Barcelona’s Messi: I would be thrilled if Neymar came back

Neymar of Brazil during the international friendly match between Brazil and Peru on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2019

Barcelona’s Messi: I would be thrilled if Neymar came back

BARCELONA, ROME: Barcelona captain Lionel Messi would be “thrilled” if Neymar returned to the Catalan side but insisted they could still win trophies without the Brazilian.

In an interview with the Catalan newspaper Sport this week, Messi said the return of Neymar, who was at Barca from 2013 and 2017 when he left for Paris Saint-Germain, could only strengthen the Spanish champions.

“I would be thrilled if Neymar came back,” said the Argentine.

“I understand that not everyone agrees. That’s normal after everything that happened around Ney, the way in which he left, the way he abandoned us. “But when you look at the sporting angle, for me Neymar is one of the best players in the world and obviously would improve our chances of getting the results we want.”

The summer transfer window saw an on-off soap opera surrounding the 27-year-old’s apparent desire to leave PSG, who paid a world record €222 million ($264 million at the time) in 2017, with Barcelona and Real Madrid both linked.

Ultimately he stayed in the French capital, at least for the time being.

“I am not disappointed,” said Messi. “I would have liked it if he had come and been with us but, as I have said, we have an exceptional squad to challenge for every title, even without him.”

Messi denied reports he had used his influence to try and force the Barcelona board to push through the deal.

“Here, it is not me that gives the orders,” he said. “We never said that he had to be brought in. We didn’t make any demands.”

“I don’t know if the club (Barcelona) wanted it to happen. What I do know is that Neymar really wanted it. But I understand it is very difficult to negotiate with PSG.”

Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu said on Friday Neymar “did everything” to force through a return to the Camp Nou in the close season, but his club could “not meet” the French champions’ demands.

 

Man United, Arsenal castoffs find new homes in Serie A

Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling.

The names read like a team sheet from a recent Manchester United-Arsenal matchup.

Only now, those same players will be meeting in Italy’s Serie A.

Lukaku and Sanchez left United for Inter Milan, Ramsey went from Arsenal to Juventus, while Mkhitaryan and Smalling were each loaned to Roma from Arsenal and United, respectively.

And they were not alone in the southern migration: Of the 79 foreigners who joined Serie A in the recently concluded transfer window, 10 came from the Premier League — more than any other league.

“I was not fitting so well in English football, so I think a change was good,” said Mkhitaryan, the deadline-day signing who accepted a reduced salary with Roma.

“I’ve heard from many, many players that the Italian league is great, the football is great,” Mkhitaryan added. “The last month at Arsenal I was not getting pleasure, so that’s why I said it was better to come to Roma and to get happy and to get the pleasure from playing football again.”

While the likes of Lukaku, Mkhitaryan and Sanchez each fell out of favor with their clubs in England, they are each still in their primes.

So this influx is nothing like when David Beckham was loaned twice to AC Milan toward the end of his career, or when Ashley Cole showed up at Roma at the age of 33 with his abilities waning.

Very few English players make the move to Serie A but the ones that do — such as former England goalkeeper Joe Hart, who spent 2016-17 on loan with Torino — tend to have harbored an affinity for the more tactical and defense-oriented Italian league.

“In England we don’t have many players that do go abroad. I think I’ve always had a desire deep down to experience this and to have an opportunity,” said Smalling, the center back who was dropped from England’s squad ahead of last year’s World Cup. “It’s something that I really look forward to and I don’t want to live my life with (any) regrets.

“Serie A has always been a goal of mine to play in one day, because as a defender if you get the chance to experience Serie A you want to do it,” Smalling added.


Man United beats Chelsea 2-0, throws open race for Champions League spots

Updated 18 February 2020

Man United beats Chelsea 2-0, throws open race for Champions League spots

  • Headers by Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire ensured the win

LONDON: Manchester United threw open the race for the final Champions League qualification spots in the Premier League by beating fourth-place Chelsea 2-0 thanks to headers by Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire on Monday.
With 12 games remaining, seven points separate Chelsea and 11th-place Burnley, with the team finishing fifth also set to earn a place in next season’s Champions League following UEFA’s decision to punish Man City for serious breaches of financial regulations by handing the English champions a two-year European ban.
Martial glanced in a header off a right-wing cross by Aaron Wan-Bissaka to give United the lead in the 45th minute at Stamford Bridge, before Maguire planted home a corner from January signing Bruno Fernandes in the 66th.
Maguire, United’s captain, was perhaps fortunate to still be on the field, with the match officials opting not to punish the England defender for appearing to kick out at Michy Batshuayi after tumbling off the playing surface in front of the dugouts.
“I know I caught him but I felt like he was going to fall on me and the natural reaction was to straighten my leg so that if he was to fall on me, to hold him up,” Maguire said. “It probably looks worse than it was.
“I did catch him ... but I knew at the time I had no intent to hurt him or kick him.”
Chelsea was on the wrong end of two other decisions by VAR, firstly disallowing a volleyed goal by Kurt Zouma in the 56th because of a push by Cesar Azpilicueta on United left back Brandon Williams. Azpilicueta seemed to have been pushed a split-second earlier by Fred.
Then, with 13 minutes to go, substitute Olivier Giroud had a goal ruled out by VAR for a tight offside, leaving Chelsea manager Frank Lampard looking thoroughly glum as he sat in his technical area.
Chelsea has long been in fourth place, but has only won three of its last 11 games in the league to give a slew of rivals clubs hope of catching up.
One of them is United, which climbed to seventh place with this win — three points behind Chelsea and two adrift of fifth-place Tottenham.
“This season, we have been far too inconsistent,” Maguire said. “We have won at Manchester City, beat Chelsea at home, got a point against Liverpool, but we have let ourselves down against the teams where the pressure is on to break them down.”
Injury problems are starting to bite at Chelsea, too. Top scorer Tammy Abraham and winger Callum Hudson-Odoi missed the game because of injury, while central midfielder N’Golo Kante lasted 11 minutes before hobbling off. Center back Andreas Christensen didn’t come out for the second half after sustaining a knock to the head late in the first period, just before Martial beat the Denmark defender to a header for the first goal.
Lampard’s main gripe, though, was his team’s failure to finish off chances once again. Batshuayi was the biggest culprit, spurning two great chances in the first half in his first start in the league this season.
“We are fourth because of some of the good stuff we’ve done and because of the nature of the league, everyone taking points off each other,” Lampard said. “But there’s a lot of work to do because you can see the problem — that’s putting the ball in the back of the net.
“I feel like a broken record. We have to put things to bed by scoring goals.”
Chelsea hosts Tottenham on Saturday and would finally get overtaken with another loss.
“The season starts here,” Lampard said.
Nigeria striker Odion Ighalo, who signed for United on deadline day in the January transfer window, came on in second-half stoppage time for his debut and had a late chance saved by Willy Caballero, who again started in goal ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Two players struck the post from free kicks in the second half, Fernandes for United and Mason Mount for Chelsea.