Chelsea Face Man City Test As Liverpool, Man Utd Bid To Keep Pace

A photo combination of Chelsea and Manchester City players.

 

Chelsea host Premier League champions Manchester City in a stiff test of the leaders’ title credentials on Saturday as Liverpool and Manchester United bid to keep pace with Thomas Tuchel’s side.

The Blues look well-equipped to end the season as English champions for the first time since 2017 after signing Romelu Lukaku to add a cutting edge to their attack.

But Liverpool, the 2020 title winners, and Manchester United are matching them, with all three teams locked on 13 points after five games.

AFP Sport takes a look at some of the talking points ahead of the weekend action.

No Fears for Tuchel’s Blues

 

Chelsea’s German defender Antonio Rudiger (C) celebrates scoring his team’s third goal with Chelsea’s German striker Timo Werner (R) during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on September 19, 2021. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

 

Even though the season is still young, former England captain turned TV pundit Alan Shearer predicts Chelsea are going to be difficult to stop.

Tuchel’s team beat Manchester City three times last season — including in the Champions League final.

Since then they have signed Lukaku from Inter Milan and have also been miserly at the back — conceding just one goal in the league.

“Lukaku is not the only reason they are so formidable,” Shearer wrote in his BBC Sport column.

“They won the Champions League in May without him. But his arrival means they don’t have a weak link in their team, and they have such strength in depth too.”

READ ALSOMan Utd Crash Out Of League Cup, Spurs, Chelsea And Arsenal Advance

It is too soon to call the match at Stamford Bridge a title decider, but City boss Pep Guardiola will not want to leave London six points behind one of his main rivals.

Norwich’s Unwanted Record

Norwich City's English midfielder Ben Godfrey scores an own goal during the English Premier League football match between Norwich City and Burnley at Carrow Road stadium in Norwich, eastern England on July 18, 2020. (Photo by Julian Finney / POOL / AFP)
File photo: Ex-Norwich City’s English midfielder Ben Godfrey scores an own goal during the English Premier League football match between Norwich City and Burnley at Carrow Road stadium in Norwich, eastern England on July 18, 2020. (Photo by Julian Finney / POOL / AFP)

 

Norwich have lost their past 15 Premier League games under Daniel Farke — the longest losing run by any side in English top-flight history under a single manager.

That horror streak encompasses the end of the 2019/20 season, when the Canaries were relegated to the Championship. They immediately bounced back.

Norwich were given a hideous task on their return to the English top-flight, with their four first matches against Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester and Arsenal before last week’s loss to Watford.

The Canaries are only three points behind 16th-placed Wolves but must turn their form around soon, with Farke saying their leaky defence is the main problem.

“We need to be harder to play against,” he said ahead of this weekend’s trip to Everton.

“We need more steel, and we need to be nastier. We also need a result for the confidence.”

Can Kane Reignite Spurs?

Tottenham Hotspur’s English striker Harry Kane (R) celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the English League Cup third round football match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur at the Molineux stadium in Wolverhampton, central England on September 22, 2021. Lindsey Parnaby / AFP

 

Harry Kane has endured a slow start to his season for Tottenham after a move to Manchester City failed to materialise and is yet to score in the Premier League.

But Tottenham boss Nuno Espirito Santo believes the England striker is still getting up to speed after Euro 2020.

“He has much more to give and it’s about the game, improving and growing together,” said Nuno as he prepared for Sunday’s north London derby against Arsenal.

“In terms of the squad and preparation we have players who have 65/70 sessions and we have players who have 15 sessions.”

After three games, Tottenham were top of the Premier League and Arsenal rock bottom.

Since then Spurs have suffered consecutive 3-0 defeats against Crystal Palace and Chelsea, while Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have stopped the rot with 1-0 wins over Norwich and Burnley.

Arteta said confidence levels were rising after his side won their League Cup third round tie against AFC Wimbledon in midweek.

“Now the boys have won three matches in a row so credit for how they have handled that situation and now they are really looking forward to playing on Sunday, which is the biggest day of the season for us so far at home,” he said.

EPL Fixtures This Weekend (all times GMT)

Saturday

Chelsea v Manchester City (1130), Manchester United v Aston Villa (1130), Everton v Norwich, Leeds v West Ham, Leicester v Burnley, Watford v Newcastle, Brentford v Liverpool (1630)

Sunday

Southampton v Wolves (1300), Arsenal v Tottenham (1530)

Monday

Crystal Palace v Brighton (1900)

AFP

Man City Shocked 1-0 By Kane-less Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur’s French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (C) jumps to make a save from Manchester City’s Dutch defender Nathan Ake (R) during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on August 15, 2021. – Tottenham won the match 1-0. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

 

Tottenham shrugged off the absence of Harry Kane to give Nuno Espirito Santo a dream start as manager as Son Heung-min’s strike beat Premier League champions Manchester City 1-0 on Sunday.

Nuno left Kane out his squad with the England captain closely linked with a move to City, who showed why they are in need of a natural goalscorer in a toothless display.

City have already spent £100 million on Jack Grealish and are prepared to smash the Premier League transfer record once more to get Kane by the end of the month.

The Spurs striker was reportedly in the stadium, but not on the pitch after returning back to pre-season training late in his bid to force a move away from his boyhood club.

Early on it was easy to see why the 28-year-old sees City as the perfect destination for the final years of his prime to earn silverware.

Pep Guardiola’s men penned in the home side for the opening 10 minutes, but were left to rue not taking their chances as they slipped to a fourth defeat in four visits to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium without scoring.

Grealish could have won a penalty as he was tripped on the edge of the box by Oliver Skipp and Ilkay Gundogan’s free-kick was deflected inches wide.

Fernandinho then headed wide with the goal gaping as Hugo Lloris flapped at a cross, while Joao Cancelo and Riyad Mahrez sliced good chances wide.

However, buoyed by the return of a full house to their 62,000 capacity home, Spurs grew into the game and soon started causing City’s makeshift defence problems.

Guardiola left out England internationals John Stones and Kyle Walker due to their lack of pre-season training and Tottenham targeted the pairing of Nathan Ake and Benjamin Mendy on the left of the City defence.

Son saw a deflected shot fly inches wide before the break in a prelude of what was to come in the winning goal.

The South Korean has been a persistent thorn in City’s side and scored his seventh goal against them on 55 minutes as he cut inside Ake and fired low into the bottom corner.

Steven Bergwijn had a huge chance to double Spurs’ lead moments later when he fired into the side-netting as City were again easily cut open on the counter-attack.

Guardiola finally turned to his star-studded bench to turn the game around with Kevin De Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko introduced.

De Bruyne brought some much-needed speed to City’s approach play and tested Lloris from range.

But even the Belgian could not raise the champions from their slumber in the closing stages as their frustrations boiled over.

Grealish was booked for diving in on Lucas Moura in stoppage time to round off his miserable debut.

City have now lost their last three competitive games 1-0 after defeats in the Champions League final last season to Chelsea and Leicester in last weekend’s Community Shield.

Guardiola’s men should only get stronger with the return of many internationals and possibly Kane.

However, they have already ceded ground to Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, who all displayed their title credentials with convincing wins on Saturday.

AFP

Man City Make £100m Move For Kane – Reports

Tottenham Hotspur’s English striker Harry Kane celebrates scoring his team’s third goal during the English League Cup quarter final football match between Stoke City and Tottenham Hotspur at the bet365 Stadium, in Stoke on Trent on December 23, 2020. (Photo by Lindsey Parnaby / AFP)

 

Manchester City have made a bid of 100 million pounds (138 million dollars) to Tottenham for England captain Harry Kane, according to reports on Monday.

Kane, 27, has publicly expressed his desire to add trophies to his excellent goalscoring record and is believed to be keen on a move away from his boyhood club this summer.

Sky Sports reported that Spurs are expected to reject the bid with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy holding out for at least 120 million pounds for his prized asset.

Despite Kane winning the Golden Boot for top goalscorer and top assist provider last season, Spurs finished seventh in the Premier League and missed the Champions League for the second consecutive season.

By contrast, City claimed a third Premier League title in four seasons, but missed out on the club’s first ever Champions League by losing 1-0 in the final to Chelsea.

The English champions are looking for a replacement for all-time top goalscorer Sergio Aguero, who has left City after 10 years to join Barcelona.

Kane is yet to win any major trophy for club or country.

He is hoping to change that next month at Euro 2020, but his tournament has got off to a slow start.

Gareth Southgate has substituted his skipper in both matches, against Croatia and Scotland, and Kane has failed to score.

However, Southgate has already confirmed Kane will start Tuesday’s final Group D match against the Czech Republic.

“I know there will be a lot of questions being asked about him at the moment but he has been through that 100 times before,” Southgate said on Sunday.

“I have answered that several times in the past and he has come up with the goals that have won us the next games and I expect that to be the same moving forward.”

AFP

Man City Eye Title Glory As United Face Aston Villa

Manchester City’s English midfielder Raheem Sterling (3rd L) celebrates with teammates after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on May 8, 2021.
Shaun Botterill / POOL / AFP

 

Manchester City will be crowned Premier League champions if their arch rivals Manchester United lose at Aston Villa on Sunday, while Brighton blew a chance to secure their survival in a dramatic 2-1 defeat at Wolves.

Pep Guardiola’s side missed a chance to seal the title when they lost 2-1 against Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, but Marcos Alonso’s late winner will only temporarily delay their celebrations.

City are 13 points clear of second placed United, who have five games left including their trip to Villa Park.

United play three times over the coming week — against Villa, Leicester and Liverpool — and a defeat in any of those matches would seal the title for City before the leaders next play at Newcastle on Friday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side would love to keep City waiting for the title as long as possible.

The Europa League finalists also want to wrap up a second place finish, which would be their highest end of season position in the Premier League since Solskjaer took charge in December 2018.

But City have turned the title race into a procession since the new year and it is only a matter of time before they are crowned English champions for a third time in four seasons.

Pep Guardiola’s team have enjoyed a remarkable revival after a spluttering start to the season.

After a 1-1 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion in mid-December, City had won just five of their opening 12 Premier League games and started their next match at Southampton 11 points adrift of defending champions Liverpool.

It was the worst start of Guardiola’s managerial career, but since a transformative 3-1 victory at Chelsea on January 3, City have left their rivals trailing in their wake.

That was the start of a run of 18 successive wins in all competitions, a record sequence for an English top-flight club.

They have also won their last 18 away games in all competitions, also a record a team from England’s top tier.

City’s achievements have been even more impressive given the issues posed by a frantic fixture list amid the coronavirus pandemic.

– Brighton rocked –

In Sunday’s early game at Molineux, Brighton took the lead after 13 minutes when Lewis Dunk headed in Pascal Gross’ corner.

Graham Potter’s side needed a victory to be sure of avoiding relegation.

But Brighton captain Dunk was sent off in the 53rd minute after he pulled back Fabio Silva as the Wolves forward raced through on goal.

Wolves made the most of their numerical advantage in the 76th minute as Adama Traore fired home after exchanging passes with Silva.

Brighton were unable to hold on and Morgan Gibbs-White won it for Wolves in the 90th minute with a fine finish for his first Premier League goal.

Adding to Brighton’s woes, French striker Neal Maupay was sent off for foul and abusive language after the final whistle.

The Seagulls are 10 points above the relegation zone, with third bottom Fulham, who have four games left, playing Burnley on Monday.

Later, fifth-placed West Ham host Everton as they bid to close the gap on fourth-placed Leicester.

The Hammers, making an unexpected charge for Champions League qualification, are five points behind Leicester, who lost to Newcastle on Friday.

Troubled Arsenal, who crashed out of the Europa League against Villarreal on Thursday, face second-bottom West Bromwich Albion in Sunday’s final game.

West Brom, 10 points from safety with four games left, will be relegated if they lose at the Emirates Stadium.

UPDATED: Chelsea Beat Real, Face City In All-English Champions League Final

Chelsea’s German striker Timo Werner (3R) celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League second leg semi-final football match between Chelsea and Real Madrid at Stamford Bridge in London on May 5, 2021. Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

Chelsea set up an all-English Champions League final against Manchester City as goals from Timo Werner and Mason Mount beat Real Madrid 2-0 on Wednesday to seal a 3-1 aggregate victory at Stamford Bridge.

If anything, the scoreline flattered Madrid as the 13-time European champions had no response to Chelsea’s speed on the counter-attack.

The Blues should have ran out far more convincing winners as they toyed with the tired visitors in the second half.

However, Werner’s cushioned header into an empty net on 28 minutes after Kai Havertz’s initial effort came back off the crossbar and Mount’s tap-in five minutes from time were enough to seal their place in Istanbul on May 29.

Backed by Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s £220 million spending spree last summer has been rewarded with a first Champions League final since they lifted the trophy for the only time in 2012.

Chelsea’s German striker Timo Werner (R) runs past Real Madrid’s German midfielder Toni Kroos during the UEFA Champions League second leg semi-final football match at the Stamford Bridge in London on May 5, 2021. Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

A return to the biggest game in club football is also the culmination of a huge turnaround in Chelsea’s fortunes since Thomas Tuchel replaced the sacked Frank Lampard in January.

Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane welcomed back captain Sergio Ramos from injury for the first time in six weeks, while Eden Hazard was handed a rare start in an injury-hit season on his return to Stamford Bridge.

But the Belgian was again a peripheral figure as Madrid’s over-reliance on Karim Benzema to provide a goal threat was exposed.


QUICK FACTS


UEFA Champions League result on Wednesday:

Semi-finals, second leg

At London

Chelsea (ENG) 2 (Werner 28, Mount 85) Real Madrid (ESP) 0

Chelsea win 3-1 on aggregate

Played Tuesday

At Manchester, England

Manchester City (ENG) 2 (Mahrez 11, 63) Paris Saint-Germain (FRA) 0

Manchester City win 4-1 on aggregate

— Final to be played on May 29 in Istanbul


UEFA Champions League leading scorers after Wednesday’s match:

10: Haaland (Borussia Dortmund)

8: Mbappe (Paris SG)

6: Morata (Juventus), En-Nesyri (Sevilla), Giroud (Chelsea), Neymar (Paris SG), Rashford (Man Utd), Salah (Liverpool), Benzema (Real Madrid)

5: Berisha (Salzburg), Immobile (Lazio), Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Messi (Barcelona), Oliveira (Porto), Plea (Borussia Moenchengladbach)


 

A Season Turned Around

Madrid were handed a let-off when Werner swept home Ben Chilwell’s cross only to be denied by the offside flag.

Benzema needed only a half-chance to thump home his 28th goal of the season to level the tie last week in the Spanish capital and nearly moved ahead of Real legend Raul as the Champions League’s fourth-highest ever goalscorer with a quick turn and shot from the edge of the box that Edouard Mendy did brilliantly to turn behind.

Chelsea’s Brazilian defender Thiago Silva (R) vies with Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema during the UEFA Champions League second leg semi-final football match at Stamford Bridge in London on May 5, 2021. Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

That was the close Madrid came to an away goal and moments later they were behind as Werner scored just his fourth goal in his last 39 games.

N’Golo Kante and Havertz did the hard work as the French midfielder fed Havertz, whose audacious chip over Thibaut Courtois bounced invitingly off the crossbar for Werner to head into an empty net.

Chelsea have now kept 18 clean sheets in 24 games since the appointment of Tuchel turned their season around.

However, a failure to take their chances at the other end means they are still far from guaranteed a place in the Champions League next season.

That lack of a killer touch was exposed after the break as Havertz saw a free header come back off the bar before Mount blasted over with just Courtois to beat.

The former Chelsea ‘keeper, who controversially forced a move back to Spain in the summer of 2018, kept his current employers in the tie as he then saved one-on-ones with Havertz and Kante, with the Blues’ speed on the break too much for Madrid’s aging midfield to cope with.

Tuchel was growing increasingly frustrated with his side’s inability to put the tie to bed, but could finally relax five minutes from time.

Substitute Christian Pulisic left Courtois on the floor and from his cut-back, Mount slid in to finish from close range.

Fired by Paris Saint-Germain on Christmas Eve after leading the French champions to their first-ever final in this competition last season, Tuchel is headed back to the Champions League showpiece match for a second consecutive season, unlike his former club, who were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by City in the other semi-final.

Man City ‘Ready To Win Champions League’, Says Villas-Boas

File photo: Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola/AFP

 

 

Marseille coach Andre Villas-Boas said on Monday Manchester City are “a machine ready to win the Champions League”, on the eve of the two teams’ group-stage meeting.

City have never reached the Champions League final and are yet to even reach the semi-finals in four attempts under Pep Guardiola.

“(City) are a machine ready to win the Champions League,” said Villas-Boas. “They may not be at their best level, their coach admitted that.

“That’s why I allow myself to say that, but they are still at a higher level than us and remain the favourites tomorrow (Tuesday).”

City, who relinquished their Premier League title last season to Liverpool, have only won twice in five league games this season.

Marseille, the only French club to win the European Cup, are playing their first Champions League campaign since 2013-14 when they were knocked out in the group stage.

They lost their Group C opener to Olympiakos last week but have made a solid start in Ligue 1 and are only three points behind the pace-setting Paris Saint-Germain and Lille.

Dimitri Payet has only scored once this season, and Villas-Boas admitted he needs his star winger to find form.

“Dimitri (Payet) is a key player. We have spoken and we both know he can do better,” said the former Chelsea and Tottenham coach.

“But it does not only depend on him, but also on the team, which must help raise his level. He needs to rediscover what he brought to the team last season.”

City came from behind to beat Porto 3-1 last week in Manchester, but Guardiola will likely make at least one change to that team, with Kevin De Bruyne fit again and Sergio Aguero struggling with a muscle problem.

Villas-Boas admitted he cannot know what to expect from Guardiola, who has been criticised for tinkering tactically in Europe.

“Pep is able to create surprises, and the problem with City is that they have several dynamics and they can adapt. For us, however, this is not a game for experimenting.”

AFP

Messi’s Father Says His Son Could Stay At Barca

File photo: Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts after Bayern Munich’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP)

 

 

Jorge Messi, father and agent of Lionel Messi, appeared to concede his son could remain at Barcelona this season, according to footage broadcast by Spanish media on Thursday.

Messi senior seemingly replied “yes” when asked by a reporter if they had considered the possibility of staying at the club for another season and then leaving for free next year, in a video recorded by Spanish TV station Cuatro.

The images were captured as Jorge Messi pulled into a parking garage reportedly for another day of meetings with the family’s lawyers.

He had arrived in Barcelona on Wednesday, landing at the private terminal in El Prat airport on a flight from the Argentine city of Rosario.

 

 

File photo: Jorge Messi, father and agent of Lionel Messi arrives at his apartment in Barcelona on September 02, 2020. Lionel Messi boycotted Barcelona’s first pre-season training session on Monday, as the striker upped the stakes in his battle to leave this summer. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi boycotted Barcelona’s first pre-season training session on Monday, as he tries to force his way out of the club he joined as a 13-year-old.

Messi also failed to attend a coronavirus test at Barcelona’s training ground on Sunday.

Messi’s father was followed throughout the city by reporters and TV crews on Wednesday and told reporters it would be “difficult” for his son to stay at Barcelona.

According to local reports, club directors met with Messi and his advisors for more than two hours on Wednesday, but neither party was willing to alter their stance. Further negotiations are expected to be held in due course between Barcelona and Messi’s entourage, which also includes his brother Rodrigo.

Barcelona insist their captain remains under contract until June 2021 and will only depart if his 700-million-euro ($833 million) release clause is activated, a stance that has been backed up by La Liga, who say that release clause still applies.

But Messi and his lawyers argue he is allowed to go for free this summer according to another clause in his contract, which they claim was triggered on August 25 when a burofax stating Messi’s intention to leave arrived at Camp Nou.

Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City have expressed an interest in signing him.

AFP

Messi Weighs Up Pre-Season Return As Barca Insist On $833m Release Clause

File photo: Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi reacts after Bayern Munich’s second goal during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final football match between Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Manu Fernandez / POOL / AFP)

 

 

The first indication of how determined Lionel Messi is to leave Barcelona and how ugly this dispute could become will be gauged at the club’s training ground on Sunday.

Barca’s greatest ever player is due at the Ciutat Esportiva on Sunday morning for coronavirus tests, which must be taken and passed if he is to join Ronald Koeman’s first pre-season session on Monday.

Messi’s attendance or absence will be his first public demonstration since the burofax that stated his intention to leave for free arrived in the offices of Camp Nou on Tuesday evening and shocked the world of football.

Barcelona’s newly-appointed sporting director Ramon Planes said on Wednesday the expectation was Messi would be present on Sunday for testing and then training on Monday as usual.

But while Messi was initially inclined to comply and avoid escalating tensions further, his lawyers have since advised him to stay away, Catalunya Radio were reporting on Saturday.

Taking part in the team’s pre-season programme ahead of La Liga starting on September 12 could damage his legal case if his departure ends up being settled in court.

Barcelona insist a clause included in Messi’s contract that allowed him to go for free this summer had to be activated by June 10 and is therefore no longer valid.

The only way Messi will be allowed to depart, the club argue, is through his release clause, set at 700 million euros ($833 million) until his contract expires on June 30, 2021.

 

 

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi bends over during the Spanish league football match between Real Valladolid FC and FC Barcelona at the Jose Zorrilla stadium in Valladolid on July 11, 2020. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)
File photo: Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi bends over during the Spanish league football match between Real Valladolid FC and FC Barcelona at the Jose Zorrilla Stadium in Valladolid on July 11, 2020. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

But Messi’s side believes the clause refers not to a specific date but to 10 days after the end of the season, which this year was extended into August due to the pandemic, with the Champions League final only played last weekend.

If the Argentinian refuses to show up for tests on Sunday, and by extension pre-season training on Monday, it will suggest there is no going back.

The assumption will be that Messi is prepared to do whatever it takes to quit the club he joined as a 13-year-old boy, and where most expected him to continue all the way through to retirement.

– Barca standing firm, for now –

Instead, bitterness and resentment could accompany the unthinkable process of Messi being punished by Barcelona for absence, in the form of fines or a reduction in salary.

If he returns, those supporters who stormed Camp Nou in protest this week may feel an inkling of hope.

Cajoled by team-mates — although many of them expect to leave too — Messi could be persuaded to stay.

Mundo Deportivo, the Barcelona daily with close links to the board, wrote on Saturday how the club is adamant the Argentinian will remain.

“The more the days go by, the firmer the board and president Josep Maria Bartomeu are in not moving from their position,” it read. “Which is not to sell and, if possible, to renew the contract of Messi.”

Yet every stance is arguably now a negotiating ploy and Messi’s return on Sunday might only offer false hope to the fans.

Bartomeu made it known through the Spanish press on Thursday that he would resign if Messi said publicly that he was the problem and agreed to change his mind.

But Messi has instead asked for a meeting, not to negotiate, but to begin facilitating an amicable and dignified departure.

“Messi’s decision to leave Barca irreversible,” read Diario Sport on Saturday.

Manchester City remain favourites to sign the 33-year-old, whose basic salary alone amounts to around 60 million euros.

If Barcelona and Messi decide to avoid a lengthy legal process, a compromise selling price of around 100 million euros could be within reach for City, while eliminating their less wealthy rivals.

Messi has reportedly spoken to City coach Pep Guardiola already but others remain in the running, including Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Juventus.

The Italian sides would likely require a much-reduced price to afford any deal. But Juve might view the chance to combine Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as a historic sporting and commercial opportunity too good to pass up.

All of them will be watching eagerly on Sunday.

AFP

Man City Pounce On Varane Mistakes To Dump Out Real Madrid

 

Manchester City took advantage of two shocking mistakes by Raphael Varane to beat Real Madrid 2-1 in their Champions League last 16-second leg on Friday and advance to the quarter-finals as Pep Guardiola came out on top in his duel with Zinedine Zidane.

The Frenchman had never been knocked out of Europe’s elite club competition as Real coach, leading them to three consecutive victories between 2016 and 2018 in his first spell before returning to the job last year.

But Madrid had been left with a mountain to climb in this tie after throwing away the lead to lose 2-1 in the first leg in Spain in February, before the coronavirus forced the competition into hibernation.

An identical defeat at an empty Etihad Stadium means it is City who advance 4-2 on aggregate.

READ ALSO: Lyon Hold Off Juventus To Reach Champions League Quarter-Finals

Without Sergio Ramos due to suspension, Real were undone by mistakes by their other first-choice centre-back.

Varane was dispossessed inside the box in the ninth minute allowing Raheem Sterling to put City ahead, and his poor headed backpass attempt gifted Gabriel Jesus another goal midway through the second half.

Before that second goal the tie had been in the balance with the in-form Karim Benzema having scored for the visitors just before the half-hour mark.

The circumstances may be highly unusual, but this is still City’s finest Champions League result, their most significant victory in a knock-out tie.

Their best performance in the competition remains a run to the semi-finals in 2016, when they went out rather limply to Real.

Now they should very possibly be considered the favourites to win the competition in Lisbon on August 23.

If they do so, the victory would taste all the sweeter coming so soon after their successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport against a two-year ban from Europe handed down by UEFA for breaches of their Financial Fair Play rules.

They have already qualified for next season’s tournament after coming second in the Premier League but now they can look forward to facing Lyon in the quarter-finals next Saturday at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.

Real, meanwhile, will get over this.

They have dined out on success in the Champions League in recent years but their main objective after the coronavirus shutdown was to win La Liga and they did that.

Zidane’s team overhauled Barcelona thanks to 10 successive victories after La Liga returned in June but they were not especially prolific in front of goal during that run, despite Benzema’s fine form.

Uphill struggle

It was already going to be an uphill struggle for them in the absence of Ramos, sent off late in the first leg, and their task became even harder after they conceded an early opener.

City’s high pressing paid off as Varane was barged off the ball in his own area by Jesus, who squared for Sterling to roll in.

There was a response from the 13-time European champions, though, with Benzema and Eden Hazard both forcing saves from Ederson before their equaliser on the night arrived in the 28th minute.

A fine move ended with Benzema feeding Rodrygo and the young Brazilian clipping in a cross from the right for the Frenchman, who rose above Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho to head in from the edge of the six-yard box.

It was his 65th goal in the Champions League, putting him one clear of Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski on the overall list and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Raul.

Unfortunately for Real, Benzema was not able to add to that tally and this tie was effectively ended by another Varane blooper.

The Frenchman struggled with an awkward high ball downfield and his header back towards Thibaut Courtois was short, allowing Jesus to prod it beyond the goalkeeper and into the net.

Real will not return to Lisbon, where they won the Champions League in 2014, but the dream remains alive for Guardiola and City.

AFP

Man City Face Critical Appeal Against Two-Season European Ban

FILES) In this file photo taken on April 17, 2019 Manchester City’s Spanish manager Pep Guardiola reacts during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg football match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England.
Manchester City said they would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport after being hit with a two-season ban from European competition on Friday, February 14. Anthony Devlin / AFP.

 

Manchester City’s appeal against a two-year ban from European competition will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from Monday in a case of wide-reaching repercussions.

City are accused of overstating sponsorship revenue to hide that they had not complied with UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) rules between 2012 and 2016 and were also handed a 30 million euro ($34 million, £27 million) fine.

UEFA’s case was prompted when German magazine Der Spiegel published a series of leaked emails in 2018 that purported to show how City manufactured extra sponsorship revenue from a series of companies with connections to the club’s Abu Dhabi-based owner Sheikh Mansour.

Under the Sheikh’s ownership, City’s fortunes have been transformed from perennially living in the shadow of local rivals Manchester United to winning four Premier League titles in the past eight years.

However, billions of investment in players and managers has not yet been able to deliver the club’s first ever Champions League title.

City are still involved in this season’s competition and will be allowed to compete should the 2019/20 edition of Champions League return in August no matter the outcome of the appeal.

– Financial hit –

But a two-season ban from the competition would represent a huge blow to the club’s prestige, finances and hope of hanging onto manager Pep Guardiola and key players like Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.

“Two years would be long. One year is something I might be able to cope with,” De Bruyne told Het Laatste Nieuws last month.

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City banked 93 million euros from prize money and television rights alone by reaching the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League.

The added loss of gate receipts and commercial revenue would make it extremely difficult for the club to meet FFP regulations in the future without cutting costs.

City have steadfastly refuted UEFA’s allegations.

“Based on our experience and our perception, this seems to be less about justice and more about politics,” said CEO of the City Football Group Ferran Soriano.

UEFA has been under pressure, most publicly from La Liga president Javier Tebas, to impose a harder line on clubs backed by states, like City and Qatari-owned Paris Saint-Germain.

European football’s governing body also have plenty riding on the case. Lose the appeal and the future of UEFA’s FFP regulations will be called into question.

– Premier League impact –

The hearing will be held by videoconference due to coronavirus restrictions from Monday to Wednesday.

If no verdict is immediately announced after the hearing, the decision “could be made during the month of July,” said Matthieu Reeb, secretary general of CAS.

Even if City’s appeal to CAS fails, the English champions could present a further appeal before the Swiss Federal Court.

A delayed outcome would leave a cloud hanging over the return of the Premier League season.

City seem certain to secure Champions League qualification on the field with a 12-point lead over fifth-placed Manchester United.

If they are excluded, fifth would be good enough for the riches of next season’s Champions League, which are all the more valuable during the economic crisis caused by coronavirus.

Just six points separate United from Crystal Palace in 11th leaving plenty to play for in the final nine games of the season once the Premier League restarts on June 17.

AFP

Man United, Man City Unite To Help Manchester Food Banks

A worker delivers grocery bags to households in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 21, 2020 as internet shopping of food stuffs have skyrocketed in Sweden since the start of the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak. Anders WIKLUND / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP
A worker delivers grocery bags to households in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 21, 2020 as internet shopping of food stuffs have skyrocketed in Sweden since the start of the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak. Anders WIKLUND / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP

 

Manchester United and Manchester City have joined forces to donate a combined £100,000 ($117,000) to help local foodbanks affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collections are normally made at home games for both Manchester giants by fans’ groups supporting foodbanks, but football in England is suspended until at least April 30 due to restrictions on mass gatherings due to coronavirus.

“We are proud of the role our supporters play in helping local food banks and recognise the increased strain likely to be placed on these charities by the impact of coronavirus,” the clubs said in a joint statement.

“At a time of challenge for our community, we are pleased to come together with our fans to help vulnerable members of society in a City United.”

The donation will support the Trussell Trust’s 19 foodbank centres in the Greater Manchester area.

United have been taken steps to try to alleviate the burden on their staff and supporters during the crisis.

The Red Devils have vowed to pay 3,000 casual staff even for the remainder the season even if matches at Old Trafford are forced behind closed doors or cancelled.

And fans who travelled to Austria for the Europa League last 16, first leg against LASK only for the game to be played behind closed doors at late notice were given a £350 ($415) payment towards travel and accommodation.

Britain ramped up its response to the pandemic on Friday by ordering pubs, restaurants, cafes and gyms to close.

AFP

UEFA Postpones Man City Vs Real Madrid, Juventus Vs Lyon Matches Over Coronavirus

 

Manchester City’s Champions League last 16, second leg with Real Madrid and Lyon’s trip to Juventus became the latest high-profile football matches to be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, UEFA confirmed on Thursday.

Juventus defender Daniele Rugani has tested positive for the virus, forcing players and staff of the Italian champions into quarantine.

Madrid players have also been put into isolation after one of the club’s basketball players tested positive for COVID-19.

Both matches were due to take place on Tuesday, March 17.

As it stands, Wednesday’s two last 16, second legs between Bayern Munich and Chelsea and Barcelona and Napoli are still set to go ahead behind closed doors.

However, UEFA is to have a crisis meeting on Tuesday with representatives from all 55 national associations and club and player bodies to decide how national leagues, European competitions and Euro 2020 should proceed.

“The decision to postpone Tuesday’s game was made in conjunction with UEFA and follows confirmation that players from Real Madrid will self-isolate for fifteen days,” City said in a statement.

“The Club sends its best wishes to the players and staff at Real Madrid’s football and basketball teams.”

Serie A in Italy, the European country worst hit by the virus, has already suspended its matches until April 3.

Matches have been suspended for two weeks in Spain, while France’s Ligue 1 will continue its season but without spectators.

No such restrictions have been put upon Premier League games with a full round of games set to take place this weekend.

City’s home match with Arsenal that was due to take place on Wednesday is the only Premier League game to be abandoned so far after Arsenal players came into contact with Olympiakos owner Vangelis Marinakis, who tested positive for the virus, after a Europa League match two weeks ago.

AFP