Willian extends Chelsea run; Liverpool downs City

Willian extends Chelsea run; Liverpool downs City
Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta in action with Stoke City's Bruno Martins during their Premier League match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 31 December 2016

Willian extends Chelsea run; Liverpool downs City

Willian extends Chelsea run; Liverpool downs City

LONDON: Willian scored twice as Chelsea claimed a record-equalling 13th consecutive Premier League victory by beating Stoke 4-2, while Liverpool kept in touch with the leaders after a 1-0 win over Manchester City.
Stoke twice hit back to level after falling behind at Stamford Bridge, but Willian’s second goal and a late Diego Costa strike saw Chelsea match Arsenal’s run of 13 wins within the same season from 2001-02.
Antonio Conte’s side remain six points clear of second-placed Liverpool heading into 2017.
“Congratulations go to my players. To win 13 games in a row in this league is very difficult,” Conte said.
“Now they are fantastic and we are proud, but we must concentrate on the second part of the season. Numbers are not important if you do not win the title.”
At Anfield, with Jurgen Klopp and City boss Pep Guardiola meeting for the first time in the Premier League, the clash of managerial heavyweights was a tense affair.
Third placed City had star striker Sergio Aguero back from suspension and they dominated possession for long periods.
But it was Klopp’s team who delivered the knockout blow when Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum headed home from Adam Lallana’s cross in the eighth minute to seal Liverpool’s fourth successive win.
Manchester United came perilously close to seeing their own winning streak end, only for late goals by Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba to secure a 2-1 home win over Middlesbrough.
It was sixth-place United’s fifth straight league win and took them to within a point of fourth-place Arsenal, who host Crystal Palace on Sunday.
“My players were phenomenal. We managed to do something I love — bring the fans to the pitch. The last 15 mins were 70,000 on the pitch against 11,” United manager Jose Mourinho said.
Chelsea welcomed back N’Golo Kante and Costa from suspension for the visit of Stoke and took a first-half lead when Gary Cahill headed in a corner from Cesc Fabregas.
Bruno Martins Indi equalized within seconds of kick-off in the second half, slotting in after Peter Crouch nodded down Charlie Adam’s free-kick.
After Willian had restored the hosts’ lead, lashing in from Eden Hazard’s lay-off, Crouch drew Stoke level again in the 64th minute when he tapped in Mame Biram Diouf’s cross.
But Willian put Chelsea back in front a minute later and Costa’s late strike sealed victory.
At Old Trafford United produced a comeback reminiscent of the glory years of the watching Alex Ferguson to continue their recent upturn.
But they had to do it the hard way, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic initially denied an 18th goal of the season in a contentious incident late in the first half.
Leaping to meet Martial’s left wing cross, the Swede jabbed the ball past goalkeeper Victor Valdes at the near post, only for referee Lee Mason to rule it out.
United’s players, and Mourinho, contested the decision, and there was worse to come when Grant Leadbitter drilled Boro in front from Alvaro Negredo’s knock-down in the 67th minute.
But Martial levelled in the 85th minute and barely a minute later Pogba headed in the winner from Juan Mata’s cross.
Champions Leicester City claimed a much-needed win, beating West Ham United 1-0 courtesy of Islam Slimani’s 20th-minute header to climb six points clear of the relegation zone.
Swansea City made a demoralizing start to life without sacked manager Bob Bradley, slumping to a 3-0 home defeat against Bournemouth that kept them at the foot of the table.
Andre Gray became the first Burnley player to score a Premier League hat trick as Sean Dyche’s men beat third-bottom Sunderland 4-1 to climb to 11th place.
Matt Phillips and Wales’s Euro 2016 star Hal-Robson Kanu scored as West Bromwich Albion came from behind to win 2-1 at Southampton, who had center-back Virgil van Dijk sent off.


Brendan Rodgers praised for substituting Wesley Fofana to break fast during Leicester match

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers (R) has been praised for his player management after substituting Wesley Fofana so the player could break his fast. (AFP/File Photo)
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers (R) has been praised for his player management after substituting Wesley Fofana so the player could break his fast. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 23 April 2021

Brendan Rodgers praised for substituting Wesley Fofana to break fast during Leicester match

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers (R) has been praised for his player management after substituting Wesley Fofana so the player could break his fast. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Fofana, 20, is a devout Muslim and is currently fasting for the Holy month

LONDON: Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers has been praised for his player management after substituting Wesley Fofana so the player could break his fast on Thursday night.

Fofana, 20, is a devout Muslim and is currently fasting for the Holy month, which began just over a week ago.

The Frenchman featured in the Foxes Premier League victory over West Bromwich Albion, and was taken off after an hour to take on fluids and something to eat

Rodgers wanted to protect his center-back, so swapped him for Marc Albrighton in the 60th minute of the match, which kicked off at 8 p.m. local time, during which the sun set.

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While receiving praise for his approach, Rodgers said all the plaudits should be given to the former St. Etienne player for his levels of performance while fasting.

“It's remarkable. If you think of his performance at the weekend in an FA Cup semi-final, where he hasn't eaten all day and then he had first taste of food with 15 minutes to go, and then the same today, with an 8pm kick-off, he's not eaten all day or drank and he can still perform to that level,” Rodgers told local newspaper Leicester Mercury.

“It was just one where I thought if I could get him off then he could get some food into him on the bench, and just protect him a little bit. 

“I've worked with lots of players with devotion to their faiths and for a lot of the guys it gives them strength. 

“He's finding an incredible strength to play continuously and train during Ramadan. He's a special talent and a big player for us,” he added.

Leicester, who won the Premier League title in 2016, now sit third in the table after a 3-0 win and remain in the driving seat to seal a Champions League place for next season.


Saudi Arabia’s footballers to take on Brazil, Germany, Ivory Coast at Tokyo Olympics

Saudi Arabia’s footballers to take on Brazil, Germany, Ivory Coast at Tokyo Olympics
Updated 23 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s footballers to take on Brazil, Germany, Ivory Coast at Tokyo Olympics

Saudi Arabia’s footballers to take on Brazil, Germany, Ivory Coast at Tokyo Olympics
  • Only other Arab team involved, Egypt, will face Argentina, Spain, Australia

RIYADH: If Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not at their best this summer, then their stay at Tokyo 2020 will not be a long one.

When there are only 16 teams at an international tournament then there can be no room for error — Wednesday’s draw for the upcoming Olympic football tournament was evidence of that.

There are three possible reactions for fans in Cairo and Riyadh and throughout the two countries: Fear, excitement, or a heady mix of both.

For Saudi Arabia, the first place to check out the history of their opponents is to watch the final of the 2016 Olympics as both teams are in their group. Brazil beat Germany in the gold-medal match in Rio and both will take on the young Green Falcons in Japan.

Saad Al-Shehri’s team is probably going to have to win the opening game against Ivory Coast. Three points on July 22 in Yokohama will provide hope going into the game against Germany three days later.

That will be easier said than done but there is hope for Saudi Arabia, a team that has no players in Europe and does not have to worry about the Copa America that takes place from June 13 to July 10.

After the most hectic and physically punishing season in the history of modern football in Europe, clubs there may not automatically release all the players that national team coaches want — there is sure to be some negotiation.

Ivory Coast are there because of their performances at the 2019 Africa U-23 Cup of Nations. They may not have won the tournament, but they came as close as it is possible to get. The final against Egypt was all square after 90 minutes but the Young Pharaohs got the all-important goal in extra-time. The preliminary squad chosen by Les Petits Elephants is full of European-based players.

But it is Germany next for a Saudi team that has not appeared at the Olympics since 1996.

There is a wealth of talent available to the team that finished runners-up at the 2019 European U-21 Championships. Suffice to say that whoever goes to Japan, there will be a team with the kind of top-level international experience that Saudi Arabia cannot match. Most, or almost all, of the squad, will be Bundesliga-based.

There had been suggestions that Thomas Muller might be one of the squad’s overage players, but the Bayern Munich star has ruled himself out. Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund and Christoph Kramer of Borussia Monchengladbach should be there.

German coach Stefan Kuntz is under no illusions as to the tough task ahead.

He said: “Eighty to 90 percent of the players in the Ivory Coast play in Europe. I saw Saudi Arabia at the Asian Championships in Thailand; the team has an unusual style and a special mentality.

“And you don’t really have to say much about Brazil — we all remember great duels between the senior national teams and the final of the 2016 Olympic Games.”

Brazil’s players certainly remember. The gold-medal winners from 2016 usually take the tournament seriously but then there is the Copa America that finishes just before the Olympics start. What can be said for sure is that the country has an embarrassment of riches at home and at big clubs in Europe’s big leagues. Coach Andre Jardine is going to find it hard deciding who to leave out.

If Saudi Arabia have been grouped with the runners-up of South America and Europe, then Egypt are not going to have much sympathy as they find themselves with the champions of both continents.

The African titleholders, who reached the quarterfinals in 2012 in their first appearance at the Olympics since 1992, will take on Argentina, Spain, and Australia.

Argentina are two-time gold medalists and last year finished above Brazil in South America’s qualification tournament, winning six games out of seven. Co-hosting Copa America may complicate things, especially in terms of overage choices but coach Fernando Batista has lots of talent to call upon. This is likely to include Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, New York City’s Valentin Castellanos, Julian Alvarez of River Plate, and Granada’s Nehuen Perez.

Spain need no introduction. Even if the likes of Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba will not, as have been discussed, head east as overage players, there will be some top-class talent from the big leagues. Stars such as RB Leipzig’s Dani Olmo, a standout in the 2019 European U-21 win; Ansu Fati is just 18 but has already played for Barcelona; and Ferran Torres, the winger who joined Manchester City for around £20 million ($27.7 million) last year. Also on City’s books, and perhaps the plane to Tokyo, is center-back Eric Garcia.

And Australia? The Olyroos will not get many headlines ahead of the tournament but are not just there to make up the numbers and they will be competitive.

It all adds up to a formidable challenge for the Arab nations.


UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures

UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures
Updated 22 April 2021

UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures

UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures
  • Al-Jazira top the table with 50 points, followed by Baniyas on 49 and Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai on 43
  • Fujairah and Hatta occupy the two relegation spots at the bottom of the table

The UAE Pro League (known for sponsorship reasons as the Arabian Gulf League) has announced the dates of its remaining fixtures, the Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.

With three rounds of fixtures still to be played following a short break to accommodate the AFC Champions League group stages, Al-Jazira top the table with 50 points, followed by Baniyas on 49 and Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai on 43. Fujairah and Hatta occupy the two relegation spots at the bottom of the table.

For each of the remaining rounds, all teams will compete on the same day. Matchweek 24 will be played on Monday, May 3, with Ittihad Kalba vs. Al-Ain, Al-Wasl vs. Khorfakkan, and Al-Nasr vs. Al-Dhafra all kicking off at 9 p.m. UAE time. The games between Sharjah and Hatta, Ajman and Al-Jazira, Fujairah and Al-Wahda, and Bani Yas and Shabab Al-Ahli will kick off at 11 p.m.

The 25th round of games will be held on Friday, May 7, with Khorfakkan vs. Fujairah, Ajman vs. Sharjah, and Hatta vs. Ittihad Kalba kicking off at 9 p.m. and Al-Jazira vs. Al-Ain, Al-Dhafra vs. Bani Yas, Al-Wahda vs. Al-Nasr, and Shabab Al-Ahli vs. Al-Wasl kicking off at 11 p.m.

The final round of matches on Tuesday, May 11 will see Al-Jazira take on Khorfakkan, Al-Ain vs. Hatta, Fujairah vs. Ajman, Ittihad Kalba vs. Sharjah, Al-Wasl vs. Al-Dhafra, Bani Yas vs. Al-Wahda, and Al-Nasr vs. Shabab Al-Ahli. Kick-off times have yet to be confirmed.

The UAE Pro League said in a statement that it had arranged the fixtures to ensure equal opportunities for all teams, whether they are competing for the title, battling to avoid relegation, or aiming to secure a place in next season’s AFC Champions League.


Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan

Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan
Updated 22 April 2021

Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan

Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan
  • Three goals in 24 minutes saw Abu Dhabi team claim all three points against Qatari opponents

RIYADH: Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate has revealed his delight with his players’ attitude after the Abu Dhabi team on Tuesday recovered from a two-goal deficit to defeat Al-Rayyan SC 3-2 in Group E of the 2021 AFC Champions League.

Fares Juma’s stoppage-time winner secured Al-Wahda their first win of the campaign, taking them to second in the group on four points, five behind leaders Persepolis who defeated FC Goa 2-1 in the other Tuesday match.

Dutchman ten Cate praised his players for the fightback that saw three goals in 24 minutes dramatically defeat their Qatari opponents.

Speaking to the AFC official website, he said: “I’m a proud man. Especially to see where we are coming from. We had to play with a man down in the last 15 minutes and needed some luck. You need to have luck to win games and we had some today.

“I brought in a few players late in the second half and one of them was a 16-year-old (Awadh Mohamed). Then suddenly something changed within the team. Those players changed the way the game was played. They brought some renewed energy to the team and scored one goal.

“I’m extremely proud of my team, I know how much this win means to them. We have injured players, with little rest to restore our strength and I’m really happy with their team effort. Everybody in the UAE should be proud,” he added.

Al-Rayyan were the better side for most of the first half but started to fade after the break, and another collapse followed after a similar one against Persepolis.

After another three goals were conceded having taken the lead, Al-Rayyan find themselves at the bottom of Group E with coach Laurent Blanc admitting that the latest defeat to Al-Wahda has made things more difficult for the club’s progress into the Round of 16.

“It was a disaster. Honestly, I felt we played well. It was incredible the way we played. But we made some mistakes and conceded goals,” Blanc told the AFC website.

“I think both teams wanted to play good football and as you can see it was not a boring match. At the end of the day, to lose the match at this stage of the competition makes things complicated for us.

“If anyone saw us up by two goals, it should be 3-0 and then game over. But instead, we conceded and lost the match. That is football,” the Frenchman said.

Al-Rayyan will have a chance to make amends when the two teams square off again on Friday.


5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark

5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark
Updated 22 April 2021

5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark

5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark
  • Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr edge closer to knockout stages while Al-Ahli finale claimed first win

RIYADH: At the halfway stage of the AFC Champions League plenty has happened for the three Saudi Arabian representatives and all are in with a chance of making the next stage.

In the latest round of matches, Al-Nassr drew 1-1 with Foolad of Iran to stay top of a tight Group D with five points; Al-Hilal defeated Tajikistan’s Istiklol 3-1 to go three points clear at the top of Group A; and Al-Ahli picked up a 3-0 win over Al-Shorta of Iraq and now have four points in Group C.

Here are five things we learned about Matchday Three.

1. There is a danger of recent history repeating itself

It is just a few months since Al-Hilal were forced to withdraw from the group stage of the 2020 AFC Champions League after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tore through the squad and staff.

Al-Nassr are not at that stage yet but the fact that five players and four other members of the club have tested positive is of huge concern to everyone. If it gets worse, then there is a real danger that the nine-time Saudi Arabian champions could be out.

As coach Mano Menezes pointed out, it is not just about the players who have contracted COVID-19, there are psychological effects among those who are still playing. “We must find new ways to compensate for the absence of players due to the coronavirus,” the Brazilian boss said.

“I am concerned about the effect on the players psychologically, and on the group as well and that is something that we have to think about.”

2. From now it is all about fitness and squad depth

Six games in the space of 15 days are going to be a punishing schedule especially given the time of year and the conditions in Saudi Arabia. Now the real tests come.

There is no time for training, just rest, recovery, and preparation. Coaches will have to rotate and will need to use all their experience to get the best out of their squads. Those with the strongest benches will have the best chance of getting through.

Tractor FC head coach Rasoul Khatibi spoke for many after his team’s 0-0 draw with Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.

“After the 70th minute our players were exhausted and both teams had to stay focused to see it through. For the next match, we will make sure we have a quick recovery to avoid this experience of losing energy in the latter part of the game. The team with the better recovery will have a better chance in the next match,” he said.

3. Hattan Bahebri steps forward for Al-Hilal

The encouraging thing for the three-time champions is that various players have stepped forward in the games so far. That was the case in the 3-1 win over Istiklol.

It was always going to be that the Tajikistan powerhouse would sit back and allow the Saudi champions possession, and it was used to very good effect by Hattan Bahebri who set up the opener and then grabbed two goals of his own. Both were delightful finishes. The first saw the winger cut inside on the edge of the area and the second was a cheeky chip that was worthy of winning any game.

A repeat performance against the same team on Saturday will leave Al-Hilal with one foot in the second round and Bahebri an even brighter reputation.

4. Al-Nassr show what they are made of

It was not a surprise that Al-Nassr were not as impressive in their 1-1 draw with Foolad as when defeating Al-Sadd three days earlier.

Injuries and absences took their toll and given that, it was a decent performance, and they were perhaps a little unlucky not to collect three points against solid Iranian opposition.

The goal conceded was a little weak and could have been avoided had usual No. 1 Brad Jones been available.

Once again, coach Mano Menezes looked to hit the opposition on the counter as much as possible and had the finishing been a little better and the Iranian goalkeeper not made a couple of excellent saves, then three points could have been taken.

If Al-Nassr can avoid losing more players due to COVID-19 and continue playing this way, then a place in the second round is very much within reach.

5. Al-Ahli break the streak

After 10 games without a win, a dismal run that included seven defeats, Al-Ahli finally tasted victory with a 3-0 victory over Al-Shorta of Iraq.

The opposition may have been the weakest team in the group but had the Saudi team failed to win it would have been hard to see a way back in the group.

It was a nervy start but once the Jeddah club took the lead, they looked fairly comfortable and saw the game out.

The question is, what happens next? Can Al-Ahli actually make it out of the group? Just challenging would be a step in the right direction. Another win against the same opposition would put the three-time Saudi champions right in the mix.

That would mean they would have to get something against Al-Duhail and Esteghlal, but the confidence would be there and there would be a chance. That is the ideal scenario and gets the team back on track.