Guardiola a true believer in ‘false nine’ ahead of final

Manchester City’s Phil Foden during training ahead of Saturday’s Champions League final against Chelsea. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 May 2021

Guardiola a true believer in ‘false nine’ ahead of final

  • The unconventional tactic involves playing without a traditional centre forward, or “No. 9,” leading the attacking line

PORTO, Portugal: It is a term that once puzzled pundits and upset traditionalists but Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola says the “false nine” brings out the best in his team, and it would be no surprise to see it used in Saturday’s Champions League final against Chelsea.

The unconventional tactic involves playing without a traditional centre forward, or “No. 9,” leading the attacking line but with either an advanced midfielder or a withdrawn striker in a deeper position. The absence of the “nine” gives no obvious player for central defenders to mark and encourages them to move out of the backline to pick up the deeper player, thereby leaving space behind them that can be exploited.

It also creates a cluster of players in the pockets of space in front of the defense.

The approach has been so successful for City this season that Guardiola has used it in all but one of the knockout stage matches of this season’s Champions League campaign — meaning no place for center forwards Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.

In an interview with BT Sport, conducted by former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand, Guardiola explained the reasoning behind the tactic.

“It is have the central defenders, whoever plays, go 10 meters to pick him up. A little bit for this fact (also) to pass the ball, you have to have people closer,” he said.

“I always think when the passes are from distance, 15-20 meters, it is so easy for defenders, holding midfielders, when the pass is from two to three metres, it is more difficult,” he said.

Guardiola’s teams are famed for their possession football based around close passing — from his days at Barcelona, where he won two Champions League titles, to his Bundesliga-winning Bayern Munich side, and to City, who have won three of the last four Premier League titles.

The Spaniard says such an approach is part of his DNA.

“I love to pass the ball, I love to take the ball, pass the ball, I love it,” he said. “I don’t know, I was born in this culture and I like it. To do this, you have to put a lot of players (close to each other).”

But Guardiola is well aware that Chelsea are also adept at having players close enough together to allow for quick and accurate passing combinations.

“Why Chelsea play so good? Because they have three central defenders close, the two holding midfielders, the ‘pockets’ close, and the distances are so close and yet in the same time they are so wide with the wing-backs ... that is why it is difficult to play against,” he said.

Guardiola came up against Chelsea’s coach Thomas Tuchel in the Bundesliga and says the German’s impact was evident from the moment he took over at the London club in January.

“I think it is massive (his impact), I saw his first game against Wolves, it was a draw but I saw some routines, some fundamentals, some processes that I remember when I faced him ... especially Borussia Dortmund when he arrived there.”

Guardiola has a number of options for the ‘false nine’ role should he adopt it against Chelsea, with Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva the most likely to operate in that position.


Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

Updated 58 min 42 sec ago

Qatar opens fifth 2022 World Cup venue

  • The launch of Al Thumama stadium comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup
  • Qatar has so far officially inaugurated 5 of the 8 stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East

DOHA: Qatar inaugurated on Friday its fifth stadium for the 2022 World Cup, welcoming thousands of spectators who have either recently recovered from coronavirus or have been vaccinated.
The launch of the Al Thumama stadium, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) south of the capital Doha, comes as the Gulf country seeks to operate arenas at 100 percent capacity during the World Cup.
The 40,000-seat ground, which will host groups matches during Qatar 2022 up to the quarter-finals, hosted the domestic Emir Cup final between local clubs Al Rayyan and Al Sadd as its inaugural match.
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and FIFA president Gianni Infantino attended the opening ceremony.
It was designed by Qatari architect Ibrahim M. Jaidah to resemble the ‘gahfiya’ cap, traditionally worn by men in the region.
Energy-rich Qatar has so far officially inaugurated five of the eight stadiums that will lay the stage for the first World Cup in the Middle East.
In addition to Al Thumama, Qatar has so far inaugurated new-build Ahmad Bin Ali, Al-Janoub and Education City stadiums alongside the refurbished Khalifa ground in the heart of Doha’s Aspire Zone.
Ras Abu Aboud, Al Bayt, Lusail, which will host the final match in December 2022, remain to be opened.
Following the World Cup, Al Thumama’s capacity will be reduced to 20,000, with a sports clinic and a boutique hotel set to open on site.
Fans were able to apply for tickets to Friday’s event if they either tested positive for virus antibodies, or have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Qatar, which says it vaccinated more than three quarters of its 2.75 million population, has recorded more than 238,000 infections since the beginning of the pandemic.


Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

Updated 18 min 48 sec ago

Jones takes charge of Newcastle games during new manager search

  • Graeme Jones confirmed Friday he has been asked to take charge of the next two Premier League games
  • Jones feels Newcastle supporters have plenty to look forward to under the club’s ambitious new owners

NEWCASTLE: Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi have assured Newcastle United interim manager Graeme Jones he has a long-term future at the football club.

The Magpies have been working their way through a list of managerial candidates, following the “mutual consent” departure of Steve Bruce on Wednesday.

And on Friday, assistant Jones, promoted to the top job for the next two games, spoke of his pride at being handed the reins on a temporary basis at his boyhood club.

Ahead of the trip to Crystal Palace, former England coach Jones revealed his midweek meeting with PCP Capital Partners’ Staveley and Ghodoussi, who collectively own 10 percent of the football club, brought more than the news of his temporary promotion.

Jones said: “I spoke to the owners on Wednesday morning, and obviously they asked me to take the team on an interim basis for the next two games, Crystal Palace (tomorrow) and Chelsea at home (on Saturday, Oct. 30).

“As I’ve said previously, I’m fully focused on preparing the team as best I can, and being competitive in games.”

Jones, whose only managerial experience came during an ill-fated spell at Championship outfit Luton Town in 2019/20, continued: “I’ve had assurances, I have spoken to Mehrdad and I’ve spoken to Amanda — and I’ve been given assurances on my long-term future.

“My short-term thought process is about what I can do, this weekend and next Saturday. I think it is important for everyone going forward, I can give my genuine best in any role I’m given, starting tomorrow at Crystal Palace.”

Jones, at this stage at least, has made it clear he does not want to take the job on a permanent basis. It is unlikely he’d be offered those terms anyway, instead he would be integrated into a new coach’s model.

“I am very happy,” he said of his role at United. “I was very happy working as an assistant here. I am here just to give my best. Everything I have got for this football club, and I mean that.

“Of course, the level of responsibility has gone up.The gaffer (Bruce) has always trusted myself, Aggers and Clem to do things in the week, but now you have to pick the team. That’s what’s changed. I’ve obviously had to give that a little bit of thought.”

Newcastle United sit 19th in the Premier League table heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.

A win over Patrick Vieira’s Eagles would see United potentially climb out of the top-flight relegation zone.

The Magpies are yet to win any of their opening eight games of the Premier League season.

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Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

Updated 22 October 2021

Man City fan in ‘stable’ condition in hospital after attack

  • Five men were arrested after the incident that left the 63-year-old City fan hospitalized
  • The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday

BRUGGE, Belgium: Manchester City’s supporter who was attacked on his way home from the team’s Champions League match against Club Brugge in Belgium has been upgraded to “stable” condition though he remains in a coma, prosecutors said.
Five men were arrested after the incident that left 63-year-old City fan Guido De Pauw, who is Belgian, hospitalized after being attacked in a parking lot at a service station late Tuesday after City’s 5-1 win.
One suspect was charged with theft with violence and theft with aggravated violence, another with intentional beatings and incapacitating injuries, and all five with culpable negligence, the East Flanders prosecutor’s office said in a statement released Friday.
The five men were brought before a judge in the city of Ghent on Thursday. Three have been released under strict conditions, including a ban on attending soccer matches, and two remained detained, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Wednesday De Pauw had “life-threatening injuries.” In their latest update, they said he was “still in a coma but his condition is now stable.”
City has said the club is working with police in Belgium and Manchester to establish more information about the incident.
City manager Pep Guardiola appeared at a news conference on Friday wearing a T-shirt that had the message, ‘We’re with you, Guido.”
“In the last hours he is getting better and of course he has all of the support from the club on what they need for the investigation,” Guardiola said.
“A big hug for him and all his family. We wish that soon he will come back to Etihad Stadium.”


Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

Updated 22 October 2021

Benzema’s lawyers criticize ‘sex tape’ trial on last day of hearings

  • Karim Benzema’s lawyers said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case
  • Prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros for the French international

VERSAILLES: Lawyers for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema on Friday dismissed charges against him over an attempt to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape.
They said the prosecution had been driven by media interest in the case.
A verdict in the trial will be announced on November 24.
On the last day of hearings, being held in Versailles outside Paris, Benzema’s lawyers claimed the prosecution had failed to provide evidence to convict the star of complicity in an attempt to blackmail.
“One can ask what really interests French people in this case? Sex? Money? Football? Not the judicial element in any case,” lawyer Antoine Vey told the court, adding that the prosecution’s case had been built around Valbuena’s “feelings.”
Addressing the judge, he added: “It’s never too late to do some law. You are the final safeguard.”
Benzema’s other lawyer, Sylvain Cormier, criticized a “media-judicial circus.”
The prosecution demanded a 10-month suspended sentence on Thursday and a fine of 75,000 euros ($87,000) for the 33-year-old France international, who has not appeared during the three days of hearings which began on Wednesday.
Benzema, who is expected to play this weekend against Barcelona in the Classico, is one of five people on trial over the 2015 extortion attempt over a sexually explicit video that was stolen from Valbuena’s phone.
Testifying on the opening day of the trial Wednesday, Valbuena said the affair — which saw him and Benzema excluded from the national team — had left him feeling “frightened” and fearful for his career.
Benzema claims he was only trying to help his fellow player when he approached him about the sex tape at the French team’s training center in October 2015 and told him he could help him find someone to “manage” the issue of the video.
Prosecutors claim Benzema was working with the other accused, including a childhood friend from his hometown Lyon.
In a wiretapped conversation, he told the friend who is accused of acting as a middlemen for the suspected blackmailers that “he’s not taking us seriously.”
The prosecution claims this shows Benzema was complicit, but his lawyer said Friday the exchange showed the footballer was “not an example of total contrition” during the conversation.
“We never said he was being kind... but it is not a criminal offense,” Vey told the court.
In an interview with investigators in 2015, Benzema denied involvement, asking why he would get involved.
“I have enough money. I don’t need it,” he said.


Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics

Updated 22 October 2021

Beijing offering COVID-19 booster shots ahead of Olympics

  • The booster has been rolling out in cities across the vast nation since late September
  • The pandemic is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019

BEIJING: China’s capital Beijing has begun offering booster shots against COVID-19, four months before the city and surrounding regions are to host the Winter Olympics.
Anyone 18 or older who have received two-dose Chinese vaccines and belong to at-risk groups, including those participating, organizing or working on games facilities, would be eligible for the additional shot, state media reported Friday.
The booster has been rolling out in cities across the vast nation since late September, but Beijing authorities have been extra cautious in who receives the extra jab.
The games are set to begin on Feb. 4 with only residents of China allowed in the stands. Indoor events with sliding, skiing and jumping will be held in the suburb of Yanqing and the neighboring city of Zhangjiakou.
China has been largely successful in preventing local transmission through strict requirements on mask wearing, quarantining and contact tracing. Cases continue to pop up however, with 28 new ones reported Friday, including one in the Beijing suburb of Fengtai.
The pandemic is believed to have originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, leading to a total lockdown that affected more than 50 million people.
China has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and stymying investigations into the coronavirus’ origins, although it said earlier this week that it would cooperate with a renewed investigation by the World Health Organization while “firmly opposing any forms of political manipulation.”
WHO on Wednesday released a proposed list of 25 experts to advise it on next steps in the search for the virus’ origins after its earlier efforts were attacked for going easy on China.