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Huge game at Etihad, anger at Goodison as Premier League returns

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LONDON, Nov. 24 (Xinhua) — Football returns with a bang to the Premier League on Saturday with the biggest game of the weekend, and arguably one of the biggest of the season, as league leaders Manchester City host Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.

Pep Guardiola’s side holds a one-point lead over their visitors, which means they can open a four-point gap over their rivals, or see Liverpool leapfrog them in the table.

Guardiola will be concerned about the ankle injury that kept Erling Haaland out over the international break. The Norwegian and defender Nathan Ake will be doubts until kickoff, while Mateo Kovacic, Kevin de Bruyne, and John Stones all miss the vital game.

Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez are both doubts for Liverpool, but perhaps the main concerns for Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp are the lack of preparation time for such a big game after the internationals.

Third-placed Arsenal have a London derby away to Brentford, and Aaron Ramsdale will return in goal, as David Raya is unable to play against his former club due to a contractual agreement.

Raya hasn’t convinced since moving to north London, and the game offers Ramsdale the chance to restate his claim to be Arsenal’s No. 1.

Martin Odegaard is a slight doubt for Arsenal after suffering a facial injury, while defender Ben White is likely to miss out.

It promises to be fascinating as Newcastle United take on Chelsea in a game that will once again prove to be a test of both sides’ European hopes. Newcastle’s extensive injury list was clearly a factor in their surprise defeat to Bournemouth before the break, and players such as Harvey Barnes and Callum Wilson are certain to miss out, while Bruno Guimaraes is back from suspension and Alexander Isak, Fabian Schar, and Sean Longstaff have an outside chance of playing.

Chelsea have scored four goals in each of their last two games, with Nicolas Jackson and Raheem Sterling looking more convincing in attack than Mauricio Pochettino’s side has looked in defense.

Saturday’s other matches see Sheffield United at home to Bournemouth, which both teams will see as a chance to continue recent improvements in form, while a well-drilled Luton Town views Crystal Palace’s visit as a chance for three points.

Nottingham Forest received a huge blow ahead of their game at home to Brighton with the news that Nigerian striker Taiwo Awoniyi has been ruled out for several months after suffering a groin injury.

Meanwhile, there will be plenty of claret on show when Burnley hosts West Ham, but Vincent Kompany will have little reason for cheer unless his side can tighten up in defense and get a result to climb off the bottom of the table.

Injuries and suspensions look like they are derailing Tottenham’s season, with Yves Bissouma and Cristian Romero suspended, while James Maddison, Richarlison, and Micky van de Ven are among the injured for the visit of Aston Villa.

Unai Emery’s side is the form team in the Premier League with three wins from their last four games, and a win would lift them into the top four above Sunday’s rivals.

Expect a lot of anger when Everton hosts Manchester United in the wake of the Premier League decision to dock them 10 points for breaches of financial fair play rules.

The loss of 10 points has dropped Everton to second from bottom of the table, but probably means Sean Dyche’s men will be extra motivated, and Goodison Park will be a cauldron when they face Manchester United in what will be a massive test of character for Erik ten Hag’s men ahead of next week’s vital Champions League trip to play Galatasaray.

Fulham entertain Wolves to round off the weekend on Monday night.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Real Madrid beat Sevilla, while Barca move second in La Liga

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MADRID, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) — Real Madrid beat Sevilla 1-0 in La Liga on Sunday night to move eight points clear of FC Barcelona and nine in front of Girona thanks to an 81st-minute goal from Luka Modric.

Modric fired home an unstoppable effort from outside the area to end stubborn resistance from the visitors, who had ex-Madrid captain Sergio Ramos at the heart of their much-improved defense.

Ramos received a homage from Real Madrid for his 671 matches at the club, before he and his Sevilla teammates went close to frustrating the fans in the Bernabeu.

Modric’s strike came after the ball had been only half-cleared, although Sevilla complained the original ball into their area had been aimed at Antonio Rudiger, who was in a clear offside position.

Both keepers made decent saves to keep the score at 0-0 until Modric’s goal.

FC Barcelona produced arguably their best performance this season to beat Getafe 4-0 on Saturday

Goals from Raphinha, Joao Felix, Frenkie de Jong and Fermin Lopez beat a below-par Getafe to move Barca ahead of Girona, who play on Monday.

Atletico Madrid, who were without the injured Antoine Griezmann, could only draw away to bottom-of-the-table Almeria, for whom Luka Romero scored spectacular brace to cancel out goals from Angel Correa and Rodrigo de Paul.

Athletic Bilbao, who play Atletico in the Copa del Rey semifinal on Thursday, were unable to take advantage of Atletico’s slip-up as they lost 3-1 away to Real Betis on a day when everything seemed to go wrong for them.

Chimy Avila put Betis ahead with his first goal for the club, and it was 2-0 when Unai Simon made a save only for the ball to rebound off Yuri Berchiche and end up in the net.

Nico Williams was then sent off for the visitors after sarcastically applauding the referee, and Yuri had to leave the pitch with a hamstring injury.

Gorka Guruzeta pulled a goal back for Athletic with a header in first-half injury time, but Johnny Cardoso’s 67th-minute shot made the points safe for Betis.

Osasuna and Las Palmas drew a mid-table match 1-1, with Unai Garcia opening the scoring for the home side with a 48th-minute volley, only for Kirian Rodriguez to smash home from just outside of the area in the 52nd minute to assure a point.

Darwin Machis scored a 99th-minute goal that saw Cadiz come back from 2-0 down at home to Celta Vigo to claim a point that maintains their chances of avoiding relegation.

Things looked grim for Cadiz when goals from Iago Aspas and Williot Swedberg made it 2-0 for the visitors, but Juanmi pulled a goal back with a smart finish and Machis saved a vital point in the ninth minute of added time following a corner.

Alaves and Mallorca drew 1-1 with a result that keeps the home side well clear of the relegation zone and leaves the visitors in trouble.

Carlos Benavidez headed Alaves in front after 75 minutes of a close match, but Matija Nastasic gave Mallorca a morale boost ahead of Tuesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal return leg when he nodded home an equalizer two minutes from time.

On Friday night, Santi Comesana scored twice as Villarreal won 3-1 away to Real Sociedad, with a goal from former Real Sociedad forward Alexander Sorloth rubbing salt in the wounds for the home side, who are dropping a lot of points at home.

The scheduled game between Granada and Valencia was postponed because of a fire in Valencia on Thursday which claimed 10 lives.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Man City, Arsenal both win to pressure Liverpool in Premier League

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LONDON, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) — Manchester City won 1-0 away to Bournemouth on Saturday to close the gap at the top of the Premier League to just a point behind Liverpool, who play Chelsea in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

Phil Foden scored the only goal of the match in the 24th minute when he steered home after Erling Haaland’s initial shot had been saved by Neto.

Pep Guardiola’s side had scored six goals against Bournemouth earlier in the season but were lucky to claim the win as their rivals showed how they have improved since then and they almost claimed a point.

Marcus Tavernier had two good chances to level and recent signing Enes Unal saw a header drift agonizingly wide in the closing moments.

Arsenal also kept up the pace as they quickly took a grip on their match at home to Newcastle, with a Gabriel Magalhaes’ header ending in the net after a series of rebounds after 18 minutes.

Kai Havertz then scored from close range after Martinelli’s low cross six minutes later, with Bukayo Saka adding a third in the 65th minute and Jakub Kiwior making it 4-0 with a flick from a corner that deflected in off Lewis Miley with 21 minutes left.

Joe Willock scored for Newcastle with six minutes left to play, but it was scant consolation after they had been completely outplayed.

Aston Villa strengthened their position in fourth with an entertaining 4-2 win at home over Nottingham Forest in a game that was closer than the final score suggested.

Villa looked to be cruising and led 3-0 thanks to two goals from Douglas Luiz in the 29th and 39th minutes after Ollie Watkins had given the home side a fourth minute lead.

Moussa Niakhate pulled a goal back in the fourth minute of injury time and after making three changes at the break Morgan Gibbs-White made it 3-2 in the 48th minute.

He then saw a shot go wide when through on goal, and that was to be expensive as Leon Bailey scored a fourth for Villa in the 61st minute to end the fightback.

Alex Iwobi scored a cool finish to give Fulham a 97th minute winner at Old Trafford and end Manchester United’s recent winning run.

After recent improved displays, Erik ten Hag’s side produced a disappointing performance and Calvin Bassey’s twice-hit effort ended up in the roof of the United goal in the 65th minute.

It looked as if Harry Maguire’s 89th minute volley had saved a point for the home side, but Fulham latched onto his headed clearance fastest deep into injury time to seal a famous win.

Everton looked to be on track for a vital win away to Brighton only for Lewis Dunk’s 95th minute header to give the home side a point and deny the visitors a win that would have lifted them clear of the bottom three.

Jarrad Branthwaite rifled home a loose ball to put Everton in front in the 72nd minute and it looked even better for them when Brighton’s Billy Gilmour was sent off for a heavy tackle, but Dunk was on hand to ensure the match ended 1-1.

Oliver Glasner enjoyed a winning debut after replacing Roy Hodgson as Crystal Palace coach as his side won 3-0 at home to relegation-haunted Burnley, who made life difficult for themselves when Josh Brownhill was sent off in the 35th minute with the score 0-0.

Palace dominated against 10 men and second half goals from Chris Richards, Jordan Ayew and Jean-Philippe Mateta’s penalty gave them a win that lifted them clear of the danger zone.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Preview: Much at stake for Barca, Xavi in Napoli trip

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MADRID, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) — FC Barcelona travel for one of the most important games of their season when they face Napoli in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 on Wednesday night.

The game is vital for the club’s economy, as well as for the credibility of coach Xavi Hernandez, who has already said he will be stepping down at the end of the season, but who could find himself leaving earlier (despite assurances to the contrary) in the case of a defeat.

Barcelona’s budget for the 2023-2024 was partly based on their reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League, with the extra 10 million the club would receive from UEFA for reaching the last eight, making a difference to an institution with debts of over 1,000 million euros.

With so much at stake, if Barca lose the first leg in Naples, it would be no big shock to see Barca president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco decide to pull the trigger prematurely on a coach, who at times seems to be watching a different game to the rest of the world.

Xavi’s comments after Barca needed a twice-taken 97th minute penalty to beat fourth from bottom Celta Vigo, that according to Big Date his side should be top of La Liga, caused a few raised eyebrows – especially among people who have watched their games this season.

The fact is Barca are third in the table, eight points behind Real Madrid and still have several difficult games to play, including a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, and most of their football has not been that of a team that should be topping the table.

The good news for Barca and Xavi is that Napoli are in an even worse state, with the team currently sitting ninth in Serie A taking drastic action on Monday to sack Walter Mazzarri as coach and replace him with Francesco Calzona, who has just 48 hours to prepare for the tie.

Barca had some positive injury news on Monday with Joao Felix and Sergi Roberto passed fit, and both will be on the subs’ bench on Wednesday.

Xavi is expected to bring Inigo Martinez into central defense alongside Ronald Araujo, with Andreas Christensen moving into central midfield, alongside Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gundogan, with Robert Lewandowski and 16-year-old Yamine Lamal leading the attack and Raphinha dropping to the subs’ bench.

The extra man in midfield implies caution from Xavi, who knows how important it is to avoid a first leg defeat – both for the club’s future and his own.

Source(s): Xinhua

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