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.


Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

Updated 23 October 2019

Sterling, Mbappe light up Champions League with hat-tricks while Spurs claim key win

  • Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals

PARIS: Raheem Sterling and Kylian Mbappe both scored second-half hat-tricks in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur all recorded big victories.
Juventus, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich labored to wins on a night which brought 30 goals in eight games, a third of which were scored by Premier League clubs.
Sterling’s three goals came 11 minutes apart in the second half as Pep Guardiola’s City thumped Atalanta 5-1 at the Etihad Stadium to maintain their perfect record in Group C.
The Italians had earlier taken the lead from Ruslan Malinovskyi’s 28th-minute penalty, but they were soon overrun and remain without a point in their debut Champions League campaign.
Sergio Aguero equalized from a Sterling assist and the Argentine scored a penalty to put City ahead before the break. Sterling then took over, although City finished with 10 men as Phil Foden was sent off late on.
“I should have had four. Riyad Mahrez put me through and I was looking to put one on a plate for him. But I went through and should have finished it,” Sterling admitted to BT Sport.
City’s will seal a place in the last 16 if they win away to Atalanta next, as nearest rivals Shakhtar Donetsk and Dinamo Zagreb played out a 2-2 draw in Ukraine earlier.
Yevhen Konoplyanka and Brazilian substitute Dodo netted for Shakhtar, with Dinamo’s goals coming in between from Dani Olmo and a Mislav Orsic penalty.
Compared to Sterling, Mbappe took a sluggish 22 minutes to score his three goals in PSG’s 5-0 romp away to former European Cup runners-up Club Brugge in Belgium in Group A.
Mauro Icardi scored twice for the French champions, who were without the injured Neymar but had Angel Di Maria in exceptional form — the Argentine set up four goals.
According to sports statisticians Opta, the last player to come off the bench and score a hat-trick in the Champions League was Spaniard Joseba Llorente for Villarreal in 2008.
“I wanted to start and I thought I was going to start, but the coach made his choice and I had to accept it. I also wanted to show that it’s difficult to get by without me,” Mbappe told French broadcaster RMC Sport.
PSG have a maximum nine points, are yet to concede a goal in Europe this season and will be through to the last 16 with a win at home to Club next month.
Below them, Real Madrid are up to second after claiming their first win in Europe this season. Eden Hazard set up Toni Kroos for a first-half strike that handed them a 1-0 victory over Galatasaray in Istanbul.
Meanwhile, there was a welcome win for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham, who crushed Red Star Belgrade 5-0 in north London, three weeks on from their 7-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich at the same venue.
Captain Harry Kane scored twice for Spurs either side of a Son Heung-min brace and an Erik Lamela goal as they moved up to second place in Group B on four points.
“We know we have had a tough run of results and that was the perfect way to respond,” said Kane.
They remain five points behind group leaders Bayern Munich, for whom Robert Lewandowski bagged two in a 3-2 win at Olympiakos that maintained their perfect record.
The Pole has 18 goals this season and 58 career Champions League goals — only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul and Karim Benzema have more.
Youssef El Arabi gave Olympiakos the lead, but Lewandowski’s brace either side of half-time changed the game and Corentin Tolisso fired in a magnificent third before Guilherme pulled one back.
In Turin, Juventus needed a late Paulo Dybala pair to come from behind and beat Lokomotiv Moscow 2-1 in Group D.
Aleksei Miranchuk gave the Russians the lead on the half-hour and it took a stunning strike by Dybala to bring the Italian champions back level with 13 minutes left.
Moments later the same player scored from the follow-up after Alex Sandro’s shot was saved.
Juve are level atop Group D on seven points with Atletico Madrid, who edged out Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 thanks to Alvaro Morata’s 78th-minute header.