Injury-hit Liverpool roar back against Luton to surge four points clear

Liverpool's Cody Gakpo, right, challenges for the ball with Luton Town's Carlton Morris during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Luton Town, at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Injury-hit Liverpool roar back against Luton to surge four points clear

  • Victory takes Jurgen Klopp’s men four points clear of Manchester City and five ahead of third-placed Arsenal, but having played a game more than both their title rivals

LIVERPOOL: An injury-ravaged Liverpool fought back from a goal down to beat Luton 4-1 and open up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League on Wednesday.
Chiedozie Ogbene had given the Hatters a shock first-half lead against a Liverpool side missing Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota among others.
Dutch international duo Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo turned the game on its head in two minutes just before the hour mark before Luis Diaz and Harvey Elliott secured the win.
Victory takes Jurgen Klopp’s men four points clear of Manchester City and five ahead of third-placed Arsenal, but having played a game more than both their title rivals.
Liverpool’s squad was already stretched by injuries prior to loss of Curtis Jones, Jota and Nunez in the first-half of Saturday’s 4-1 win at Brentford.
Salah scored on his return from a hamstring injury at the weekend, but was forced on as a substitute earlier than planned and suffered a setback that kept him out.
Klopp was already without Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip and Thiago Alcantara due to injury and the stretched Reds were forced to work harder for the three points than they would have wished just days before the League Cup final.
Without the first-choice front three of Salah, Jota and Nunez, there was extra responsibility on Diaz but the Colombian had a first 45 minutes to forget.
Twice he had big chances to open the scoring in the first five minutes, but took too long to get his shot away and then fired wide.
Luton held Liverpool 1-1 when the sides met at Kenilworth Road in November and have made a habit of ruffling the feathers of the Premier League’s elite on their return to the top flight.
However, the visitors had barely posed a threat before they went in front on 12 minutes.
Tahith Chong burst into the Liverpool box and when his powerful shot was parried by the legs of Caoimhin Kelleher, Ogbene headed in at the far post.
All of Liverpool’s chances before the break continued to fall to Diaz.
He just could not stretch to make a strong connection on Wataru Endo’s cross and then blazed high and wide when unmarked from the edge of the area.
Klopp was whipping up the Anfield crowd at every opportunity and his side finally opened the floodgates on 56 minutes.
Captain Van Dijk led by example as he shrugged off his marker to power in Alexis Mac Allister’s corner.
Mac Allister was the creator again seconds later as Luton again switched off from a dead ball.
Conor Bradley’s throw-in picked out the Argentine midfielder and his volleyed cross was headed in by Gakpo.
Only some heroics from Thomas Kaminski denied Gakpo and Van Dijk their second goals of the night as Liverpool continued to surge forward, even with the lead.
And an animated Klopp could finally relax 19 minutes from time when Diaz this time kept his composure to slot home his 10th goal of the season.
Elliott then rounded off the scoring on his 100th Liverpool appearance by blasting a loose ball into the top corner.
Liverpool’s attention now turns to securing the first of a potential quadruple of trophies to mark Klopp’s final season in charge when they face Chelsea in Sunday’s League Cup final at Wembley.


Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

Updated 17 May 2024
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Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

  • “We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said
  • In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements

MUNICH: Thomas Tuchel says he is still leaving Bayern Munich after talks on extending his stay at the club fell through.
Bayern said in February that Tuchel would leave at the end of the season, but the coach said Friday that he held talks with the club on a “180-degree turn” that would have seen him stay after all.
“We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said.
In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements.
Xabi Alonso is staying with Bayer Leverkusen after beating Bayern to the Bundesliga title, Tuchel’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann signed an extension with the German national team, and Ralf Rangnick remains with Austria.
Bayern are without a trophy this season for the first time since 2012 after losing the Bundesliga title to Bayer Leverkusen, but Tuchel’s team were praised for reaching the Champions League semifinals before a narrow loss to Real Madrid.
There was also a petition from some Bayern fans calling on the club to keep Tuchel.
Strong European performances prompted the club to reach out to him in an attempt to persuade him to stay, the coach said.
“Above all, the feedback after Real Madrid over this last week was the basis to think again about the 180-degree turn, but we didn’t reach any agreement,” he said. “I don’t want to go into the individual points and the motivations behind them. That is behind closed doors and stays that way.”
There was tension last month after Tuchel said he had been insulted by comments from the club’s honorary president Uli Hoeness claiming the coach “doesn’t think he can improve” the team’s young stars.
Tuchel said at the time that Hoeness’ comments were “so far removed from reality” and added: “On the one hand it insults my honor as a coach, because I think we’ve shown as a coaching team for the last 15 years that young players, especially from the academy, always, always, always have a place with us in training and that they have a place on the field with their performances.”
Tuchel is heading into his last game with Bayern at Hoffenheim on Saturday with second place in the Bundesliga on the line. The injury list is as long as ever in a season when he has rarely had his first-choice team available.
Striker Harry Kane is undergoing treatment on a reported back injury, while Leroy Sané, Kim Min-jae, Kingsley Coman, Raphael Guerreiro and Jamal Musiala are also injured and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is unavailable with flu, Tuchel said. Right back Sacha Boey has been granted personal leave.
Bayern’s two-point advantage over third-place Stuttgart and superior goal difference mean that a draw with Hoffenheim — which is seventh and chasing European qualification — should be enough to guarantee second position. Stuttgart host Borussia Moenchengladbach.


FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivers his speech at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Updated 17 May 2024
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FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants

BANKOK: Soccer’s world body FIFA ordered an urgent legal evaluation on Friday of a proposal by the Palestinian Football Association to suspend Israel over the war in Gaza, promising to address it at an extraordinary meeting of its council in July.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino took the decision at an annual Congress in Bangkok, where the PFA president made an emotional plea to delegates to hold a vote to suspend Israel from all club and national competitions, accusing it of multiple breaches of FIFA statutes.
The Palestinian proposal accuses the Israel Football Association of complicity in violations of international law by the Israeli government, discrimination against Arab players, and inclusion in its league of clubs located in Palestinian territory. The IFA rejected that.
The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.

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The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.

“FIFA cannot afford to remain indifferent to these violations or to the ongoing genocide in Palestine, just as it did not remain indifferent to numerous precedents,” PFA President Jibril Rajoub said.
“How much more must the Palestinian football family suffer for FIFA to act with the same urgency and severity as it did in other cases? Does FIFA consider some wars to be more important than others and some victims to be more significant?“
Since an Oct. 7 cross-border raid by militant group Hamas that Israel says killed more than 1,200 people, the Gaza offensive has left more than 35,000 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants.
Rajoub said 193 Palestinian players had been killed, football infrastructure destroyed, its leagues suspended and its national team required to play World Cup qualifiers abroad.

‘Cynical, political and hostile’
The proposal was sent to FIFA in March and added to the Congress agenda with the support of the Algerian, Jordanian, Syrian and Yemeni federations.
The Asian Football Confederation gave its backing on Thursday for action against Israel.
IFA chief Shino Moshe Zuares said the proposal was based on motives and ambitions that “have nothing to do with the spirit of sports or the FIFA value of separating sports from politics.”
“Today, maybe more than ever, I believe that football must be a key element in healing the fractures and the wounds, helping us and everyone to recover,” he told the Congress.
“Yet, once again, we are facing a cynical, political, and hostile attempt by the PFA to harm Israeli football.
“I am holding myself back and will not speak about the true motives out of respect for this institution,” he said.
Infantino expressed extreme shock over the Oct. 7 attacks and the offensives in Gaza and said due to the “obvious sensitivity of the issue,” independent legal experts would be brought in urgently to analyze the Palestinian allegations.
Those findings would be referred to the FIFA Council, its main decision-making body outside of the Congress, to convene an extraordinary meeting in July and take appropriate decisions, he said.

 


Slot confirms he will replace Klopp as Liverpool manager

Updated 17 May 2024
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Slot confirms he will replace Klopp as Liverpool manager

  • “There hasn’t be an official announcement yet — but I don’t think it will come as news to you that I will be coach there next season,” Slot told reporters.
  • The BBC said last month that Slot’s deal to replace Klopp was worth up to £9.4 million

THE HAGUE: Feyenoord coach Arne Slot confirmed on Friday that he would be replacing Jurgen Klopp as manager of Liverpool next season.
“There hasn’t be an official announcement yet — but I don’t think it will come as news to you that I will be coach there next season,” Slot told reporters.
The BBC said last month that Slot’s deal to replace Klopp was worth up to £9.4 million (10.9 million euros).
“The feeling that I’m leaving here is getting stronger. There are some people you don’t simply just want to shake hands with,” Slot said ahead of his last game at the club.
“At those times, it’s not about whether you have become a champion or won the cup, but more about the appreciation between people,” he added.
Slot moved to Feyenoord in 2021 after impressing in his first managerial role at AZ Alkmaar.
He led the Dutch giants to the inaugural Europa Conference League final at the end of his first season, in which they narrowly lost 1-0 to Jose Mourinho’s Roma.
Slot then delivered just a second league title in 24 years to De Kuip last season before penning a new three-year deal.
“You can see people are genuinely sorry you are leaving,” he said.
“You can say that with words, but when you see it in people’s faces, it affects me quite a lot.”
The Feyenoord club website said a farewell party was being organized at the raucous De Kuip stadium after Slot’s final game, against Excelsior.
Feyenoord have enjoyed a strong season, winning the Dutch Cup and coming second to an all-conquering PSV Eindhoven side with one game remaining.
But Slot has only lost two league games all season and noted: “If we win (on Sunday), we will have 84 points and we will be the second best Feyenoord team in club history.”
Under Slot, Feyenoord have delighted the fans in De Kuip with an attacking brand of football and the 45-year-old won praise from Klopp himself.
“I like the way his team plays football. If he is the one, I like that he wants it,” Klopp told reporters last month.
“It’s the best job in the world, best club in the world. Great job, great team, fantastic people. A really interesting job,” said Klopp.
Liverpool captain and fellow Dutchman Virgil van Dijk has also hailed Slot’s attacking mindset, saying it would suit the philosophy at Anfield.
“I think the way of playing and the philosophy he has, that he could be a Liverpool coach,” said Van Dijk.
A fan of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, Slot was a slick forward as a player with a reputation as an accurate passer of the ball — so much so he has a move named after him.
The Arne Slot Pass is a slight deflection from a forward with his back to goal which splits the defense and releases a winger running off the ball.
Klopp will step down as Liverpool manager at the end of this season after a nine-year reign which brought the Champions League title in 2019 and Premier League trophy a year later.
Initially, Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso had been the favorite to succeed Klopp.
However, Alonso has committed to staying at Leverkusen after leading them to a first-ever Bundesliga title.


Unbeaten Leverkusen facing three finals in a week, says Alonso

Updated 17 May 2024
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Unbeaten Leverkusen facing three finals in a week, says Alonso

  • Leverkusen are on a season-long unbeaten run of 50 games, already breaking a 59-year-old UEFA record
  • Alonso’s men face Atalanta in the Europa League final in Dublin on Wednesday, followed by the German Cup final against second-division Kaiserslautern three days later

BERLIN: Unbeaten Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen are facing three finals in one week in their bid for a treble, coach Xabi Alonso said on Friday.
Leverkusen are on a season-long unbeaten run of 50 games, already breaking a 59-year-old UEFA record.
Leverkusen can become the first ‘invincible’ team in Bundesliga history by avoiding defeat at home against Augsburg on Saturday.
Alonso’s men face Atalanta in the Europa League final in Dublin on Wednesday, followed by the German Cup final against second-division Kaiserslautern three days later.
“Tomorrow is our first final,” Alonso said. “We can achieve something historic.
“To stay unbeaten in the Bundesliga — we’ll be the first team and we’ll be a part of history.”
Leverkusen will be presented with the Bundesliga trophy for the first time in their history after Saturday’s match.
Long derided as “Neverkusen” for often finishing second and never winning a top-flight crown, Leverkusen are close to a remarkable treble.
“(We are) not thinking about Wednesday (Europa League final) — we’re thinking about tomorrow and about Augsburg,” Alonso insisted.
The Spaniard, who is in his first full season as a head coach, said his players “don’t have time” to celebrate “too much” on Saturday.
“We can celebrate with our fans, but from Monday we need to be fully focused on our final week.
“They’re professional and I don’t need to tell them. We need to be intelligent.”
Alonso said star midfielder Florian Wirtz, who has not started in the league for five games, had overcome a leg injury and “can start” against Augsburg.
“There are no limitations for tomorrow. He feels much better and doesn’t have any pain.”


Messi napkin that sealed Barcelona move sells for $965,000 at auction

Updated 17 May 2024
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Messi napkin that sealed Barcelona move sells for $965,000 at auction

  • An agreement in principle to sign the-then 13-year-old Messi was written on the napkin almost 25 years ago
  • An undisclosed percentage of the sale price pays administrative fees for the online auction

LONDON: The famous napkin that linked a young Lionel Messi to Barcelona sold for $965,000 on Friday, British auction house Bonhams said.
An agreement in principle to sign the-then 13-year-old Messi was written on the napkin almost 25 years ago at a Barcelona tennis club. A more formal and detailed contract with the club followed soon after.
An undisclosed percentage of the sale price pays administrative fees for the online auction, in what’s called the buyer’s premium.
Bonhams said the auction was on behalf of Horacio Gaggioli, an agent from Messi’s home country of Argentina who was part of the deal.
The contract language, written in blue ink, was intended to reassure the teenager’s father, Jorge Messi, that the deal would go through.
Jorge Messi had threatened to take his son back to Argentina because negotiations with Barcelona had stalled.
The napkin, containing the date Dec. 14, 2000, bears the signatures of Gaggioli, another agent, Josep Maria Minguella and Barcelona’s then-sporting director, Carles Rexach, who met at a tennis club.
Rexach had asked a waiter for paper and was given a blank napkin.
The starting price was 300,000 pounds ($379,000).
Messi spent nearly two decades with Barcelona after arriving from Argentina at 13 to play in their youth squads. He made his first-team debut in 2004 and played 17 seasons with the main squad. He helped the club win every major trophy including the Champions League four times and the Spanish league 10 times.
Messi left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2021. He has since joined Inter Miami.