EPL

Watford seal Premier League return

By Sports Desk April 24, 2021

Watford joined Norwich City in sealing an instant return to the Premier League after beating Millwall 1-0 on Saturday.

Ismaila Sarr scored a penalty in the 11th minute to ensure the Hornets will be playing top-flight football again next season.

Xisco's side could still overhaul Championship leaders Norwich, with a five-point gap between the teams heading into the final two games. 

It comes at the end of a week in which the Canaries also exorcised the demons of relegation, leaving open the possibility that the three demoted teams will all regain promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt for the first time.

Bournemouth must first negotiate the play-offs, with Jonathan Woodgate's men sitting fourth despite a 1-0 loss to fellow promotion hopefuls Brentford. 

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    Samuel Umtiti was left hurt by the jeers from Barcelona fans but the out-of-favour defender is more determined than ever to be a success at Camp Nou.

    The French centre-back arrived from Lyon ahead of the 2016-17 season and played in 50 LaLiga matches over his first two campaigns.

    However, a series of knee injuries restricted his involvement over the next three seasons and the defender was reportedly one of several high earners Barca attempted to shift during the past transfer window as the financially stricken giants try to alleviate their spiralling debts.

    The situation came to a head during the Joan Gamper Trophy pre-season game against Juventus in which Umtiti was whistled by spectators when warming up and again a target whenever he touched the ball after coming on as a second-half substitute.

    Umtiti has since not played a minute of competitive action this season and his treatment by the fans left him feeling isolated.

    "Yes [the whistles hurt], a lot, honestly," he said in an exclusive interview with Mundo Deportivo.

    "I never thought this could happen to me in this club because I love it, I love this club. 

    "I do everything, everything, to be okay. I have had hard times due to injuries but in the end I do my job and this is the most important thing for me. Work and train hard, and people don't know it.

    "[I would tell those who whistle] that I'm fine. That the most important thing is the club, helping the players, you have to help everyone. Whistling is useless. I will give everything for the club, as I have tried to do from day one."

    The 27-year-old has been the subject of reported interest from former club Lyon and Manchester United but he remains adamant his future remains at Camp Nou with a January exit ruled out.

    "I don't see myself playing at another club, no, impossible. Right now I have it very clear [in my mind]," he added.

    "I want to show that I have the level to play here. The most important thing is to get back and show everyone that Samu is okay.

    "It is clear to me, the most important thing now is to play here because it is my club, I love this club. I want to succeed here, play, win with my team-mates, with the team. 

    "I see myself here, I'm waiting for that moment to play. I have to continue training, working and showing that I have a place."

    Despite his ostracization from the first-team picture, Umtiti insists he has no issue with head coach Ronald Koeman – whose own position has been under threat amid an indifferent start to a season that began with the exit of Blaugrana legend Lionel Messi primarily due to the club's financial difficulties.

    Umtiti, though, says he has not specifically asked the Dutchman for more playing time as he feels he has to prove his worth on the training pitch.

    "I can't ask for anything, because the coach makes the decisions and I have to accept them. I must train and show that I am okay," he said.

    "Ask for something? I will not do it and I think it should not be done. I must prove it on the field.

    "We have six centre-backs and I knew it was going to be difficult to play but I am like that, if I have something in mind and I am sure I have the level, I intend to prove it."

    In terms of his injury issues, Umtiti is adamant he is fitter and stronger than ever and is itching for a chance to prove so, while saying the work he has done behind the scenes to recover has not been fully appreciated.

    "Nobody knows what I have done and what I do. The workouts I do, the double sessions. I'm a worker," he said.

    "Football is my life, Barcelona is my life. Since I do not speak, people think that I do nothing, that I am on the couch all day doing nothing but at home I work, I train every day.

    "We can train every day but I lack the rhythm of matches. Rhythm, rhythm, that I hope it reaches me."

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    Erling Haaland is the name on everyone's lips.

    He has starred for club and country, but Real Sociedad's Swedish forward Aleksandar Isak has also impressed.

    Isak could be lured to Barcelona if Haaland is not available.

     

    TOP STORY – ISAK WANTED AT CAMP NOU

    Barcelona are lining up a move for Real Sociedad forward Alexander Isak if they are unable to sign in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, according to Diario AS.

    Haaland is wanted by Barca and Europe's elite, with the Norwegian linked with Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

    With competition fierce, LaLiga outfit Barca are looking close to home and at Isak as an alternative.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Ekrem Konur claims City are considering Barca sensation Ansu Fati as a possible replacement for Raheem Sterling should the England international depart the Premier League champions. Barca are reportedly interested in Sterling on a loan deal.

    Dortmund want Ajax's Sebastien Haller to succeed Haaland at the Bundesliga outfit, reports Calciomercato. Former Eintracht Frankfurt forward Haller has starred for the Eredivisie giants.

    Juve's objective is to sign Monaco and France star Aurelien Tchouameni, says Calciomercato. Tchouameni is also a target for United, City, Chelsea, Liverpool, PSG and Madrid.

    - Gazzetta dello Sport claims Juve, Milan and Tottenham are eyeing PSG's Mauro Icardi.

  • Messi out to match Neymar, Liverpool bid to end winless Atletico run – Champions League in Opta numbers Messi out to match Neymar, Liverpool bid to end winless Atletico run – Champions League in Opta numbers

    The Champions League group stage reaches the halfway point this week and Tuesday provides another set of tasty fixtures.

    Liverpool travel to Atletico Madrid seeking revenge two seasons on from their last-16 exit to Diego Simeone's side in the pick of the games.

    Real Madrid and Manchester City are each looking to respond to defeats last time out when they take on Shakhtar Donetsk and Club Brugge respectively.

    Elsewhere, Paris Saint-Germain host RB Leipzig and two of Europe's great entertainers in Ajax and Borussia Dortmund face off in Amsterdam.

    Here, Stats Perform takes a look at the key Opta data ahead of some key contests.

     

    Atletico Madrid v Liverpool: Reds face bogey side

    Following their last-16 exit to Atletico two seasons ago, Liverpool are winless in four Champions League meetings with the LaLiga champions – only Basel have they faced as many times without winning in Europe's top competition.

    The Reds have also lost six of their past seven games on Spanish soil in the tournament since beating Real Madrid in the 2008-09 last 16, though they were victorious at the Wanda Metropolitano against Tottenham in the 2018-19 final.

    Mohamed Salah opened the scoring in that meeting with Spurs and he has more recently scored in each of his past five away games for Liverpool in the Champions League – the longest-such streak by a Reds player in the competition.

    Shakhtar Donetsk v Real Madrid: Will Ancelotti be Los Blancos' lucky omen?

    Shakhtar beat Madrid home and away in the group stage last season and could become just the third side to win three in a row against Los Blancos in the competition after Bayern Munich and Juventus.

    While Madrid's recent record against the Ukrainian outfit is poor, head coach Carlo Ancelotti has won all four of his previous Champions League games against Shakhtar – only against Bayern (six) and Liverpool (five) has he won more often.

    Prior to their shock defeat at the hands of Sheriff last time out, Madrid beat Inter 1-0 at San Siro in their opening Group D contest. However, not since 2014-15 have they won their opening two Champions League away games.

     

    Paris Saint-Germain v RB Leipzig: History not on Germans' side

    After netting in PSG's win against Manchester City three weeks ago, Messi is looking to join Neymar (2017), Alex (2012) and George Weah (1994) in scoring in his first two home games for the club in the competition.

    PSG have a great record against German opponents, having won seven of their eight meetings with Bundesliga clubs on home soil, though the exception in that run was in April this year when Bayern won 1-0 at the Parc des Princes.

    The Ligue 1 side do not tend to slip up at home in the group stage, losing just one of their past 28 such games – against Manchester United in October 2020 – and netting 2.7 goals per game on average.

    Club Brugge v Manchester City: Pep seeking response to Paris pain

    Ahead of this first ever meeting with City, Brugge are winless in 12 matches against English opponents in all European competitions since beating Chelsea in the Cup Winners' Cup 26 years ago.

    The Belgian champions are unbeaten in their past four home group matches in the Champions League, though, picking up eight points across that run – only once have they gone five in a row without defeat (a run of six that ended in October 2019).

    But Pep Guardiola will be confident of City getting their campaign back on track following defeat in Paris, the Catalan coach having lost successive away games in the competition once previously when in charge of Bayern in 2014-15 (against Porto and Barcelona).

     

    Other fixtures:

    Ajax v Borussia Dortmund

    2 - Dortmund have won their previous two major European matches in the Netherlands, both in the Champions League. Their last defeat on Dutch soil was in the 2002 UEFA Cup final against Feyenoord.

    3 - Ajax are aiming to win their opening three games to a Champions League campaign for the first time since 1995-96 under Louis van Gaal, the season in which they last made it all the way to the final.


    Besiktas v Sporting CP

    4 - Sporting have failed to win a European match on Turkish soil, drawing three times and losing once, with that loss coming against Istanbul Basaksehir in February 2020 in the Europa League. Besiktas, though, have won just once in 11 home Champions League games, beating RB Leipzig 2-0 in September 2017.

    3 - Sporting lost their opening two group matches, against Dortmund and Ajax, and are at risk of losing three in a row for the first time in the current group-stage format.


    Porto v Milan

    6 - Porto have kept a clean sheet in six of their past seven games in the group stage of the Champions League, though they did concede five times in their last outing in the competition against Liverpool.

    7 - Including qualifying matches, seven of Milan's eight away matches in UEFA competitions in Portugal have ended as a draw, with their only win coming against Porto in March 1993 courtesy of a Jean-Pierre Papin goal.


    Inter v Sheriff

    - Inter have failed to score in their previous three home Champions League games (the last two group games in 2020-21 and against Madrid this term). They have never previously gone four major UEFA European home games without scoring.

    - Sheriff are looking to become just the third team this century to win their first three games in the Champions League, after Leicester City in 2016-17 and Malaga in 2012-13.

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