mark for the season against Fleetwood Town in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday and with Vardy sitting out the last instalment of a three-match ban , he needs a big performance against the – thus far – impregnable two-man portcullis that is Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, if he is to stake any sort of claim for keeping Vardy out upon his return. BG

2) Wolves might be able to overrun West Ham in midfield

West Ham are feeling a bit better about life after their Carabao Cup win over the 10 men of AFC Wimbledon, but it will not be easy for them to back up their first competitive victory under Manuel Pellegrini when Wolves visit the London Stadium on Saturday afternoon. While Wolves only have two points from their first three games, they earned plaudits for their brave approach in last week’s home draw with Manchester City, and the newly promoted side could earn their first league win if Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho undermine Pellegrini’s suggestion that Jack Wilshere could become the East End’s answer to Andrea Pirlo. West Ham have suffered in midfield so far and a fourth consecutive defeat would see them equal their wretched start under Avram Grant in 2010. They finished bottom that season. JS

3) Can Burnley take advantage of United’s shambolic defence?

Amid all the ongoing hoop-la surrounding Manchester United’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur and José Mourinho’s subsequent post-match meltdown, it is easy to forget that for long periods of the game Manchester United actually played quite well. Their players created chances and moved with a sense of speed and urgency that was conspicuous by its absence in what was an embarrassingly sluggish performance in defeat against Brighton. There is, however, little or no getting away from the fact that their defence is a shambles and that Mourinho’s first choice rearguard is comprised mainly of defenders playing for other teams. Of those he has at his disposal, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville could scarcely have been blunter in their assessment of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof on Monday Night Football, while the sight of Ander Herrera in a back three left them and everyone else – including, possibly, Herrera – totally flabbergasted. Whether or not Burnley are good enough to take advantage of this chaos remains to be seen, but it will be difficult for Sean Dyche to plan how best to do so when he, like the rest of us, has little idea what or who exactly his players will be up against. BG

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho watches Paul Pogba during their game against Tottenham. Photo: Paul Currie/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

4) Will Emery find space for Özil against Cardiff?

The official line from Arsenal was that Mesut Özil was absent because of illness when they secured their first win of the Unai Emery era by beating West Ham. Yet that was accompanied by whispers of Emery clashing with Özil before the West Ham game and it will be fascinating to see if Arsenal’s manager finds space for the German in his starting 11 against Cardiff City on Sunday. The sense that Emery will not indulge the midfielder as much as Arsène Wenger did will grow if Özil, who signed a three-and-a-half year contract worth £350,000 a week in February, finds himself on the bench at the Cardiff City Stadium. JS

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Will Mesut Özil be on the bench for Arsenal again? Photo: TGSPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

5) Goals, goals, goals at Stamford Bridge

Goals and lots of them, is this previewer’s prediction for the encounter between Chelsea and Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge, although who’ll score the majority of them is anyone’s guess. Despite winning their opening three games, scoring no fewer than eight goals in the process, Chelsea’s defending has at times been little short of slapstick and the in-form Josh King and Callum Wilson will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of running at David Luiz and Antonio Rüdiger. Bournemouth have scored two goals in each of their three league games so farand banged in another three against MK Dons in the Carabao Cup. The porousness of Chelsea’s back four suggests this streak is unlikely to end before the international break. With Chelsea similarly prolific up front, this has the makings of a potential humdinger. Cue a stampede of shrewdies to the bookies, getting their money down on a scoreless draw. BG

6) It’s Pereyra vs Lucas Moura at Vicarage Road

Tottenham will have to beware Roberto Pereyra’s flashes of brilliance when they visit Vicarage Road on Sunday. Pereyra has scored three goals in Watford’s first two home games and the improving Argentinian, who has struggled for consistency and fitness since leaving Juventus in 2016, has played a major role in his side’s immaculate start to the season. Yet Tottenham have also started with three wins and they will pose Javi Gracia’s side their toughest test so far, not least because Mauricio Pochettino has his own bewitching South American to call upon. Outstanding in the 3-0 win at Old Trafford, Lucas Moura has given Pochettino’s attack an even sharper edge. JS

7) Saints could take a roughhouse approach to stopping Zaha

Southampton were Crystal Palace’s first opponents under Roy Hodgson after Frank De Boer’s ill-fated spell in charge at Selhurst Park last season and emerged victorious courtesy of an early Steven Davis goal. Christian Benteke’s wretched form has been documented at length in previous editions of this column and elsewhere and having replaced him as a substitute three times already this season, the Norwegian striker Alexander Sorloth staked his claim for a start in Palace’s starting line-up by scoring the only goal of the game against Swansea City in the Carabao Cup earlier this week. If Southampton can shackle Wilfred Zaha, they’ll go a long way towards shackling the entire Palace team. Extremely aggressive as a player, Mark Hughes will no doubt have noticed the systematic fouling employed by Watford in what proved an ultimately futile effort to keep the winger quiet last Sunday. These roughhouse tactics did work for over an hour, however, which may prompt Hughes to instruct his Saints to turn sinners for the afternoon. Following calls for more protection for Zaha from his manager, team-mates and assorted pundits, Saturday’s match referee Martin Atkinson may become the latest to incur the increasingly tedious wrath of Hughes. BG

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Wilfried Zaha is challenged during Crystal Palace’s game against Watford. Photograph: Joe Toth/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

8) This could be Lookman’s chance to get a look-in

Everton entertain Huddersfield without Richarlison, who is suspended following his moment of petulance against Bournemouth last weekend. The 21-year-old Brazilian has been hugely influential for the Toffees so far this season, earning himself an international call-up in the process, but Marco Silva must now plan without him for two Premier League games. Richarlison’s impetuousness could have a big bearing on the future of Ademola Lookman, who has been angling for a move away from the club before the European transfer window closes today due to his frustration at a lack of first-team opportunities. With his fellow wingers Nikola Vlasic and Yannick Bolasie out on loan, now that a short-term opportunity has presented itself, the youngster’s hopes of securing a move to RB Leipzig look to have been stymied until January at earliest. BG

9) Fulham give Jokanovic a test of his talents

Slavisa Jokanovic’s decision to change his entire starting eleven for Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup win over Exeter City has given him something of a selection headache ahead of Fulham’s visit to Brighton. Summer signings Alfie Mawson and Sergio Rico made accomplished debuts, while Ryan Sessegnon, Aboubakar Kamara and Stefan Johansen also earned plaudits, with Jokanovic admitting several of his fringe players have given him plenty to think about. Having made so many apparently shrewd purchases over the summer to swell the ranks ahead of life in the Premier League, he’ll be pleased to see the players who helped secure promotion are not prepared to give up their first team places without a fight. His efforts to keep everyone happy will be a test of his talents as a manager, but for now it is a pleasant problem for him to have. BG

10) Pragmatist Benítez unlikely to change his approach

Three matches in and Newcastle already look to be in a battle for survival, even if there is no particular shame in losing to Tottenham and Chelsea, or failing to take all three points against Cardiff City. Next up is a trip to Manchester City and it’s difficult to imagine Rafael Benítez will change the negative tactics that earned him and his side so much opprobrium last weekend against Chelsea. As awful as Newcastle were to watch, their approach almost worked and it would be exceptionally naïve to think Benitez will kow-tow to critics, order his players to buckle their swashes, play an expansive game that seems to be beyond their collective skill set against such accomplished opposition and risk getting thrashed. A pragmatist who is trying to make the best use of the limited tools made available to him while working with one hand tied behind his back, Benítez will try and probably fail to come away from the Etihad Stadium with a point. Wolves have proved City are not infallible, but despite being new to the Premier League, serious summer investment means they already look far more well equipped to stay in it than Newcastle’s comparatively motley crew. BG

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Liverpool 3 7 9
2 Tottenham Hotspur 3 6 9
3 Chelsea 3 5 9
4 Watford 3 5 9
5 Man City 3 7 7
6 AFC Bournemouth 3 3 7
7 Leicester 3 2 6
8 Everton 3 1 5
9 Arsenal 3 -1 3
10 Crystal Palace 3 -1 3
11 Fulham 3 -2 3
12 Brighton 3 -2 3
13 Man Utd 3 -3 3
14 Wolverhampton 3 -2 2
15 Cardiff 3 -2 2
16 Newcastle 3 -2 1
17 Southampton 3 -2 1
18 Burnley 3 -4 1
19 Huddersfield 3 -8 1
20 West Ham 3 -7 0

Champions League draw: clubs, pots, format and all you need to know

Liverpool will be on the harder side of Thursday’s draw after Benfica won a play-off, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham the other Premier League clubs involved.

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Liverpool, runners-up in the Champions League last season, will be in pot three in Thursday afternoon’s group-stage draw after Benfica saw off Paok Thessaloniki in the play-offs.

Had Benfica lost then Liverpool would have joined Manchester United and Tottenham in pot two. Manchester City are in pot one.

The draw, which begins at 5pm BST, will determine the make-up of the eight Champions League groups. One team from each pot will be placed in each group. No teams from the same country can be drawn in the same group and Uefa has also ruled that clubs from Russia and Ukraine cannot face one another.

Pot one consists of the holders (Real Madrid), the Europa League winners (Atlético Madrid) and the champions of the six highest-ranked nations. Pots two to four are determined by the club coefficient rankings.

The one surprise in Wednesday night’s play-offs was the elimination of RB Salzburg by Red Star Belgrade, who came back from 2-0 down in Austria to draw 2-2 and advance on away goals.

Pot one Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Juventus, PSG, Lokomotiv Moscow

Pot two Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica, Napoli, Tottenham, Roma

Pot three Liverpool, Schalke, Lyon, Monaco, Ajax, CSKA Moscow, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia

Pot four Viktoria Plzen, Club Brugge, Galatasaray, Young Boys, Internazionale, Hoffenheim, Red Star Belgrade, AEK Athens

The draw will be covered live on theguardian.com/football


Cover photo: The draw for the Champions League group stage begins at 5pm BST on Thursday. Photo: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

A league of their own: six of the best football video games

As the new season hits its stride, we look at the best footie games available for 2018/19 on the PS4, Xbox, PC and phones.

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It has been a rare old summer of football. England’s heroic – or at least, much better than expected – efforts in the World Cup were followed by three weeks or so of cold turkey, with nothing but the opaque machinations of the transfer window to keep us occupied. But already, the season has resumed, in all its relentless glory. If you want to join in but were born with two left feet, flex your thumbs instead with one of these games – the six best on the market right now. Video game football isn’t just about pretending to be Harry Kane or Pep Guardiola: some of these take a strikingly original approach to the beautiful game.

FIFA 18 / FIFA 19 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)

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The luxury option … Fifa 19. Photo: EA Sports

EA Sports’ expensive and luxurious Fifa 18 is undoubtedly football games’ equivalent of the Premier League. It’s a money-making machine, thanks primarily to Fifa Ultimate Team, which encourages you to purchase Panini-sticker-like player packs to build up a dream team. But it’s also the slickest, most polished and by far the most popular football game around, with an excellent Journey mode that lets you control an aspiring pro and build him up to an international superstar, and a Career mode that lets you control your favourite team on and off the field.

If you have mates who play football games online, the chances are that peer-pressure will more or less force you to get Fifa 18. But it’s worth checking which yearly iteration of Fifa they all play: EA Sports’ obsession with churning out a new game every year means that they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. Fifa 19 is due out on September 28, and will include the full Champions League licence for the first time, tweaks to the player-touch engine, and an offline friendly, quick-to-start Kick-Off mode. It’s also the only major footie game to feature women’s teams.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)

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Silky skills … NWM Schalke vs Bayer Leverkusen in Pro Evolution Soccer 2019. Photograph: Konami

For decades, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) and Fifa slugged it out like Barcelona and Real Madrid, but in recent years, Fifa’s bigger budget has seen it pull away. But PES still has a lot of fans, thanks to the silkiness of its passing system and on-pitch feel. Off the field, it is less impressive, with a baffling menu system, spotty licensing and elements that feel as though they were implemented merely to keep up with Fifa, rather than designed to provide football-related fun.

PES 2019 will be released on 28 August, and its previously awful equivalent of Fifa Ultimate Team, myClub, has been revamped. It includes more licensed teams and players than PES 2018, too, although there is still no official Premier League licence. Whereas Fifa is all about style, PES makes up for its superficial shabbiness with on-field substance. The football game of choice for non-conformists.

Football, Tactics & Glory (PC)

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Determinedly retro … Football, Tactics & Glory. Photo: Creoteam

Truly original football games are as rare as England senior teams who reach the later stages of tournaments. But Football, Tactics & Glory – currently in Steam Early Access but poised for a full release soon – feels unlike anything else. It is turn-based, and successfully applies strategy-style gameplay to the beautiful game.

It has a very basic management element that has you building up a skilful, complementary team, but it’s what happens on the pitch that makes it stand out. You are given three turns in which to get the ball to a forward and score; if that isn’t going to be possible, you can order your player to hold the ball, making it more difficult for the opposition to get hold of it and take their turn. And you can sometimes pull off special moves that earn you an extra turn.

It’s far from perfect: its graphics are determinedly retro, the dialogue between you and your club employees is stilted at best, and it won’t impress you if you’re looking for something glossy. But, importantly, it feels unique.

Football Manager (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android)

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Intimidatingly complex … Football Manager 2018. Photo: Sega

If you seek the definitive, all-encompassing football management experience, covering everything from on-field tactics to keeping dropped players happy and working with the medical staff to ascertain why certain injuries keep occurring, then Football Manager 2018 is what you need.

Sports Interactive’s definitive football management game will also startle you from time to time by coincidentally mirroring situations that crop up in the real footballing world. It is huge, containing pretty much every player in every league around the world. Indeed, it has so much depth that it can seem intimidatingly complex.

If you don’t want a game that can completely swallow your life, you may want to check out Football Manager Mobile, which preserves most of the PC game’s rigour but is considerably simpler. Football Manager 2019 will add the official Bundesliga licence when it arrives on 2 November, and have a spruced-up appearance. In the meantime, you can pick up Football Manager 2018 surprisingly cheaply.

Sociable Soccer (PC)

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Pick up and play … Sociable Soccer. Photograph: Combo-Breaker

In the early 1990s, the very British Sensible Soccer held sway as the king of football games. Now, the arcade-style game is back in the form of Sociable Soccer, lovingly crafted using modern, 3D tools by Sensible Soccer originator Jon Hare’s Tower Studios.

Currently, Sociable Soccer is only available via Steam Early Access on PC, so it is by no means the finished article. Online play hasn’t been added yet, and at the moment, you can’t be caught offside. But its trademark all-action, two-button, pass-and-move gameplay is intact – including that famous after-touch when you shoot. If you’re looking for an incredibly moreish pick-up-and-play football game, it’s in a class of its own.

Tower Studios has signed a deal to put out a mobile version in China, which should make it to the UK before long – and should speed the PC version towards a full release. Console versions are also planned, and the finished game will feature a player-card system similar to Fifa Ultimate Team, except with flashes of British humour. The return of this classic, cleverly updated for modern sensibilities, fills a hole in the market for arcade-style football.

New Star Manager (iPhone)

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Intuitive … New Star Manager. Photograph: New Star Games

The follow-up to the Bafta award-winning New Star Soccer, created by one-man-band Simon Read, is even more compelling. This time, instead of taking charge of a single player, you’re at the helm of a whole club, so there are plenty of managerial tasks to perform. Once the games kick off, it is up to you to take control, moving players and passing with a simple, intuitive interface, then timing your shot right once you’ve got the ball to your forward.

New Star Manager pulls off the difficult trick of being simple to grasp but having plenty to dig into. If you love football and have an iPhone or iPad, you’d be mad not to download it, and an Android version should arrive soon. Read’s reputation as one of the up-and-coming stars of the games industry continues to grow.


Cover photo: The beautiful game … SC Corinthian celebrate in Pro Evolution Soccer 2019. Photo: Konami

Wenger award by George Weah ‘controversial in Liberia’

The news that Liberian President George Weah is to award his former football coach, Arsène Wenger, with the country’s highest honour has generated some controversy in Liberia.

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Some people are saying that it should not be given to an individual for what they have done for the president personally.

Wenger will be inducted into the country’s Order of Distinction and be given the title of Knight Grand Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption – the highest rank possible – on Friday.

It is an honour normally bestowed on people for their work that impacts broader society.

President Weah, the only African to have been named World Player of the Year, was signed by Wenger in 1988 when the Frenchman coached Monaco.

He said that Wenger “took care of me like his son” when he went to Monaco, adding that “besides God, I think that without Arsène, there was no way I would have made it in Europe”.

Wenger, who stepped down as Arsenal manager in May after 22 years, is credited for nurturing several African stars during his career.


COVER PHOTO: George Weah (left, pictured here in 1993) has said that Arsène Wenger (right) “took care of me like his son”. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Thibaut Courtois refuses to report back for training at Chelsea


  • Goalkeeper plays hardball in bid to force Madrid move
  • Thursday’s domestic transfer deadline increases urgency

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Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois wants a move back to Spain to be near his children. Photo: Squawka


Thibaut Courtois has made clear his desire to leave Chelsea before the closure of the transfer window this month by spurning talks with Maurizio Sarri and failing to report back for pre‑season training at the Premier League club.

The Belgium international, like his compatriot Eden Hazard, had been due on Monday afternoon at Chelsea’s Cobham training base where the new head coach hoped to hold discussions over his future. Instead, the 26-year-old is understood to have remained in Belgium while he awaits news of a prospective return to Spain with Real Madrid.

Courtois has entered the final 12 months of his contract, with no progress having been made last season to convince the player, who spent three years on loan at Atlético Madrid earlier in his career, to extend his stay at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea had anticipated him joining the England defender Gary Cahill in the stands to watch the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday but the goalkeeper did not appear, offering no explanation, as his teammates lost 2-0.

The situation feels similar to Diego Costa’s messy divorce from the club a year ago, when the Spain forward had attempted to force through a move back to Atlético by remaining in Brazil. Costa was eventually permitted to re‑sign for the Spanish club, albeit after the transfer window had closed.

Real have bid around £35m for Courtois whose agent, Christophe Henrotay, went public last week calling for Chelsea to allow his client to move. “I have been reading everywhere that Chelsea are saying it is up to Thibaut,” Henrotay had told the Sun. “But he has made it clear to the club the best option for him is to move to Madrid. For him this is a big decision because he wants to be near his family, and there is an offer in place for Chelsea to accept.”

Courtois’s two children live in Madrid with his former partner.

The goalkeeper had employed similar tactics to force through his move from Genk to Chelsea, just before a preseason friendly against Lyon, in 2011. Regardless, with time a healer, the Belgian had actually been honoured by Genk before kick-off at their game against Sint-Truiden on Sunday, presenting the match ball at the Luminus Arena and accepting a large picture of him in action during his time at the club. Chelsea face Lyon in a similar fixture on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge.

While the transfer deadline is set at 5pm on Thursday for English clubs, Chelsea can sell Courtois at any point up to the end of the month when the market closes for their counterparts in Spain. Despite Sarri suggesting on Sunday that it might be preferable to sell the goalkeeper if he informs him of his desire to leave, the sense of urgency to secure a replacement has been heightened by Courtois’s no-show.

Stoke’s Jack Butland could be secured for around £25m and is eager to retain his England place by featuring regularly in the top flight. Sevilla’s Sergio Rico, who has been expected to leave this summer, could be an alternative. There have been suggestions in Spain that Chelsea might be prepared to trigger a €100m (£89m) buy‑out clause in Jan Oblak’s contract at Atlético, but such a move might be surprising given Chelsea had been reluctant to meet AS Roma’s valuation of Alisson this summer, with the Brazilian subsequently moving to Liverpool for a world-record £66.9m.

While the board scramble to secure a replacement, Chelsea are unlikely to confront similarly disruptive problems with Hazard, despite the Belgium captain having indicated at the end of a successful World Cup campaign that the time may be right for a new challenge. The club are keen to secure the 27-year-old to new terms worth around £300,000 a week. But while Hazard, who has two years to run on his contract, is unlikely to rush to sign, nor will he agitate for a move this summer.

Real have not bid for the playmaker’s services, despite Hazard having made clear his desire to move to the Bernabéu at some stage in his career. He was joined by N’Golo Kanté, who has been offered a new deal worth £290,000 a week, Michy Batshuayi, Cahill and Olivier Giroud at Cobham for a 4pm session at Cobham on Monday as they reported back after the summer tournament.

‘People get diagnosed with terminal cancer … I’m glad for the chance to live – Carl Ikeme

The Wolves goalkeeper is in full remission after being diagnosed with acute leukaemia 13 months ago and says he feels grateful to savour simple pleasures again.

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Carl Ikeme was forced to retire after his cancer diagnosis but has remained positive throughout his treatment. Photo: Andrew Fox for the Guardian

The first week of pre-season training at Wolverhampton Wanderers was over and Carl Ikeme had just popped out to buy some paint for the house when his mobile started to ring. His world was about to be turned upside down. “It was the doctor at Wolves,” Ikeme says. “I remember him talking about Stiliyan Petrov and Geoff Thomas, and I knew what it was. I was devastated.”

On a still summer afternoon in Sutton Coldfield, in the relaxed family home where his two little girls are happily playing, Ikeme has been reflecting on that awful moment 13 months ago when he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia and the life-changing journey that followed.

Ikeme’s career as a professional footballer is over because of the toll that chemotherapy has taken on his body, but the good news – the only news that matters, really – is that he is in “complete remission” and living at home again with the loved ones who inspired his recovery. “I was 31 when I was diagnosed – it’s young,” Ikeme says, puffing out his cheeks. “There’s a lot of life to live at that age. Obviously you want to be around to see your children grow up – and you don’t need any more motivation than that to pull through it.”

The level of support has overwhelmed him at times. Wolves fans held aloft a banner at every game last season, a six-figure sum has been raised for Cure Leukaemia in Ikeme’s name, and heartfelt messages flowed in from all over the world, including the ‘goalkeepers’ union’.

Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas and Peter Schmeichel were among an all-star cast that paid tribute to him, singing “one Carl Ikeme” on a three-minute-long video. “They’re the three keepers that I really admire, so to hear them actually say your name and show their support, it was crazy,” says Ikeme, smiling.

An affable and down-to-earth character, Ikeme smiles a lot during the two hours that are spent in his company. It is certainly easy to see why he is such a popular figure at Wolves, where he made 207 appearances after joining the club as a 14-year-old, and how his positive outlook on life has helped so much over the past year. Little more than two weeks after he had been diagnosed with leukaemia, Ikeme posted a picture on Twitter from his hospital bed, saying: “Still happy, still grateful”. Another photo followed on deadline day, six weeks later, under the caption: “Ikeme transfers from one room to another. Medical underway”.

It is remarkable to think that he could remain so sanguine. “I was properly grateful anyway before all this happened,” Ikeme explains. “I’m grateful that I’ve got my family and friends, for what I’ve been able to achieve in football, for having a roof over my head. And even in that situation that I was in, there’s still someone who’s worse off. There are people who are diagnosed with cancer that is terminal. I was given a chance – and I’m grateful to have that.”

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Carl Ikeme made nearly 200 appearances for Wolves in a 15 year career at the club. Photo: James Baylis – AMA/Getty Images

Yet for all his admirable courage and the wider sense of perspective that he talks about, there is no getting away from the fact that it has been extremely hard for Ikeme and his family over the past year or so, especially in the early days. Saba, Ikeme’s wife, has been a rock throughout and it is deeply moving listening to Ikeme recall the moment when he had to explain to her what the doctor had said.

“She was the first person I told. I was obviously upset, as you would be after that sort of news. I was in shock. I got back home and thought: ‘I need to tell Saba.’ I called her, and I couldn’t get it out on the phone, but she knew something was up … Sorry, I’m getting emotional,” says Ikeme, as he pauses for a moment while telling the story. “I got back and Saba came in and I told her the news. She was nine months pregnant at the time, due next week. I’ve never seen her cry the way she cried. It was tough.”

Even though Ikeme knew something was not right during that first week of pre-season, he never imagined there was anything serious wrong. Much of the close-season had been spent in the gym with Matt Murray, the former Wolves goalkeeper, and Ikeme reported back on 26 June feeling good and looking forward to working under Nuno Espírito Santo, the club’s new manager. The first indication there was any sort of problem came after some routine blood tests.

“My platelets had come back a little bit low, which the doc alerted me to straight away but it still wasn’t a cause of concern. He just thought I might have had a viral infection,” Ikeme says. “A couple of days later we had a tough session on the pitch and we did another 45-minute gym session afterwards. I came back and had a nosebleed. I wouldn’t normally tell the doctor about something like that, but I did. I complained about having a headache during training as well. So we repeated the blood test and it was still low.

“The doctor pulled me out of training and said we would go and see a specialist on the Monday, and he could guide us as to what to do. So I went to see Manos [Nikolousis, a consultant haematologist] and they did another blood test and checked my glands, and still thought it could be a viral infection. Then a day or two later I had a phone call from the doctor, saying that I had cancer.”

Although Ikeme dreaded the thought of breaking the news to Saba and his parents – “No one should have to tell their mum and dad that” – he tried to put his emotions to one side as quickly as possible. “I had to go and see Manos on the evening and speak to him about the plan. As soon as I knew the plan, it was like: ‘My head’s on this now.’”

There was only a brief moment, Ikeme says, when he felt sorry for himself. “The first day or two maybe, you do think: ‘Why me? I’m not a bad person.’ But then afterwards, I thought: ‘I’ve been overly blessed in so many ways that other people haven’t. I had a baby daughter, another one coming, I got to live my dream by playing football for a living, so why not me?’”

Ikeme told Wolves that he wanted a statement out as soon as possible to enable him to concentrate fully on his treatment. That announcement left everyone at Molineux in a state of shock and reverberated across the football world, resonating with one former player in particular. Petrov, the former Aston Villa and Celtic midfielder, had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia in 2012 and it says much for the Bulgarian that he wanted to visit Ikeme within 24 hours of the news being released.

“I’d never met Stan before,” Ikeme says. “But he came to the hospital. He had the same sort of leukaemia as me so he was letting me know what was in store. It was nice to have someone who had been through it, who could talk about it and give you guidance at certain points of the year. He could really relate. And when I got to Manchester, Joe Thompson [the Rochdale midfielder] was getting treated there, so he came into see me. They both offered their support and I knew I could call them if I needed to ask them anything, so it was good to have that.”

Ikeme moved to the Christie cancer hospital in Manchester within a couple of weeks of being diagnosed and it was there, lying in a hospital bed, that he found out he had become a dad for the second time. “On 16 July, 10 days after the announcement went out,” Ikeme says, smiling. “I was on FaceTime, it cut off and next thing I knew, 20 minutes later, Maya was born. It was crazy to think that you’re not there for the birth of your child. But I had a pretty good reason.”

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Carl Ikeme: ‘I’ve been overly blessed in so many ways that other people haven’t’. Photo: Andrew Fox for the Guardian

Ikeme stayed in Manchester for the next 11 months as he underwent intense chemotherapy. He returned for “little spurts”, including on Christmas Day, and even surprised his Wolves teammates on one occasion by turning up at the team hotel in Birmingham, just before they played at St Andrew’s. “I was in between treatment, so I popped in and quickly said hello,” Ikeme says. “There was a bit of an infection risk. But I wanted to see everyone to let them know that they were still in my thoughts.”

As the weeks and months passed by in Manchester, Ikeme kept a keen eye on what was going on at Wolves. The club set up a live streaming service in his hospital bed, which meant that he could watch every Wolves game, and Nuno was regularly on the phone, asking Ikeme how he was feeling but also involving him in what was happening on the pitch by seeking his thoughts on the performances. It was a nice touch and genuine, too.

It is hard to imagine, though, what was going through Ikeme’s mind as Wolves cantered to promotion. He had been the club’s No 1 for the previous five years, helping the team to recover from the blow of slipping into League One, and was now missing out on one of their most successful seasons. The timing felt cruel, all the more so because of the World Cup finals in Russia, where Ikeme would have been Nigeria’s first-choice goalkeeper.

“I’d love to have been part of the season going up, but my journey was just different and that’s fine,” Ikeme says. “The World Cup was probably a bit more difficult to take. The World Cup, to me, is the pinnacle of football. No disrespect to Wolves, because I loved playing every minute for them, but the World Cup is a different stage – they’re the memories you have as a kid. So that was something that I’d knew I’d miss out on and never get the chance to do again.”

There was, of course, a much bigger picture. Ikeme only wanted to get better and set himself a target to be out of hospital in time for his eldest daughter’s fifth birthday. Mila would not be disappointed – on 23 June Ikeme announced that he was in “complete remission” and looking forward to getting some normality back in his life. “It still doesn’t feel like it’s over because I’ve still got treatment going on for two years,” Ikeme says. “But it was a relief to get that news and know that I could go back home.”

By then his football career was over. Adrian Bloor, the consultant haematologist in Manchester, had given Ikeme the answer he had prepared himself for when he asked about the possibility of playing again. “It wasn’t a shock,” Ikeme says. “I wasn’t expecting him to say: ‘Go and get your boots on, mate, and get back to training.’”

It will take time for everything to sink in and Ikeme is still turning over in his mind what he would like to do next. Writing a book about his experiences in the past year is something that appeals, media work is another possibility and he has not ruled out going into coaching – there is already an offer on the table from Nigeria. “I spoke to coach [Gernot] Rohr at Nigeria and he said I can come in as an assistant to him. That’s unreal and it’s something that I’m interested in.”

For the moment, however, Ikeme is more than happy to take things step by step and savour life’s simple but beautiful pleasures. “It’s just enjoyable to wake up with your children every day,” he says. “Little things, like eating food at home, enjoying being around Saba, taking a walk to the park and just watching the kids run about – that’s all I need.”


CREDIT: All images used in this report, except otherwise indicated above, including the cover photo was taken and own by Journal du Cameroun.


SOURCE: This story was first published on BBC Africa website, and still retain the copyright of this content and all it’s images, except others indicated.

Arturo Vidal: Facts about Barcelona’s new signing


By Olamide Samson Olalekan


Arturo Erasmo Vidal Pardo, is a professional football player who plays for the Chile national team and the La Liga giants FC Barcelona.

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Arturo Erasmo Vidal Pardo. Photo: FourFourTwo


He joined FC Barcelona in the summer transfer window of the 2018/2019 season from Bayern Munich where he played for three years.

There are some amazing facts about