Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

Barcelona have boosted their midfield by signing Franck Kessie as a free agent on Monday. (File/AP)
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Updated 05 July 2022

Barcelona strengthen squad by adding Kessie, Christensen

  • Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals
  • Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s

BARCELONA, Spain: Barcelona boosted their midfield and defense by signing Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen on Monday.

The 25-year-old Kessie, who had been playing for AC Milan since 2017, arrives as a free agent on a contract until June 2026 and a buyout clause of €500 million ($522 million).

Christensen comes after his contract with Chelsea ended. His deal is also until 2026 and contains the same buyout clause as Kessie’s.

Kessie will be officially introduced on Wednesday. The Ivory Coast midfielder will be the second Ivorian to play for Barcelona, after Yaya Toure in the late 2000s.

The 26-year-old Christensen will be introduced on Thursday. The Danish central defender joined Chelsea’s youth teams in 2012 and had a stint with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga before returning to Chelsea.

Christensen helped Chelsea win the Champions League, the Europea League and the Club World Cup, and was on the Danish national team that reached the semifinals of the 2020 European Championship.

Barcelona called him “strong and with great vision, a powerful center back who is excellent in the air” and “technically proficient with the ball at his feet, a perfect fit” for the Catalan club.

Kessie has 58 international appearances with his national team and played at the Tokyo Olympics as Ivory Coast reached the quarterfinals.

Kessie moved to Italy in 2014 to sign for Atalanta, where he played in the club’s youth squads before joining second-division team Cesena on a loan. Coach Gian Piero Gasperini eventually brought him back to Atalanta and he scored twice in his Serie A debut in 2016.

Kessie joined Milan on loan in 2017 and permanently signed with the club in 2019 for €33 million ($34.5 million). He helped AC Milan win its first title in 11 seasons this year. In his six seasons with Atalanta and Milan, Kessie scored 45 goals.

Barcelona called Kessie “the complete package” and a “strong midfielder with tactical awareness.”

“Kessie is a player who contributes in attack and in defense,” the club said. “Capable of winning the ball back in midfield, the African midfielder also has impressive stats as a goal-scorer, partly due to his ability to make runs into the penalty area.”

He will join a midfield that includes Sergio Busquets, Nico González and Frenkie de Jong.


Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

Updated 56 min 57 sec ago

Djokovic makes winning return to ATP action in Tel Aviv

  • Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times
  • It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season

TEL AVIV: Novak Djokovic, playing a singles tournament for the first time since winning Wimbledon in July, reached the Tel Aviv quarter-finals on Thursday with a straight-sets victory over Spain’s Pablo Andujar.
Djokovic eased to a 6-0, 6-3 win over his 115th-ranked opponent in 86 minutes, firing 30 winners and breaking Andujar four times.
It was the fewest games Djokovic has lost in any match this season.
He was always in control against his Spanish rival who he has now defeated three times, taking control of the match by winning the first seven games.
“The first match started off in a perfect way for me,” said Djokovic, who last played in Israel as a teenager 16 years ago in a Davis Cup tie.
“I won seven games in a row and we were fighting in that eighth game (which took over 20 minutes to complete).
“It was one of the longest games I’ve ever played in my life and I’ve played many, many games in my life. But credit to Pablo for fighting and playing a great match as well.”
Former world number one Djokovic hasn’t played a singles event since capturing a seventh Wimbledon title 10 weeks ago after his refusal to get vaccinated ruled him out of the US Open and the entire American hardcourt swing.
His only other appearance had been in the Laver Cup team tournament in London last week.
It was there that he saw long-time rival Roger Federer retire from the sport.
However, the 35-year-old Djokovic, now ranked at seven in the world, insisted on the eve of the Tel Aviv event that retirement was not on his agenda.
“I still want to play tennis even though I achieved pretty much everything that you can achieve in tennis,” said Djokovic, whose 21 Grand Slam titles is just one short of Rafael Nadal’s men’s record of 22.
“I still have passion and hunger to play at a highest professional level.”
Djokovic, showing no sign of the right wrist trouble which bothered him in London, will face Canada’s 149th-ranked Vasek Pospisil in Friday’s quarter-finals.
The Serb boasts a 5-0 career record over the 32-year-old Canadian.
Pospisil reached the last-eight by eliminating Israeli qualifier Edan Leshem 6-3, 6-2.
France’s Arthur Rinderknech saved a match point to clinch a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (9/7) win against third seed Diego Schwartzman.
The world number 58 will next play Roman Safiullin.
British qualifier Liam Broady stunned fifth seed Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to set up a meeting with second seed Marin Cilic.


Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

Updated 29 September 2022

Injury-hit Barcelona visits Mallorca with hole in defense

  • After a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca
  • Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay

BARCELONA, Spain: When Xavi Hernández oversaw the remodeling of Barcelona’s squad this summer, the coach made sure he was so well covered at right-back that his club could afford to loan out US defender Sergiño Dest to AC Milan.
But after a spate of injuries that has decimated Barcelona over the international break, Xavi may have a huge hole in his defense ahead of Sunday’s game at Mallorca.
Jules Koundé, Ronald Araújo and Héctor Bellerín, who have played at right back this season, are all out for an undetermined period of time. Koundé and Araújo, who can play at center back as well, were hurt while playing for France and Uruguay, respectively, in games to prepare for the World Cup in November. Bellerín hurt his left leg while training for Barcelona.
That leaves Barcelona waiting to see if veteran Sergi Roberto can recover from a muscle problem that has sidelined him for three weeks in time for the trip to the Balearic Islands.
If not, Xavi may be forced to shoehorn a player with little or no experience at right back into the position, draft a player from Barcelona’s youth team, or opt to play with three centerbacks and two wing backs.
Barcelona will also be without midfielder Frenkie de Jong and forward Memphis Depay after they were both hurt while playing for the Netherlands. Neither has been a first-choice player for Xavi this season.
Of the injuries, Araújo’s appears to be the most serious. The 23-year-old defender underwent surgery this week in Finland to repair an abductor muscle in his right thigh that he damaged in Uruguay’s 1-0 loss to Iran on Friday.
Over the next three weeks, Barcelona face two Champions League group games against Inter Milan and a clásico against Real Madrid on Oct. 16.
The only good news for Xavi is that Robert Lewandowski returned in perfect shape from his stint with Poland. The striker leads the Spanish league with eight goals in six games.
Mallorca, coached by Mexican Javier Aguirre, has lost 12 of the last 13 visits by Barcelona to their stadium. Their only win during that stretch came in 2009 with Barcelona already crowned the league champion.
BENZEMA BACK
Karim Benzema is back for Real Madrid after recovering from a tendon injury and a strained muscle in his right thigh that had kept him off the field for over three weeks.
Benzema led Madrid to the Champions League and Spanish league double last season after scoring 44 goals in all competitions.
But his team have not missed him much and have kept up their perfect record this season of nine wins in as many games in all competitions.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side leads the league by two points ahead of Barcelona before they host fifth-placed Osasuna on Sunday.
“I’m feeling very good, comfortable. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday,” Benzema said. “We’ve got a great team, although it could be said that we’ve got two teams. There’s no difference between those who start the game and those who come on.”
Meanwhile a struggling Sevilla faces a tough test when they visit Atlético Madrid on Saturday. Pressure is growing on coach Julen Lopetegui and the club’s leadership, which sold off talented players this summer, after the team have won just once in eight games overall.
Third-place Real Betis play at Celta Vigo on Sunday, while fourth-place Athletic Bilbao host Almería on Friday.


No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

Updated 29 September 2022

No respite for Bayern players with Leverkusen game looming

  • Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back
  • Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team

BERLIN: The international break provided little respite for Bayern Munich’s struggling stars ahead of the team’s high-stakes Bundesliga game against Bayer Leverkusen on Friday.
Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann welcomed Germany players Thomas Müller, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sané, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry back to training on Wednesday after what proved to be a frustrating two games with the national team.
The rain they encountered in Munich matched the mood.
Bayern, after four games without a win in the Bundesliga, had been hoping that Germany’s Nations League games against Hungary and England would help reinvigorate their players and restore confidence ahead of a busy schedule of domestic and Champions League games.
Instead, Bayern’s players took their poor form to the Germany team, which lost 1-0 at home to Hungary, then drew 3-3 with England after throwing away a two-goal lead.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer and midfielder Leon Goretzka missed the Germany games due to coronavirus infections, but both were back on the training field for Nagelsmann on Tuesday.
Nagelsmann had said he was going to use the break to think “about everything” after Bayern ended their run of three draws with a loss in Augsburg, the team’s first defeat of the season.
Only a convincing performance on Friday will ease the pressure on the coach, who seemed to be at a loss to explain his team’s slump. Bayern next face a visit to Borussia Dortmund for “der Klassiker” the following weekend.
Leverkusen also need to make amends after their disappointing start. Gerardo Seoane’s team are in crisis after just one win from seven league games so far.
“Both teams are in a similar situation – each at their own level. Both are dissatisfied with the results, but both also show many positive signs,” Seoane said.
“Bayern Munich had an incredible number of scoring chances in every game. We don’t need to talk about quality.”


Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

Updated 29 September 2022

Qatar: COVID-19 vaccinations not compulsory for World Cup fans

  • All visitors aged over six would have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament

DOHA: Coronavirus vaccinations will not be mandatory for the million-plus fans going to the World Cup in Qatar this year, authorities in the Gulf state said on Thursday.

All visitors aged over six will have to produce negative COVID-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament that starts November 20, the authorities said in new health guidelines.

The 29-day tournament will be the first major global sporting event with fans since the eruption of the Covid pandemic in December 2019.

The Qatar organizers and world football’s governing body FIFA have said they want the event to be a sign that the world is getting over the devastating pandemic.

But they have warned that health guidelines will change if the threat blows up again.

Fans will have to wear masks in public transport in Qatar and anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 “will be required to isolate in accordance with Ministry of Public Health guidelines,” the health ministry said.

The ministry added that it may force players, referees and officials to stay in a secure “bio-bubble” if coronavirus cases take off “to allow for the safe operation and continuation of the event.”


Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

Updated 29 September 2022

Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah tests positive for COVID-19

  • Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia
  • Shah played only one game in 7-match series against England at Karachi before being rested

LAHORE: Pakistan fast bowler Naseem Shah has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the remaining two Twenty20s against England, the Pakistan Cricket Board said on Thursday.

Shah was discharged from hospital on Thursday after being diagnosed with pneumonia and the PCB said the fast bowler was feeling “much better.”

“Shah is back in the team hotel where he will follow all COVID-19 protocols,” the PCB said in a statement.

Pakistan is due to leave for New Zealand next Monday to participate in a triangular Twenty20 series also featuring Bangladesh.

The PCB didn’t clarify whether the fast bowler will accompany the team to New Zealand.

Shah played only one game in the seven-match series against England at Karachi before being rested. He returned expensive figures of 0-41 off his four overs in the first match, which England won by six wickets.

He was admitted to hospital late Tuesday night in Lahore with a chest infection and fever.

Pakistan leads the series 3-2 with back-to-back narrow wins at Karachi and Lahore in the last two games as England couldn’t chase down below-par totals.

The remaining two matches will be played on Friday and Sunday at Lahore.