PSG face Nice with one eye on Barcelona clash

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Paris Saint-Germain's Italian forward Moise Kean drives the ball during the French Cup round-of-64 football match between Stade Malherbe Caen and PSG at the Michel-d'Ornano Stadium in Caen, France on Feb. 10, 2021. (AFP / Sameer Al-Doumy)
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Updated 13 February 2021

PSG face Nice with one eye on Barcelona clash

PARIS: Paris Saint-Germain will have one eye on next week’s Champions League clash with Barcelona, but cannot afford to fall further behind in the Ligue 1 title race when they host Nice on Saturday.

Mauricio Pochettino’s men suffered another setback ahead of Tuesday’s last-16 first leg against Barca at the Camp Nou when Neymar joined Angel Di Maria on the sidelines after suffering a groin injury in midweek.

But the French champions need to avoid dropping more points in Ligue 1, where they sit third, three points behind leaders Lille.

Neymar has been ruled out for “around four weeks” after sustaining a groin injury during Wednesday’s French Cup win over Caen.

But Pochettino defended his decision to play the Brazil attacker in the Cup last-64 game, for which Neymar was captain against second-division opposition.

“Every game is important. I believe that PSG must win every game,” said Argentinian Pochettino, who took over from the sacked Thomas Tuchel last month.

“If we had lost, you would have criticized me for not having given importance to the French Cup. We make the decisions, we analyze, we try to find the best team.”

PSG have bounced back strongly from a shock 3-2 loss at lowly Lorient on January 31, with league wins over Nimes and arch rivals Marseille.

Nice have started to find their feet in recent weeks, though, with a Cup victory over Nimes and last weekend’s success over Angers their first back-to-back wins since November 1.

Lille, chasing a first major trophy since winning the league and French Cup double in 2011, host Brest on Sunday.

PSG and Lyon, who welcome Montpellier to the Groupama Stadium after the Parisians’ game, could therefore both go top at various points of Saturday.

Marseille eased some of the gloom surrounding the club with their first win since suspending Andre Villas-Boas by beating second-tier Auxerre in the Cup.

But they will be without the suspended Dimitri Payet for Sunday’s trip to Bordeaux after the winger’s red card in the 2-0 loss to PSG last weekend.

Fourth-placed Monaco, the last team to deny PSG the Ligue 1 trophy, may also still have title aspirations.

The principality club, six points behind Lille, will bid for an eighth straight league win when they host Lorient.

With Neymar and Di Maria both missing, Italy striker Kean could stake a claim for a starting place against Barcelona.

The 20-year-old, on loan from Everton, has impressed for the capital giants despite struggling in the Premier League last term.

His goal in the 1-0 victory over second-tier Caen was his 12th this season, including two in the Champions League group stage.


Sensational Messi scores twice as Barca beat Athletic to win Copa del Rey

Updated 48 sec ago

Sensational Messi scores twice as Barca beat Athletic to win Copa del Rey

  • Barca scored four times to clinch an emphatic 4-0 victory, with Messi at his devastating best
  • It remains to be seen if his seventh Copa del Rey triumph is the last trophy Messi lifts in Barcelona colors

MADRID: Lionel Messi scored twice, including a stunning solo goal, as Barcelona blew away Athletic Bilbao to win the Copa del Rey on Saturday, consigning their opponents to a second final defeat in two weeks.
The cup was won and lost in a whirlwind 12 minutes in Seville, which saw Barca score four times to clinch an emphatic 4-0 victory, with Messi at his devastating best.
It remains to be seen if his seventh Copa del Rey triumph is the last trophy Messi lifts in Barcelona colors but if this was to be a final flourish, the 33-year-old crafted a fitting farewell.
“It’s very special to be captain of this team where I have spent my whole life and very special to be able to lift this cup,” Messi said.
His first goal, and Barca’s third, started with the Argentinian in his own half before a charging run down the right and a surge forward into the penalty area gave him the chance for a simple finish.
With the club’s new president Joan Laporta in the crowd, Ronald Koeman’s first title as Barcelona coach should also significantly boost his chances of remaining in charge beyond the summer.
“To win a title is important for me,” Koeman admitted afterwards.
Yet Laporta was noticeably evasive when asked about Koeman’s future.
“He is doing well,” he said.
Koeman took over a team at rock bottom, humiliated by a historic loss to Bayern Munich and wounded by the attempts of Messi to leave the club for free.
But this 31st Copa del Rey success for the club is a testament to progress made and Koeman will hope it not only helps convince Messi to stay but gives Barca momentum now in a neck-and-neck title race in La Liga.
“Despite the changes at the club and the young players, at Barca you have to always fight for trophies,” Koeman said.
“We have the first one and now we are going to fight to the last game in La Liga.”
Gerard Pique said it felt like the club had been “reset.”
“Sometimes you fall down and you have to get up,” Pique said. “It has been a difficult year but the team has turned it around.”
Messi was sent off when Athletic Bilbao beat Barcelona, also at the La Cartuja, in January to win the Spanish Super Cup but they never looked like pulling off a repeat.
After Athletic lost to their Basque rivals Real Sociedad in last year’s postponed final only two weeks ago, lifting themselves for another showpiece in the same stadium and against a tougher opponent was always going to be a big ask.
“In both finals we played well below the level that we’re capable of,” said Athletic coach Marcelino Garcia Toral.
Barcelona were almost ahead after four minutes as Sergio Busquets played in Messi, who rolled back for Frenkie de Jong but his sidefooted finish came back off the far post.
Sergino Dest dragged wide while Inigo Martinez had Athletic’s best chance but as he stretched for the bouncing ball, he could only poke over.
Athletic seemed to have played their way into the match before half-time but Barcelona came out with renewed vigour, with Unai Simon making two brilliant saves to deny Antoine Griezmann and then Busquets, both from close range.
But when the resistance gave way, it became a collapse, with goals scored in the 60th, 63rd, 68th and 72nd minutes to leave Athletic’s hopes in tatters.
First, Messi slipped in Dest down the right and his cross was diverted in by Griezmann before the second came from the opposite flank, Jordi Alba curled in a cross for De Jong to nod in.
The third was a spectacular from Messi, who started the move in his own half, leaping over one challenge and dodging another.
He took the ball back from Dest and drove down the right wing, away from three opponents and inside.
Messi twice played off De Jong, the second time after motoring forward into the penalty area, where he darted between two last Athletic defenders and slid the finish into the far corner.
His second, and Barca’s fourth, was more straight-forward, Alba pulling a cross back for the Argentinian to tuck under a weak right hand from Simon and inside the post. For Athletic, there was no way back.

Chelsea beat Man City to reach FA Cup final

Updated 18 April 2021

Chelsea beat Man City to reach FA Cup final

  • Damaging day for Guardiola's team as they lose Kevin De Bruyne to ankle injury

LONDON: Chelsea ended Manchester City’s quest for a historic quadruple of trophies as Hakim Ziyech’s goal earned a 1-0 win to take the Blues into the FA Cup final on Saturday.

A damaging day for City also saw them lose Kevin De Bruyne to an ankle injury just over a week away from the League Cup final, where they face Tottenham, and the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea were good value for another impressive win under Thomas Tuchel and will be favorites for the German’s first silverware in English football when they face Leicester or Southampton May 15.

Tuchel could land an even bigger prize in the Champions League just months after replacing the sacked Frank Lampard in January.

His side showed they can get the better of City in what could be a dress rehearsal for the Champions League final should the English clubs see off PSG and Real Madrid in the last four.

The physical demands of City’s bid for a clean sweep of trophies was shown as Pep Guardiola made eight changes from the side that beat Borussia Dortmund in midweek with goalscorers Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez among those rotated.

Tuchel made just three changes and Chelsea looked the far less disjointed side in a bright start.

Timo Werner’s cross was swept home by Ziyech after just six minutes, but the goal was ruled out for offside against the German international.

That proved to be the only shot on target of a cagey first 45 minutes that did little to whet the appetite of a potential reunion in Istanbul for European club football’s greatest prize on May 29.

Despite the number of changes, the ease with which Chelsea were able to spring quick counter-attacks will be of concern to Guardiola with the fearsome duo of PSG’s Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to come.

From one slick break, Chelsea’s wing backs combined but Ben Chilwell could only slice Reece James’s cross wide.

City got to half-time without any damage on the score line, but suffered a potentially huge blow to their hopes of still clinching a treble of trophies early in the second half.

Just 11 days before the first leg of the PSG tie, De Bruyne appeared to roll his ankle in a challenge with N’Golo Kante and was replaced by Foden.

City were still reeling from the loss of the Belgium attacker when they were finally caught out by the Chelsea counterattack.

Guardiola’s decision to retain Zack Steffen in goal for domestic cup competitions backfired as the American was caught in no man’s land when Werner raced in behind and once again squared for Ziyech to roll into an empty net.

Steffen made some measure of amends moments later to deny Ziyech a second when the Moroccan was clean through.

City took until the final 20 minutes to get going, but their best chance of sending the game to extra time came from a corner as Ruben Dias headed over from close range.

Instead, it was Chelsea who found the net again through Christian Pulisic in stoppage time only for the offside flag to again come to City’s rescue.

But there was no saving a bid for history for Guardiola’s men as they cannot now better Manchester United’s treble of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup from 1998/99.

Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool under pressure

Updated 17 April 2021

Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool under pressure

  • We have to win games and put pressure on teams. That’s all we know and we will try says Klopp

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp admits Liverpool are under pressure as they try to salvage a troubled season by finishing in the Premier League’s top four.

Klopp’s side have failed to defend the Premier League title they won last term and were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid on Wednesday.

That quarterfinal exit means Liverpool’s only route back into Europe’s elite club competition next season is via a top-four finish in the league.

The sixth-placed Reds have been outside the top four since early February and they slipped as low as eighth before winning their last three leagues games to get back in the race.

Fourth-placed West Ham’s 3-2 defeat at Newcastle on Saturday was a major boost to Liverpool’s hopes.

With seven pressure-packed games left, they would go above the Hammers on goal difference with a victory at Leeds on Monday.

“We just go for it, go and go and go and play our best football,” Klopp said.

“We are of course under pressure as we want to finish in the top four but we don’t know in the moment if we will. We have seven games to prove that and we will try.”

Leeds are coming off an impressive victory at leaders Manchester City last weekend where they played half the match with 10 men.

Klopp is well aware of the threat posed by Marcelo Bielsa’s side and he said: “We should not forget the opponents we face. We won the last three and that’s why we’re still around, still in the fight for the Champions League spots.

“It’s clear we have to win football games. It would be best to win all of them, but they are tough opponents and we have to respect all of them.

“We have to win games and put pressure on teams. That’s all we know and we will try.”

Injury-plagued Liverpool’s recent strong form domestically has been helped by the developing partnership between center backs Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips.

Liverpool have won the four Premier League games they have started together, offering a solution to the defensive issues triggered by long-term injuries to Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez.

“Using the information you have just given me I’d better start them in the next game as well,” Klopp said.

“These things have to develop. There was never a question about their quality, the boys have quality but you have to bring it together.”

Zidane: ‘I’m not a terrible coach, I’m not the best either’

Updated 17 April 2021

Zidane: ‘I’m not a terrible coach, I’m not the best either’

  • Real Madrid play away at struggling Getafe on Sunday and Zidane has been able to name only 13 outfield players in the squad for the match

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane defended himself on Saturday against accusations he is a lucky coach but again refused to commit to staying at Real Madrid next season.

An impressive week has put Madrid in sight of winning both La Liga and the Champions League, after they beat Barcelona in the Clasico last weekend before knocking out Liverpool on Wednesday.

Despite sitting one point behind Atletico Madrid, Zidane’s team are now favorites to defend the title they claimed last term in the Frenchman’s first full season back in charge.

It would add to the 11 major trophies Zidane has already won across his two spells as Real Madrid coach, which includes two league titles and three consecutive successes in the Champions League.

Asked if it annoys him when he is called lucky, Zidane said: “I am lucky, it’s true, lucky to be here and to coach this great club. Am I a terrible coach? I don’t think I am terrible, I don’t believe that.

“I’m not the best either, sure, but I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Zidane’s contract at Real Madrid runs until the summer of 2022 but doubts remain about whether he will continue beyond the current season.

He resigned unexpectedly in 2018 after winning the Champions League and has been linked with taking charge of the French national team and Juventus, where he spent five years as a player.

“I don’t think about the future,” said Zidane. “I don’t know what will happen, you can have a five-year contract and leave tomorrow or the opposite. I’m happy and thinking about tomorrow’s game.”

Real Madrid play away at struggling Getafe on Sunday and Zidane has been able to name only 13 outfield players in the squad for the match.

Madrid announced on Saturday that Ferland Mendy has a calf problem while neither Eden Hazard nor Dani Carvajal were deemed ready after recently recovering from injury.

Zidane has only four fit defenders, with Sergio Ramos out injured, Raphael Varane unavailable after testing positive for Covid-19 and Nacho Fernandez suspended. Casemiro is also banned after being sent off against Barcelona.

Yuka Saso shoots 2nd straight 64 for 2-shot lead over Ko

Updated 16 April 2021

Yuka Saso shoots 2nd straight 64 for 2-shot lead over Ko

  • Saso, who turned pro in November 2019, plays primarily on the Japan LPGA Tour, and is ranked 43rd in the world
  • Lydia Ko, the former No. 1 and two-time major champion, has not won since 2018 but may be the hottest player on tour

KAPOLEI, Hawaii: Yuka Saso shot her second consecutive 8-under 64 on Thursday to take a two-shot lead over surging Lydia Ko after two rounds of the Lotte Championship.

Saso, who’s playing on a sponsor’s exemption, made seven birdies in her first 10 holes to catch Ko, who shot 63 earlier Thursday at Kapolei Golf Club. The 19-year-old from the Philippines then birdied the 16th and 17th holes to reach 16 under.

Not bad a player in her sixth LPGA Tour event who’s uncomfortable with the Hawaii wind.

“I’m trying to get used to it,” Saso said. “The wind is still strong. Like I said yesterday, I don’t really like windy conditions. I’m happy I’m able to play good even if I don’t really like it.”

Saso, who turned pro in November 2019, plays primarily on the Japan LPGA Tour, where she has won twice, and is ranked 43rd in the world. Her best previous LPGA score was 69, and her highest finish was 13th at the US Women’s Open last December.

Ko, the former No. 1 and two-time major champion, has not won since 2018 but may be the hottest player on tour. She has played her last three rounds in 24 under.

Ko shot a final-round 62 last week at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration, to finish runner-up to Patty Tavatanakit.

“Coming into this week, obviously coming off the best round in a really long time, I kind of didn’t know what to expect,” Ko said. “Obviously you feel like your game is moving in the right direction, but you don’t want to kind of slack off. Having a good round under my belt yesterday definitely helped. This is a golf course where especially when the wind is down it’s pretty gettable.”

Fourth-ranked Nelly Korda was five shots back along with So Yeon Ryu, Hyo Joo Kim and Luna Sobron Galmes, who plays primarily on the Ladies European Tour. Sobron Galmes had 10 birdies while shooting 64.

US Women’s Open champion A Lim Kim was 10 under after a 64, joined by Ally Ewing and Brianna Do, who shot a career-low 66.

Do’s caddie for the week is Tadd Fujikawa, the longtime Hawaii pro who made the cut at the PGA Tour’s Sony Open as a 16-year-old amateur in 2007.

Fujikawa is home to play next week’s Mid-Pacific Open and practices regularly at Kapolei. He’s known Do since they were 12 years old.

“Most of the time,” Fujikawa said with a smile, “she listens pretty darn well.”

Seventeen-year-old Rose Zhang (68), the world’s top-ranked amateur, was 9 under.

Brooke Henderson, the 2018 and 2019 Lotte champion, was eight shots back after her second straight 68. She has hit all 36 greens in regulation.

Amy Yang had a hole-in-one on the 12th hole, the third ace on tour this year.