Xavi hopes ‘model pro’ Dembele has Barca future

Xavi is hoping his burgeoning relationship with Ousmane Dembele can open the door for talks about a new contract for the Barcelona winger.

Sky Sports News has been told the pair are developing a strong understanding since Xavi lobbied the Barca board to get Dembele back into the first-team fold.

Dembele, who remains open to discussions over his long-term future despite being told to leave in January, is enjoying his current spell under the former midfielder.

Xavi said: “Ousmane’s contract is up in June and it’s a matter that’s between the club and him. I see him as being happy. He’s acting like a true professional. I’m very happy with him.

“Even when he knew he wasn’t in the squad, he’s been a model professional. I haven’t had the slightest problem with Ousmane.

“I’ve heard all sorts of things: that he hasn’t been professional and that he hasn’t looked after himself. I can tell you now that it’s the complete opposite, he’s looking after himself, is professional, has been training well, and is positive in and around the group.

Xavi on the touchline during the Real Betis loss
Image:
Xavi is developing a strong relationship with Ousmane Dembele, Sky Sports News has been told

“That’s why we – and I want to stress that it’s not just me but the club too – have decided that he’s able to play with the team. Had he been a bad professional, we may have decided on something else, but he’s been a true professional and a role model in terms of the way he’s carried himself within the group, and that’s ultimately what matters.

“We’ll have to see what happens between now and the end of the season. It’s down to the club and it’s down to him. He’s an important player and one I like.”

Their positive link is in stark contrast to the very public falling out between the board and Dembele’s representatives over his contract situation during the January transfer window.

The board told Dembele to find a new club because he was not willing to sign new terms on offer that included a considerable pay-cut and while the club were looking to sign other players in his position.

Despite interest from PSG and Chelsea, Dembele stayed and – under Xavi’s instructions – has begun to return to some of his best form.

Dembele is expected to start in tonight’s Europa League clash last-16 second-leg against Napoli.

Sky Sports News has been told that – in the week after the window closed – Xavi sat down with Dembele and they agreed to work together for the betterment of Barca for at least until the summer.

In a show of dressing room unity, Xavi subsequently announced this to the players and staff and they apparently cheered Dembele’s name as he was reintroduced into the team.

This has been reflected in the positive words about Dembele issued by team-mates and club staff to the media since then.

Get CyberSEO Lite (https://www.cyberseo.net/cyberseo-lite) – a freeware plugin for WordPress to pull full-text RSS articles ?

Aubameyang hits Barca hat-trick | Inter stunned by Sassuolo

Barcelona’s last-gasp swoop for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks to be paying dividends after the striker scored a hat-trick in a resounding 4-1 away win at Valencia.

Aubameyang led the Catalans to victory at the Mestella with his first Barcelona goals on his full La Liga debut, after coming off the bench in the second half in previous league encounters against Atletico Madrid and Espanyol.

The former Arsenal striker, who last found the net in October in the Gunners’ 3-1 win over Aston Villa, now has 10 goals overall this season.

Aubameyang’s first goal came when he calmly hit the upper corner in a one-on-one situation in the 23rd minute, and his second came from close range in the 38th minute to make it 3-0 after Frenkie de Jong netted Barcelona’s second.

Initially, Barca’s fourth goal was attributed to Pedri, but when the referee issued his match report after the game, he switched it to Aubameyang as Pedri’s strike was deflected off the striker’s back on its way in.

Carlos Soler scored a consolation goal for the locals, with many of the nearly 40,000 Valencia fans at Mestalla Stadium again protesting against Singaporean owner Peter Lim.

The win lifted Barcelona into fourth place on 42 points from 24 games, tied with Atletico who are fifth on goal difference. Real Madrid top the table with 57 points.

“We are beginning to find that efficiency that we were lacking earlier in the season,” captain Sergio Busquets told reporters.

“I hope Aubameyang is that one piece that we were missing up front. He is a great player that arrived hungry because he was not getting many opportunities at his last club. It is a luxury having him in our team.”

Second-place Sevilla stumbled in their pursuit of Real Madrid after being held 1-1 at Espanyol, leaving them six points behind the league leaders.

Jules Kounde
Image:
Jules Kounde was sent off as Sevilla were held to a draw at Espanyol

Rafa Mir opened the scoring for the visitors in the 36th after an assist by Papu Gomez, who had come on 10 minutes earlier to replace the injured Anthony Martial.

Espanyol equalised early in the second half with a close-range header by Sergi Darder, before Sevilla defender Jules Kounde was sent off, given a straight red card after complaining to the referee.

Serie A: Sorry Inter stunned by Sassuolo

Inter Milan missed the chance to climb back to the top of Serie A as they suffered a shock 2-0 home defeat by Sassuolo on Sunday.

The hosts fell behind after eight minutes with Giacomo Raspadori drilling a shot through goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, before Gianluca Scamacca headed into the net when unmarked to double Sassuolo’s lead.

Inter were all at sea, and could have gone into the break 3-0 down when Domenico Berardi’s effort hit the crossbar.

 Gianluca Scamacca of US Sassuolo celebrates with team mate Hamed Junior Traore after scoring to give the side a 2-0 lead during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale and US Sassuolo at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 20, 2022 in Milan, Italy.
Image:
Gianluca Scamacca sealed an unlikely win for Sassuolo at San Siro

After the break, the hosts piled on the pressure, with goalkeeper Andrea Consigli making several fine saves to keep the visitors in a commanding position.

Sassuolo should have put the game to bed with late chances, but two goals were enough as Inter remained second on 54 points, two behind leaders AC Milan. Sassuolo climbed to 11th.

“I am very angry with how we played,” Inter coach Simone Inzaghi told DAZN.

“We had three days since Wednesday’s game (against Liverpool) and we talked about the fact Sassuolo beat Juventus and Milan away – we had to be wary.

“We tried to do everything in the second half, created so many chances and were unlucky, but the fact remains we should’ve had a different approach.

“We will analyse the situation. We know there are 13 games to go, we are all up there and want to keep going forward. The fact is, a team that wants to win the Scudetto cannot get the approach as wrong as we did today.”

Earlier, Fiorentina beat Atalanta 1-0 to stay in the race for a place in European competitions, while Venezia and Genoa played out a 1-1 draw.

Bundesliga: Lewandowski leads Bayern to victory

Robert Lewandowski scored yet another hat-trick
Image:
Robert Lewandowski has now got 28 goals for the season

Robert Lewandowski scored twice as Bayern Munich came from behind to beat last-place Greuther Furth 4-1 in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

The Poland star took his league-leading tally to 28 goals in 23 games and helped Bayern stay six points ahead of Borussia Dortmund, who thrashed Borussia Monchengladbach 6-0.

Furth captain Branimir Hrgota fired the competitive underdogs ahead in the 42nd minute when his free-kick took a decisive deflection off Bayern’s Marcel Sabitzer.

Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann’s half-time talk had quick results.

Lewandowski equalised only a minute into the second half and Bayern kept pushing, forcing an own goal from Sebastian Griesbeck just past the hour-mark. Griesbeck also scored an own goal in the previous meeting between the two, which Bayern won 3-1.

Bundesliga news | Fixtures | Table

Max Christiansen struck the post as Furth pushed for an equaliser, but Lewandowski sealed Bayern’s win with an 82nd-minute header

Serge Gnabry set up half-time substitute Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting for the fourth goal in injury time.

Borussia Dortmund captain Marco Reus played a part in five goals as his side hammered his former club Borussia Monchengladbach 6-0.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Highlights of the Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Reus, who switched from Gladbach to Dortmund just over a decade ago, scored two and provided three assists, but he opted not to take a penalty his side were awarded in added time, with Emre Can stepping up and converting to complete the drubbing.

Reus opened the scoring in the 26th minute by pouncing on the rebound after Switzerland keeper Yann Sommer had parried a shot from Donyell Malen.

Reus returned the favour six minutes later, playing a one-two with Dutchman Malen, who powered a shot through the grasp of Sommer to double Dortmund’s advantage.

Dortmund put the result beyond doubt when Reus teed up Marius Wolf to score in the 70th-minute, two minutes after he had come off the bench.

The captain added his third assist of the game four minutes later as Youssoufa-Moukoko, another substitute, netted Dortmund’s fourth.

Reus then got back among the goals by smashing the ball in after a long punt from defender Mats Hummels, before Can completed Gladbach’s humiliation from the spot after Wolf was felled in the box.

Get CyberSEO Lite (https://www.cyberseo.net/cyberseo-lite) – a freeware plugin for WordPress to pull full-text RSS articles ?

EL & ECL round-up: Barcelona held by Napoli

Barcelona were held 1-1 at home by Napoli in the first leg of their Europa League knockout stage playoff tie on Thursday.

Barca dominated proceedings but found themselves a goal down to the Italians after Piotr Zielinski finished off a counter-attack in the 29th minute.

Barca forward Ferran Torres equalised shortly before the hour mark from the penalty spot after the video assistant referee had spotted a very subtle Juan Jesus’ handball from a Adama Traore cross inside the area.

Napoli's Piotr Zielinski celebrates his opener
Image:
Napoli’s Piotr Zielinski celebrates his opener

Barca were on the front foot throughout with their brand new attacking trident formed by new signings Torres, Traore and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but missed several chances to take the lead.

Napoli held on as they were bombarded in the last ten minutes, with Torres and substitutes Luuk de Jong and Ousmane Dembele missing chance after chance in front of Alex Meret’s goal. The second leg will be played at Napoli next week.

Guido Rodriguez celebrates Betis' opening goal
Image:
Guido Rodriguez celebrates Betis’ opening goal

Elsewhere, Real Betis defeated 3-2 Zenit St Petersburg after scoring twice in the first 20 minutes through Guido Rodriguez and Willian Jose. But the Russian side fought back to equalise with two goals in three minutes scored by Artem Dzyuba and Malcom.

But veteran midfielder Andres Guardado found the winner for Betis right before half-time, as the La Liga side held on to hand Zenit their first home loss since October 2021.

Sheriff Tiraspol beat Braga 2-0 at home in Moldova thanks to goals from Sebastien Thill and Adama Traore.

Rangers run riot in Dortmund

Alfredo Morelos celebrates one of his goals for Rangers vs Dortmund
Image:
Alfredo Morelos celebrates one of his goals for Rangers

Rangers pulled off a stunning 4-2 win away to Borussia Dortmund to take command of their Europa League knockout stage playoff tie.

A penalty from James Tavernier put the Glasgow side ahead in the 38th minute before Colombian forward Alfredo Morelos doubled their advantage in the 41st.

John Lundstram added a third in the 49th minute to put Rangers in dreamland although England midfielder Jude Bellingham quickly pulled a goal back in the 51st, smashing into the net from outside the box to give the hosts a foothold in the game.

Rangers took no time to respond, restoring their three-goal advantage in the 54th with an own goal from defender Dan-Axel Zagadou.

Dortmund salvaged some hope for next week’s second leg at Ibrox with a piledriver from Raphael Guerreiro while defender Mats Hummels tried to pull another goal back deep in stoppage time but could only produce a wayward shot which flew over the bar.

Gakpo goal gives PSV advantage

PSV Eindhoven claimed a 1-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the first leg of their Europa Conference League knockout stage playoff tie on Thursday thanks to an early goal from Cody Gakpo.

The young Dutch winger received a through ball by Mauro Junior in the 11th minute and cleared a defender on the edge of the box before drilling a perfectly-placed shot into the bottom left corner to give the hosts the lead.

Slavia Prague's Murphy Dorley celebrates scoring
Image:
Slavia Prague’s Murphy Dorley celebrates scoring

The Eredivisie side dominated the match but were not able to increase their advantage and will travel to Israel next week with a slim lead.

Elsewhere, Slavia Prague won 3-2 away at Fenerbahce while Danish side Midtjylland beat PAOK 1-0 at home. Austrian club Rapid Vienna had a man sent off but still managed to scrape a 2-1 win over Vitesse Arnhem.

Europa League knockout play-offs second leg

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in action on Thursday
Image:
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in action on Thursday

Thursday February 24

Europa Conference League knockout play-offs second leg

Rapid Vienna impressed during their first leg
Image:
Rapid Vienna impressed during their first leg

Thursday February 24

Get CyberSEO Lite (https://www.cyberseo.net/cyberseo-lite) – a freeware plugin for WordPress to pull full-text RSS articles ?

Europa League: The state of play

As the 2021/22 Europa League returns for the knockout round play-offs, we bring you the state of play, upcoming fixtures and the schedule for the remainder of the tournament.

What is a play-off round and what’s changed about the Europa League?

Starting from this season, the Europa League group stage has been truncated to eight groups. Instead of a round of 32, the eight second-placed teams will meet one of the eight sides finishing third in their respective Champions League groups in a two-legged play-off round in February.

Rangers are the only British side taking part in the knockout round play-offs, having finished second in Group A
Image:
Rangers are the only British side taking part in the knockout round play-offs, having finished second in Group A

Those eight teams will join the eight Europa League group winners in the last 16 in March.

The teams who finish third in their Europa League groups will also see their European seasons extended for the first time, with those eight sides facing one of the eight sides who finished second in the Europa Conference League group stage for a place in the last 16 of that competition.

Sevilla - the 2019/20 Europa League winners - face Dinamo Zagreb in the knockout round play-offs
Image:
Sevilla – the 2019/20 Europa League winners – face Dinamo Zagreb in the knockout round play-offs

Knockout round play-offs

Thursday February 17

Thursday February 24

Round of 16

Group winners who have already qualified

  • Lyon
  • Monaco
  • Spartak Moscow
  • Eintracht Frankfurt
  • Galatasaray
  • Red Star Belgrade
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • West Ham

Draw scheduled to take place on Friday February 25.

First legs scheduled to be played on Thursday March 10; Second legs on Thursday March 17.

Quarter-finals

Draw scheduled to take place on Friday March 18.

First legs scheduled to be played on Thursday April 7; Second legs on Thursday April 14.

Semi-finals

Draw scheduled to take place on Friday March 18.

First legs scheduled to be played on Thursday April 28; Second legs on Thursday May 5.

Final

Scheduled to take place on Wednesday, May 18 at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, Sevilla.

Get CyberSEO Lite (https://www.cyberseo.net/cyberseo-lite) – a freeware plugin for WordPress to pull full-text RSS articles ?

Euro round-up: AC Milan go top, Dortmund close gap to Bayern

AC Milan surged to the top of Serie A with a 1-0 victory over Sampdoria that moved them a point above Inter Milan.

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan set up Rafael Leao’s winning goal in the eighth minute.

The France international sent a long kick from outside his penalty area to feed Leo who controlled the ball on the left flank before moving past defender Bartosz Bereszynski to beat Sampdoria goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone.

It was the 10th goal of the season for the Portugal forward in his 100th appearance for the Rossoneri. Striker Olivier Giroud, who scored both goals in the game against Inter, had his second-half header from close range fingertipped over by Falcone.

AC Milan top the table with 55 points, one clear of Inter in second with Napoli another point back after they shared a 1-1 draw on Saturday. Inter, however, still have a game in hand.

Meanwhile, Bryan Cristante scored a 94th-minute equaliser to rescue a 2-2 Serie A draw for AS Roma at Sassuolo on Sunday, as Jose Mourinho’s side lost more ground in the race for European qualification.

Another league stalemate leaves them seventh with 40 points, two behind Lazio and five behind Juventus in fourth, who are playing later.

“If you had asked me at the start, I would not have wanted a draw, but in the 90th minute, definitely,” Mourinho told DAZN.

Bryan Cristante celebrates after making it 2-2
Image:
Bryan Cristante celebrates after making it 2-2

“I can compare this match to defeats we had earlier in the season against Verona, Venezia and Bologna. We had chances to draw those games and could have had three points more with three draws.

“It isn’t the result we wanted, but if nothing else we haven’t lost in the last four in Serie A, we have got eight points.”

A Tammy Abraham penalty gave the capital club the lead at the end of the first half, but a mistake from goalkeeper Rui Patricio led to a Chris Smalling own goal for the equaliser, before Hamed Traore completed the turnaround with a well-taken strike.

However, Sassuolo defender Gian Marco Ferrari picked up a second yellow card with 12 minutes remaining and Roma capitalised deep in stoppage time through a Cristante header.

Elsewhere, bottom two Genoa and Salernitana played out a 1-1 draw that did little to help either side hopes of survival, leaving them six and nine points adrift of the safety zone respectively.

Cagliari earned a 1-1 draw at Empoli that took the 18th-placed Sardinians level with Venezia above them on 21 points, while midtable Hellas Verona hammered Udinese 4-0.

Bundesliga: Dortmund cuts Bayern’s lead to six points

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Highlights of the Bundesliga match between Union Berlin and Borussia Dortmund

Marco Reus scored twice to lead Borussia Dortmund to a 3-0 win at Union Berlin and cut Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga lead to six points.

It also went some way to answering mounting criticism after Dortmund’s 5-2 loss at home to Bayer Leverkusen the previous Sunday, which had allowed Bayern to pull nine points clear.

But the leader’s surprise 4-2 loss at promoted Bochum on Saturday gave Dortmund added incentive to claim its first league win at Union at the third attempt.

Reus opened the scoring in the 18th minute when Mahmoud Dahoud played him in to shoot low through Andreas Luthe’s legs.

Reus scored again seven minutes later when Donyell Malen held off Robin Knoche and Bastian Oczipka to play him through. The Dortmund captain rounded the Union goalkeeper before finishing from a narrow angle.

Raphael Guerreiro scored the visitors’ third from close range in the 71st minute.

Dortmund won without injured forward Erling Haaland due to muscular problems and the club said Gio Reyna did not play because of illness, one game after the United States midfielder returned from a hamstring injury that had sidelined him for five months.

Hoffenheim jumped to fifth by beating relegation-threatened Arminia Bielefeld 2-0 in the late game.

Get CyberSEO Lite (https://www.cyberseo.net/cyberseo-lite) – a freeware plugin for WordPress to pull full-text RSS articles ?